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New L.G.B.T.Q. travel book focuses on ‘goals versus regions’

BY SARAH CERIO | Some New School classes lead to good grades and graduations. In Susan Shapiro’s writing course, it often leads to books. This became evident at the packed book event last Wednesday night at P&T Knitwear on Orchard Street. There, two former Shapiro students, Mark Jason Williams and Amy B. Scher, who met at Shapiro’s class in Greenwich Village, presented their co-authored L.G.B.T.Q.+ travel book, “Out in The World.” The brightly colored hardcover was recently published in time for Pride Month by National Geographic Books and featured on “Good Morning America.”

​Discussing his background, Williams revealed that as a child he suffered from leukemia, during which he couldn’t leave the hospital. After studying playwriting for his B.F.A. in dramatic writing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, he became obsessed with travel. As an adult he has visited dozens of countries, with the goal of seeing every continent. Williams has published his work in the Washington Post, New York Times and Out Magazine, as well as doing travel writing for Far & Wide, Thrillist and The Globe & Mail.

From left, Amy B. Scher, Susan Shapiro, Mark Jason Williams and P&T Knitwear manager Tom McDonald.

“Out in the Word,” his debut book, organizes locations based on a trip’s goal rather than just a region. The reader, for example, can look up multiple locations that are sectioned under “Where No One Gets Hungry.” The author, who lives in Westchester with his husband and their two senior rescue dogs, admitted he has experienced homophobia while traveling. Yet he never blames an entire state or nation for a few bad apples and wanted to keep the book positive.

Scher admitted she never went to college and is self-taught. She has written for the Washington Post, CBS, CNN, Los Angeles Review of Books, Cosmopolitan and Oprah Daily and is now a bestselling author of five books, including the “How to Heal Yourself” series, which have been translated into 20 languages. Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat, Pray, Love”) calls her, “A brave warrior and a wonderful writer.” Scher’s 2018 memoir, “This is How I Saved My Life,” was published by Simon & Schuster. She uses her travel experiences to highlight the correlation between travel and self-healing. She lives Uptown with her wife and their “bad cat.”

Together, Williams and Scher have created a guide of safety, recognizing regions that have made progressive strides in welcoming the queer community. They have both traveled with their mothers and offered advice on traveling with older family members.

Moderator Susan Shapiro, who joked that she is the bestselling author of many books her family hates, has taught at The New School, N.Y.U. and Columbia University for 25 years and is now teaching private classes online.

The authors offered such advice as: Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and write about your most humiliating secrets; to combat writer’s block, remember, “plumbers don’t get plumber’s block”; just wake up in the morning and get to work since “a page a day is a book a year.” Sitting in the audience was “Out in the World”’s book agent, Steven Harris, who generously offered advice to aspiring authors.

Like the books it carries, P&T Knitwear has its own captivating story. The bookstore received its namesake from founder Bradley Tusk’s grandfather Hymie Tusk and his business partner Mike Pudio. Opened in 1952, the first P&T Knitwear was a clothing store and symbol of resilience for the two Holocaust survivors. Today, P&T Knitwear bookstore strives to honor their memory by giving back to the same community that helped make Tusk and Pudio’s dream a success.

Shapiro — whose recent memoir “The Forgiveness Tour” comes out in paperback next month — found it poignant to do an event here, since her grandparents and parents grew up in the neighborhood.

“When I moved here to go to N.Y.U.,” she said, “I called to tell my father I’d found a cool place to live in the East Village. He screamed, ‘It’s the Lower East Side! The realtors are lying and you’re doing this to spite us.'”

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