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Several important movements in literature have roots in New York City, one of the first American writers to gain critical acclaim in Europe, Washington Irving, was a New Yorker whose History of New York (1809) became a cultural touchstone for Victorian New York. Diedrich Knickerbocker, an old-fashioned Dutch New Yorker in Irving's satire of chatty and officious localistic history, made "knickerbocker" a bye-word for quaint Dutch-descended New Yorkers, with their old-fashioned ways and their long-stemmed pipes and knee-breeches long after the fashion had turned to trousers.


The Literature of the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance established the African-American literary canon in the United States. The zenith of this“flowering of Negro literature,” as James Weldon Johnson called it, was between 1924, when Opportunity magazine hosted a party for black writers where many white publishers were in attendance. African-Americans of the northward Great Migration and African and Caribbean immigrants converged in Harlem, which became the most famous center of Negro life in the United States at that time. A militant black editor indicated in 1920 that "the intrinsic standard of Beauty and aesthetics does not rest in the white race" and that "a new racial love, respect, and consciousness may be created." The work of black Harlem writers sought to challenge the pervading racism of the larger white community and often promoted progressive or socialist politics and racial integration. No singular style emerged; instead there was a mix ranging from the celebration of Pan-Africanism, “high-culture” and “street culture,” to new experimental forms in literature like modernism, to classical music and improvisational jazz that inspired the new form of jazz poetry.

New York Intellectuals

The mid-20th century saw the emergence of The New York Intellectuals, a group of American writers and literary critics who advocated leftist, anti-Stalinist political ideas and who sought to integrate literary theory with Marxism. Many of the group were students at the City College of New York in the 1930s and associated with the left-wing political journal The Partisan Review. Writers often considered among the New York Intellectuals include Robert Warshow, Philip Rahv, William Phillips, Mary McCarthy, Dwight Macdonald, Lionel Trilling, Clement Greenberg, Irving Kristol, Sidney Hook, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, and Daniel Bell.

Beat Poets

Parallel and counter to these mainstream groups have been such New York-centered underground movements as the Beat poets and writers, including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso and others, continuing into the 1980s and beyond with such writers as Kathy Acker and Eileen Myles. Various movements down through the years have centered around avant-garde publishing enterprises such as Grove Press and Evergreen Review, as well as unnumbered zine-style pamphlets and one-off literary productions still available in independent bookstores today. At present the underground continues to thrive in the form of small press literary publishers, including Soft Skull Press, Fugue State Press, Dennis Cooper's Little House on the Bowery/Akashic Press, and many others.

Underground and Ethic Literary Movements

Over the years many literary institutions have developed in the city, including the PEN American Center, the largest of the international literary organization's centers. The PEN American Center plays an important role in New York's literary community and is active in defending free speech, the promotion of literature, and the fostering of international literary fellowship. Literary journals, including The Paris Review, The New York Review of Books, n+1, The New Criterion, and The New York Quarterly are also important in the city's literary scene.

Contemporary writers based in the city, many of whom live in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, include Norman Mailer, Barbara Garson, Don DeLillo, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jonathan Lethem, Thomas Pynchon and many others. New York has also been a flourishing scene for Jewish American literature, as well as for Puerto Rican poets and writers, who call themselves "nuyoricans" (a blending of the phrases "New York" and "Puerto Rican"). The landmark Nuyorican Poets Café is a bastion of the Nuyorican Movement, an intellectual movement involving poets, writers, musicians and artists of Puerto Rican descent, mostly notably the late Pedro Pietri and Giannina Braschi.


While New York State has an official Poet Laureate, New York City does not. Instead, by tradition it hosts an annual "People's Poetry Gathering", curated by the City University of New York and city poetry groups, in which ordinary New Yorkers offer their own lines to an epic poem for the city. This technique was also used in the creation of a spontaneous poetic response by New Yorkers to the September 11, 2001 attacks that became a travelling exhibition called Missing: Streetscape of a City in Mourning. The poems, with 110 lines each for the 110 stories of the destroyed World Trade Center towers, were printed on black, billowing cotton banners over 25 feet in height.

The Comic Book

A form of popular publishing that originated in New York City is the American comic book. The comic book was invented in the early 1930s as a way to cheaply repackage and resell newspaper comic strips, which also experienced their major period of creative growth and development in New York papers in the first decades of the 20th century. Immigrant culture in the city was the central topic and inspiration for comics from the days of Hogan's Alley, The Yellow Kid, The Katzenjammer Kids, etc. Virtually all creators and workers employed in the early comic book industry were based in New York, from publishers to artists, many of them coming from immigrant Jewish families in the Lower East Side and Brooklyn.

It can be argued that superheroes, the uniquely American contribution to comic books, owe their origin to New York, despite the fact that the first superhero, Superman, was created by two artists from Cleveland. Even when not based explicitly in New York, superhero stories often make use of recognizable stand-ins for the city, such as Metropolis or Gotham City (Gotham being a common nickname for New York). The form and narrative conventions of superhero stories frequently dictate New York-sized cities as the settings, even generically.

Marvel Comics became famous for breaking with convention and setting their stories explicitly in a "real" New York, giving recognizable addresses for the homes of their major characters. Peter Parker, Spider-Man, lived with his Aunt May in Forest Hills, Queens. The Baxter Building, long-time home of the Fantastic Four, was located at 42nd and Madison Avenue. In 2007, the City of New York declared April 30 May 6 "Spider-Man Week" in honor of the release of Spider-Man 3. Both of the previous Spider-Man movies made heavy use of New York as a backdrop and included crowd scenes filled with "stereotypical New Yorkers."

New York also served as an inspiration and home for much of America's non-superhero comic books, famously starting with cartoonist and Brooklyn native Will Eisner's many depictions of everyday life among poor, working-class and immigrant New Yorkers. Today New York's alternative comics scene is thriving, including native New Yorkers Art Spiegelman, Ben Katchor, and Dean Haspiel, graduates of the School of Visual Arts cartooning program (the first accredited cartooning program in the country) and many others.

Meanwhile, New York's comic book history has worked its way into other facets of New York City culture, from the Pop Art of Roy Lichtenstein to the recent literary production of Brooklyn-based Jonathan Lethem and Dave Eggers.

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