5 Quotes about NYC from the Best and the Brightest of the 20th Century

Much is documented about New York City, but the ethos of the city is only truly captured by the writers that inhabited or passed through the city at one point in time. Here are 5 quotations about New York City from some of the most brilliant literary minds of the 20th century. 

“There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless.” – Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir ‘s time in New York inspired awe in the existential philosopher. In her brief time visiting the city, she found immense joy in simply walking from the west village to the east in the evenings and staring out over the East River at Brooklyn, delighted in observing the children running around in the park. She frequented the old, West Village speakeasy, Chumley’s, which is still open to this day.

“Whoever is born in New York is ill-equipped to deal with any other city: all other cities seem, at best, a mistake, and, at worst, a fraud. No other city is so spitefully incoherent.” – James Baldwin

No matter who you are or what you do, it’s hard to think of New York City without thinking of James Baldwin. Though he famously left for Paris, he wrote eloquently and often about his hometown. One is hard-pressed to find writing about race, love, and life in America as nuanced and insightful as Baldwin’s. The man could do it all.

“No urban night is like the night there. Squares after squares of flame, set up and cut into the aether. Here is our poetry, for we have pulled down the stars to our will.” – Ezra Pound

It’s no surprise Ezra Pound so extolled the city that never sleeps. He came from Idaho where life was much sleepier. He loved the diversity and stimulation of the city but fled eventually in fear that the city had lost its character to vapid commercialism. He’s also famously a controversial literary figure for being anti-Semitic, which all but ruined his legacy. With that in mind, we’ll take the beautiful quotation and leave the hatred behind.

“There are really some fine buildings. New ones. Not any with names that we’ve ever heard of. Funny shapes. Three hundred years from now people will come over from Europe and tour it in rubber neck wagons. Dead and deserted like Egypt. It’ll be Cooks most popular tour. Wouldn’t live in it for anything.” – Earnest Hemingway

It was no secret that Hemingway detested life in the Big Apple. Though he had a wary respect for the publishing capital of the world, he disliked its unnaturalness. Though his famous Jazz-age counterpart F. Scott Fitzgerald milked the city for inspiration in many of his earlier stories and novels, Hemingway drew from the Midwest, Paris, and Spain for his writing. That didn’t stop him from enjoying it a bit, though. There is a famous photograph of him at the historic and now defunct Stork Club, which was the crème de la crème of New York City restaurants back in the day.

“That is what it was all about, wasn’t it? Promises? Now when New York comes back to me it comes in hallucinatory flashes, so clinically detailed that I sometimes wish that memory would effect the distortion with which it is commonly credited.” – Joan Didion 

Joan Didion’s New York is perhaps the most thoroughly documented, as she wrote about her time there quite a bit herself. In her writing about the city, she balances romance and realism about the difficulty and hope its inhabitants experience daily. Many readers are well-acquainted with her famous essay on parting ways with the city in “Goodbye to All That.” The California-native came to New York in the 1960s to work for Vogue, lived her best New York life, and, homesick, left back to her home in California. But don’t worry, there is a happy ending to this New York love affair – she returned in her old age, and splits her time living between California and the upper east side.

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