Mapping the Metropolis: Riot!

As we make our way through Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, we’re dipping into some of the maps and essays featured within the atlas—each offering a vividly imagined version of New York that reveals a richly layered, social history. For more peeks inside, head here.


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Detail from the map “Riot! Periodic Eruptions in Volcanic New York,” featured in the book “Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas”

This week, we take a look at New York City’s history of resistance. “However you classify riots,” write the book’s editors, “New York City has been good at them, or at least good at having them. . . . Riots happen when those in charge can contain that energy no more—or fail to give it proper release.”

Walking through New York means passing through sites of popular uprisings and violent clashes, where people took to the streets to protest and make their strife known. In his essay, “The Violence of Inequality,” contributor Luc Sante writes that nearly half of New York’s riots have been about race, beginning as early as 1712.

The Negro Riot of 1712 was New York’s very first social upheaval. Its facts are scant—between twenty and seventy African slaves allegedly set fire to a building on Maiden Lane, then the city’s northern boundary, and attacked whites attempting to douse the flames, killing nine. Of the forty-three slaves arraigned, eighteen were acquitted, twenty hanged, and three burned at the stake. In 1741 the facts are even murkier—a ship was seized, possibly for piracy, and its African crew were sold as slaves, but they managed to break free and burn down a number of houses, including the governor’s mansion. The Doctors Riot of 1788 was sparked by medical students digging up cadavers for dissection from the Negroes Burial Ground. A petition from African American citizens was ignored by the authorities, but when a newspaper article alleged that the body of a white woman had been dug up, citizens attacked the hospital and the violence resulted in some twenty deaths.

In the 19th century, these riots were sometimes sparked by opponents of slavery—the Eagle Street Riot of 1801 began with an attempt to free slaves—and sometimes by supporters, as when anti-abolitionists ransacked the home of an abolitionist and attacked the abolitionist-owned Bowery Theater in 1834.

The white abolitionists of the period tended to be well-educated members of the upper classes; their activities were resented by many in the white working class—mostly Irish Catholic immigrants—who saw free blacks as competing for their jobs and accepting lower wages. Tempers rose to the point of violence in the Anti- Abolitionist Riots of 1834, when a mob ransacked the Rose Street home of the abolitionist Lewis Tappan and attacked the Bowery eater, whose stage manager was a British-born abolitionist—he appeased them by sending out an actor in blackface to sing “Zip Coon.” The Brooklyn Cigar Factory Riot of 1862 was the work of local Irish and German unskilled laborers who resented the fact that African Americans, who commuted from other parts of the city, were employed as skilled cigar rollers and made more money.

The map and Sante’s essay focus on mass eruptions sparked by race as well as those rooted in wealth and class—inequality being a chief theme among these uprisings. 2011’s Occupy Wall Street makes its mark on the map as does the deadliest riot in American history, The Draft Riots of 1863 where thousands of pro-South and pro-slavery New Yorkers lashed out in a deadly mix of racial hatred, economic insecurity, and class warfare as they rampaged through Manhattan, beating and murdering black men, soldiers, and police. But the map also contains some of the weirder and more inexplicable riots in the city, such as the fashion faux-pas that launched a citywide crime spree: The Straw Hat Riot of 1922. 

Take a peek at a few highlights and plots on the map below:

Nonstop Metropolis is available in paperback and hardcover.


Dance RecitalJJ SchapiroNonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know and see New York City, in an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

More Stories from the Metropolis—and Beyond

The list of contributors to Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is as diverse and varied as the maps themselves. Through poignant and powerful essays and beautifully rendered maps, they pay homage to the city while also critiquing and challenging the way we see and think about New York—from its racial and economic inequality to its incubation of artists and the avant-garde. They are journalists, artists, geographers, poets, musicians, city planners, cartographers, and historians who celebrate the complexity, the unique vitality, the hidden layers, the overlooked stories, and both the ugly and beautiful aspects that shape New York.

This week we highlight some recommended books by just a few of the contributors to further your reading, and while not comprehensive or exhaustive, this is a fine place to begin as you learn about the people within the Nonstop Metropolis.


Teju Cole

Teju Cole’s surreal and haunting 2012 novel, Open City (Random House, 2012) about identity and dislocation follows a young med student as he wanders the streets of Manhattan, “this strangest of islands.” The book garnered numerous accolades, including the Pen/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction and is a perfect accompaniment to Nonstop Metropolis.

You can find his writing in Nonstop Metropolis included in “Our City of Songs,” an essay celebrating the music about New York’s parks, corners, subway lines, and neighborhoods. His piece on Mos Def , Talib Kweli, and Common’s “Respiration,” which he says has “taught me something about how to love a city’s complicated dreams,” is not to be missed.

Continue reading “More Stories from the Metropolis—and Beyond”


Last-Minute Gift Idea: See New York in Dozens of New Ways

Take a peek inside the book the New York Times calls “a document of its time, of our time.” Named a “Best Book of 2016” by the San Francisco Chronicle and one of Publishers Weekly‘s “20 Big Indie Books of 2016,” Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro has garnered love and praise from far and wide, from New York to London and beyond. This week we take you to a few stops on the maps through the lenses of some of the media—who are among those who walk, live, breathe New York as well as those who love it from afar.

