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The Lives of Writers #SouthOfUnionSquare

Today we’re celebrating the accomplishments of some historic writers and authors who made their mark in the neighborhood South of Union Square.

Writing is one of the many creative professions that has thrived in this district (one that has yet to be recognized and protected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but you can help preserve the area by clicking here, and explore the area’s rich history here). Let’s take a look at a few of the authors who lived and worked in the area where Greenwich Village meets the East Village.

Frank O’Hara, 90 University Place

Poet Frank O’Hara lived his entire adult life in New York City, including some of his most productive years at 90 University Place (1957-59), writing such works as “Meditations in an Emergency” and “On Seeing Larry Rivers’ Washington Crossing the Delaware at the Museum of Modern Art” while living here. During this period, he also served as a curator at MOMA and wrote the first monograph on artist Jackson Pollock. He was a leading figure in the New York School, an informal group of poets, painters, dancers, and musicians.

International Workers Order, 80 Fifth Avenue

The International Workers Order (IWO) was located at 80 Fifth Avenue for its entire lifetime, from 1930 until 1954. This progressive mutual-benefit fraternal organization was a pioneering force in the U.S. labor movement, and took some incredibly powerful positions for civil rights and social justice.

The IWO also supported its membership through education, offering a number of workers’ schools that taught painting, sculpture, and music in addition to working-class history, Marxism, and union organizing. It financially aided other leftist schools including the Jefferson School for Social Science, where members could take writing classes with Dashiell Hammett, author of The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon.

In addition, the IWO organized the Harlem Suitcase Theater. Led by IWO vice president and Harlem resident Louise Thompson Patterson, the organization sought to bring socially conscious theater to African American audiences throughout the Depression. Don’t You Want to be Free?, its debut production, was written by poet, novelist, and Harlem Renaissance leader Langston Hughes. The IWO also published affordable chapbooks of Hughes’ Revolutionary Verses and included his poems in its house publication The New Order.

Robert B. Roosevelt and Pearson’s Magazine, 57 Fifth Avenue

No. 57 Fifth Avenue was built by James Lenox, the noted philanthropist and bibliophile whose massive library was consolidated in the late 19th century to form the New York Public Library. During this period, the building was home to Robert B. Roosevelt, uncle to President Theodore Roosevelt and the first author to write down and publish the “Br’er Rabbit” stories, tales that had been passed down orally by African slaves based on traditional African folklore.

The building was also the American location of Pearson’s Magazine in the 1910s and 1920s. Pearson’s started off in 1896 as a progressive British periodical, focusing on speculative fiction with works by Upton Sinclair, George Bernard Shaw, and H.G. Wells, among others. The U.S. version launched in 1899; initially its content mirrored that of its U.K. counterpart, but eventually it started relying on more American content and issues, especially under the editorship of Frank Harris while it was housed at 57 Fifth.

Hotel Albert

With four buildings that take up the entire blockfront of University Place between East 10th Street and East 11th Street, the Hotel Albert has over the years hosted many of the most prominent names in American arts, literature, music, and radical politics. Writers who have stayed here include Robert Louis Stevenson; Hart Crane, who worked on his poem “The Bridge” here in 1919; and Thomas Wolfe, who based the Hotel Leopold in his 1924 novel Of Time and The River on the Albert. In the 1950s, many African-American writers stayed here, among them Chester Himes, Richard Wright, Charles Wright, Amiri Baraka (previously known as LeRoi Jones), and Samuel Delany.

There are more authors who made significant contributions to the literary world from the area South of Union Square, including Anais Nin, Audre Lorde, Jay McInerny, Dawn Powell, Candace Bushnell, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, and Brett Easton Ellis, among many others. Learn more about them all on our Writers and Authors Tour on our South of Union Square Map + Tours.

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