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Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life [Kindle Edition]

Evan Hughes
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.00
Kindle Price: $8.89
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Sold by: Macmillan

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Book Description

For the first time, here is Brooklyn's story through the eyes of its greatest storytellers.

Like Paris in the twenties or postwar Greenwich Village, Brooklyn today is experiencing an extraordinary cultural boom. In recent years, writers of all stripes—from Jhumpa Lahiri, Jennifer Egan, and Colson Whitehead to Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer—have flocked to its patchwork of distinctive neighborhoods. But as literary critic and journalist Evan Hughes reveals, the rich literary life now flourishing in Brooklyn is part of a larger, fascinating history. With a dynamic mix of literary biography and urban history, Hughes takes us on a tour of Brooklyn past and present and reveals that hiding in Walt Whitman's Fort Greene Park, Hart Crane's Brooklyn Bridge, the raw Williamsburg of Henry Miller's youth, Truman Capote's famed house on Willow Street, and the contested streets of Jonathan Lethem's Boerum Hill is the story of more than a century of life in America's cities.

Literary Brooklyn is a prismatic investigation into a rich literary inheritance, but most of all it's a deep look into the beloved borough, a place as diverse and captivating as the people who walk its streets and write its stories.

Editorial Reviews


“Smart…[Hughes] has perceptive things to say about Brooklyn’s tangled relationship to American lit. He traces the way writers have absorbed Brooklyn’s scruffy, somewhat persecuted mindset...Literary Brooklyn is at its best in the details and quotations Mr. Hughes plucks from Brooklyn writers’ lives; his book becomes a pleasure-delivery system.”—The New York Times

"In a way, the literary history of Brooklyn is like a literary history of America itself — not because America is like Brooklyn, which it isn't, but because it is a story of a certain set of writers describing what they knew as America came into being, as the country invented a literature of its own...[Hughes] lays in the facts and brightens them with solid literary critique."—Los Angeles Times
"Lively...Urban history and literary history often brush up against each other to profound effect."--The New York Times Book Review
"The rich history of literary life in “America’s first suburb” is very enjoyably explored...Hughes is good at forging connections between the many Brooklyn authors whose stories he tells...even as he gives the arcs of their careers fresh context by setting them against the dramatic ups and downs of the borough they all called home." —The Christian Science Monitor


"Highbrow" and "Brilliant”—New York Magazine's Approval Matrix

"One of the many fine points in Literary Brooklyn; The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life is that for decades writers wanted to escape Brooklyn for the glamour of Manhattan—it was one definition of success—and now they want to go the other direction, not just because of what's happening now but because of all the history."—Portland Oregonian

"An engrossing cultural memoir of what some consider our most intriguing borough today."—New York Daily News
"They say Brooklyn is the literary navel of the nation right now, but after reading Evan Hughes's book you'll ask, 'Wasn't it always?' It's a richly detailed, beautifully written history." —Luc Sante, author of Low Life and Kill All Your Darlings

"If you've ever lived in Brooklyn, this book will make you see your experience in an entirely different and mythic light. And if you're thinking about moving to Brooklyn, this book will make it hard not to rent the U-Haul. Evan Hughes has written an incredibly engaging and thoughtful history of how Brooklyn became the heart of America's most literary city. I stayed up way too late getting to the last page."—Tom Bissell, author of Extra Lives and The Father of All Things

“It seems Evan Hughes has read every book by —or about — every writer who's ever so much as stepped into the borough.  Did you know that as young men just beginning to write, Norman Mailer and Arthur Miller lived in the same brownstone, and occasionally eyed each other while getting the mail? Literary Brooklyn is immensely readable, hugely informative, and thoroughly enjoyable.  Once here, you won't want to leave.”—Charles Bock, author of Beautiful Children

"Whether you love Brooklyn from afar or live there, you know it's a critical part of America's artistic heart. In Literary Brooklyn, Evan Hughes tells a moving and important story you haven't heard and shows us how and why literature will continue to thrive in the American city." —Touré, author of Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?

“A well-researched urban history book and a comprehensive literary biography that brims with fresh insights.”—Booklist

“A hybrid of urban history and literary biography and analysis, this engrossing, perceptive book makes a valid case for the richness of Brooklyn as a site of the literary imagination.”—Publishers Weekly

"Wonderfully illuminating...Hughes charts this tumultuous, two-century urban history through the lives and works of important writers who, for their own reasons and for a time at least, called Brooklyn home. Elegantly, the author slides in and out of eras, identifying the sometimes surprising geographical and spiritual connections among an impressive list of writers...Whether they used it as subject, setting, or inspiration, saw it as a refuge, hideout or merely as a patch of relative green convenient to Manhattan, these writers are part of a rich artistic procession Hughes brings vividly to life." —Kirkus Reviews 

About the Author

Evan Hughes has written articles about literature for such publications as The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, n + 1, and the London Review of Books. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Product Details

  • File Size: 819 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0805089861
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (August 16, 2011)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004TLJ7QE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #649,886 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
By Edward
This book emanates a deep love of literature, commingled with a thorough understanding of Brooklyn and of its growth, from the 1820s to the present. I was struck by the erudition of the author, by his thorough research, as well as by his beautiful and sensitive writing. The chapters, focusing often on one writer, but sometimes on a group of writers representing a certain period, give the reader insights into the artists' lives as well as into the influence of place and time on their minds and souls. It was a pleasure to immerse myself in this book and it spurred my desire to read some of the works with which I have not been familiar till now. Reading Mr. Hughes' book definitely enabled me to appreciate the role of Brooklyn on some of the masters of American literature.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brooklyn's in the House September 25, 2011
The Literary Legacy of a Hipster Borough
SunPost Weekly August 11, 2011 John Hood

