Sunday, January 15, 2012

Literary Landmark No. 3

The two self-created New York adventures that I have discussed, finding literary landmarks of New York and finding the best independent bookstore, obviously converge.  After all, great authors inspire, frequent, and support bookstores, both as writers and as patrons.  Even if they’re not listed as a historical literary landmark, great indie bookstores are obviously pretty foundational to sharing books and ideas. 

So when historical independent bookstores cease to exist, the blow is extra strong.

In pursuit of another Midtown literary landmark listed in my book, I walked back and forth on West 47th Street, the Diamond District, avoiding jewelry peddlers and scammers, trying to find the famous Gotham Book Mart.

A true institution, the Gotham Book Mart was founded by Frances Steloff in 1920 on W. 45th Street and moved to W. 47th in 1923 and to another location on the same street in 1946. 

Apparently, it had an upstairs gallery for publication parties; some of its famous parties were given for Allen Ginsberg, LeRoi Jones (a.k.a. Amiri Baraka, who, like Ginsberg, worked at the shop…for only a few days each), Ana├»s Nin, Dylan Thomas, and William Carlos Williams.  Obviously, the store was deeply committed to modern poetry. In 1939, Gotham hosted a “wake” “with clay pipes and Irish whiskey…to honor the publication of James Joyce’s masterpiece [debatable; I disagree] Finnegan’s Wake,” and T.S. Eliot became the first member of the James Joyce Society here in 1947. Other notable clientele: W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell, Marianne Moore, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, and more. Oh, I wish I could visit!

It no longer exists. It closed in 2007 (which, incidentally, is five years after the book I’m using was published; it now occurs to me that I may run into similar difficulties with other landmarks. That just makes it more interesting.)The building is now just a diamond store, indistinguishable from the fifty stores like it on the street.

Shame on you, city and materialistic culture.  Shame on you.

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