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Born in Verviers, Belgium, Sante immigrated to the United States in the early 1960s. He attended school in New York City, first at Regis High School in Manhattan and later at Columbia University from 1972 to 1976; due to several incompletes and outstanding library fines, he did not take a degree. Since 1984 he has been a full-time writer. Sante is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books, where he worked first in the mailroom and then as assistant to editor Barbara Epstein. Sante has written on the subjects of film, art, photography, and miscellaneous cultural phenomena as well as book reviews.
His books include Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York (1991), Evidence (1992), the autobiographical The Factory of Facts (1998), Walker Evans (1999), Kill All Your Darlings: Pieces 1990-2005 (2007), Folk Photography (2009), and The Other Paris (2015). He co-edited, with the writer, his former wife, Melissa Holbrook Pierson, O. K. You Mugs: Writers on Movie Actors (1998), and translated and edited Félix Fénéon's Novels in Three Lines (2007) for the New York Review Books (NYRB) series. In the early 1980s, he wrote lyrics for the New York City-based band The Del-Byzanteens. Sante wrote the text for Take Me To The Water: Immersion Baptism In Vintage Music And Photography, a collection of historical photos of American baptismal rites, published by Dust to digital in 2009.
- Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York (1991)
- Evidence (1992)
- The Factory of Facts (1998)
- Walker Evans (1999)
- Kill All Your Darlings: Pieces 1990-2005 (2007)
- Folk Photography (2009)
- Take Me To The Water: Immersion Baptism In Vintage Music And Photography (2009)
- The Other Paris (2015)
- O. K. You Mugs: Writers on Movie Actors (1998; with Melissa Holbrook Pierson)
- Félix Fénéon's Novels in Three Lines (2007)
Awards and honors
- 1989: Whiting Award.
- 1992-1993: Guggenheim Fellowship.
- 1997: Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
- 1998: Grammy for best album notes (Sante was one of the album note writers for the 1997 re-issue of the Anthology of American Folk Music).
- 2010: Infinity Award for writing from the International Center of Photography.
- New York Review of Books, 2006
- Contemporary Authors Online, Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale, 2009
- Kellman, Andy (n.d.) The Del-Byzantines, Allmusic.com, retrieved 2014-04-09
- "Take Me To The Water: Immersion Baptism In Vintage Music And Photography". Dust to digital. April 26, 2009. Retrieved March 5, 2015.
- "Grammy winners, Anthology of American Folk Music". Grammy. Retrieved March 5, 2015.