A Writer Grows in Brooklyn - part 1

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Truman Capote lived in Brooklyn by choice, and so did I, once... Brooklyn Heights, to be more exact. Actually, the Northern part of Brooklyn Heights, if you want to be even more exact. Or, more precisely, Cranberry Street —the little three-block long street where the movies Moonstruck and Three Days of the Condor were filmed.

When I first moved to Brooklyn from SoHo some twelve years ago, friends called me a pioneer, as if I'd just announced that I was picking up and moving to Chechnya or Gaza. Now, of course, it's considered hip to live in Brooklyn. What people don't realize, however, is that to many writers, Brooklyn always was the hip place to live. For instance, my little brownstone on Cranberry street was two blocks from where Thomas Paine lived and wrote. I was two blocks from where Walt Whitman typeset his Leaves of Grass. I was five blocks from where Truman Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's. I was 20-some-odd blocks from where Marianne Moore penned What are Years? Five blocks from where Hart Crane wrote The Bridge, 13 blocks from where Thomas Wolfe wrote Of Time and the River. Four blocks from where Betty Smith wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Ten blocks from where Arthur Miller wrote Death of a Salseman. Three blocks from where Anais Nin lived. Five blocks from where Norman Mailer wrote The Naked and the Dead. One block from where Carson McCullers wrote Ballad of the Sad Café. Two blocks from where W.H. Auden lived and wrote. Sixteen blocks from where Norman Rosten lived, and less than a block from (my brownstone actually shared a backyard with) the house that Paul and Jane Bowles called home for more than a decade.

And there are a pantload more.

Alfred Kazin, Tennessee Williams, Chaim Potok, Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Cristina Garcia, Derek Walcott, Willaim Styron, Hubert Selby, Phillip Roth, Bernard Malamud, Paul Auster, Harriet Beacher Stowe and Isaac Basheva Singer have all, at one point or another, lived and worked in Brooklyn. As well as a whole bunch of young authors like Elizabeth Gaffney, Spike Lee, Dave Eggers and Rick Moody. The Jonathans: Jonathan Ames, Jonathan Safran Foer and Jonathan Letham. And up-and-coming authors like Lucinda Rosenfeld and Amy Sohn.

The question is: Why?

Why have so many writers been drawn to Brooklyn ? What is it about the largest of the five boroughs that bedazzles and beguiles? What's the allure?

Is it that Brooklyn tends to leave you alone—to stay off your back, as a friend of mine is fond of saying? Or is it "the way in which the low lay of the land and open light here, the surfeit of visible sky, puts the bold frenzy and built-in self-importance of city living in some perspective, isolates you on sidewalks or at windows in your own thoughts beneath the wide empty press of a day," as Brooklyn native and author Charles Siebert has written? Or is it just cheaper rent?

Go ahead and let us know your thoughts on the subject in the comments below and be sure to tune back in tomorrow for the second part of this 2-part post. I can't promise I'll have THE answer to the question, but I will have some pretty interesting factoids about some of these great authors. Oh, and by the way, I may have been slightly off on some of the above "two blocks from where..." stuff. Exact addresses were hard to find, but I should be pretty close with most of them.

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December 16, 2009 - 4:07am
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