The author of the irresistible Overheard series eavesdrops across America, catching enticing slivers of conversations ranging from the hilarious to the heartrending.
Imagine you're riding in a crowded elevator in New York City and overhear two young women talking: "Her personality makes her prettier." Or perhaps you're on the beach in Miami when the man beside you confesses: "It would have been a completely different life." Maybe you're lunching in Chicago when the lady at the next table declares: "I don't have a cold. This is the way I look without makeup!" If you're fascinated and intrigued, you're not alone. With an unassuming camera and countless notepads, artist Judith Henry has documented the hopes, fears, and real emotions that make Americans tick.
Henry has been using overheard sentences and photographs in her art since 1979. The author of Overheard at the Museum and Overheard While Shopping has now traveled cross-country to assemble Overheard in America, featuring more insights and eye-openers by anonymous people from all walks of life. Henry has always been a voyeur and an eavesdropper, hearing firsthand the praises, complaints, joys, and heartaches of real-life people. In her observations -- from Los Angeles to Chicago, from Miami to New York, and places in-between -- she's heard Americans' daily quarrels and hard-earned wisdom. On the beach or at restaurants, riding the train or dancing at bars, Americans have unknowingly shared their most beguiling and basic truths. Startlingly funny and starkly honest, Overheard in America captures the wonderful essence of our daily lives, offering a coolly unaltered portrait of America today.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"Her personality makes her prettier." I heard that sentence in a crowded elevator shortly after moving to New York. I paused and repeated the sentence to myself. I liked both the sound of the words and the sentiment, so I reached in my bag for a pen and paper while repeating the sentence over and over as a mantra. I often repeat a sentence until I am able to record it: "I'm thirty fuckin' years old already, ya know. I'm thirty fuckin' years old already, ya know. I'm thirty fuckin' years old already, ya know."
I've been called an eavesdropper, but I don't listen in on entire conversations. What I find interesting is sentences taken out of context. I heard in a Japanese restaurant: "Did I tell you about the time my boss bit me?" And while standing on the platform waiting for my train, I heard the man next to me declare, "Just think what I could have done without her!"
I grew up in suburban Ohio and moved to New York City as soon as I finished college. The chaos and diversity of the city thrills me and I don't go anywhere without a notebook, pen, and camera. In this city, there are no secrets: I often hear the most intimate and personal information on a crowded subway, elevator, or street corner while waiting for the light to change.
With a blend of photography and typography, I document the movement and daily chatter of New Yorkers. For me the essence of a city is its people, and since cities, like people, are unique, after years of concentrating on New York, I took my camera and notebook and began to explore other places.
I started with Los Angeles because I visit there often and appreciate it's quirkiness. I love all the ways it is different from New York. The weather is gorgeous and gardeners seem to be always tending to something. Even though the population is as ethnically diverse as New York, Los Angeles sprawls and people live, work, and congregate in areas separated by many miles. In New York, I just leave home and I'm instantly part of a crowd, but to find people in L.A. one must travel by car like an Angeleno, in traffic and on freeways and always trying to find a place to park.
After I had gathered material from New York and L.A., the East coast and West coast of America, I decided to go north to Chicago, and south to Miami. I wanted to discover for myself, as I always have, what the pulse of discourse on the streets of America sounds and looks like.
Miami was exotic; I knew that! I remembered the flamboyance and brillance, the beat and heat of Miami Vice. Little Elian Gonzalez flashed though my mind as I recalled the international custody battle between his Miami family and his Cuban father. I was eager to practice my Spanish and experience the Latino flavor of the city. As I expected, the city was glitz and glamour, sunshine and beach. There is a large Cuban community and also Latinos from Central and South American countries; Spanish is spoken everywhere. Miami is definitely hot!
I'll admit I was skeptical about Chicago! It is the Midwest and therefore I was prejudiced! But the place was impelling; streets are wide and the city's majestic architecture is visible everywhere. Even though I am a people watcher, the towering architecture, somehow always present, competed for my attention. It was easy to navigate by subway and bus, and I was relieved not to have to once park a car. Chicago had great spirit and wasn't at all like the vapid Midwest I experienced in my childhood.
I wasn't surprised to find McDonald's, Starbucks, and a dozen other ubiquitous chains in all four cities, nor was I surprised that fashion and idiom and a general twenty-first-century anxiety is pervasive. Young people everywhere talk the same talk, walk the same walk, dress in similar ways, and decorate their bodies with tatoos and piercings. But as I got caught up in the flux of everyday life, the individual character of each city captivated me. The people I encountered were both alien and totally familiar. In the everyday banter of Americans, I found a rich trove of wisdom, inspiration, and humor.
So, here then is Overheard in America: quick glimpses and fragments of talk on the streets, a record of my travels. The book is a sketch, not a portrait, of these cities and I know that there is as much of me here as there is of New York, Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Copyright ©2006 by Judith Henry