Cover image for Writing New York : a literary anthology
Writing New York : a literary anthology
Lopate, Phillip, 1943-
Publication Information:
New York : Library of America : Distributed in the United States by Penguin Putnam, Inc., [1998]

Physical Description:
xxii, 1050 pages ; 25 cm
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS549.N5 W75 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PS549.N5 W75 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In wholly original and startling ways, the authors of this inspired volume capture New York's spirit -- on the streets and in the subways, in the shops, hotels, and eating houses, at riots, in newspapers, on bridges and in parks, in sweat shops, and in some of its denizens' diaries.An expansive range of more than one hundred brilliant voices includes Mary McCarthy, Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving, Djuna Barnes, Langston Hughes, Henry James, Zora Neale Hurston, Marianne Moore, Gay Talese, E.B. White, Allen Ginsberg, O.Henry, Alfred Kazin, Edna St. Vincent Millay, William Carlos Williams, and John Cheever, among many, many others.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the union of New York City's five boroughs, this single volume collects the work of 108 writers who together create a literary portrait of the city. Arranged chronologically by approximate date of composition, the writings include poetry, essays, fiction, memoirs, diaries, letters, and journalism, but exclude excerpts from the many great New York novels. Familiar and much-anthologized pieces like Washington's Irving's "A History of New York" and E.B. White's "Here Is New York" share space with lesser-known diary excerpts from Philip Hone and Dawn Powell, autobiographical writings by Henry Miller and Langston Hughes, "walking around" poems by Frank O'Hara and James Schuyler, and scores of other NYC-inspired works, all coalescing to capture the force and personality of the Big Apple. Each entry is prefaced by a brief biographical sketch of the writer. This unique collection is a bargain and deserves to be in every library.‘Cathy Sabol, Northern Virginia Community Coll., Herndon (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One WASHINGTON IRVING Washington Irving (1783-1859), America's first successful man of letters, now known primarily for his Hudson Valley tales "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," made his initial splash at age twenty-six with a comic, mock-learned, rambling volume, whose full title , A History of New York From the Beginnings of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, indicates the tongue-in-cheek, mythological manner in which Irving clothed his account of his native city's roots. The book pretended to have been written by an aged, bitter codger of Dutch extraction, Diedrich Knickerbocker--in short, one of history's "losers." Thus began the whole Knickerbocker tradition, connecting that pseudonym with the city's local legends. Though A History of New York certainly has passages of farce and satire, Irving (who did considerable research) often followed historical events fairly closely. In any case, this first published history of the city attempted to provide the amnesiac, hustling, nineteenth-century port with a founding myth and a past. Its ironic, disenchanted voice set the tone for much New York literature to come. FROM A HISTORY OF NEW YORK     The island of Manna-hata, Manhattoes, or as it is vulgarly called Manhattan, having been discovered, as was related in the last chapter; and being unanimously pronounced by the discoverers, the fairest spot in the known world, whereon to build a city, that should surpass all the emporiums of Europe, they immediately returned to Communipaw with the pleasing intelligence. Upon this a considerable colony was forthwith fitted out, who after a prosperous voyage of half an hour, arrived at Manna hata, and having previously purchased the land of the Indians, (a measure almost unparalleled in the annals of discovery and colonization) they settled upon the south-west point of the island, and fortified themselves strongly, by throwing up a mud battery, which they named Fort Amsterdam. A number of huts soon sprung up in the neighbourhood, to protect which, they made an enclosure of strong pallisadoes. A creek running from the East river, through what at present is called Whitehall street, and a little inlet from Hudson river to the bowling green formed the original boundaries; as though nature had kindly designated the cradle, in which the embryo of this renowned city was to be nestled. The woods on both sides of the creek were carefully cleared away, as well as from the space of ground now occupied by the bowling green.--These precautions were taken to protect the fort from either the open attacks or insidious advances of its savage neighbours, who wandered in hordes about the forests and swamps that extended over those tracts of country, at present called broad way, Wall street, William street and Pearl street.     