New York Insider: Harlem Writer Stacy Parker Aab

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First-time memoirist Stacy Parker Aab tells us why the $20 blowouts, brownstones and friendly neighbors make Harlem the best place for her to call home.

Name, Age, Occupation: Stacy Parker Aab, 35, Writer/Researcher "The Katrina Experience"

Neighborhood: Harlem, New York

Abode: Lives in a two-bedroom, two-floor apartment of a brownstone with her boyfriend
How long have you lived in Harlem?
Two and a half years.

What do you love most about your neighborhood? The beautiful people. I love walking down the street and seeing the women and men and children and how beautiful everyone is. I often think about how the colors of the bricks in Harlem reflect the colors of the people there. Some people have scowls on their faces, not everyone is walking around like whoa we are in a dream, but they are beautiful.

I also like the cultural opportunities here. I like being able to go to the Studio Museum on Sundays. It's only a block away and it's free on Sundays so I can just walk in.

Best kept a secret in Harlem? The Dominican blowouts! I love my Dominican salon, Dominican Star. It's the best in the country and only $20 dollars! I also love Carols Daughter, a black-owned body products store. They have a new mani/pedi salon in the back and it's really beautiful. The products are great!

Favorite way to spend a Saturday night in your neighborhood?
We have a rooftop deck and it's pretty amazing to look out on the cityscape from there. We can barbecue and entertain people and have friends over. It's great.

Why Harlem? Since I've lived in New York City I have lived in Harlem only. It's cultural and it's affordable, too.

I am on the island and I could afford to live here, and I've always felt safe. Even when I lived next to projects I felt safe. You move into the city and you don't know, is it going to be a problem to live next to a project? But no, I've always felt safe where I lived.

How do you like living in a Brownstone? Brownstone living is amazing. Period. I think that's the best way to live in New York. I have only lived in New York for more than 2 years but I've lived in a few brownstones and even when I had only a single room it was the best. The building was so interesting architecturally, high ceilings, just really great spaces with so much history. Plus, they are easy to keep bug free! Where we live now, no bugs. It's gross [to think about] but important.

Your first book is out now and you live in a historically rich area for artists. Was that intimidating?
At first I was anxious thinking how can I work in New York City and finish this book? And then I realized generations of writers have managed to finish their book and work at the same time, so I wrote the whole thing living here in Harlem. It turned out to be a nurturing place for me. I could go to Fairway at 125th and get the food I needed and I could go home and burrow away and write in my room. Or in a pinch I could go to the bodega and get what I needed. Sometimes I worried that its a frantic place, it's very alive and sometimes the noise can be the enemy of writing for me, but I managed to find quiet quarter of the city for me.

Having been in politics in D.C., the subject of your book, "
Government Girl," how do you compare your life in Harlem? Harlem has been really good to me. I've made some great friends, I fell in love here and I'm starting a family here. I wouldn't have known two and a half years ago that would be the case, but it's been a rich place for me.

Harlem is a place with a lot of lore associated with it. What would you say the "real Harlem" is like, versus what people think it's like?
So many people have set ideas on what Harlem is or isn't or what it's supposed to be and I've just found that its full of really great people. I love being able to reflect on the history around me but I'm probably more grateful for my flesh and blood neighbors of today. It isn't just history, it's real people trying to make their lives, and I've just found that its been a welcoming place ... and I know I've only just scratched the surface.
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