Randy Fertel

Yellow On My Mind

Philanthropist and author Randy Fertel’s favorite color is yellow.

“A dream about a little boy with glowing yellow-golden eyes revealed why I like yellow,” he says. “Thinking about it, I realized it represented my creativity. Then I realized my first car was yellow, my only motorcycle was yellow, and I am about to paint my house yellow. In short, my heart sings whenever I see yellow.” He also adds gold and orange to his favorite color chart. The colors figure prominently in the painting he commissioned New Orleans artist Alan Gerson to create for the cover of his book “A Taste for Chaos: The Art of Literary Improvisation.”

Fertel heads up The Ruth U. Fertel Foundation, named for his mother who began the Ruth’s Chris Steak House restaurants. “I am proud to have introduced the Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard after Hurricane Katrina. I met Alice at a Nation Institute dinner (my co-sponsors of the Ridenour Prizes) and she said that because Chef Paul Prudhomme had saved her career in 1978 (a great story in itself) she wanted to do something for New Orleans,” he says. “Within six months, Edible Schoolyard NOLA was started. We are now building our fifth garden and have inspired many more around town. The first at the Samuel J. Green School on Valence near Freret helped anchor and bring back that neighborhood. The next one is on the grounds of my elementary school (then Bienville, now Arthur Ashe), and half a block from where I grew up. It is a deeply satisfying project and I have learned if kids grow it, they will eat it.”

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It isn’t surprising that Randy has a wardrobe sprinkled with yellow, from a cashmere sweater to a shirts, ties, and pocket handkerchiefs to finish off his personal style. One of his favorite yellow items in his closet is a Loro Piano cashmere scarf he purchased in Rome on the Via Condotti near the Spanish steps. “It is in the neighborhood that includes the gorgeous pink building where the poet Keats died,” Randy says.

Fertel attended Sam Barthe School where he describes himself as “The teacher’s pet and the kid most likely to be sent to the principal’s office for discipline.” He also attended Bienville School, now named Arthur Ashe, and Benjamin Franklin High School. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from Eckerd College, a master’s degree from the University of Oregon, and master’s of arts and PhD degrees from Harvard University. His career includes working as a teaching assistant at Harvard University for four years and teaching for 10 years at Tulane University, and five years at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

Fertel is now a fulltime author who has published “The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak: a New Orleans Family Memoir” and his last book, “A Taste for Chaos: The Art of Literary Improvisation.”

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Publishing my last book represents 40 years of labor (on and off). It is truly my life’s work and for many years it was a project I thought would never see the light of day.” he says. “My touring with the book has included talks at McGill University in Montreal, University of British Columbia in Vancouver, the Freud House in London, and Keble College at Oxford University, as well as Yale University and Bard College in the U.S.” He has also published pieces of his book in half a dozen literary journals.

Fertel is co-founder of the Ridenhour Prize for Courageous Truth-telling, named for New Orleanian Ron Ridenhour, the My Lai whistleblower. Now in its 13th year, the list of past winners include: Edward Snowden, President Jimmy Carter, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Dan Ellsberg, Seymour Hirsh, Laura Poitras and Gloria Steinem.

As Fertel travels from state to state and country to country promoting his book, you can be sure he will be taking along some his favorite yellow clothes. “I don’t know that anyone would call me a fashion-plate,” he says. “However, I do love quality so I lean toward Zegna and Kiton, Italian companies that make their own fabric. While I don’t have one of their suits in yellow, you can be sure I’ll probably be wearing at least a tie and handkerchief that includes yellow.”

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