Memoirist Lisa Racioppo has a lot to say. Park Slope born and bred, Racioppo has just released a memoir entitled From Brooklyn and Back Again and will be giving readings in the coming months to support to the book’s launch. With humor and candor, Racioppo remembers bakery heists gone wrong, childhood games of skellsey (also referred to as “skully” and other terms), and the grit of brownstone Brooklyn in ’70s and ’80s.
PSS: Much of your book might be described as a fond look back on the Brooklyn of the ’70s and ’80s. Is there anything you don’t miss about that era?
Lisa Racioppo: What drove me away from Brooklyn, when I was growing up in ’70s it was dangerous. There was absolutely guns and violence. I didn’t see the beauty until I came back. The local neighborhood feel. Brooklyn is a little bit different than the city, it’s homey. The people are entrenched in the neighborhood — people who have been there 50 or 60 years. It still feels very provincial to me. That can be a blessing and a curse depending on how worldly you are. But it’s always been a place for me to come home to.
Many of the places and people you discuss in this memoir are long gone — but I imagine a few are still around? Do you still visit any of your old haunts?
I still do reconnect with old friends, but I don’t visit many old places — we spent a lot of time outdoors. Prospect Park is more the icon for me — we spent a lot of time in the park. Some of my most fond memories are the old playground, with the metal swings [before Harmony Playground was built]. I recently went to find a hidden spot. When I was growing up, we would go past fences behind the ballfield. There was a waterfall, and it was just this secluded area. That’s where we would hang out, that’s where we would talk. I couldn’t find it anymore — I don’t know if my memory is going or if they redid it.
Tell me a little bit about the other memoirs that served as inspiration for this book. When you were putting together your story, what were you reading?
There are a couple of authors that inspired me. I don’t know that I would consider David Sedaris’ books to be memoirs, but when I started this project I thought of it as a collection of stories. I was in Kansas City, stuck there because of a tornado. I was in the airport and I saw Me Talk Pretty One Day, and I just laughed out loud from the beginning of the my flight all the way through. I just found that he was able to convey genuine truth in such a candid fashion, to be able to take some dark situations and show them in the light of humor. When I started to write I really thought about that type of technique. As I wrote the book, I also read Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing — I thought she was very approachable, and I like that type of honesty and message.
What qualities do you think you learned growing up in Brooklyn? You’re in advertising, so if you had to boil it down to a tag, how might it read?
If I can to boil it down, I feel like a have a relentless spirit, and I believe that the culture that I grew up in, a modest household had a lot to do with it. Park Slope today is not as modest an area. One of the passions I developed from that time was writing — it didn’t cost anything and we always had pens and paper. I think growing up with very little enabled me to think outside of the box, to create.
What would you like to make sure is preserved in the neighborhood?
A sense of being modest. Family and neighborhood is much more important than anything else. Banding together for things you believe in. For example schools, my parents were very involved. In order to make sure the community remains a strong one. Just not losing that. My parents became very upset when the “the yuppies” moved in. They felt that although the property values went up, it lost a part of the authenticity of what Brooklyn was. Now they’re happy — it’s blended. Feeling safe there, feeling that Park Slope was a place that was their own, where kids could actually play outside. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn meant a lot to me growing up. We had space compared to Manhattan.
Lisa Racioppo’s From Brooklyn And Back Again is now available for purchase.