How to Be a New Yorker

Today’s Village Voice cover story, by the incomparable Jen Doll, tackles the age-old question of How to Be a New Yorker. The very title, riffing on a Mad Men-era guidebook by Les and Joan Rich, suggests that being a New Yorker is something learned rather than something most of us are born with. (The designation “Native New Yorker,” after all, highlights the fact that the rest of us are transplants, working our way up from rube status.)

I spent an hour or so on the phone with Jen a couple weeks ago talking about the piece and am happy to find myself quoted a couple times. (The really great stuff comes from Milton Glaser, whose work hangs in my office. I can’t say how happy I am to rub shoulders with him in print — and also with long-time friend of PWHNY Jeremiah Moss.) In one of my quotes, I suggest that when you hear someone say “I’m a New Yorker …” you get kind of suspicious. You want some form of authentification. More often than not those words are followed by something terribly un-New Yorkey, some justification of the city’s ongoing transformations under the juggernaut of gentrification.

Jen’s article reclaims the high ground for the New York Romantics among us. I really enjoyed the piece. One of my students just tweeted that it made her cry. So read it, especially if you’re included in that category of people E.B. White argued were the truest New Yorkers, “strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail.”

On the subject, though, of perpetual complaints that New York just isn’t what it used to be, you might enjoy some of the following, especially if you’re visiting this site for the first time:

We’ve had, over the years, several posts on White’s classic essay.

Here’s a gaggle of posts on the dramatic transformation of the Bowery over time, and a short one that looks at the earliest efforts to gentrify the Bowery, all the way back in the 1820s.

Jen mentioned, in her piece, Theodore Dreiser’s complaints that New York in the 20s just wasn’t what it had been when he arrived. Here’s a little more on that.

My epilogue to our Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the New York tackles a similar problem and identifies nostalgic and counternostalgic strains in a lot of writing about New York over time. (By counternostalgic I mean the sort of writing that reminds you that the olden days weren’t always better for everyone.)

A few years ago we hosted a conference on the theme Lost New York, 1609-2009. You can download a pdf of the accompanying exhbit catalog, featuring essays by some of our graduate students, here.

If these sorts of topics tickle your fancy, stick around, add us to your feed, or follow us on Twitter. We’re currently in the middle of a two-semester online version of our regular NYU course offering, Writing New York. More here.

Bookmark and Share

Tags: , ,