Kate Walter: The Village Scribe

Behind The Mask

Behind the Mask: Living Alone in the Epicenter

By Kate Walter

Heliotrope Books

Publishing date: November 16, 2021

Nonfiction; Memoir Of Essays

Price: $16.00 paper; $8.99 e-book

ISBN: 978-1-942762-81-2 paperback; 136 pages

978-1-942762-82-9 e-book


Kate Walter loved her life as a single gay woman living in New York City’s famous Westbeth Artists Housing in Greenwich Village. She was in that sweet spot—recently retired from a long teaching career, but hardly retired, she was living the dream. Finally, her time was her own, a chance to expand and explore.

She was embedded in a vibrant artistic community. She was a published writer, met friends for lunch, went to museums, and concerts, and readings. She took yoga classes and belonged to a writing workshop, a singing group, a church. She celebrated all the holidays with her family in New Jersey.

In early 2020, the lively community of Westbeth Artists Housing was gearing up to celebrate its 50th anniversary. But when New York City went into Covid 19 pandemic lockdown, Westbeth turned into a ghost town. Kate’s carefully constructed social life crashed. Suddenly, she was trapped at home, living in the pandemic epicenter. The brief conversations with masked neighbors in the hallway or on the sidewalk became her lifeline. Her life moved onto Zoom and she took comfort watching worship services streamed every Sunday. Then the unimaginable happened. Her church burned down in a six-alarm fire. Now there literally would be no sanctuary left to return to after the pandemic – whenever that would be.

Kate was lonely and scared. The isolation was hard on everyone. For cultural creators, perhaps an extra degree of hard. She melted down in lockdown. She dreamed the city was on fire. She hit the wall.  But she picked herself up and called upon her resilience and spiritual practices to stay safe and get through the isolation. In a welcome break from the pandemic, she celebrated in front of the Stonewall Inn when Biden won the election.  And she started penning columns for The Village Sun, a local community publication. Writing became her salvation. Behind the Mask Living Alone in the Epicenter is Kate’s memoir in essays detailing her life from March 2020-May 2021 about this traumatic time in New York City.

More than a year later, as Westbeth and New York City reawakened, Kate emerged with a deeper appreciation for her home and the everyday things she took for granted. As she gradually took off her mask and started to enjoy life again, she felt forever changed.


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Kate Walter is the author of Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing. Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, New York Daily News, AM-NY, Next Avenue, and many other outlets. She taught writing at NYU and CUNY for three decades. Walter has documented her life in downtown Manhattan since 1975.  She has been dubbed “that world’s Samuel Pepys.”


In Behind the Mask, Kate Walter has crafted an intimate and impassioned account of one woman’s life during the pandemic. In a series of essays, she examines a year of lockdown, the fears of isolation, the memories that tragedy and loneliness forced to the surface, the moments of humor, and especially the acts of kindness that brought New Yorkers, and her community at Westbeth, together. — Gabrielle Selz, author, Light on Fire: The Art and Life of Sam Francis and UnStill Life

A compelling memoir of the Covid pandemic lockdown and its impact on one woman’s life. Kate Walter – a longtime resident of the iconic Westbeth Artists community – shares the loneliness and sorrow of being isolated from family, friends, and activities. As she examines lessons learned throughout the ordeal, she rediscovers hope in often  surprising ways. Each vignette is rich with engaging personal and contextual detail – from reflecting on her late mother’s resilience to celebrating the presidential election outside the Stonewall Inn to mourning the tragic fire at her beloved Middle Collegiate Church to finally getting the vaccine. Beautifully written, this is a warmly insightful read with universal appeal. — Carol J. Binkowski, author, Opening Carnegie Hall: The Creation and First Performances of America’s Premier Concert Stage

A moving, colorful account of covid, the Village, family, being gay and living life with spirit, truth, and heart. — Donna Florio author, Growing Up Bank Street, A Greenwich Village Memoir

Covid struck us in two dimensions, the public and the private.  Kate Walter’s chronicle of the plague year in Manhattan, from the ambulance sirens of one March to the vaccine hopes of another, illuminates both dimensions.  It’s a season-by-season journey narrative of one woman’s progress through a city stunned yet bravely resilient and through the personal challenges faced by everyone who, like Walter, treasures the daily encounters that define urban living and the cosmopolitan spirit.  These essays are vignettes of fear and loss, and, finally, of hope and determination.  If we wonder how New York, and the rest of us, got through a terrible year, Behind the Mask just may have the answer. — Bill Scheller, author, America: A History in Art and In All Directions: Thirty Years of Travel

Kate’s writing always connects with readers. She picks important and interesting subjects and writes about them in a way that really grabs readers, that people can identify with. Her writing style is accessible and compelling, and her honesty about whatever it is that she’s personally going through at that moment — or commenting about, maybe a larger political issue, etc. — really comes through. The way she personalizes the events of our day really resonates with readers. —Lincoln Anderson, editor and publisher, The Village Sun, former editor, The Villager.


Jennifer A. Maguire

Maguire Public Relations, Inc./Heliotrope Books

917-596-5136, jen@maguirepr.com