No sooner was the colony once planted, than like a luxuriant vine, it took root and throve amazingly; for it would seem, that this thrice favoured island is like a munificent dung hill, where every thing finds kindly nourishment, and soon shoots up and expands to greatness. The thriving state of the settlement, and the astonishing encrease of houses, gradually awakened the leaders from a profound lethargy, into which they had fallen, after having built their mud fort. They began to think it was high time some plan should be devised, on which the encreasing town should be built; so taking pipe in mouth, and meeting in close divan, they forthwith fell into a profound deliberation on the subject.     At the very outset of the business, an unexpected difference of opinion arose, and I mention it with regret, as being the first internal altercation on record among the new settlers. An ingenious plan was proposed by Mynheer Ten Broek to cut up and intersect the ground by means of canals; after the manner of the most admired cities in Holland; but to this Mynheer Hardenbroek was diametrically opposed; suggesting in place thereof, that they should run out docks and wharves, by means of piles driven into the bottom of the river, on which the town should be built--By this means said he triumphantly, shall we rescue a considerable space of territory from these immense rivers, and build a city that shall rival Amsterdam, Venice, or any amphibious city in Europe. To this proposition, Ten Broek (or Ten breeches) replied, with a look of as much scorn as he could possibly assume. He cast the utmost censure upon the plan of his antagonist, as being preposterous, and against the very order of things, as he would leave to every true hollander. "For what," said he, "is a town without canals?--it is like a body without veins and arteries, and must perish for want of a free circulation of the vital fluid"--Tough breeches, on the contrary, retorted with a sarcasm upon his antagonist, who was somewhat of an arid, dry boned habit of body; he remarked that as to the circulation of the blood being necessary to existence, Mynheer Ten breeches was a living contradiction to his own assertion; for every body knew there had not a drop of blood circulated through his wind dried carcass for good ten years, and yet there was not a greater busy body in the whole colony. Personalities have seldom much effect in making converts in argument--nor have I ever seen a man convinced of error, by being convicted of deformity. At least such was not the case at present. Ten Breeches was very acrimonious in reply, and Tough Breeches, who was a sturdy little man, and never gave up the last word, rejoined with encreasing spirit--Ten Breeches had the advantage of the greatest volubility, but Tough Breeches had that invaluable coat of mail in argument called obstinacy--Ten Breeches had, therefore, the most mettle, but Tough Breeches the best bottom--so that though Ten Breeches made a dreadful clattering about his ears, and battered and belaboured him with hard words and sound arguments, yet Tough Breeches hung on most resolutely to the last. They parted therefore, as is usual in all arguments where both parties are in the right, without coming to any conclusion--but they hated each other most heartily forever after, and a similar breach with that between the houses of Capulet and Montague, had well nigh ensued between the families of Ten Breeches and Tough Breeches.     I would not fatigue my reader with these dull matters of fact, but that my duty as a faithful historian, requires that I should be particular--and in truth, as I am now treating of the critical period, when out city, like a young twig, first received the twists and turns, that have since contributed to give it the present picturesque irregularity for which it is celebrated, I cannot be too minute in detailing their first causes.     After the unhappy altercation I have just mentioned, I do not find that any thing further was said on the subject, worthy of being recorded. The council, consisting of the largest and oldest heads in the community, met regularly once a week, to ponder on this momentous subject.--But either they were deterred by the war of words they had witnessed, or they were naturally averse to the exercise of the tongue, and the consequent exercise of the brains--certain it is, the most profound silence was maintained--the question as usual lay on the table--the members quietly smoked their pipes, making but few laws, without ever enforcing any, and in the mean time the affairs of the settlement went on--as it pleased God.     As most of the council were but little skilled in the mystery of combining pot hooks and hangers, they determined most judiciously not to puzzle either themselves or posterity, with voluminous records. The secretary however, kept the minutes of each meeting with tolerable precision, in a large vellum folio, fastened with massy brass clasps, with a sight of which I have been politely favoured by my highly respected friends, the Goelets, who have this invaluable relique, at present in their possession. On perusal, however, I do not find much information--The journal of each meeting consists but of two lines, stating in dutch, that, "the council sat this day, and smoked twelve pipes, on the affairs of the colony."--By which it appears that the first settlers did not regulate their time by hours, but pipes, in the same manner as they measure distances in Holland at this very time; an admirably exact measurement, as a pipe in the mouth of a genuine dutchman is never liable to those accidents and irregularities, that are continually putting our docks out of order.     