Master Curator Paul Holdengräber Interviews Hitchens, Herzog, Gourevitch & Other Leading Thinkers

Paul Hold­en­gräber is the kind of cul­tur­al gad­about that makes New York one of the great­est cities to live in, since New York­ers like him are for­ev­er track­ing down the world’s best writ­ers, thinkers, and artists and rop­ing them into inti­mate, unscript­ed pub­lic inter­views, dis­cus­sions, and per­for­mances. He belongs in the com­pa­ny of such lumi­nary inter­view­ers as James Lip­ton or Char­lie Rose, but Hold­en­gräber does some­thing so many cura­tors of cul­ture don’t—he pulls things from his sub­jects that you’ve nev­er heard them say before, and he does it because he’s seem­ing­ly fear­less and a con­sum­mate ama­teur in the best sense of the word: he’s a lover—of lit­er­a­ture, the arts, music, phi­los­o­phy, and most of all, con­ver­sa­tion. A recent Wall Street Jour­nal pro­file described Hold­en­graber as the “only one man in New York who pos­sess­es the com­ple­ment of skills—charm, eru­di­tion, curios­i­ty and per­haps most of all chutz­pah” to pull off what appear to be casu­al chats–but which Hold­en­gräber care­ful­ly prepares–with peo­ple like Pete Town­shend, Colum McCann, Umber­to Eco, and just about any­one else you could think of.

Hold­en­gräber works as cura­tor of LIVE from the NYPL, a reg­u­lar event described as “Cog­ni­tive The­ater” that has fea­tured pre­vi­ous guests like Harold Bloom, Pat­ti Smith, Jay‑Z, and Colm Toib­in. It’s some­thing of a vari­ety show. Some events put two com­ple­men­tary fig­ures in con­ver­sa­tion with each oth­er, such as this past November’s con­ver­sa­tion between the par­doned West Mem­phis Three sus­pect Damien Echols and for­mer Black Flag singer Hen­ry Rollins; some fea­ture sur­pris­ing, out-of-char­ac­ter per­for­mances, such as a read­ing of the mod­ern clas­sic kid’s book for adults, Go the F*ck to Sleep, as dead­panned by the voice of exis­ten­tial despair, Wern­er Her­zog; and some­times LIVE takes place in tra­di­tion­al inter­view for­mat, with Hold­en­gräber doing what he does best, get­ting fas­ci­nat­ing peo­ple to tell sto­ries about them­selves. For exam­ple, Hold­en­gräber sat down in June, 2010 for a lengthy talk with Christo­pher Hitchens, who had just pub­lished his mem­oir, Hitch 22. Lit­tle did either of them know that Hitchens would be gone in less than two years. In the short clip above, Hitchens and Hold­en­gräber talk about mor­tal­i­ty, both onstage and dur­ing an inti­mate back­stage smoke break. Watch the full video of their talk below, and find the sched­ule for upcom­ing talks here.

As if his cura­to­r­i­al work for the NYPL were not enough, Hold­en­gräber also hosts The Paul Hold­en­gräber Show, which pre­miered last year on YouTube’s Intel­li­gent Chan­nel. Here he gets the chance to flex his inter­view mus­cles away from the audi­ences in a small stu­dio set­ting. Now nine episodes in, the show has fea­tured an unpre­dictable line­up of guests such as mas­ter chef David Chang, Eat, Pray, Love author Eliz­a­beth Gilbert, Robin Hood Foun­da­tion man­ag­ing direc­tor Eric Wein­gart­ner, and this past July, New York­er writer Philip Goure­vitch. In their con­ver­sa­tion below, Hold­en­gräber and Goure­vitch have a con­ver­sa­tion that swings effort­less­ly from report­ing on inter­na­tion­al tragedy and war to writ­ing a piece on James Brown to Gourevitch’s love for the Bib­li­cal sto­ry of Jon­ah and the whale. Goure­vitch retells the sto­ry with the inten­si­ty and vivid­ness of an eye­wit­ness and the inci­sive com­men­tary of a Tal­mu­dic schol­ar. It’s a moment only Paul Hold­en­gräber could set up.

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian. He recent­ly com­plet­ed a dis­ser­ta­tion on land, lit­er­a­ture, and labor.

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