Forget the suits, bespoke or otherwise. Disregard the hats and the saddle shoes, the custom shirts and the silken ties. For like Walt Whitman I am at heart "one of the roughs." Sure, I chew with mouth closed, mostly, and can manage all of the other manners one has to summon in so-called polite society. Nevertheless (again citing Whitman) "I am the mate and companion of people, all just as fathomless and immortal as myself." In other words, even in pretense I'm aware of my position. Okay, so maybe the "voices of the diseased and despairing, and of thieves and dwarfs" are but a mumble when they come through me. Still, they're there all right. That's why when I see a place remade for the safe and sound, I get irked. Then I get the hell outta town.

It happened to me in New York's East Village, and later on the Lower East Side. It happened again on South Beach. And were it not for the economic crisis currently affecting the country, it could well have happened in the working class enclave called Silver Bluff, where I now live amid a sea of folks "just as fathomless and immortal as myself." No, "they do not know how immortal. But I know." And (said the fathead) that's what counts.

All of the above is merely a roundabout way for me to mark the loss (and the gain) which has plagued the Borough of Brooklyn. On the one hand, it's become the much-ridiculed haven for way too many hipsters. On the other, it possesses a legacy that will endure as long as we do. In Evan Hughes' Literary Brooklyn (Holt $16) that legacy is writ as large and as forceful as the writers who've left it behind.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two for One October 2, 2011
This wonderfully readable book has a dual focus. First, it traces the lives of the writers of Brooklyn from Walt Whitman to the present, detailing with sensitivity and at times hilarious detail their varying personalities and life styles. But at the same time it provides an urban history of Brooklyn, one that is especially vivid in that it is seen through the eyes of the writers who lived there. As the author has noted, you can't Google what Brooklyn was like in the 40's, for example, but writers can tell us. The changing history of Brooklyn is a microcosm of the story of urban America, as waves of immigrants of diverse ethnicity sought new lives there. The author writes feelingly of the struggles of each new group, while acknowledging the strains of gentrification that result in the Brooklyn of today, teeming as it is with young professionals. He is the master of delicious turns of phrase, matching his own rapid-fire prose with terrific quotes from the writers. Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Biographies shed light on literary giants October 14, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Evan Hughes, Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life, is itself a literary masterpiece. It proves the rather contemporary claim in the past 45 years that an author's work cannot really be understood without a careful study of the author's life and surroundings. Hughes enlightens me in unexpected ways about some of my favorite American authors: Walt Whitman, Thomas Wolfe, Truman Capote, William Styron, Norman Mailer, and Arthur Miller. He also introduces me to several others whom I have never read very seriously. I now have an appreciation of these authors grounded in the very setting in which they did their creative works. In addition, his work deepens my understanding of Brooklyn and American urban life. Having devoted my professional career to urban ministry in America, I am particularly grateful for both Hughes' in-depth study and the glancing insights so plentiful in the book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So you were a writer in Brooklyn! March 12, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Loved it..The book went into many famous writers and told about their lives in Brooklyn.. Very well written and understand now some of authors views on the life in this city.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why my heart never left NY: Books Like This One June 8, 2014
In a little Oregon coffee shop named The Green Plow, I found this sitting on a table outside. Heck, I'll read anything written about the greatest city in the solar system, on the off chance I'll learn something more, or will have one of my oldest memories retrieved long enough for me to be a child in Greenwich Village for a moment, the spawn of Midwest beatniks whose olfactory memories of 1954 are wonderfully retrievable -- WITH the right book in my hands.

This was exactly the right book. I read it right there, as slowly as my curiosity about the next page allowed, until the pages ran out. Three days later, I read it completely again, and felt even more satisfied. (That's one personal acid-test of a good book.) Although I live in a tiny rural town, my father's favorite borough is up on the bookshelf anytime I wish to trip the light fantastic again, in the city that first taught me how basically GOOD people are in their hearts.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars For me it would be great if there were maps or illustrations showing...
It's interesting to know the way famous writers had lived in Brooklin.
For me it would be great if there were maps or illustrations showing
the places where they lived... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mary Lou Rebelo
1.0 out of 5 stars The Moral - There is None
Walt Whitman, not being born in Brooklyn, was no Brooklynite. The majority of the authors, past and present, in this wreck of a work are carpetbaggers who have no place in the... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Chris Roberts
3.0 out of 5 stars A City and its Writers
Urban connections is a theme that runs through the mini-biographies that make up this interesting but flawed literary history. Read more
Published on September 5, 2012 by James Henderson
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insights and portraits of authors' lives
Hughes' book is a fun portrait of the lives of Brooklyn authors. The anecdotes, quotes and descriptions of the authors' characters make it seem like we as readers are there along... Read more
Published on May 21, 2012 by Susanna Zaraysky
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and Insightful
This book is for anyone who cares about literary history and/or the evolution of American cities. One chapter may feature a single writer, the next a cluster of writers with... Read more
Published on September 25, 2011 by Smitty
1.0 out of 5 stars brutal
For the life of me I cannot understand why anyone would want to read anything at all about the second best (aka first loser) borough. Read more
Published on September 7, 2011 by wit MAN
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