In this manner did the profound council of New Amsterdam smoke, and doze, and ponder, from week to week, month to month, and year to year, in what manner they should construct their infant settlement--mean while, the town took care of itself, and like a sturdy brat which is suffered to run about wild, unshackled by clouts and bandages, and other abominations by which your notable nurses and sage old women cripple and disfigure the children of men, encreased so rapidly in strength and magnitude, that before the honest burgomasters had determined upon a plan, it was too late to put it in execution--whereupon they wisely abandoned the subject altogether. * * * * *     Grievous, and very much to be commiserated, is the task of the feeling historian, who writes the history of his native land. If it falls to his lot to be the sad recorder of calamity or crime, the mournful page is watered with his tears--nor can he recal the most prosperous and blissful eras, without a melancholy sigh at the reflection, that they have passed away forever! I know not whether it be owing to an immoderate love for the simplicity of former times, or to a certain tenderness of heart, natural to a sentimental historian; but I candidly confess, I cannot look back on the halcyon days of the city, which I now describe, without a deep dejection of the spirits. With faultering hand I withdraw the curtain of oblivion, which veils the modest merits of our venerable dutch ancestors, and as their revered figures rise to my mental vision, humble myself before the mighty shades.     Such too are my feelings when I revisit the family mansion of the Knickerbockers and spend a lonely hour in the attic chamber, where hang the portraits of my forefathers, shrowded in dust like the forms they represent. With pious reverence do I gaze on the countenances of those renowned burghers, who have preceded me in the steady march of existence--whose sober and temperate blood now meanders through my veins, flowing slower and slower in its feeble conduits, until its lingering current shall soon be stopped forever!     These, say I to myself, are hut frail memorials of the mighty men, who flourished in the days of the patriarchs; but who, alas, have long since mouldered in that tomb, towards which my steps are insensibly and irresistibly hastening! As I pace the darkened chamber and lose myself in melancholy musings, the shadowy images around me, almost seem to steal once more into existence--their countenances appear for an instant to assume the animation of life--their eyes to pursue me in every movement! carried away by the delusion of fancy, I almost imagine myself surrounded by the shades of the departed, and holding sweet converse with the worthies of antiquity! --Luckless Diedrich! born in a degenerate age--abandoned to the buffettings of fortune--a stranger and a weary pilgrim in thy native land; blest with no weeping wife, nor family of helpless children--but doomed to wander neglected through those crowded streets, and elbowed by foreign upstarts from those fair abodes, where once thine ancestors held sovereign empire. Alas! alas! is then the dutch spirit forever extinct? The days of the patriarchs, have they fled forever? Return--return sweet days of simplicity and ease--dawn once more on the lovely island of Manna hata!--Bear with me my worthy readers, bear with the weakness of my nature--or rather let us sit down together, indulge the full flow of filial piety, and weep over the memories of our great great grand-fathers.     Having thus gratified those feelings irresistibly awakened by the happy scenes I am describing, I return with more composure to my history.     The town of New Amsterdam, being, as I before mentioned, left to its own course and the fostering care of providence, increased as rapidly in importance, as though it had been burthened with a dozen panniers full of those sage laws, which are usually heaped upon the backs of young cities--in order to make them grow. The only measure that remains on record of the worthy council, was to build a chapel within the fort, which they dedicated to the great and good St. Nicholas, who immediately took the infant town of New Amsterdam under his peculiar patronage, and has ever since been, and I devoutly hope will ever be, the tutelar saint of this excellent city. I am moreover told, that there is a little legendary book somewhere extant, written in low dutch, which says that the image of this renowned saint, which whilome graced the bowsprit of the Goede Vrouw, was placed in front of this chapel; and the legend further treats of divers miracles wrought by the mighty pipe which the saint held in his mouth; a whiff of which was a sovereign cure for an indigestion, and consequently of great importance in this colony of huge feeders. But as, notwithstanding the most diligent search, I cannot lay my hands upon this little book, I entertain considerable doubt on the subject.     