3 pm was approaching, and I still had a shitload of work to do. Luckily however, I got the brunt of it completed before this. I was slightly nervous because it was my first time attending a book event, let alone a Zoom version.
On August 18th, I saw a post about an Anderson Cooper Q&A to discuss a book he co-authored with Katherine Howe surrounding his family’s fluffy history. Knowing that I would be building out He Who Nose, a then fetus, I said fuck it and took the leap and bought a ticket for $85. You read that right. But I do get the book as well, so suck it.
Fast forward to now, I was slightly unprepared. I wanted to ask hard-hitting questions but had not yet received the book in the mail. Books and Books, the Miami bookstore hosting the conversation, informed customers that international orders would likely take more time. Perfectly fine with me, but not precisely at this specific moment.
The type of person I am, I would’ve researched a little about the book beforehand. But in all honesty, my life has been pretty busy as of recent. I have a full-time job that is full. So much so that August 18th became September 24th very fucking quickly.
I made sure to block off the time in my calendar so that the team was well aware of my unavailability. The calendar event was fittingly named: Non-Work Related. Conciseness is key, girlies.
A Quick Rush to the Atelier (aka My Closet)
Ten minutes before the event, I jumped to my closet and pulled out a Jonathan Anderson knit sweater. Without diving too deep into its sentimental value, I can simply state that it is one of my favourite pieces, which I rarely wear.
Why dress up? Uh… I don’t know. Beauty? Pretty? The full experience?
I was so naive to think it would be a traditional zoom call that I’ve been accustomed to at work. Everyone sees each other; we’ll share a screen here and there. Nonetheless, it was not. I was fooled. I also did my hair up a little. Fuck I was doing way too much for this.
Let’s dive into the authors of Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty.
Anderson Cooper is a well-known broadcast journalist and political commentator; in the context of this article, he is simply the son of Gloria Vanderbilt, who, above all else, was the final piece of the namesake dynasty.
Upon his mother’s passing in mid-2019, he began rummaging through all of what she had left behind. This was the beginning of what came to be Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of An American Dynasty.
Early on in the project, he was introduced to Katherine Howe by a mutual friend. He voiced his appreciation for Katherine’s ability to frame the stories. In Cooper’s case, I never considered what co-authoring a book must entail, especially on one that pertains to your family. But like him, I think there’s an enhanced perspective that comes with it. You have a new party approaching the same material that you’ve already been privy to your entire life. Having someone like Katherine, who’s a curious soul by nature, by the sounds of her experience pulling material from the library, you can get somewhere special. Hopefully, that is the case when I read the book (when it finally arrives).
Beyoncé, Travis Scott, Megan Thee Stallion, and Katherine Howe. Houston is truly the birthplace of rap.
Howe is the author of the New York Times Bestseller, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. Through my research on this book, I find it’s a slight coincidence that, similar to Anderson, who went through his mother’s things after she had passed, Connie Goodwin, the main character, is asked to handle the sale of her grandmother’s abandoned home near Salem. Either way, I may end up reading the book.
I found Katherine quite compelling as a moderator and speaker, and I was enthralled by her voice, similar to mine. Yaas nasaly voice representation.
Katherine Howe’s literary portfolio includes:
For this book, Katherine wanted to focus more on the lived experiences of the Vanderbilt people rather than tunnelling into the already largely publicized architecture, parties, and money. As Katherine so justly admits:
“The personhood is lost.”
I respect her devotion to telling the untold story rather than falling to the knees of the easily traceable publicized history of the family.
Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of An American Dynasty
Cooper and Howe join forces to explore the Vanderbilts, which Anderson considers his mother’s family rather than his own. Lucky him, if I did the same, my mom would simply merge the two with a swift backhand to my face.
The Vanderbilts were a wealthy family of Dutch folk (aka white people). They gained immense popularity and mon-ayyyyyyy during the Gilded Age (late 19th century, rapid economic growth, and rapid increase in industrialization). Their success began with Cornelius Vanderbilt, who upgraded and expanded the American transportation system. To no one’s surprise, he got mega-rich, and such fortune became the foundation for lavish galas, big spending, and more Vander-building. But within the family, there was also some drama. Gloria herself was not even being adequately taken care of by her parents; I would attribute this to the times as well as the buttload of money the family was swimming in. Money equals less work and less time.
Random fact for you folks: there are other famous descendants of the Vanderbilt family: Timothy Olyphant, actor (he was in Justified and Damages...with the indomitable Glenn Close) and James Vanderbilt, screenwriter best known for Zodiac starring Jake Gyllenhaal.
The 448-page book delves into the key players of the family, like Cornelius (aka The Commodore), Reginald “Reggie” Vanderbilt, and Gloria Morgan. From what Cooper and Howe said, it feels like there will definitely be some drama in this book. I have not yet read it, as my book has likely not even seen the outside of the four cardboard walls. I will write a review of the book afterwards; this is a summary of the event.
Mixed Feelings Make the Best Beginnings
Anderson starts by mentioning his feelings towards what he considers “his mom’s family.” That alone speaks volumes. Cooper doesn’t necessarily hate his ancestry; it’s evident that he feels disconnected. Many of us can relate to this. If we’re lucky, we’re born to two parents, each with a family of their own.
