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Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life Paperback – August 16, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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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

“Engaging...” ―Newsday

“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.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Original edition (August 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805089861
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805089868
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #905,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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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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Format: Paperback
Urban connections is a theme that runs through the mini-biographies that make up this interesting but flawed literary history. Using Brooklyn as the focal point Evan Hughes chronicles the lives, briefly told, of authors from Whitman to Auster. Along the way we meet authors who were Brooklyn natives like Whitman, Henry Miller and Norman Mailer, and those that migrated to Brooklyn and stayed for a while like Hart Crane, W. H. Auden and William Styron. I was reminded of a favorite book, February House by Sherill Tippins that with a bit more focus does a better job of communicating the spirit of Brooklyn from a special era. That episode is included here as "The Birth of Brooklyn Cool", but pales as do most of the brief lives with the attempt to catalog every conceivable author and keep the book under three hundred pages. One example of the trivia that may appeal to some readers is the aside that notes that Norman Mailer went to the same high school in Bedford-Stuyvesant that also graduated Aaron Copland, Norman Podhoretz and Isaac Asimov. There is an excellent bibliography, plus notes and an index which makes the book great for browsing. Hughes claims as his "guiding principle" that "literature has a special ability to offer an intimate view of a very particular place and time." He succeeds partially in relating this special ability, but too often merely shares anecdotes about authors that, while interesting, did not rise to that level. Perhaps the grand sweep of years combined with the impressive quantity of admittedly high quality writers was too much to allow this approach in one volume. Nevertheless this is a fascinating book about a city and its writers.
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