This much is certain, that from the time of the building of this chapel, the town throve with tenfold prosperity, and soon became the metropolis of numerous settlements, and an extensive territory. The province extended on the north, to Fort Aurania or Orange, now known by the name of Albany, situated about 160 miles up the Mohegan or Hudson River. Indeed the province claimed quite to the river St. Lawrence; but this claim was not much insisted on at the time, as the country beyond Fort Aurania was a perfect wilderness, reported to be inhabited by cannibals, and termed Terra Incognita. Various accounts were given of the people of these unknown parts; by some they are described as being of the race of the Acephali , such as Herodotus describes, who have no heads, and carry their eyes in their bellies. Others affirm they were of that race whom father Charlevoix mentions, as having but one leg; adding gravely, that they were exceedingly alert in running. But the most satisfactory account is that given by the reverend Hans Megapolensis, a missionary in these parts, who, in a letter still extant, declares them to be the Mohagues or Mohawks; a nation, according to his description, very loose in their morals, but withal most rare wags. "For," says he, "if theye can get to bedd with another mans wife, theye thinke it a piece of wit." This excellent old gentleman gives moreover very important additional information, about this country of monsters; for he observes, "theye have plenty of tortoises here, and within land, from two and three to four feet long; some with two heads, very mischievous and addicted to biting." Copyright © 1998 Literary Classics of the United States, Inc.,. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Henry Miller
Introductionp. XVII
from A History of New Yorkp. 1
The Stranger at Home; or, a Tour in Broadwayp. 8
from Domestic Manners of the Americansp. 16
from The Journalp. 20
from The Diaryp. 30
from American Notes for General Circulationp. 51
Letters from Staten Islandp. 65
from Open-Air Musings in the Cityp. 74
from Doings of Gothamp. 91
from Satanstoep. 107
Our City Charitiesp. 111
The Eating-Housesp. 119
from Life and Writings of Grant Thorburnp. 127
Crossing Brooklyn Ferryp. 138
The Old Boweryp. 145
Bartleby, the Scrivenerp. 153
from The Diariesp. 191
Passages in the Life of an Unpractical Manp. 241
from Eight Months in Americap. 250
Tyrants of the Shopp. 255
Personalsp. 257
Impostorsp. 260
Experience of a Chinese Journalistp. 268
New York Under the Snowp. 271
from A Hazard of New Fortunesp. 278
The Down Town Back-Alleysp. 294
Opium's Varied Dreamsp. 308
Adventures of a Novelistp. 313
Drowned Their Sinsp. 320
Summer Complaint: The Annual Strikep. 324
Whence the Songp. 327
A Vanished Seaside Resortp. 340
Honest Graft Dishonest Graftp. 347
The Curse of Civil Service Reformp. 350
Boredomp. 355
from The American Scenep. 369
The Duelp. 382
from The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Manp. 387
The Lungsp. 396
Gramercy Parkp. 407
In the Metropolitan Museump. 407
Coney Islandp. 408
Union Squarep. 408
Broadwayp. 409
"Come Into the Roof Garden, Maud"p. 410
If I should learnp. 417
Recuerdop. 418
Coming, Aphrodite!p. 419
The Tropics in New Yorkp. 459
The Harlem Dancerp. 460
New Yorkp. 461
from Port of New Yorkp. 463
The Finale at the Folliesp. 473
Thoughts on Leaving New York for New Orleansp. 476
Brooklyn Bridgep. 479
To Brooklyn Bridgep. 485
Exterior Streetp. 487
from Up to Nowp. 497
I Go Adventuringp. 505
from New Yorkp. 509
The Policep. 518
Roosevelt and Reformp. 528
from The Diariesp. 538
from Journey to the End of the Nightp. 554
West End Avenuep. 564
My Lost Cityp. 569
The Backgroundp. 580
Only the Dead Know Brooklynp. 598
Sense of Humorp. 604
from Black Springp. 614
Millinery Districtp. 620
from Autobiography: New Yorkp. 621
from By the Well of Living and Seeingp. 621
Apology for Breathingp. 626
When the Negro Was In Voguep. 632
Letter to N.Y.p. 640
Atheist Hit By Truckp. 642
The Television Helps, But Not Very Muchp. 644
Welcome to the Cityp. 648
The Genial Hostp. 661
Story in Harlem Slangp. 680
As He Seemed to a Hickp. 687
It Is Sticky in the Subwayp. 690
Aspects of Robinsonp. 691
Relating to Robinsonp. 692
The Cost of Livingp. 694
from Red Ribbon on a White Horsep. 703
Hell's Kitchenp. 713
The Long Furloughp. 726
from A Walker in the Cityp. 731
Up in the Old Hotelp. 738
from Junkyp. 763
from Memoirs of Bernardo Vegap. 757
A Step Away From Themp. 785
The Day Lady Diedp. 787
Stepsp. 788
from The Immense Journeyp. 790
Fiorello H. LaGuardiap. 792
Moving Outp. 802
from The New York Diaryp. 808
from The Death and Life of Great American Citiesp. 811
An Urban Convalescencep. 816
The Thirtiesp. 819
The Climatep. 824
Minton'sp. 825
Tourist Eyep. 828
from The Fire Next Timep. 831
National Cold Storage Companyp. 839
47th Streetp. 840
Panic in Brooklynp. 841
The Landmarkerp. 851
from The Fortunate Pilgrimp. 862
A Sunday Kind of Lovep. 880
Goodbye to All Thatp. 886
The Cafeteriap. 896
Lou Stillmanp. 913
Februaryp. 916
Dining Out with Doug and Frankp. 917
Muggingp. 926
Fourth Floor, Dawn, Up All Night Writing Lettersp. 930
from Sleepless Nightsp. 931
from Sketches from Lifep. 942
The Movies and Other Schoolsp. 948
from Family Installmentsp. 958
from Minor Charactersp. 972
from The Intellectual Folliesp. 977
from World's Fairp. 988
New York, 1936p. 995
from The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Lovep. 1004
from Approaching Eye Levelp. 1014