Paul Auster’s daughter takes center stage
SAY THE WORD “HEIRESS,” and most people think of a certain hard-partying, blonde socialite who represents everything that is gauche about pop culture today.
And then there’s 17-year-old Sophie Auster, the daughter of literary giants Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt. She’s a sort of heiress, too—not to a hotel fortune, but to her parents’ unique blend of artsy-intellectualism.
Her dad, of course, is most famous for his works of fiction, like his acclaimed New York Trilogy. He’s also a poet, essayist, translator, and even a movie director. Mom is an accomplished novelist and poet. Not surprisingly, Sophie is something of a renaissance woman as well. Still in high school, she’s a poetry-writing actress—and, as of this month, a recording artist, too.
“There was always a huge literary influence in my house,” said the striking Sophie, sipping Pinot Grigio in the parlor of her family’s Park Slope brownstone. “I was always surrounded by a lot of books, movies, and things that normal kids wouldn’t be exposed to.”
In true non-“normal” fashion, Sophie marked the release of her eponymous debut album on Urban Geek Records in February. Make no mistake: it’s no pop tart number, a la fellow acting/singing teens like Hillary Duff, Linsday Lohan, or whoever happens to be the flavor-of-the-second.
Instead, her album is the latest project of quirky Brooklyn lit-rockers Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp, who are better known as One Ring Zero, an “alternative” band in the true sense of the word. Playing oddball instruments like the claviola and accordion, the duo has achieved cult status with their recent album, As Smart As We Are, which features lyrics penned by literary luminaries such as Myla Goldberg, Dave Eggers and, you guessed it, Paul Auster.
Naturally it was Sophie’s father who was responsible for her involvement with the band. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” admitted Sophie, who, having taken equitably from the Norwegian and Semitic sides of her family tree, bears a resemblance to actress Keira Knightley.
The result of their collaboration is a record that pleasantly combines Sophie’s stage-clear voice with the bizarre, almost klezmerish, music of One Ring Zero. The lyrics draw on sources as varied as 16th-century English texts, French poems—translations courtesy of dad—and Sophie’s own poetry. The album is touching, resonant, and as catchy as anything filed under “adult contemporary.”
“At first I was a little skeptical of any father pushing his daughter,” said Hearst. “But we brought her in to demo a song, and she sounded great.”
“It was tremendous fun for all of us,” said Paul Auster, who, despite his many talents, denies Internet rumors that he was once in a rock band. “What the album lacks in polish it makes up in immediacy.”
And though Sophie said recording the album was “100 percent fun,” her true passion is acting. She has had small parts in a few films, including Lulu on the Bridge—written and directed by her father—and the upcoming musical Romance and Cigarettes. “But it was a tiny, tiny part, so you can’t really count that,” she said. “But I keep getting close to getting things, so it’s good.”
Sophie is slated to start college in the fall, and is nervously awaiting word from Sarah Lawrence and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan. Looking ahead, she’s hoping to land a major film role. “I fantasize about playing a troubled girl from the Midwest,” she said, “something I can really sink my teeth into.” She’s also open to recording more music; a fan of recent bands like the Killers and the White Stripes, as well as Jimi Hendrix and the Doors, she would love to do a rock album.
But one goal she would like to accomplish before her 18th birthday is, quite literally, closer to home. Sophie sheepishly admits to never having read any of her parents’ books. “I’m planning on sinking my teeth in this year,” she said. “Actually, we have to read City of Glass for my A.P. English class, so hopefully I’ll get my dad to help me with my essay.”
Lisa Keys is a staff writer at the New York Post.