CLOSE
Original image

A Writer Grows in Brooklyn - part 1

Original image

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.

Original image
Wikimedia Commons
arrow
literature
10 Things You Might Not Know About J.D. Salinger
Original image
Wikimedia Commons

For the past few decades, if any artist has been celebrated for a slim body of work and subsequently disappeared from public view, they’ve invited comparison to Jerome David (J.D.) Salinger. The author (1919-2010) published only one novel in his lifetime, 1951’s The Catcher in the Rye—but what a novel it was. A bildungsroman (coming of age) story about an aimless young man named Holden Caulfield on a mission to find himself after being expelled from a private school, The Catcher in the Rye ushered in a new era of philosophical literature, becoming a staple of classrooms across the country.

A new film about Salinger, Danny Strong's Rebel in the Rye, is once again stirring interest in the reclusive artist. If you’re a little light on Salinger trivia, check out some facts about his war experiences, his disappointing fling with Hollywood, and one curious choice of beverage.

1. HE WORKED ON THE CATCHER IN THE RYE WHILE FIGHTING IN WORLD WAR II.

Salinger was a restless student, attending New York University, Ursinus College, and Columbia University in succession. While taking night classes at the latter, he met Whit Burnett, a professor who also edited Story magazine. Sensing Salinger’s talent for language, Burnett encouraged him to pursue his fiction. When World War II broke out, Salinger was drafted into the Army. During his service from 1942 to 1944, he worked on chapters for what would later become The Catcher in the Rye, keeping pages on his person even when marching into battle.

2. HE HAD A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN.

Following his service, Salinger experienced what would later be labeled post-traumatic stress disorder: He was hospitalized after suffering a nervous breakdown in Nuremburg in 1945 after seeing some very bloody battles on D-Day and in Luxembourg. Writing to Ernest Hemingway, whom he had met while the latter was a war correspondent for Collier’s, he said his despondent state had been constant and he sought out help “before it got out of hand.”

3. HE REFUSED TO BE REWRITTEN.

Settling back in New York after the war, Salinger continued to write, contributing short stories to The New Yorker and other outlets before finishing The Catcher in the Rye. In literary circles, his name was already becoming known for insisting that editors not change a single word of his writing. When publisher Harcourt Brace agreed to publish The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger broke away from the deal after they insisted on rewrites. The untouched book was eventually released by Little, Brown and Company.

4. THE NEW YORKER DECLINED TO PRINT A CATCHER IN THE RYE EXCERPT.

A supply of Catcher in the Rye copies by author J.D. Salinger
Getty Images

Despite having published stories in The New Yorker previously, Salinger was dismayed to discover that the magazine wasn’t very supportive of his novel debut. Getting an advance copy of the book in the hopes they would run an excerpt, editors said the book's characters were “unbelievable” and declined to run any of it.

5. HE DID GIVE ONE INTERVIEW ... TO A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT.

Early on, it became apparent that Salinger wasn’t going to embrace whatever celebrity The Catcher in the Rye brought to his doorstep. He insisted that Little, Brown not run an author’s photo on the book’s dust jacket and turned down any opportunities to publicize it—with one exception. After moving to New Hampshire, Salinger agreed to give an interview to a local high school paper, The Claremont Daily Eagle. Salinger was later dismayed to find out an editor wound up putting it on the front page of the local paper. Annoyed and feeling betrayed, he put up a six-foot, six-inch tall fence around his property, further walling himself off from prying eyes.

6. HE DID WIND UP SELLING A MOVIE IDEA.

Although his most celebrated work has been kept offscreen, Salinger did have a brief courtship with Hollywood. In 1948, producer Darryl Zanuck purchased the rights to one of his short stories, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut.” Released as My Foolish Heart in 1949, it earned actress Susan Hayward an Oscar nomination (plus a second one for Best Original Song). Salinger reportedly hated it.

7. HE SUED HIS BIOGRAPHER.

Choosing a difficult subject to profile, author Ian Hamilton insisted on pursuing a biography of Salinger in the 1980s. Salinger was so peeved he sued Hamilton to prevent him from using excerpts of unpublished letters. A Supreme Court ruling gave him a victory, barring Hamilton from using the passages. Hamilton later wrote a book, 1988's In Search of J.D. Salinger, an account of his own legal dealings with Salinger.

8. HE PROBABLY DRANK HIS OWN PEE.

By Time Inc., illustration by Robert Vickrey. Time Magazine Archive - National Portrait Gallery Collection, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Salinger’s reclusive habits made him easy prey for a litany of rumors, but some of his more intriguing habits were disclosed by his daughter, Margaret, in a memoir that described her father as speaking in tongues and occasionally sipping his own urine. That practice, called urophagia, is said to have health benefits, although no reputable studies have been able to demonstrate as much.

9. HE ALWAYS LOATHED THE IDEA OF A CATCHER IN THE RYE MOVIE.

With its persistent interior monologues, The Catcher in the Rye might be almost unfilmable—but that hasn’t stopped directors as revered as Billy Wilder and Steven Spielberg from trying. Throughout his life, Salinger famously rebuffed any attempt to purchase the rights to make a film from his book, but did leave open a small possibility that it could possibly happen after he died. “It pleasures me to no end, though,” he once wrote, “to know that I won’t have to see the results of the transaction.” (The Salinger estate has yet to disclose whether they would seek to prevent an adaptation.)

10. A CARTOONIST WON A RESIDENCY AT HIS HOUSE.

In late 2016, the Cornish Center for Cartoon Studies Residency Fellowship accepted applications for cartoonists who wished to live in a one-bedroom apartment above the garage of Salinger’s former residence in Cornish, New Hampshire. The fellowship was granted so the winner could have a place to focus and produce “exceptional work.” The CCS repeated the offer this year, with a guest due to move in on October 16. Harry Bliss, a cartoonist for The New Yorker, is the current owner of the property.

Original image
Tim Boyle/Getty Images
arrow
literature
How the Rise of Paperback Books Turned To Kill a Mockingbird Into a Literary Classic
Original image
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

If you went to middle or high school in the U.S. in the last few decades, chances are you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's now-classic novel (which was adapted into a now-classic film) about racial injustice in the South. Even if you grew up far-removed from Jim Crow laws, you probably still understand its significance; in 2006, British librarians voted it the one book every adult should read before they die. And yet the novel, while considered an instant success, wasn’t always destined for its immense fame, as we learned from the Vox video series Overrated. In fact, its status in the American literary canon has a lot to do with the format in which it was printed.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in paperback at a time when literary houses were just starting to invest in the format. After its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was reviewed favorably in The New York Times, but it wasn’t the bestselling novel that year. It was the evolution of paperbacks that helped put it into more hands.

Prior to the 1960s, paperbacks were often kind of trashy, and when literary novels were published in the format, they still featured what Vox calls “sexy covers,” like a softcover edition of The Great Gatsby that featured a shirtless Jay Gatsby on the cover. According to a 1961 article in The New York Times, back in the 1950s, paperbacks were described as “a showcase for the ‘three S’s—sex, sadism, and the smoking gun.’” But then, paperbacks came to schools.

The mass-market paperback for To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1962. It was cheap, but had stellar credentials, which appealed to teachers. It was a popular, well-reviewed book that earned Lee the Pulitzer Prize. Suddenly, it was in virtually every school and, even half a century later, it still is.

Learn the whole story in the video below from Vox.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios