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From literary events NYC is known for, like the Brooklyn Book Festival, to places of interest in New York for writers and book lovers, NYC is one of the most visited cities in the world of literature. And for a good reason: it’s rich in culture, conflict and charisma.
Some of the most important books, plays and poems engage with the city that never sleeps. Think Allen Ginsburg, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Langston Hughes, Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Emma Lazarus, Zora Neale Hurston and more.
It’s impossible to name all of the writers who stayed in and wrote about New York. Book lovers everywhere have seen the city through the eyes of a writer; it’s simply impossible to avoid this space as a literary setting.
When in New York, you won’t be surprised to find that the city completely embraces its hold on readers and writers everywhere. For the ultimate literary New York City tour, make sure to prioritize these landmarks, events and shops.
Writers’ houses to visit in NYC
While you definitely shouldn’t go out looking for Jonathan Safran Foer’s place (considering he’s still alive and living in New York), you should visit the former residences of some classic authors. Among the writers’ houses recognized by the city of New York (i.e., that have adorable plaques in front), a few are exceedingly notable.
For instance, The Emma Lazarus House in Greenwich Village should be your first stop. Lazarus is essential as a literary figure in the United States and for NYC, as her poem “The New Colossus” is featured, in part, on the Statue of Liberty. On top of being a poet, she was also an activist against anti-Semitism and wrote about economic reform.
While in the village, stop by the Edgar Allan Poe Residence. While not as picturesque as Lazarus’s house, Poe’s known to have written “The Cask of Amontillado” here, one of his most famous stories. He also wrote about the city while living here, in “Literati of New York City.”
Poe’s original residence here is no longer standing, but it has been reconstructed as faithfully as possible to the home he lived in from 1845-46. Later on, Poe moved to the Bronx with his wife. You can visit that house, Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, and take a walking tour of the house and its grounds. He lived in the cottage until he died in 1849.
A defining figure of the Harlem Renaissance, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Langston Hughes’s historic home is located in Harlem. In this house, he wrote such essential works as “Montage of a Dream Deferred,” which is perhaps his most iconic poem. His brownstone apartment also hosted the I, Too, Arts Collective, which was dedicated to uplifting underrepresented communities in art until 2019.
Some honorable mentions include Truman Capote’s Brooklyn basement apartment, the Edna St. Vencent Millay house and the Hotel Chelsea, where writers from Mark Twain to Arthur Miller to Patti Smith have lived.
Live story spaces
Everything is more exciting to witness in person. Live literary events in NYC are a great example. Luckily, the city is chock-full of live storytelling events and poetry performances as well as open mics for budding writers. See if you can catch new writers at one of these spots.
Around since 1973, the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe is now a Lower East Side staple. Founded as a multi-art space to showcase the talents of underrepresented city artists, Nuyorican is truly a treasure of Manhattan. Not only is poetry and spoken word showcased here, but also jazz and visual and performing arts.
The community here embraces art as a means for driving social change and progress. Currently running a calendar of online events due to COVID-19 safety concerns, you now can enjoy live storytelling from home. They host an open mic every Monday night.
OK, The Moth isn’t exactly an underground venue. However, it’s a fundamental stop on any literary tour of Manhattan. Their StorySLAM event is the most sought-after in terms of tickets, so try to snag a few! StorySLAMs are also fun because they’re run in an open-mic style. Prepare a five-minute (true) story based upon the theme for the specific event you choose to attend. During the Mainstage event, curated performers tell their (true) stories live on stage, and the entire thing has become something of a phenomenon in the city. So, if you get stage fright, try this one on for size.
For the poetry lovers, there is, of course, Bowery Poetry. Home to the PoetNY Open Mic hosted by Mason Granger, you can reserve your ticket for just US$10. This spot looks just how you imagine, with Victorian-style crown moulding and an appealing semi-darkness. Bowery is currently hosting a live Zoom show titled “Jupiter Invincible,” based on a graphic novel of the same name. Interestingly, they’re also known to host burlesque shows here.
Literary places of interest in New York
There are a few other spots that you must add to your list. And no, not just bookstores. However, you’d be remiss to skip out on those, of course.
In Central Park, you absolutely must get your photo taken at the famous Alice in Wonderland Statue. While there, take a stroll up to the Shakespeare Garden. Even if you’re not a book lover, everyone’s had to read a little Shakespeare while in school.
This area of Central Park hosts all types of plants mentioned throughout Shakespeare’s many works. There’s actually an entire Literary Walk in Central Park that you can journey upon. Just make sure to get a good look at the ducks that hang out at the Central Park South Pond.
Moreover, you should venture into some of New York’s more impressive libraries and literary centers. The New York Public Library is a significant institution in its own right. Those stone lions outside of the main branch? They’re the pride of New York.
Additionally, there’s the Morgan Library & Museum, which will make you feel like Belle did upon entering the library in “Beauty and the Beast.” There’s even an entire library open to the public that features poetry exclusively. It’s called Poets House and is located in downtown Manhattan.
The city is also rife with memorials and resting places of many authors, including Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison. Herman Melville, Joseph Pulitzer, Gertrude Stein and Walter Scott are also honored post-mortem here. You can pay tribute to your favorite writers by visiting them even though they may be gone.
Eating and drinking from the books
What’s a good novel without a good snack to accompany it? Or perhaps a glass of wine? On the Upper West Side, there’s one spot that’s known to be constantly swarmed by writers: the Hungarian Pastry Shop.
If you check out its walls, you’ll see framed covers of all the books written by regular customers and within the shop – some quite famous and others which have faded into obscurity. Oh, and the pastries here are worth writing home about, too. Jack Kerouac and other Beat poets were known to stop into Caffe Reggio downtown, too.
In the mood for a drink? Read about the Algonquin Round Table while seated right by it. The Algonquin Hotel Bar used to host a slew of famous writers for imbibement. Writers from Dorothy Parker to George S. Kaufman sat there and enjoyed one another’s company. Or enjoy pre-Prohibition Era cocktails a la “The Great Gatsby” at the Plaza Hotel’s Rose Club; the turning point of the novel, some may remember, takes place in one of the hotels’ rooms.
Minetta Tavern, frequented by Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and E. E. Cummings, is also still open (and still very good). For all of the hippies out there, try out Kerouac’s favorite bar in the city: the White Horse Tavern. The beat poets loved this place! Really, it might be more challenging to find a bar that famous authors in NYC haven’t frequented.
New York is something of a hub for literary-themed bars and restaurants. The Lit. Bar in the Bronx, founded and currently run by Bronx native Noëlle Santos, is great for wine tasting and book tastings.
The Library at the NoMad Hotel is an older, more legendary combination of bar and reading space, but that doesn’t make it overrated. You can take a book off the shelf and then chill out in an armchair, enjoying people-watching between chapters. There’s also Bookmarks Lounge, which serves book-inspired cocktails. Yes, Tequila Mockingbird is among them!
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