Literary Brooklyn

17book-articleInline-v2I’M LIFTING THIS ARTICLE WHOLESALE from Channel 13’s email newsletter, MetroFocus. It expands on Evan Hughes’ well-received new book, Literary Brooklyn, by showing pictures of Henry Miller’s childhood home in Williamsburg and the Clinton Hill house where Walt Whitman wrote “Leaves of Grass” (the only one of Whitman’s eight Brooklyn homes still standing). Fascinating! Also Truman Capote’s digs on Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights…but that one’s well-known.

Another Excuse (As if Anyone Needed One) to Fawn Over Brooklyn Novelists  by John Farley

Explaining why he defected to Los Angeles from his “Motherless Brooklyn,” author Jonathan Lethem infamously told the Guardian that Brooklyn had become “repulsive with novelists.”While the literary blogosphere has certainly gazed obsessively toward Brooklyn’s book scene for the better part of the last decade, the truth is that the borough has always been lousy with novelists.

Walt Whitman, Henry Miller, Thomas Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Paul Auster…The list of linguistic legends who resided in Brooklyn goes on and on, but pre-Internet writers were able to be a bit more secretive about their addresses than today’s writers. (Remember which young writerly-couple purchased a $6.75M Park Slope manse in 2005? Hint: Some of the neighbors found their arrival both extremely loud and incredibly close.)

A new book, Literary Brooklyn, by Evan Hughes, sheds (more) light on the subject of Brooklyn authors, past and present. Take a look at the following map, modified from an insert in the book, to find out where your favorite wordsmiths dwelt.


Though some of the houses included in the map have since met the wrecking ball, others still exist.

Here are the three literary homes MetroFocus thinks are worth making the trip to see:

662 Driggs Ave., Williamsburg: Henry Miller’s “Early Paradise”

In several of his novels, including Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring  and Plexus, Henry Miller fondly described his boyhood home at 662 Driggs Ave. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as “the only tooth left in a rotten jaw” — a beautiful brick home surrounded by decrepit shanties. Despite rapid gentrification and ongoing construction in the area, Miller’s description still holds true.

The house is surrounded by an empty lot to one side and a small gaggle of abandoned properties on the other, as if the writer’s words froze this block of Brooklyn in time over an entire century.

70 Willow St., Brooklyn Heights: Truman Capote’s Muse for Rent

In 2010, the house at 70 Willow St. went on the market for $18 million, the most expensive asking price in the borough’s history. Capote certainly didn’t pay that much for the house where he wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood. In fact, he didn’t buy it. He rented a room in it from his friend Oliver Smith. But when Smith was out-of-town, Capote purportedly threw wild parties where he drunkenly bragged to friends that it was all his.

99 Ryerson St., Clinton Hill: Walt Whitman’s Holdout

You wouldn’t know it from looking at it (few of the neighbors do), but there’s something very special about this otherwise-plain house at 99 Reyerson St. in Clinton Hill. Of the seven houses that Walt Whitman lived in during his 28 years in Brooklyn, it’s the last one still standing.

In 1848, Whitman — a well-known and respected young journalist — was fired from his editor position at the Brooklyn Daily Eagle due to a political argument with the paper’s owner. Whitman, like this house, quickly faded into obscurity. But after seven years of a leading a quiet, poverty-stricken existence, while living in the house in 1855, Whitman self-published the first edition of “Leaves of Grass” — arguably the most important work in the canon of American poetry — and forever altered the course of  American literary history. Henry Miller, it’s worth noting, called Whitman his greatest influence.

Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life
Author: Evan Hughes
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks
Publication Date: August 2011

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