The Project on New York Writing


Cyrus R. K. Patell and Bryan Waterman


The Project on New York Writing seeks to generate significant new research and teaching about New York’s relationship to American and global literatures and cultures. We adopt a broad definition of “New York writing” to include writing by New Yorkers, writing that takes New York to be its subject or setting, or simply even writing produced in New York. We use the term “writing” in contradistinction to the term “literature,” because the Project’s purview will extend beyond the genres of poetry, fiction, drama, and literary nonfiction to embrace such other textual forms as music, journalism, and nonfiction of all kinds.

Interdisciplinary in its approach to literary and cultural studies, the Project examines the evolution of New York City as a literary construct, as well as the city’s emergence and continual reinvention as one of the country’s—and the world’s—premier sites of literary and cultural production. Seeking to understand how New York’s cultures, its history, and even its physical spaces might be understood to function as texts that respond to modes of literary analysis, the Project seeks to demonstrate that literary scholarship can provide vital contributions to urban studies within a wide range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.

New York University is already a significant location for scholars and teachers who work on New York writing. The university’s Fales Library, with its Downtown Collection, has become the leading site for the study of New York’s mid-to-late-twentieth century avant-garde culture. NYU offers courses in a variety of departments related to New York literature and culture, and it currently reaches out both to high school students (through initiatives that originate in the Steinhardt School of Education) and to professors at teaching colleges in the area and around the country (through the efforts of the Faculty Resource Network). Reaching beyond the University, the Project aims to collaborate across academic and archival institutions in the greater metropolitan region and to disseminate new scholarship widely, both throughout New York City and around the country.

The Project will offer students of New York literature and culture resources with which to interpret the palimpsest that is New York, to help them make sense of the myriad narratives that the city generates. One of the Project’s chief aims is conservancy:  we hope to preserve the history of New York writing for future generations. But another aim is the promotion of innovation: we hope to encourage all whom the Initiative serves to add to the living culture of city, reading and rewriting its narratives, enlarging the literary construct that is New York.

The Project’s founding event, a conference and Fales Library exhibition on the theme “Lost New York,” was held at NYU in the fall of 2009, with support from the Department of English, the NYU Humanities Initiative, and Fales Library and Special Collections. The Project also co-sponsored a follow-up conference, “Kiss Me Again: The Life and Legacy of Arthur Russell,” directed by Sukhdev Sandhu.

Current publications include a volume of essays that accompanied that “Lost New York” exhibition (see below) and The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of New York, edited by Project co-directors Cyrus R. K. Patell and Bryan Waterman.

Future Project activities include an expansion of undergraduate and graduate course offerings devoted to the history and culture of the city, building on the success of the department’s signature undergraduate course, Writing New York; a publication series that will include both new scholarship and annotated editions of classic New York literary texts; and additional conferences, including a major event in 2014 to mark the fortieth anniversary of the birth of the New York City punk scene.

Affiliated faculty within the English department include Thomas Augst, Jacqueline Goldsby, Cyrus R. K. Patell (co-director), Sukhdev Sandhu, Lytle Shaw, and Bryan Waterman (co-director).


LOST NEW YORK, a conference (October 2-3, 2009) and Fales Library exhibition (October 2 – November 6, 2010). [Download the essay collection that accompanied the event here.]