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1977 was a year of significant upheaval and transformation in New York City, marked by events that shaped the city’s history and culture. This period of change provided a rich setting for personal growth and discovery.

That summer, amidst the chaos of New York City — from the fear induced by the Son of Sam to the disorder of the citywide blackout — the author found his path. An unexpected meeting with Ellis Amburn, Delacorte Press’s editor-in-chief, directed him toward a career in journalism. This pivotal moment not only influenced his future but also impacted the lives of countless NYC youths.

The author’s experiences ranged from the exhilarating nightlife of Studio 54 to contemplative moments in the East Village. These diverse encounters with the city’s culture and energy became the foundation for HarlemLIVE, a project inspired by the city’s dynamic atmosphere.

The Lure of NYC in 1977:

New York City in 1977 was raw and unfiltered. Empty buildings sometimes doubled as drug hotspots, and the streets had a dangerous and seedy edge to them. But it was this very grittiness that lent the city a certain allure, a magnetic sexiness. For a 17-year-old, the city was an electric thrill, always surprising and boasting a nightlife that never seemed to end. Bars were a vibrant mix of characters reminiscent of a Star Wars cantina scene. Every street held a story, and each night was a new escapade. See images below.

A Pivotal Meeting:

The encounter with Ellis Amburn was unexpected but monumental. We met at a house party, amid the buzz and chatter of New York’s intellectual scene. Ellis, with his seasoned perspective on the publishing world, casually steered our conversation from theater to the world of journalism. Perhaps he saw it as a more pragmatic and influential path, or maybe he sensed an underlying drive in me that was better suited for journalism. Either way, his offhand recommendation struck a chord, prompting me to consider the expansive possibilities journalism offered over theater.

Here’s a short, candid video of Ellis Amburn (RIP) from 2014.  In this snippet, he’s attempting to navigate the whims of social media — a testament to the ever-changing world of what captures people’s attention. Notice the autobiography of Shelley Winters on his desk, a project he was deeply involved in and a story from my adventures a couple of years after my transformative summer of ’77 in NYC.

A Different Approach:

From an early age, the idea of diverging from the norm was deeply ingrained in the author. Whether it was his father’s advice during their boxing lessons or the allure of New York’s gritty and unconventional ambiance, there was always a natural inclination to question the status quo and venture off the beaten path.

While many might meticulously plan and wait for the “right” moment or the perfect circumstances, the author adopted a more proactive, hands-on approach. This was not about recklessness, but about seizing opportunities and learning through real-world experiences. Whether it was entering HarlemLIVE with a sheer will to make a difference or bypassing a conventional route to jump straight into the heart of action in New York, there was a belief in the value of trial, error, and organic growth.

The author’s ventures were often driven by intuition, curiosity, and a belief in the power of direct experience over theory. This approach not only enriched his own life but later became a cornerstone philosophy at HarlemLIVE, where young individuals were encouraged to take charge, be adventurous, and learn by doing.

This chapter offers a glimpse into how chance encounters, decisions, and embracing unique perspectives can shape one’s path. The early experiences in NYC laid the foundation for HarlemLIVE, showcasing the potency of passion and imagination.

Discussion Topics

  • Pivotal Moments: Share moments in your life that dramatically shifted your perspective or career direction, akin to the author’s encounter with Ellis Amburn.
  • New York City in the 1970s vs. Today: Discuss the changes in New York City over the years and what aspects you think have remained constant.
  • Embracing Unconventionality: Reflect on the idea of “going against the grain.” In what ways have you chosen to follow a path less taken, and what were the outcomes?
  • Nightlife and Iconic Events: Share personal experiences or thoughts about iconic clubs or events that marked a particular era or personal milestone.

Possible questions for the author:

  1. The Magnetic Pull of New York City: Discuss the allure of New York City in the late 1970s, despite its challenges like the Son of Sam, blackouts, and financial turmoil. Highlight the city’s unique energy and its impact on the author.
  2. The Influence of Chance Meetings: Explore how chance encounters, like meeting Ellis Amburn, can shape one’s life trajectory. Discuss how this interaction led the author away from a career in drama and toward journalism.
  3. Choosing a Non-Conventional Path: Dive into the author’s decision to reject societal norms, such as not getting a car, and the influence of early lessons from their father. Discuss the importance of thinking outside the box and going against convention.
  4. From Backpacking in Europe to NYC: Share the author’s adventurous journey from California to New York City via a Greyhound bus and backpacking through Europe. Discuss the significance of leaving behind the familiar for the unknown.
  5. The Value of Varied Work Experiences: Explore the author’s unique work experiences in New York, including working on bestsellers and assisting a famous actress. Discuss how these experiences contributed to their unconventional path.
  6. The Decision to Return to Education: Highlight the author’s realization that some careers required a college degree and their decision to enroll at New York University. Discuss the importance of adaptability and pursuing further education when necessary.
  7. The Intersection of Journalism and Computer Science: Explain how the author’s choice to minor in computer science at NYU unexpectedly paved the way for their involvement in HarlemLIVE, an online magazine. Discuss the serendipity of this combination of skills.
  8. HarlemLIVE: Empowering Youth Through Journalism: Introduce HarlemLIVE as a groundbreaking online magazine and the impact it had on the author’s life. Explore the worldwide acclaim it received and its role in empowering young journalists.
  9. Discussion Point: Embracing Unconventional Paths: Encourage readers to reflect on their own lives and consider whether they’ve ever chosen unconventional paths. Ask them to share their experiences and the outcomes of those decisions.
  10. Historical Context: Provide background information on the socio-cultural and political landscape of the late 1970s and early 1980s in both California and New York City. Discuss how these factors may have influenced the author’s decisions.
  11. Behind-the-Scenes: Offer a glimpse into the author’s writing process and research for the book. Share anecdotes, challenges, and insights from the author’s perspective.