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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Guest-blogger Richard Goodman on 5 Wondrous Works of New York Art

It's an honor and delight to once again host my amigo, Richard Goodman , founding member of the New York Writers Workshop and author of French Dirt and The Soul of Creative Writing, apropos of his latest, A New York Memoir. Over to you, Richard!

A New York Memoir is, essentially, a long love letter to New York City. It covers a period of thirty-five years, beginning with my knock-kneed arrival at Port Authority in 1975 down to the present day. The book consists of fourteen essays that chronicle people I've met and the inspiration I've received as a writer living here. It shows what it's like being young here, growing here as an artist and person, and growing old here. The author Susan Vreeland said the book is "a heart laid bare." I hope so.

Now comes the hard part. Maybe even harder than writing the book. Five links to....New York? This produced some intensive head scratching, and I can't afford that with what little hair I have. Just thinking of five books about New York (no movies? no plays?) would make me bald. So, I'm resigned to the fact that any list I create will seem insufficient. Given that, I decided to list five links to works of art about New York, regardless of genre, that express what was, and continues to be, one of my chief, valued reactions to New York City: a sense of wonder. Here they are:

1. Weegee's photography
Born Usher Felig, he became, simply, Weegee. As a professional photographer, he literally covered the waterfront in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. His black and white photographs of basic New York City street life are raw, real and intimate. Henry Miller called Brassaï "the eye of Paris." For me, Weegee was the eye of New York.

2. Paul Mazursky's 1976 film, Next Stop, Greenwich Village
The wonderfully romantic vision of 1950s bohemian New York is obviously autobiographical. It's suffused with a protective tenderness. It's also passionate and, when the main character's-- a young actor, of course-- mother, Shelley Winters, is on screen, terrifically funny. I don't know of a better expression of what it's like to "embrace New York with the intense excitement of first love."

3. E. B. White's Here is New York
Which brings me to the author of those quoted words above, E.B. White, and his little gem of a book, Here is New York. I don't claim to have read even a quarter of the books written about New York, but of the books I have read, this is by far the best, the most true. White captures the soul of New York City. Though he himself describes it as "a period piece," he is, for once, wrong. See for yourself.

4. Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man
I read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man at the perfect moment: when I first arrived in New York. I identified with it totally. Yes, it's about a young black man who arrives in the city twenty or so years earlier than I did and who lives in Harlem and becomes involved with a white-directed socialist cause, but those are just details, details. The book is about the great impact New York has on a young man's psyche and how he contends with new emotional realities he never could have imagined.

5. Eloise
Finally, on an entirely different note, I offer you Eloise. Yes, that six year-old, obviously wealthy, privileged little girl who lives in the Plaza Hotel where Fifth Avenue meets Central Park. Not the kind of existence I have even remotely had here. So, why Eloise? Because for many a child-- and I would suppose more girls than boys, but not exclusively so by any means-- Eloise is New York. This is probably true much more for my generation, and I really have no idea of how many kids still read Eloise, but I would bet that she, and Holly Golightly, have been responsible for the purchase of many a train and plane ticket to New York by eighteen year olds.

--- Richard Goodman

---> For the archive of Madam Mayo guestblog posts, click here.