Karen Abbott is a journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller Sin in the Second City, an exploration of the role of brothels in the cultural and political life of turn-of-the-century Chicago. Prior to publishing Sin in the Second City – which took her three years to write and research – Abbott worked for Philadelphia magazine and for Philadelphia Weekly. Abbott, a native of Philadelphia, received her BA from Villanova University in 1995. The critically acclaimed Sin in the Second City tells the story of Chicago’s Everleigh Club, a famous high-end whorehouse that was known as the “finest brothel in the land.” Abbott lives with her husband in Atlanta and is working on her second book, a portrait of Gypsy Rose Lee and Depression-era New York.
Karen Abbott: Well I always liked to write. When I was a kid in grade school I would write really bizarre . . . I was always interested in murder mysteries, and murder, and law, and sort of the darker impulses of people. So I would write stories about murderous matrons and, you know, serial killers who, you know, were grandmothers. And I would send these stories off to Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock and, you know, kept getting rejections. Of course I was like 15 and 14 so I really didn’t expect anything, but I kept doing it just for fun. Then I sort of gave it up and I figured, you know, nobody can really grow up and become a writer. I didn’t think it was something people did for a living. It was sort of a fanciful thing. And I had planned to go to law school. That’s what . . . mostly because I thought that would be the easiest thing to do, and I liked to argue with people, and I like politics. But while I was in college I got an internship at Philadelphia magazine. And one of the things I had to do besides picking up people’s laundry and opera tickets was transcribing their interviews. It was way before, you know, anybody had machines that did that for you. So there were a couple of journalists who would make me transcribe their interviews, and they would say things like, you know, “Note how I ask this question. Note the way I sort of use inflection on this word. And the way they answer this, mark that down.” And it was a very calculated system of questioning that intrigued me, and that’s when I started wanting to be a journalist, so . . .
Recorded On: 1/22/08