Magazine article The New Yorker

A Room of One's Own

Magazine article The New Yorker

A Room of One's Own

Article excerpt

A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN

Ansel Elkins, a thirty-two-year-old poet, lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. "I need silence and stillness when I'm writing," she says. "If my husband is home, even if he's just puttering around without talking, I sometimes get bitchy." She lives from grant to grant. Recently, she won the Yale Younger Poets Prize and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She also accepts writers' residencies. At Hedgebrook, an hour north of Seattle, "they put you up in your own cabin with a wood-burning stove, and they cook you all these organic meals. It's lonely, but productive."

In May, Elkins applied for a different kind of residency, one organized by the Paris Review and the Standard East Village, a sleek hotel. The gig offered free lodging "to a writer who has a book under contract and needs three weeks of solitude in downtown New York City." A few weeks later, Elkins was at a friend's house, "picking ticks off the dog and throwing them in the fire, and I stopped to check my e-mail, and I won!" Her reward: for most of July, she would inhabit a twelve-foot-by-fourteen-foot bedroom on the tenth floor of the hotel, within blocks of Cooper Union, a homeless shelter, and several massage parlors and sake bars. Breakfast and coffee would be complimentary; lunch, dinner, and alcohol would not.

On a recent Wednesday, Elkins awoke from an afternoon nap and took an elevator down to the Standard's well-appointed lobby, which has a kiosk stocked with aspirin, rolling papers, and condoms. A concierge wearing a paisley bow tie said, "Hello again." Elkins is short--"between Lolita and Lil' Kim" is how she describes her height--and she has tight curls, dyed auburn and fashioned into what she calls a "frohawk." She apologized for her "hangover face"; a poet friend had taken her out drinking in SoHo the previous night. She wore a sleeveless linen top, white trousers, and cat's-eye glasses. "I was thrilled to win this," she said. "But my first thought was 'Can I afford it?' " Packing for the trip, she set aside a batch of envelopes and slipped a twenty-dollar bill into each one. "I open one every day," she said. "When I've used up the cash, I go back to the hotel."

In the Standard's restaurant, she chose an outdoor table, facing the Bowery, and ordered a coffee (free). …

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