Henry Alford, Sandra Tsing Loh: One Night Only

By Neal Comment

tsingloh-alford.jpgHenry Alford first met Sandra Tsing Loh back in 1994, when they were introduced by a mutual editor. “I knew the moment I started reading [Depth Takes a Holiday] that Sandra was a kindred spirit,” Alford recently recalled. “Both of our books contained the phrase ‘Danskin crotch panel.'” Tonight, at Housing Works, Alford will be asking Tsing Loh about her latest, Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$@ Story About Parenting.

“Sandra’s new book works on several levels, including my own,” he emailed. “There’s something very satisfying about reading an account of someone who has a lot of initial anxiety about putting her kid in a public school, but who ends up becoming an advocate and activist for public education… I’ll be interested to find out from her at the reading now much of the hysteria about getting your child into a good school is genuine concern for the child’s education and welfare, and how much is status anxiety.” Of course, he still appreciates the funny bits: “I love the part where Sandra puts all her Jonathon Kozol books into a wicker basket as if getting ready to drown them. That’s good stuff.”

Alford strengthened his connection with Tsing Loh’s family when he met her father as part of the research for How to Live, which the subtitle describes as “a search for wisdom from old people (while they are still on this earth).” In the book, he writes about how he was nervous about encroaching on Tsing Loh’s “territory,” as she’s been incorporating stories about her father’s scavenger lifestyle into her performances and writing for years, but, in the days before the Housing Works event, he remembered being “thrilled” when Dr. Loh agreed to be interviewed. “I’d always thought Sandra was exaggerating when she said he uses a Frosted Flakes box as his briefcase,” he confided. “She is not.” (For more on that story, though, you’ll have to wait until early 2009, when Twelve publishes Alford’s book.)

(photos: Tsing Loh/Alexander Techworks; Alford/Vanity Fair)