September Culture Calendar: 13 things to see and do in NYC this month


Whoa, and just like that, it’s sayonara, summer. Hard to believe it really, not just because it zoomed by this year but also because in all reality we are probably going to deal with climate change-related heatwaves for another month. Nonetheless, here we are in September, and it feels as it does every year like a new beginning, even though the last time “back to school” was a relevant phrase in my life was when people could still smoke in bars, Giuliani was mayor, and I kept track of my plans and upcoming cultural events of interest in my trusty Palm Pilot.

Anyone who has spent a lot of time living in NYC will tell you that it is, by its very nature, necessarily a sometimes frustrating place to be in love with. There is the matter of the weather, of course, and the subway, and the insanely expensive apartments for ants, and the constant need to interact at all times with people, people, and more people, many of whom are wonderful, but lots of whom are the types who play Candy Crush with their phone speaker on full volume on the subway first thing in the morning and that’s just how it is. But there are two things that are undeniably great about this city, and they are (1) autumn in NYC and (2) the diverse and exceptional cultural opportunities available at all times, all over the place, and at all price points. It’s a truly awesome thing that still outweighs all of the more irritating aspects of life here after nearly two decades, and one that I never want to take for granted. Here are just some of the cool things happening this September that I’m looking forward to—hopefully you’ll be inspired as I am to get out and about and see and experience them.

1. DeRay Mckesson, Sept. 5 

As depressing and confounding as it has been to watch American society and political discourse spiral deeper and deeper to meet the least common (yet most racist, sexist, and unempathetic) denominator over the past few years, a silver lining has emerged in the form of a new army of young, modern civil rights and social justice leaders who have helped fuel the resistance and serve as hopeful reminders that we can (and hopefully someday will) do better. One such person is DeRay Mckesson, who first gained widespread renown by tweeting from the front lines of the Black Lives Matter movement, and now hosts the popular Pod Save the People podcast on Crooked Media. On September 5, Mckesson will present his forthcoming first book, On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope, at St. Ann’s and the Holy Trinity Church and will be joined in a conversation about community, inclusion, justice, and progress by the likes of Toure, Hasan Minhaj, and Cleo Wade. Tickets are $33 apiece, which includes a copy of the book. This feels a like a good tactic if you need to get yourself fired up for the midterm elections later this fall, and the New York State primaries Sept. 13.

2. I Am Not A Witch at BAM, Sept. 7 + New York Film Festival tickets on sale, Sept. 9

I still have yet to see BlacKkKlansman or Crazy Rich Asians, but I’m now thinking that I might want to make it a priority to catch I Am Not A Witch, the debut feature by director Rungano Nyoni playing at BAM from September 7-13. The movie, which is part satire, part parable, is about a young Zambian girl who is suspected of witchcraft and exiled to a witch camp, and it received a lot of attention at Cannes when it premiered earlier this year and looks like a fresh new voice in a world increasingly dominated by reboots. In other movie news, the 56th annual New York Film Festival kicks off on September 28, and if you want tickets to any of the screenings or other events you’ve gotta move fast when they go on sale September 9. The hot ticket everyone seems to be talking about is for the October 5 screening of Roma, Alfonso Cuaron’s epic and autobiographical work set in Mexico City that is being hailed as his best movie since Y Tu Mama Tabien.

3. The Bell House celebrates 10 years, Sept. 6-10

The Bell House in Gowanus is now officially an OG of Brooklyn’s live music and comedy scene. It’s celebrating its 10th anniversary this month with a series of shows, like a day-long block party on Saturday, Sept. 8, an epic night of comedy on Sept. 10 and concerts including an appearance by Ex Hex Sept. 7. Led by guitarist extraordinaire Mary Timony, Ex Hex released its excellent debut album Rips back in 2014; its melodic punk rock with a bit of glam hearkens back to groups like the Runaways. Making a return to Brooklyn, the group will reprise songs from the record and perhaps throw in some new material. On that same weekend, Waxahatchee—the moniker of singer/songwriter Katie Crutchfield—will also appear at the Bell House (Sept. 9), performing music from her first two albums–including last year’s well-received Out of the Storm–along with her new EP Great Thunder.—David Chiu 

[Related: 7 concerts to check out in September.]

4. Jose Andres at BAM, Sept. 11

In the wake of last year’s devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico (and the unspeakably cruel and embarrassing lack of response from the Trump administration), renowned chef Jose Andres distinguished himself as a humanitarian hero, arriving on the island just 4 days after the storm and spending the ensuing months harnessing the meager resources available and galvanizing a group of chefs and volunteers to provide millions of meals to the victims of Hurricane Maria. Now, Andres has written a book about his experience and his insights about how to respond to crises going forward, entitled We Fed An Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time. He’ll be at BAM to discuss it with Soledad O’Brien on Sept. 11, and tickets are $35, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the further laudable work of the Chef Relief Network of World Central Kitchen.

