Uli Beutter Cohen

Rachel Schwartzmann
Uli Beutter Cohen

New York City's magnetism is brought to life by its eclectic and endlessly inspiring inhabitants. Borough by borough, we've slowly stepped into the homes of some the most thoughtful women we know to share their stories here on our Journal. Most recently, this applies to our visit with Uli Beutter Cohen, the founder of Subway Book Review — which in her words is "a new way to discover books, places, and people." Uli's natural curiosity for connecting with others has helped to foster the success of this global social media project as well as her other creative endeavors in writing, content creation, and mentorship. Uli is busy, no doubt, but she is conscious of creating space for herself to recharge, which is how we found ourselves in conversation with Uli at her lovely apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Below we share our moment above ground with Uli who discussed slow style, the power of storytelling, and forever items.

 Uli Beutter Cohen, the founder of Subway Book Review leaning against her bookshelf.

Subway Book Review

When I moved to New York, I started Subway Book Review to connect with the city and the people who live here. New York is known as a destination for dreamers and people want to make “it” happen. In reality, people were hiding behind screens and headphones which was completely getting in the way of my romantic idea of New York. But I noticed that some people were reading and thought that a book would be an amazing way to get to know someone instantly because it’s a reflection of their mind at that specific moment in time. I had the idea to share the conversations I was having, the response was pretty great, I didn’t stop, and here we are, almost five years later.

 Uli Beutter Cohen walking by a subway station in her Coclico Suave Flats.

When I started, I was on the B train and a young woman was reading one of the Hunger Game books, Catching Fire. I had never done anything like this before — I am an introvert who was raised by an extra-extroverted mother, I love her so much— but I had promised myself to talk to a stranger with a book that day just to see what happened. I had been riding around for hours, trying to get up the courage, and finally, I went up to the woman and asked about her book. I found out that her name was Hana and that she was on her way to rehearsal at the Alvin Ailey dance company, which was founded in 1958 in Harlem. We only talked for a moment, but it didn’t matter—something had happened and clicked. I had treated Hana’s book as an invitation, and in return, Hana had given me a bit of New York’s magic sauce.

That moment gave me chills for days and was truly electrifying. I suddenly noticed how many people were reading printed books on the subway, which makes sense because it’s the only place where we all have to stand still, and we can actually see each other. And I realized that a book, when carried in public, is a reflection of someone’s identity, like a special jacket or a cool pair of shoes. A book says a lot about you.

Top view of Uli Beutter Cohen's cat walking beside her Coclico flats.

Words and Action

Stories make the invisible visible and the unimaginable tangible. I happen to only photograph printed books because a screen has no charisma as a printed book does, but it ultimately doesn’t matter if a written word is digital or analog. A word after a word after a word is power. Margaret Atwood said that and she knows what she’s talking about. It’s important, no actually it’s critical, that those who have historically not been heard, share their words. War is what happens when language fails. Margaret Atwood said that, too.

 Uli Beutter Cohen lounging on her couch.

Creative Corners

Most days I am running around like a crazy person, because I work on Subway Book Review early in the morning, do my client work during the day, and take odd breaks in-between to ride the subway looking for readers. So for me, being creative means to be free, even when I have a tight schedule.

To create a sense of freedom, I practice calming my mind, keeping a clean space, and speaking my truth, which includes things like not making promises I can’t keep. I call that “coming home to me,” and that has to happen first, no matter where I am because that changes all the time. As for my apartment in Brooklyn, I wanted to create an oasis that people love coming to at any time, be that for an overnight visit or a quick brainstorm over a cup of coffee, myself included. Lots of great, incredible things have been discovered at my dining table, and I’m really proud of that.

Image of Uli Beutter Cohen's bookshelf.

Uli’s Definition of Slow Style

My wardrobe has to be functional, cool, and fit my mood of the day. I try to buy timeless pieces that I can combine and layer with lots of other things in my closet. Some are sustainably made by brands like Everlane, some are second hand, and some are definitely from Zara because Zara just gets me. I think slow style means staying away from trends and staying true to yourself. That includes buying stuff that fits “you” longer than one season and wearing the shit out of more expensive items that are supposed to last. I love that Tiffany Haddish talked about wearing the same Alexander McQueen multiple times because it was so freaking expensive. I live in my old Lacoste trench coat, and I don’t care what people think about it. It’s part of me, and it goes underground with me, and it travels with me, and I’ll be heartbroken should something ever happen to it.

Stack of Uli Beutter Cohen's books besides her Suave Flats.

Uli's Edit:

Why Uli chose the Suave Flat - A flat shoe with a neutral leather and a bit of sparkle, are you kidding me?! I will wear this on the G train and to the National Book Awards.

Uli's most recent and exciting subway encounter - Recently, l legit ran into Ta-Nehisi Coates on the 6 train reading Tony Judt. He said he doesn’t agree with everything Tony writes about but that he loves his searching mind. Don’t you love that?

Uli's recommended reading list for the Coclico community -
1. The Pisces by Melissa Broder
2. Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim
3. Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
4. Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli

Close up of the Coclico Suave Flat in Macchiato/Carrera.

Forever Items

I collect rocks and shells from places I visit. A rock from Mount Fuji and whale poop are part of my collection. I think it’s good to remember that we all call the same planet our home.

Sunlit full-body shot of Uli Beutter Cohen looking out the window and smiling.

Shop the Suave Flat

Photos by Phoebe Cheong for Coclico