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“. . . the maps themselves are things of beauty.”New York Times 

While the New York Times praised Nonstop Metropolis and its various contributors for capturing this time and place in the city, it also celebrated the book’s artistry, pointing out the level of attention and engagement it took to create this extraordinary series of documents. (To see how that magic was made, go behind-the-scenes with the book’s Art Director, Lia Tjandra, and Principal Editor, Dore Brown.) Twenty-six in total, the gorgeously rendered maps chart New York’s layered and hidden histories and truths. Take a quick flip through a couple of the maps below:

Continue reading “Last-Minute Gift Idea: See New York in Dozens of New Ways”


Mapping the Metropolis: City of Women

As we make our way through Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, we’re dipping into some of the maps and essays featured within the atlas—each offering a vividly imagined version of New York that reveals a richly layered, social history. For more peeks inside, head here.


In New York, most of the city streets, stations, monuments, and bridges have been named for men. In Rebecca Solnit’s essay “Power of Names,” featured alongside the map “City of Women,” she describes the conventions and power structures behind the naming of cities and even whole regions:

“. . . names perpetuate the gendering of New York City. Almost every city is full of men’s names, names that are markers of who wielded power, who made history, who held fortunes, who was remembered; women are anonymous people who changed fathers’ for husbands’ names as they married, who lived in private and were comparatively forgot­ten, with few exceptions. This naming stretches across the continent; the peaks of many western mountains have names that make the ranges sound like the board of directors of old corporations, and very little has been named for particular historical women, though Maryland was named after a Queen Mary who never got there.”

Here, editors Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro along with cartographer Molly Roy have renamed New York’s subway stations with the names of women by plotting the places where significant women have lived, worked, gone to school, danced, painted, wrote, and rebelled in order to come up with “a feminist city.”

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Solnit goes on to recognize some of the outstanding women whose efforts have contributed to society as a whole and what the map “City of Women” symbolizes:

“New York City has had a remarkable history of charismatic women from the beginning, such as seventeenth-century Quaker preacher Hannah Feake Bowne, who is routinely written out of history—even the home in Flushing where she held meetings is often called the John Bowne house. Three of the four female Supreme Court justices have come from the city, and quite a bit of the history of American feminism has unfolded here, from Vic­toria Woodhull to Shirley Chisholm to the Guerrilla Girls. Not all the subway stations are marked, and many of the women who made valuable contributions or might have are forgotten or were never named. Many women were never allowed to be someone; many heroes of any gender live quiet lives. But some rose up; some became visible; and here they are by the hundreds. This map is their memorial and their celebration.”

Peruse the map above (click to expand it) and take a look at a few highlights below:

Nonstop Metropolis is available now in paperback and hardcover.


Dance RecitalJJ SchapiroNonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know and see New York City, in an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

The “Six” Boroughs: New Jersey

We’ve arrived at the “sixth” borough in our blog series celebrating Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. We’ve already visited ManhattanBrooklynQueensthe Bronx, and Staten Island, and if you missed the prior posts, we encourage you to go back and read them after you’ve finished reading about New Jersey—the metaphorical “sixth” borough.


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Detail from the map “The Suburban Theory of the Avant-Garde: New Jersey’s Great” featured in “Nonstop Metropolis.”

By virtue of not only its geographic location to the “nonstop metropolis” but its cultural vibrancy and contributions to music, art, poetry, and the birth of new forms and styles west of the Hudson, New Jersey has earned its place as the “sixth” borough of New York, though this moniker has been used to describe any number of places that have a special connection to the city (looking at you, Philadelphia).

We’re going to explore New Jersey’s cultural riches—but if there’s another place akin to a mythical, metaphorical “sixth” borough, please share in the comments.

New Jersey. It is the place where William Carlos Williams published his epic poem, Paterson, which would also become the primary literary output of the last twenty years of his life as it was published in five books from 1946 to 1958. It is a poem that celebrates the city as place of endless possibilities, and which, in the prefatory notes, William explains:

“. . . a man himself is a city, beginning, seeking, achieving and concluding his life in ways which the various aspects of a city may embody—if imaginatively conceived—any city, all the details of which may be made to voice his most intimate convictions.”

Continue reading “The “Six” Boroughs: New Jersey”


The “Six” Boroughs: Manhattan

This is the fifth of the “six” boroughs blog series celebrating Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. We’ve already visited BrooklynQueensthe Bronx, and Staten Island. If you missed the prior posts, we encourage you to go back and read them after you’ve finished reading about Manhattan.


New York City is the cradle of American book publishing (though as this California publisher knows, great books come from all over), and it all started with brothers James and Joseph Harper and their ability to print books at high volumes—thanks to the stereotyping printing process—inexpensively for a mass market.

In what would become Harper’s magazine and the publishing house HarperCollins, the brothers first began their publishing operation two years before the birth of one of the great American writers: Herman Melville. It’s also fascinating to learn that as a great American publisher, Harper & Brothers first rejected Melville and his book, Typee, because it was too fantastic to be true.