From childhood to our teen years, we’re meant to build relationships and experience the angst of being a human in this world. But what if you just despise one side of the family? I can empathize. Back then, the tiniest thing would make me hate a brother or a cousin. Giving me a look? I would respond by swiftly blocking you from the wireless router– hostility is my superpower. I was also guilty of writing up a “Favourite Cousins” list growing up. What’s worse is that I’d share it with my cousins—the gall.
With Death Comes Birth
Following the death of his mother, the glamorous Gloria Vanderbilt, and the birth of his son, equally as enchanting, Wyatt, now seemed like the best time to write for Anderson. I cannot imagine what grief over the passing of your mother must feel like. Grief works in so many ways. Thinking about death puts me in a state of helplessness where I begin seeing myself as merely a depressed child that cannot cope with losing people. For Anderson, who remained firmly close to his mother throughout his entire life, having a child soon after her passing must’ve felt like a whirlwind of emotions. She was a strong woman indeed. Any mother that has had to cope with the suicide of a child is titanium in my eyes.
Anderson refers to Gloria as the last Vanderbilt. I can see why. The way the world works now, people just don’t give a shit anymore about this type of stuff. The glam, the parties, and the money. It’s hardly the talk of the town as much as it is the run of the media.
Hearing Anderson talk about his grandfather, Reginald, made me squirm. Rich white people are indeed a unique species. His neglecting to pay back the labour workers and staff, from the newspaper guy to the laundry lady, made me a little sick. Yeah, I fucking hate this guy.
Highlights from the Event
Before the Rise, the Vanderbilts Were Like Soundcloud Rappers
Before Alva Belmont married Anderson’s great uncle, William, the Vanderbilts were considered nouveau-riche¹. They were the original Gucci-print tracksuit-wearing rappers who lived in their mom and stepdad’s basement.
¹ Nouveau=riche = Coming into wealth and just spending shitloads while lacking taste.
What Would Gloria Think?
Anderson pointed out that she’d probably enjoy the book if she were still around today. I think I would have a good laugh in about fifty years, looking back at my life through pictures, films, and other artifacts.
Did Gloria Like Being A Vanderbilt?
She felt no connection to them whatsoever. Not that big of a stretch considering her family was restricted to just her grandmother and her nanny.
Cooper Over Vanderbilt
Anderson considers himself lucky for not having that name. I think to some extent, I agree with him. He might have skipped a bit of the fronted privilege, but for people not to already know that Anderson Cooper was the son of Gloria Vanderbilt back in the 80s. Like Chaz to Cher, people were well fucking aware that Anderson was Gloria’s son. He was already in Harper’s Bazaar before he could walk, and he was a fucking guest on the Tonight Show at age three. Maybe the asthmatic eighty-year-olds would’ve shrieked at the sight of a Vanderbilt, but it’s hard to tell if that was a reaction to the sight of him or a symptom of the times.
Reginald Was the Shocker
One of my favourite moments from the event was Anderson voicing his disappointment in his grandfather, whom he refers to as “Reggie.” He mentioned his distaste for Reggie’s immoral actions, like his disregard for paying it back and forward, hanging out with young girls (there’s a term for this kind of man: pervert) and manipulating his estranged daughter while doing so.
The disappointment is what sticks with me. Hearing him speak about a man he never met, who has a well-publicized history of doing low-level shit, is endearing. From what I gathered, it’s the wasted potential that bothers Cooper the most—knowing that so much of the wealth could’ve been shared with people, organizations, and communities that needed it.
Responses to the Book
Towards the end of the event, Anderson touched on the reactions he had received from people. I’m trying not to laugh as I write this because it’s just so predictable.
Anderson mentioned that several of you sassy little fuckers said, “Boohoo, you’re writing about your privilege.” I died. From the moment he said “Boo hoo,” I was out. Some of you people are always on point; you don’t miss a beat to call out the privileged o their privileges. Cooper does take the feedback in stride; he refers to the responses as easy responses to have. For the record, he never once denied his privilege in responding to the comments.
The people do have a point in highlighting his real privilege. Whether this project occurred during pre-pandemic or not, it was still released during such. People have died, people have lost their jobs, and people are struggling to make ends meet. This narrative can be spun around to most people coming out with businesses and products. It’s just the truth.
I also found myself disconnected from his speaking about his perception of his grandfather, Reggie. He pointed out a few things about the man:
- Didn’t pay his staff - all the mailman even charged was a single penny for the paper. And he still couldn’t pay; inflation my ass.
- Used his estranged daughter to hang out with her friend. They were both underaged. The man was what we call today a perv.
- Gambled away most of his inheritance.
However, in the same breath, he points out that he has a beautiful painting of his pervy granddaddy in his twenties. Make it make sense.
It comes down to vulnerability. Questions I would have asked include:
- Do you hate the Vanderbilts?
- If you could axe one of the Vanderbilts, who would it be?
- Did your mother benefit from being a Vanderbilt?
- Is there a difference between Anderson Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper?
- Do you feel that you’d be different if Reggie hadn’t squandered the family fortune?
It felt quite a bit like Katherine wanted to pry further. I got the sense that she was respectful to Cooper. But still. It’s not even his family; it’s Gloria’s.
I will attribute the mundane questioning and lacklustre tea to the fact that this was one of just many live events that Katherine and Anderson put on to promote the book. But still...get to the nitty-gritty. Who was fuckin who? Did your mother spill any secrets about the family? Murder? Mystery?
If you’re interested in learning more about the book, it’s called: Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of An American Dynasty.