A vibrant narrative history of three hallowed Manhattan blocks—the epicenter of American cool. St. Marks Place in New York City has spawned countless artistic and political movements. Here Frank O’Hara caroused, Emma Goldman plotted, and the Velvet Underground wailed. But every generation of miscreant denizens believes that their era, and no other, marked the street’s apex. This idiosyncratic work of reportage tells the manylayered history of the street—from its beginnings as Colonial Dutch Director-General Peter Stuyvesant’s pear orchard to today’s hipster playground—organized around those pivotal moments when critics declared “St. Marks is dead.” In a narrative enriched by hundreds of interviews and dozens of rare images, St. Marks native Ada Calhoun profiles iconic characters from W. H. Auden to Abbie Hoffman, from Keith Haring to the Beastie Boys, among many others. She argues that St. Marks has variously been an elite address, an immigrants’ haven, a mafia warzone, a hippie paradise, and a backdrop to the film Kids—but it has always been a place that outsiders call home. Order here on Amazon.
St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street. Coming November 2, 2015, from W.W. Norton & Co. Pre-order from Amazon. “A vibrant narrative history of three hallowed Manhattan blocks—the epicenter of American cool.”
Why should we care about St. Marks Place?
St. Marks Place is the hippest street in America. It has always been a home for misfits, and there are still kids flocking here from all over the city, and the world. Girls and Broad City both prominently featured the street in 2015. For a century it has been where young people—revolutionaries in the teens, Beats in the fifties, punks in the seventies—have gone to feel free and find each other. In the 1960s, it was the east coast center for hippie culture. The East Village had The Electric Circus, The Dom, and The Fillmore East. American punk was born here: the NY Dolls, the Ramones, Blondie. The hardcore kids and Beastie Boys hung out here in the eighties. And now you can sing all those bands’ songs at the East Village’s many karaoke bars.
Where did you get the idea for this book?
I grew up on the street. My parents have lived there since 1973 and I was born in 1976. I got tired of people saying about my home street, “That place used to be something. It’s dead now.” Sometimes the time period they said was the best was when I was a kid, and I thought, Really? The eighties in the East Village sort of sucked. In the course of three years of research, I learned that people have always said St. Marks was dead. One thing you hear a lot about the street is: “I was there when it was cool. It’s over now.” People said that in the fifties about the thirties, and in the eighties about the sixties. Whenever people say that to me I ask them to tell me the last time they stayed out until super late on St. Marks Place. I did recently and it was packed with young people having the time of their lives. I’m very suspicious of anyone who identifies the best era in a place’s history as coinciding precisely with when they were sixteen. (more…)
“What’s your sign?” a woman asked me at a business meeting that would determine if I would be hired for a project involving a lot of time and a lot of money. She had my résumé and references; why look skyward? “Pisces,” I replied. “Ah, you’re emotional!” she responded. In fact, the very same day, someone who’s known me more than 20 years told me I was singularly unemotional. Whom to believe — the best friend or the stars? Read the rest here.
In the March 2015 issue of Good Housekeeping, I have a story about Tajuan McCarty of Birmingham, Alabama. She escaped from drug addiction and a series of violent pimps to open a center for women trying to leave the life. What I wish could be captured here is the hyper-polite, southern-belle voice she uses even when talking about the most horrific suffering.
At 10am on Saturday, my phone rang and it was Bobby Shmurda calling from jail. He dispelled the rumors that have circulated since he was arrested on December 17th.
People in there know who you are and know “Hot Boy”?
Yeah, everybody. Every time I walk the halls, I see people and they yell out “Ah Ah!” or something.
Read the rest here. And check out the feature in the Billboard print magazine on February 14.
This is a photo of me as a baby with my mother on St. Marks Place and First Avenue in 1976. I have been writing a book about St. Marks Place since approximately that year. The book is now done and with the copyeditor. The miraculous W. W. Norton & Company is publishing it November 2, 2015. Here is the catalog page. Here’s a story the New York Observer ran when the book sold. And here’s a blog post one of my favorite East Village bloggers wrote after I interviewed him for the book. And here’s a little piece I did for The New Yorker online about watching a reënactment of the Tompkins Square Park riots. Preorder the book from Amazon!
Thanks to the Alicia Patterson Foundation for funding my reporting this year on new mothers and child welfare or criminal justice interventions. Here’s my latest story for the fellowship, about a woman in California who had her baby removed from her care after she checked out early from the hospital.
Tiffany Langwell was thrilled to find out she was pregnant again at the age of 38. She had two children from her first marriage — a 15-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy. After separating from their father, she had reconnected with a high school boyfriend, David Hodek, and they had gotten engaged. In August of this year, their baby girl was born healthy, at 8 pounds, with bright blue eyes and a full head of downy hair. Langwell and Hodek had what they describe as a blissful first night home. The next day, a representative of the child welfare agency in Riverside County, California, took the infant into protective custody. Click here to read the rest of the story at Cosmopolitan.com.
Cool photojournalist Marjory Collins took this photo of St. Marks Place and Third Avenue one midnight in 1942.
Do you have especially awesome photos of St. Marks Place that I should include in my book about the street? If so, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.