Bill Kushner, a Chelsea poet who also worked as a playwright, actor and the director at the New York Theater Ensemble and Theater Genesis in New York, died on August 10. He was 84.
A memorial was held at Chelsea Community Church, Ninth Avenue and W. 20th Street, on October 2nd, where dozens of friends and family members gathered to say last goodbyes to the long-time Chelsea resident and acclaimed New York School poet.
Kushner, a son of Russian immigrants, was born in 1931 in the Bronx. When Kushner was young, he spent a lot of time with his older sister, Rose, who introduced him to the world of literature. Rose would tell him, “Go and write me a poem.” And he would.
Despite the fact that he wrote his first poems when he was five, it took him another 50 years to publish his first book, Night Fishing (1980). Among Kushner’s other publications are Head (1986), Love Uncut (1990), He Dreams of Waters (2000), That April (2000), In Sunsetland with You (2007), and his most recent Walking After Midnight (2011).
Kushner drew inspiration from New York City, and his Chelsea neighborhood specifically. “Bill did a lot of his writing as he was walking,” recalled Don Yorty, Kushner’s close friend, who spent hours walking the streets of Manhattan alongside Kushner. “Bill would make wonderful observations and write them down instantly.”
While Kushner was “a great walker” and enjoyed discovering the unknown corners and streets of his beloved city, he would have always come back to 23rd Street and explore lower Manhattan—his favorite part of the city.
Kushner’s nephew, Richard Hacker, always thought of him as of “a very bohemian type of a guy, with a cup of coffee and a cigarette.”
However, Kushner was also known as “a very private person.” Themes of loneliness and privacy are reflected in the majority of his poems. In one poem, Bad Boy, Kushner wrote:
I was a bad boy. I left home
at birth to explore the earth,
and when I returned I was sad…
“I always thought that he doesn’t have any friends,” said Hacker. “But once, when Bill was at the hospital and I came over to visit him, I was surprised to see a line of people who were also there to see my uncle.”
Those who were close to Kushner remember him having a good sense of humor, a sharp mind and a pen with a notepad with him at all times.
“I’m going to miss Bill a lot,” said Yorty. “I’m going to miss his friendship, our conversations about writing and life, and the time we spend walking. Oh, Bill could walk, he could walk.”