Salinger, Hersey, and The New Yorker

Salinger on the cover of Time, 1961

A new biography of J. D. Salinger has just been published. Given Salinger’s legendary reclusiveness and his hostility to biographers, that’s a big deal, and the biography (which is admired by some critics and seen more ambivalently by others) appears to provide an illuminating account of Salinger’s early years in New York and the period, after his terrible experience in World War II, when he established the style and the preoccupations for which he became famous.

In some respects, that history makes Salinger a comparable figure to John Hersey.

Read more

“Rainbow-colored lights”

Cornell Capa, Russell Williams and Connie Hill dancing the Lindy Hop, circa 1939 (NY Times)

Music and entertainment play a minor, yet significant role in Petry’s The Street–where, as Lutie notes, they provide a world of “rainbow-colored lights.” They were also, of course, a major part of Harlem social and business life in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s

Read more


A New IRT (7 line) subway car, introduced in 1948

As we noted in class, Petry’s The Street takes place almost entirely in a few blocks in Harlem, but Lutie does make several unsuccessful journeys outside the neighborhood.

Read more

Ann Petry in Harlem

Ann Petry in 1948, as photographed by Carl Van Vechten

As you know from reading Cheryl Greenberg’s “Mean Streets,” Harlem in the mid-forties (the setting of Petry’s The Street) was a ghetto neighborhood that had been ravaged by the Depression and by decades of racial injustice and segregation.

Read more

New Sounds in NYC

Chano Pozo, famed Cuban conguero, who worked with Dizzy Gillespie to help create "Latin Jazz"

Updated to fix links. 

Another obituary in the news today that provides a glimpse into the fascinating history of postwar new York City. The great New York rumbero Totico has died.

Read more

The Urban Intellectual Roots of Folk Music

The Weavers at Carnegie Hall in 1948 (Getty Images)


Today, the New York Times runs a book review of a new biography of the remarkable and strange Alan Lomax–the son of the pioneering folklorist John Lomax and himself a man responsible for recording thousands and thousands of hours of folk music from the U.S. and around the globe. Working first with his father and then independently, Alan Lomax was responsible for introducing a great deal of folk music and many artists–most famously Leadbelly–to popular audiences. As the review suggests, he was a bit of an obsessive.

Lomax’s life and work makes for a fascinating story. It’s a reminder, too, of the very interesting phenomenon of the folk music revival that began in New York City in the 1940s.

Read more