Taking the time to note an incredible anthology that somehow, perhaps with editorial wizardry (John Freeman) coupled with stellar literary writers from deeply diverse perspectives, has you inhabit the pulse of New York City. It’s not the overexposed city you’ve likely heard about, or perhaps lived in at some point. It’s a city with narrators who are conscious of historical roots, concepts of nativism, who tell their stories without the archetypal “Came here for/after college to find myself and make a mark, returned to home state to start a family, boy do I miss NYC!” What I call the Columbian self-discovery stories. These stories are valid in their own right of course, but their saturation in the NYC narrative contribute to this exclusive view of NYC as a self-discovery hub void of natives, void of a home to the lesser-well off.
The anthology has a beautiful collection of writers, many of color, many underrepresented in many senses, well-known and perhaps not-as-known. It utilizes hybrid narratives, with illustrations by Molly Crabapple (the police officer on the back cover might be rethought in its next printing). You’ll hear stories about what it’s like going to public school in a gentrifying hotspot in Brooklyn, what it’s like to walk the city–all its neighborhoods–from the affluent Upper East Side to the poor streets of the Bronx, the complexities of race and class in central Harlem, what it’s like to be a heir while your brother is homeless, a glimpse into attending charity functions and returning to your millions-of-dollars-townhouse. This book has all of New York. And if it sounds strange to you that someone can be so excited when there are countless of books out there about the New York City experience–as a native I’ve never come across one that paints a NYC I could easily recognize, with narrators that are organically conscious of its complexities and with a care of its history (and did I mention from diverse writers?). There are too many stories to love here, but I’ll share two that stand out to me: Garnette Cadogan’s “Due North” that chronicles his arrival to the city with a deep love of walking that has him walking all the boroughs, discovering what each neighborhood is rich and poor in. And then there is Valeria Lusielli’s “Zapata Boulevard”, a mother-writer-Latina-non-native-but-also-native perspective on the intersection of race, class, gentrification and immigration in Hamilton Heights Harlem complete with (gasp!) a historical lens of the neighborhood (a city in itself), with hybrid narratives.
A unique anthology that might reshape your understanding of NYC, and will definitely have you seeking out the works of its contributors. Thanks independent bookstore BookCulture for carrying this book and having it by the cash register. I was planning on including a link to purchase the book from them, but it seems the book might have been bought recently by Penguin as it’s now listed for a September 8th 2015 release (originally by O/R Books, where you can still purchase the original).