Tim Lawrence – Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor 1980-1983

This week it’s the turn of Tim Lawrence, three-time Duke University Press author and professor of Cultural Studies:

Describe your book

I’ve written three books—Love Saves the Day, Hold on to Your Dreams, and Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor 1980 – 1983 — but sometimes think of them as one book. All three cover music and dance and to a certain extent art culture in New York City during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Why did you decide to publish with a university press?

I was a grad student in the English & Comp Lit department at Columbia University at the time I sought out my first contract and Rob Nixon, a mentor and supervisor, suggested a series of university presses, noting that Duke was known for its cutting-edge catalogue. I liked the idea of being able to write for a publisher who wouldn’t straightforwardly push me to reach the biggest market.

Do you enjoy the writing process?

I loved the writing process but then I’ve been very lucky to write about an extraordinary period in NYC history and to have interviewed many of the most influential participants. They had important stories to tell. I wanted to convey their energy, ideas and experiences in the writing.

What is your favourite book? Why?

I couldn’t pick out a favourite book…

What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given to you?

When Ken Wissoker, my editor at Duke, read the first draft of Love Saves the Day, which had become my PhD en route to becoming my first book, asked me if I wanted the people I was interviewing to be able to read it. His point was that if I wanted to bring in cultural theory and analytical/critical points around that I needed to do so in a way that would be comprehensible for an intelligent yet non-academic audience.

What piece of advice might you give to young academics looking to follow in your footsteps?

Look outwards, reach your audience, communicate your ideas as many ways as you’re able.

Who inspires you?

So many people inspire me although David Mancuso and Arthur Russell have had a particular impact.

What’s next?

I was going to write the next major installment of my NYC history, covering 1984-87, but it’s now looking much more likely that I will draw on my extensive interviews with David Mancuso to attempt to publish an “autobiography”, i.e. David’s first person account of his life.

Tim Lawrence is Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of East London and the author of Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970–1979 and Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973–1992, and Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983 all published by Duke University Press.