(Few leftists in Manhattan don’t have a story about Frances Axler Goldin. Many knew her in the Metropolitan Council on Housing, the organization she founded that saved the Lower East Side from Robert Moses. Others knew her familiar face from Occupy Wall Street, or from the LGBT Pride marches where she celebrated her lesbian daughters. I met her in 2006 when The Frances Goldin Literary Agency signed my book, through the tireless efforts of agent Sam Stoloff; and always thought of her as a godmother to half of NYC and all lefty writers. It was a shock, therefore, to learn of Goldin’s death at 96 from former Villager editor Lincoln Andersen, a journalist I and she had known for decades. I contacted my agent right away, with the subject line “I’m so sorry.” Stoloff agreed to share with Democratic Left the elegy below, adapted from his letter to the agency’s clients and friends. (Ed.)
It is with great sadness that I write to let you know that Frances Goldin passed away yesterday, Saturday May 16, at the age of 95, after years of declining health.
Those of you who knew her will remember her as a warm and powerful presence. She loved a good party, to laugh, to dance, and to eat, especially a good bialy or Puerto Rican pernil. She loved the Lower East Side of New York, with its immigrant, working-class, polyglot ethos. She was a devoted friend. But most of all she loved fighting for a good cause, whether it was against racist incarceration, for gay and lesbian dignity, decent housing for the homeless, the rights of the disabled, or Palestinian self-determination—among many others. But especially against predatory landlords and real estate developers.
I first met Frances around 1974, when I was a teenager, and she became perhaps the greatest influence in my life. My father, a city planner, got to know Frances and her partner Walter Thabit in progressive New York planning circles in the late 60’s. I would sometimes go bowling with Frances and Walter at Bowlmor Lanes on University Place, or play scrabble with them in Frances’s dining room (though they were very impatient with me when I couldn’t keep up). Frances was for me an awe-inspiring link to a long history of Jewish radicalism in New York, stretching through the 20th century.
One of her proudest accomplishments was the publication of a book, Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA, in 2014, with contributions from many agency clients and friends. She did not manage to get arrested for what she claimed would be the twelfth time, though she tried very hard during the Occupy Wall Street protests. And she did not live to see her greatest ambition realized: the freeing of Mumia Abu-Jamal from prison. But these were only her latest efforts to achieve justice, in a life filled with them.
We are proud to carry on the work that she started at the Frances Goldin Literary Agency, now in its 43rd year and going strong. The agency has changed with the times, but we will continue to dedicate ourselves to the work that Frances began: the fight for self-determination for all people.
As Frances would always say, a better world is possible.