“Couple Walking” (1979), by Roy DeCarava.CreditSherry DeCarava, via the DeCarava Archives

5. “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” at Brooklyn Museum, Sept. 14

Following Brooklyn Museum’s universally appealing Bowie exhibit, it is switching gears this fall to the far more sobering and resonant exhibition of over 60 Black artists from the integrationist Civil Rights era to the militant Black Power movement. The show debuted at the Tate Modern in London last year, just one month before the Charlottesville riots. The reviews were glowing—The Guardian called it “…an exhibition that uncovers an entire lost history of American art”—and viewers were taken aback by how much of the artists’ work still spoke to present-day racial violence in America. The opening celebration is Saturday, Sept. 15 and before it ends Feb. 3, 2019, there will be plenty of opportunities to think and talk about this era and how it relates to our own, like an evening with participating artist Faith Ringgold Sept. 27. —Nicole Davis

6. Forever, Sept. 14, and Murphy Brown, Sept. 27

Although the excitement surrounding fall TV lineups continues to diminish steadily in the streaming era, September is still a time when a lot of new programming that networks and media companies have very high hopes for debuts. Among the contenders for your fave new show this season is Forever, an Amazon Prime comedy starring Maya Rudolph, Fred Armisen, and Catherine Keener, with writer/producers Alan Yang (Master of None) and Matt Hubbard (30 Rock) at the helm. Of course, it always feels a little scary to plug a thing I haven’t personally seen, but with that level of talent involved it would be weird if this show wasn’t a winner (not to mention hilarious). And, because I’m getting nostalgic in my old age and am constantly coming up with new pop culture references to draw blank stares from my 20-something coworkers, I’m personally intrigued by the upcoming reboot of Murphy Brown, in which Candice Bergen will reprise her role as a funny, badass journalist in a political/news climate that is (ahem) just a little different than it was when we last saw her in 1998.  

7. Childish Gambino at MSG, Sept. 15

This month brings a lot of opportunities to see great live music within the five boroughs, but the biggest ticket item is probably the chance to see Childish Gambino live at MSG in the year of This Is America and after Donald Glover has promised that he will retire his rapper alter ego for good at the conclusion of this tour. The first show sold out fast, but there are still tickets available for a later-added Sept. 15 show.

8. The Brooklyn Book Festival, Sept. 16

We are incredibly lucky to have one of the world’s biggest literary festivals in our backyard every September. When the Brooklyn Book Festival returns on Sunday, Sept. 16, local and international novelists, essayists, poets, food writers, YA authors and journalists will take up residence at Borough Hall, St. Francis College and other downtown locales for a day of free discussions. You could spend an hour examining the impact of Joan Didion’s essay collection, The White Album; hear Deb Perelman aka Smitten Kitchen talk about home cooking; enjoy listening to either Jennifer Eagan or Tayari Jones or both; consider the war on truth and journalism, or find your own favorite niche in the lineup. The day before is devoted to children’s books, with a special edition of Drag Queen Story Telling Hour, and a week of free readings and parties begins Sept. 10 in honor of it all.—N.D.

9. Patti Smith at Minetta Lane Theater; Sept. 22-24

Here’s a good way to deal with your feelings about Louis C.K.’s casually strolling on stage at the Comedy Cellar just months after he admitted to multiple instances of sexually harassing and intimidating women: Buy tickets to see feminist, writer, songstress, activist, and all-around goddess Patti Smith perform words and music for a three-night run later this month just down the street at Minetta Lane Theater. If you’ve never seen Smith live you owe it to yourself, she’s a goddamn institution. Tickets are going fast, so get on it.

10. The Waverly Gallery, Sept. 25; Oklahoma! at St. Ann’s, Sept. 27

I am, much to the chagrin of certain friends of mine, squarely in the dramatic-play-over-musical-preference camp, and the few Kenneth Lonergan productions I’ve seen—This Is Our Youth and Lobby Hero—are among my favorites in the past decade or so. Later this month, a revival of The Waverly Gallery, his 2000 play about a grandson watching his grandmother succumb to Alzheimer’s, begins previews at The Golden. Elaine May and Michael Cera star, and I’m definitely going to scoop up tickets. Meanwhile, despite what I just said about musicals, I can always get down with a classic, and I’ve definitely got my eye on the minimalist, modern production of Oklahoma! that begins its 6-week run at St. Ann’s Warehouse on September 27.

11. Sarah Lucas: “Au Naturel,” Sept. 26

The first U.S. retrospective of Sarah Lucas, a British-born artist whose work challenges gender, sexuality, and identity norms and presents the human body in quirky, surprising ways, takes over three floors of the New Museum starting on September 26. Some critics are suggesting that the show, called “Au Naturel,” is going to bring a heretofore seen level of recognition and fame to a provocateur whose career spans the last four decades.

12. Karl Ove Knausgaard at Murmrr Theater, Sept. 26

I feel like My Struggle, the acclaimed yet highly controversial six-part autobiographical opus by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard, is one of those things that I always read about but never seem to have the time to delve into for myself, even though my own (not inexpensive) copy of A Death In the Family has been staring at me from my bookshelf for well over a year now. As part of a rare stateside tour to promote the final installment in the series, Knausgaard will be appearing for a reading and conversation with writer and MacArthur genius Maggie Nelson (The Argonauts) at Murmrr Theater on September 26. Will this be enough of a kick in the ass to get me finally reading this thing? I hope so, but I feel like my neglected copy of Infinite Jest would be rolling its eyes now if it could.

13. The National, Sept. 29-30

Sadly, we have to wait many long months before Celebrate Brooklyn! returns to the Prospect Park Bandshell for another summer season of awesome outdoor shows, but we’ve still got Forest Hills Stadium, which is really a lovely venue to see a concert if you just get yourself over the interminable F train ride out there. This month has a pretty great lineup, which includes Van Morrison and Willie Nelson on the 12th and David Byrne and Tune-Yards on the 15th (I’ve seen Tune-Yards live and Merrill Garbus is unreal in person). Personally, though, I can’t miss The National whenever they come to town, and they’re playing two nights on the 29th and 30th, with a roster of guests like Cat Power, Jason Isbell, and Future Islands. I Need My Girl will always be one of the sexiest, most intensely emotional songs to me— the kind that can still conjure up major tsuris about an ex who you haven’t seen or even thought of in years. If you’re a fellow sadist who is down for that kind of thing, tickets are available here.

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