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Feiffer, Allen Drawn Together by 'Long Chalkboard'

Jenny Allen, a journalist, and her husband, cartoonist and playwright Jules Feiffer, have collaborated on their first literary effort, an illustrated book for adults. The Long Chalkboard includes three stories that are full of sweet fancy and mostly well-intentioned, albeit deeply determined, people.

Allen has written for The New York Times, New York magazine, Esquire. She's also done standup comedy in New York City. But no fiction until now. Feiffer, a Pulitzer Prize winner whose the comic strip ran for 42 years in The Village Voice, also writes plays and movies.

"I had this notion for a story," Allen says. "It was just a little yarn that occurred to me in a perhaps fey way. I didn't know what form it would take."

She worked on it for a while and showed it around to a few friends. A publisher asked for more stories -- enough to make up a book.

At first, Allen was going to ask a friend to do the illustrations. But Feiffer took a look, liked what he read, and began to draw.

"It's very much like casting a play," Feiffer says. He would do three or four different versions of the same character. "And [Allen] would look at them, and we always ended up agreeing," he says.

Feiffer used charcoal to create the illustrations in The Long Chalkboard, a departure from the markers and pens he had used for decades. Though charcoal is more demanding -- it smudges and is unstable to work with -- Feiffer says he wonders why he didn't adopt it sooner.

"Each time, it's all about the freshness of the line and the freshness of expression and telling the story," Feiffer says.

The second of three stories in the book is called "What Happened." It features a cranky, successful author named Audrey, whom Allen gives lots of idiosyncrasies.

"People think I'm sort of a jolly person, but in fact I am fairly cranky," Allen says. "There's a lot of me in her, I think. I think she's who I would be if I didn't have anybody to report to, you know, or answer to."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nationally renowned broadcast journalist Susan Stamberg is a special correspondent for NPR.