For the first time, here is Brooklyn's story through the eyes of its greatest storytellers.
Like Paris in the twenties or postwar Greenwich Village, Brooklyn today is experiencing an extraordinary cultural boom. In recent years, writers of all stripes—from Jhumpa Lahiri, Jennifer Egan, and Colson Whitehead to Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer—have flocked to its patchwork of distinctive neighborhoods. But as literary critic and journalist Evan Hughes reveals, the rich literary life now flourishing in Brooklyn is part of a larger, fascinating history. With a dynamic mix of literary biography and urban history, Hughes takes us on a tour of Brooklyn past and present and reveals that hiding in Walt Whitman's Fort Greene Park, Hart Crane's Brooklyn Bridge, the raw Williamsburg of Henry Miller's youth, Truman Capote's famed house on Willow Street, and the contested streets of Jonathan Lethem's Boerum Hill is the story of more than a century of life in America's cities.
Literary Brooklyn is a prismatic investigation into a rich literary inheritance, but most of all it's a deep look into the beloved borough, a place as diverse and captivating as the people who walk its streets and write its stories.
According to freelance journalist and critic Hughes, the one experience Brooklyn writers share is living just outside "the colossal, churning center of the metropolis," thus providing a "revealing window onto the broader history of American urban life." Going chronologically, Hughes also touches on the ethnic diversity of Brooklyn across the decades. Walt Whitman's free-form verse and his bawdy subject matter in Leaves of Grass exalted the downtrodden and inaugurated a less lofty strain in American poetry. Richard Wright's Black Boy documents the "Great Migration" of African-Americans from the rural South to urban Northern centers like Brooklyn; in Death of a Salesman, inspired by his Jewish immigrant uncle, Arthur Miller made the working man of Brooklyn represent the common man struggling in the capitalist system. William Styron's Sophie's Choice captures a postwar Brooklyn peace and growing economic comfort commingled uneasily with the horrors of the Holocaust. Henry Miller, Paul Auster, Hubert Selby Jr., and Norman Mailer round out the collection. A hybrid of urban history and literary biography and analysis, this engrossing, perceptive book makes a valid case for the richness of Brooklyn as a site of the literary imagination. Maps.