Contemplating Jazz

Inspirational and heartbreaking; full of grunge, images you want to forget, pictures you wish you had thought to take, and the hunger of the mind. I spent a tumultuous semester in New York City, my time spent climbing up my fifth floor walk up, mooching free wine at the galleries, smelling expensive products at one of the world’s largest fashion magazines, and drinking cheap coffee at a tiny literary agency.

I also wandered the streets, in sunshine and at dusk, dangerously on my bicycle (don’t do that) and frustratingly with the subway system and also eye-opening. I didn’t follow a plan and went where I chose, but I often ended up at the public library, the pretty part despite tourists in the lobby, and I made sure to go to Edith Wharton’s house to try to sniff out the glamour that I was told still clings to the city streets.

This is a snapshot of some of my journey, a literary piece of the semester, the haunts and homes of writers from the past:

Besides a Starbucks, Wharton's home also houses WeightWatchers

Besides a Starbucks, Wharton’s home also houses WeightWatchers.

Edith Wharton

You might start your day with the usual tourist fare, but after shopping on Fifth, round the corner and arrive at 14 W. 23rd St.

Known for The House of Mirth and her family connections to the Joneses (as in “keeping up with the Joneses” Joneses), Wharton stands for Old New York and an era gone by. This is where she grew up, and it’s now a Starbucks.

One of several reading rooms.

One of several reading rooms.

The New York Public Library

Keep going up fifth until you find yourself Between the Lions.

Yes, it is just as magical as you might suspect. I discovered that the stacks extend far down below the streets of New York, far past even the level of the subway system.

Unfortunately, much scaffolding blocked the best view, but here's a taste.

Unfortunately, much scaffolding blocked the best view, but here’s a taste of the hotel, to the left.

Algonquin Hotel

Just a couple of blocks further up you will stumble upon 49 W. 44th St.

A hangout of the Dorothy Parker, the Algonquin also housed the Algonquin Round Table, a circle of writers and publishers. Popular with the literary crowd, the hotel also hosted the beginnings of The New Yorker, founded at the end of World War I and passed out free to hotel guests.


Far from bustling downtown, Salinger’s previous home.

J.D. Salinger

Take a stroll through the (far) upper reaches of the park, or possible a long jaunt through the public transportation system, until wandering into 390 Riverside Dr.  at W. 111th St.

New York was home to both Salinger and of course Holden Caulfield, in Salinger’s famous The Catcher in the Rye.

On the edge of the art district.

On the edge of the art district.

Hotel Chelsea

Continue navigating classic Manhattan by going through Chelsea, or if you’re in the area for Thursday night wine tastings at gallery openings, and stop in at 222 W. 23rd St.

Built in 1884, the Hotel Chelsea has housed numerous artists, writers, and musicians over the years from Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin, to Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams.


On (the side of) the road.

Jack Kerouac

While continuing you journey on the road, stroll down to 454 W. 20th St.

Though not physically on the road at the time, Kerouac completed his famed manuscript by the same name at this location.

Buy something here.

Buy something here.

Three Lives Bookstore

Further down is Three Lives. It’s cramped, quaint, and utterly charming at 154 W. 10th St.

Opened in 1968, Three Lives has delighted readers ever since and is proclaimed “One of the greatest bookstores on the face of the Earth.”


Looking down 10th from outside Lewis’ front door.

Sinclair Lewis

Stay on 10th and keep moving towards 37 W. 10th St.

While living in the concrete jungle, Lewis put up his feet at this pretty address, a far cry from jungles of any kind.


Twain’s front windows.

Mark Twain

Almost neighbors, Twain lived a few doors down at number 14 W. 10th St.

At 18, Twin moved to the city and worked for a printer before launching his later writing career in Connecticut.


In the basement. You will want to buy something here too.

Strand Bookstore

Pop up a couple blocks and just across Fifth to 828 Broadway. You will spend a great portion of your time here.

The stacks are tall, long, and stuffed with every book you can ever imagine. Explore every corner, from the highest level and rare books down into the basement and bargains.


One of those fire escapes was his.

W.H. Auden

Without getting to distracted by the riches of the Strand, continue on to 77 St. Mark’s Place

Spending some of the later years of his at St. Mark’s Place, Auden sailed to New York for the first time in 1939.

Ginsberg's stomping grounds.

Ginsberg’s stomping grounds.

Allen Ginsberg

Finally, start to weave into Alphabet city and conclude your stop at 170 E. 2nd St.

One of the Beat poets, Ginsberg lived on E 2nd St. from 1958-1961. To close this tour, the opening of Ginsberg’s “Howl,” full of imagery drawn from the mysteries of the city and his own experience of a changing generation:

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz.”


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