“Nights at Rizzoli” by Felice Picano— How It Was

nights at rizzoli

Picano, Felice. “Nights at Rizzoli”, OR Books, 2014.

How It Was

Amos Lassen

If anyone can tell us how it was once for gay writers, it is Felice Picano. Picano is one of the people responsible for getting our literature accepted and respected. He was one of the original members of the Violet Quill s he knew who was who and what was going on. Picano also worked at Rizzoli books and with this memoir he takes us back to New York when Rizzoli was a place where gay men met alongside intellectuals, celebrities, artists and assorted hangers-on. This was before Stonewall and Picano had yet become the writer we love. Rizzoli was a bookstore that catered to the who’s who of New York and Picano tells us of meeting them first there and then seeing them at night in the less beautiful places. I have long been a Picano fan and have reviewed almost of his books and have noticed how he shares his talent with so many different publishers. I am just amazed at the accuracy of his memory and in awe of his storytelling.

Rizzoli at 712 Fifth Avenue was a very special place. You could see Salvador Dalí, Jerome Robbins, Jackie Onassis. Gregory Peck, Mick Jagger, S. J. Perelman, I. M. Pei, Philip Johnson, Josephine Baker, John Lennon and many more. These were people for whom New York City was the center of the world—but this was in the 1970’s (before Amazon) when people actually shopped for books (much as I still do today at Brookline Booksmith and Calamus in Boston. People mingled and talked back then and you could meet anyone at Rizzoli. My first trip to New York as a young adult included a stop there. Those that worked at Rizzoli were also special people—they had a sense of sophistication and were only too glad to help a customer. (Remember those when salespeople really sold?).

Let’s go back to 1971 when Picano was trying to get a break as a writer and when a friend helped him to get a part-time job at Rizzoli. We see here that that job changed his life forever because it allowed him to meet some of the most important people in the cultural life of New York City. He learned so much there that he really did not know fear. When work was over for the day (here comes the juicy part), Picano would leave the world of taste and elegance and left that world behind as he roamed the city visiting the gay clubs and bars as well as the piers and he tells us about it.

I must say that physically and visually this is one of Picano’s most beautiful books. Aside from the wonderful written memories that he shares with us are also five beautiful photographs.