Searching for Inspiration

New York City

Great writers gift mankind with the chance to perceive the everyday through new eyes.  The writer's imagination redefines the familiar through rich description, time travel, the fresh eyes of a well-developed character, or a mesmerising plot.  A corner passed every morning on the walk to work inspires contemplation when remembered for its significance in a favorite book, just as the block walked after accepting a proposal, quitting a job, or finding out about an affair is rarely forgotten when passed again.  

New York City is a place rich with such references.  Eight million people live in this vertical metropolis and each denizen acts out a different narrative day to day.  The personal narratives lived out on the streets of the city coexist with the many literary narratives layered over it, as well as the rich history of the people, art and architecture that have made New York what it is at any given moment in time.  An aspect of New York's magic is inextricably tied to the chaos inherent in this condition.  To spend time in New York City is to immerse oneself in an environment overflowing with stories.  Here are some of Novelry's favorite places to go for the writer or reader searching for inspiration in literary New York.

1. Harlem - Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston,  and even Jack Kerouac found inspiration in this neighborhood just North of Central Park.  Historically, Harlem was the seat of New York's Jazz culture and home to the Harlem Renaissance.  Stroll Harlem's brownstone-lined streets or check out some of the hipster bars for a glimpse of what some New Yorkers are calling the new Brooklyn; that is, a glimpse at what Brooklyn might have been like before recent gentrification and an influx of luxury condos turned Williamsburg from an artist's haven into a yuppie scene. 

2.  The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building - This is the most beautiful New York Public Library location, an impressive Beaux Arts building on 42nd and 5th.  Don't miss the reading room!

3.  The Literary Walk in Central Park - This walk, lined with American Elm trees and statues of famous authors, is the perfect place for a languid stroll.  You can find it at the South East end of the park.

4. Edmont Hotel - Holden Caulfield stays at the Edmont Hotel in The Catcher in the Rye.  He says, "I walked all the way back to [the Edmont Hotel].  Forty-one gorgeous blocks.  I didn't do it because I felt like walking or anything.  It was more because I didn't feel like getting in and out of another taxicab.  Sometimes you get tired of riding in taxicabs the same way you get tired of riding in elevators  All of a sudden, you have to walk, no matter how far or how high up."  For a full tour of Holden's New York:

5. 222 Bowery - walk by the apartment William S. Burroughs shared with painter Mark Rothko while you stroll around downtown, because New York is best experienced on foot.  As Long Island native Walt Whitman wrote, "Give me such shadows--give me the streets of Manhattan!"

6.  Washington Square Park - Edith Wharton, Henry James, and countless other writers have sought inspiration in Washington Square Park.  Robert Louis Stephenson and Mark Twain met each other at the park in 1888.  The surrounding area, Greenwich Village, has was a haven for writers and creative types in the sixties and seventies.  For more on Mark Twain's New York, see this:

7.  White Horse Tavern - Visit this West Village haunt to get a nightcap at Dylan Thomas' favorite Manhattan bar.

8.  Edna St. Vincent Millay's House - If you're feeling burnt out on the city, take a cue from Henry Miller who famously referred to his hometown of Brooklyn as "that old shithole", and opt for a trip upstate.  Pulitzer Prize winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay's home in Austerlitz, New York and the nearby Millay Colony for the Arts offer a tantalizing reminder of just how much more creatively productive (and rich) the individual who leaves the city could be.  For more on Miller's hatred for New York:  On the Millay home: