Literary New York: Four Writers’ City Highlights

By: Andrew Stone

June 19, 2013

The cradle of American literature, New York City has always been home and playground to the world’s most significant literary minds. A writer’s job is to explore the human condition, after all, and nowhere will human drama be illuminated or exaggerated as it will beneath Manhattan’s skyline. “One belongs to New York instantly,” author Tom Wolfe once said of the quintessential melting pot. “One belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”

This fierce identification – to the point of assumed ownership – has fed the work of Edith Wharton, Norman Mailer, EE Cummings, Dorothy Parker, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, Allen Ginsberg, Woody Allen, and countless more. JD Salinger wrote from East 57th Street. Hemingway rented on East 62nd Street. Tennessee Williams died at the Hotel Elysee; Dylan Thomas drank himself to the brink at the White Horse Tavern. And need we mention the Chelsea Hotel, or the Algonquin Round Table?

Here, we chat with four authors who claim unrepentant allegiance to literary New York.

Bill Clegg

Author, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man; Ninety Days: A Memoir of Recovery

Bill Clegg | Christian Hansen

What do you love about NYC above all else?

The democracy of the sidewalks. Billionaires, bigots, poets, activists, movie stars, mimes, and more – all of us are smashed into the concrete space between the streets and the buildings. It’s always surprising, and unlike many other cities like LA or Chicago or Atlanta where most people drive. New Yorkers walk, usually quickly, from place to place, subway station to bus to office to gym.

What is your writing space like here in the city?

My red couch that faces north, across my living room to windows that look out over the copper roof of a great old building on lower Fifth Avenue. I’ve stared at the sun glinting off that roof for many hours.

What is your all-time favourite spot within the five boroughs?

Next to my soon-to-be husband, on the west side piers that jut into the Hudson River, at sunset.

Lori Carson

Author, The Original 1982; singer-songwriter; former frontwoman of the Golden Palominos

Lori Carson | New York

What do you love about NYC above all else?

New York City is a wonderful place to live if you work alone in a room all day, because when you walk outside, you are instantly immersed in life. You can walk everywhere here – this might be my favourite thing about New York City – and wherever you walk there are marvellous things to look at, interesting people from all over the world, the best shops, restaurants, galleries, museums, and parks.

What is your writing space like here in the city?

I sit at an old three-board table purchased at auction in Cold Spring, New York, about thirty years ago. On the table are two wooden bowls; one holds three bananas. The other, larger, is full of books and mail that need sorting. I face a window that looks west toward Park Avenue. My view is of a maple tree, five stories high, full of trembling green leaves. On my left is The New York Times, unread; a large cup of coffee, mostly drunk; an empty water glass; and my iPhone. On my right, Bailey, a black cat, dozes against my laptop. Doe, a Papillon mix, sleeps on the rug at my feet. Across the room, in the far corner, is a Yamaha electric piano (hard drive and Pro Tools interface on top), a Taylor guitar on a stand, and a Sony tube microphone.

What is your all-time favourite spot within the five boroughs?

Central Park is easily my favourite place in the five boroughs. It seems to just get more beautiful every year. It’s amazing that in such a big, bustling city, you can sit alone on a hill-top surrounded by flowers, trees, and green fields, the tall buildings of Central Park West and Fifth Avenue as a backdrop. You can bike here, go for a run, or walk from the East Side to the West Side. The Conservatory Garden at 105th Street, on the East Side is spectacular, and not to be missed.

Adam Gopnik

Staff writer, The New Yorker; author, The Table Comes First, Paris to the Moon, Through the Children’s Gate: A Home in New York

Adam Gopnik | New York

What do you love about NYC above all else?

I’ll be the millionth person to cite EB White. We are all pilgrims who come here with an ache in our hearts and manuscripts in our suitcases. People who love New York City most aren’t from here – and no one owns New York. There’s that curious mixture of plurality, verticality, and density, in every square inch of city life. Then there’s the fact that our weak ties are more important than our strong ties”¦ all those people you know a little bit but are delighted to bump into on the street. And finally, I do not drive and I hate cars. Very few American cities can accurately be described as walking cities.

What is your writing space like here in the city?

I’m a little eccentric, and write with very loud rock music on. I can’t write in silence. I play rock music from my teenage years, starting every morning with Eric Clapton’s “Layla” and progressing through Rolling Stones live, the Beatles, the Who. It must be extremely annoying for other people, all this rock blaring from my library. And honestly, my desk is extremely chaotic. My mind is organized, but in truth my desk is not. My wife – who is a very neat person – opens the door, shudders, and retreats.

What is your all-time favourite spot within the five boroughs?

I am going to give three  – two benches and a bookstore. There’s a bench along Finley’s Walk, the park along the river in the East Eighties. My wife and I would spend many hours there, staring at the three chimneys on the power building across the water. Then I think back to the time when we first moved to SoHo, and we couldn’t afford to go out of town in the summer. We would spend time on a bench by Ben’s Pizza. We’d call it “Ben’s Hamptons.” Finally, there’s the Argosy bookstore on East 59th Street. I actually wrote a children’s book in which the entrance to heaven and hell is found there. I offer that if the Argosy were to close, New York would close.

Lauren Oliver

Author, Before I Fall, the Delirium trilogy, The Spindlers, Liesl & Po

Lauren Oliver | New York

What do you love about NYC above all else?

The endlessness of it; the variety and possibility and energy. 

What is your writing space like here in the city?

My writing space is one end of my long wooden dining room table, which I bought from an antique store on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. 

What is your all-time favorite spot within the five boroughs?

Prospect Park in Brooklyn. I live only a few blocks away and use the park as my personal playground, picnic-spot, gym, and general hangout. 

Header photo © Maxine Sheppard

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Love literature? Heading to the Big Apple soon? Get in the mood with our list of great travel reads inspired by New York City.


Written by Andrew Stone


Andrew Stone

A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Andrew Stone covers architecture and design for Interior Design magazine and is the former editor-in-chief of Los Angeles Confidential. A busy bee within the worlds of culture, style, and dining, he has interviewed celebrities and hot shots aplenty for various publications. Stone nurtures his two-decade love affair with his city as the resident Manhattan reporter for Stone is the author of both Hg2 New York and Hg2 Los Angeles. What makes him a hedonist? "The desire to have firsthand knowledge of life's great offerings."

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