What does a writer do on her first trip to New York City? Here’s a list of things I fit into a four-day trip:
1. Lunch at The Algonquin Hotel
“The Gonk,” on West 44th Street in Manhattan, was once the regular lunching spot for famous New York critics. Writers such as Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross, Alexander Woolcott, Robert Benchley, Robert Sherwood, and George S. Kaufman, were just a few of the critics who made up the “Vicious Circle” that met at the Algonquin. The opinions of this round table of critics largely impacted many well-known writers of the 1920s. The Gonk was also where William Faulkner penned his 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
Lunch at the Algonquin is decently priced, and the ambiance transports you back in time. Today, a round table, presumably the Vicious Circle’s table, sits in the right corner of the hotel’s restaurant. A mahogany bookshelf looms over it. Waiters in light-blue dress shirts and black vests walk the dining room, running free hands across the top of cushioned dining chairs. Some of the men carry steamy dishes of chicken smothered in mozzarella on plastic trays. And Matilda, the house feline, stretches herself across a brass bellhop cart.
2. A Stroll through the Morgan Library
The library of financier Piermont Morgan was donated to the public by J.P. Morgan Jr. in 1924. Among the museums holdings are manuscripts, rare books, paintings, drawings, and prints.
The Morgan Library also features a number of unique exhibits. I had the pleasure of viewing a series of letters written by J.D. Salinger. From 1941 to 1943, Salinger wrote a number of letters and postcards to an aspiring Canadian writer named Marjorie Sheard. Salinger was quite flirtatious in his correspondence with Miss Sheard, asking her to send him a portrait of herself. Cheeky.
Among the Morgan’s collection of drawings, I was surprised to find a drawing entitled Château fantastique au crépuscule by Victor Hugo, famed author of Les Misérables. Who knew Victor Hugo could draw? I sure didn’t.
If time permitted, I would have liked to attend one of the museum’s concerts or films. I just missed the Morgan’s Edgar Allen Poe exhibit, opening October 4th. So, go see it for me and let me know what you think. The Morgan Library is located on Madison and 36th Street.
3. A Reading at The Center for Fiction
The Center for Fiction, on Madison and East 47th Street, is one happening place for fiction readers and writers. It’s the only nonprofit organization in the United States that’s solely dedicated to fiction. With regular author readings, writing workshops, reading groups, a bookstore, a library, and a quiet writing room for members, the Center is a strong cocktail of all things fiction.
While I was in town, the Center hosted authors Pamela Eren and Jonathan Dee. Pamela’s recent Tin House publication, The Virgins, was a New York Times Editor’s Choice selection, and Jonathan’s novel, The Privileges, was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize. Poor Pamela had lost her voice before the read, so Jonathan gave an eloquent reading of both author’s works. During the book signing, I had a very pleasant chat with the Center’s managing director, Kristin Henley. Kristin, a warm and relaxed individual, explained all that the Center has to offer to a writer, and made me feel right at home. So if you’re visiting NYC, don’t be afraid to poke your head into the Center for Fiction and see what’s going on.
4. Shopping at the Strand
In the late 1920s, forty-eight different bookshops spanned six-blocks near Union Square, NYC. This area was known as “Book Row.” Of these forty-eight bookshops, only the Strand has survived. Today, the Strand claims to be in possession of eighteen-miles of books. On the main floor, you’ll find everything from classic literature to cookbooks to store merchandise. On the top floor, you can explore the Strand’s impressive collection of rare books. Find the courage to strike up a conversation with a Strand employee; all are very friendly and well-read. There isn’t much seating inside the bookstore, but if it’s a nice day out you can enjoy your new read on one of the many benches outside.
5. A Day with Book Lovers at the Brooklyn Book Festival
By luck, I happened to be in New York for one of the nation’s premier book festivals. Founded in 2006, the Brooklyn Book Festival annually brings together authors, readers, writers, and the general public. The week-long festival is free to the public and includes author signings, readings, workshops, themed lectures, and tons of vendors. Some of the vendors I spent time with included One Story, The Paris Review, Wave Books, Brooklyn Poets, Melville House, Poets & Writers, and PEN American Center.
Scattered throughout the vendors were panels of authors discussing their books and the writing process.
The whole festival was pulsating with literary hip. I tell ya, I don’t think I blinked the entire day. So if you happen to be in NYC in the month of September, don’t miss the Brooklyn Book Festival.
Have you been to any of these places? What do you think every writer should do when in NYC?