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Detail from the map “Harper’s and Harpooners” featured in “Nonstop Metropolis.” You can spot Herman Melville’s birthplace in the Battery, and see where Harper and Brothers was located.

G.P. Putnam would go on to publish Typee,  which became a best-seller, and Harper and Brothers would pick up Melville’s next six books, including his most famous.

Most people associate Herman Melville with the high seas and a big, white whale, but the Moby-Dick author was quite the urbanite. A native New Yorker, Melville was born in 1819 on Pearl Street in the Battery at Manhattan’s southern end, which he described as the “extreme down-town” and “the insular city of the Manhattoes” who—dreaming of the sea—rushed to the island’s tip.

“There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme down-town is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.
Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?—Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries.”—Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

But Melville may not have had such romantic feelings for the city that would at times spurn him. Moby-Dick received terrible reviews, as did Melville’s other works, which Paul LaFarge details in his essay “Sailors and Scriveners”:

Moby-Dick was published in 1851 to famously bad reviews, and it sold poorly—but nowhere near as poorly as Melville’s next novel, Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, which is about a young man who brings a great deal of suffering on himself by becoming a writer and moving to New York. Pierre earned Melville $157 during his lifetime and was reviewed by the New York Day Book under the headline “Herman Melville Crazy.” Melville was wrecked . . . By the end of the 1850s, Melville had little reason to love New York City, and yet in 1866 he moved there once again . . .

Like a sailor drawn to the sea, Melville couldn’t leave New York entirely. But perhaps the strongest connection between New York’s publishing industry and the whaling industry is Herman Melville as he tried his hand at both. In the map “Harper’s and Harpooners” featured in Nonstop Metropolisyou can see more of the physical, historical connections between these uniquely different industries.

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Detail of the legend from the map “Harper’s and Harpooners” featured in “Nonstop Metropolis.”

Take a closer look below to stroll through Melville’s Manhattan (click on the map to expand it).

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Dance RecitalJJ SchapiroNonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know and see New York City, in an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

The “Six” Boroughs: Brooklyn

This is the fourth of the “six” boroughs blog series celebrating Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. We’ve already visited Queensthe Bronx, and Staten Island. If you missed the prior posts, we encourage you to go back and read them after you’ve finished reading about Brooklyn.


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Detail of “Brownstones and Basketball” map featured in “Nonstop Metropolis.”

Brooklyn’s basketball courts are as much a part of New York’s landscape as are its regal brownstones, where each is often within close proximity to the other. Pick-up games have long been a way to get to know the neighborhood and to play and be friendly with neighbors and strangers.

At Coffey Park in Red Hook, Carmelo Anthony honed his game. Marine Park is where Chris Mullin played, and every Saturday there’s serious pick-up.

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“Brownstones and Basketball” map detail, including Red Hook and Brooklyn Heights neighborhoods, among others.

But development since the 1990s has meant more brownstones are renovated and basketball courts are removed, pointing to the loss of something that’s intrinsically Brooklyn. In fact, this last June conflict in the well-off Brooklyn Heights enclave rose when residents attributed Brooklyn Bridge Park’s basketball players—coming from as far as the Bronx and Queens—to “damaging the character of the neighborhood.” Who and what defines that character is up for discussion.

In his essay, “Empire of Brownstone and Brick,” Thomas J. Campanella traces the formation of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods and the history of its brownstones. Here’s an excerpt:

In an era when Brooklyn has become a global “brand” beloved by British celebrities who name kids for the borough, it is the iconic building type of the moraine—the brown­stone—that people think of. Like New Orleans with its shotgun houses or San Francisco with its Victorian “painted ladies,” Brooklyn is among a handful of American cities essen­tialized in the popular imagination by a particular kind of residential architecture. The brownstone townhouse signifies Brooklyn as much as the borough’s eponymous bridge or Coney Island’s Parachute Jump—perhaps more so. . . . But the brownstone represents only old Brooklyn, the city of the terminal moraine. Outwash Brooklyn has a signature style of residential architecture all its own—the Tudor-revival home, with its faux half-timbered walls and slate tile roofs. This style may not be popular among creative-class elites who clamor for brownstones—at least not yet. But it too is saturated with significance and speaks to the varied and ever-changing ways that our homes can suggest longing at once for the future and for some imagined past.

And perhaps Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts describes Brooklyn’s development and changes best in her essay, “Freed But Not Free”:

The city, we’re sometimes told, is composed of villages. Fruits of segregation or identifica­tion, shaped by the churn of developers’ schemes and capital’s march, some of the places now called “Villages”—those cubic blocks called projects—evince the city’s old will to push those it doesn’t wish to see to the margins, where they’ll remain (unless of course those projects sit in now-rich neighborhoods and are doomed, too, to be sold off ). All sit atop settlements that came before. . . . Visiting these sites now, we’re reminded that when building on unsteady ground and stolen territory, perhaps the most important material is time, and the ability to inhabit an expanded idea of history like the one that Columbia professor Saidiya Hartman offers us when she asserts, “I, too, live in the time of slavery, by which I mean I am living in the future created by it.”

The images above and below are details from the map “Brownstones and Basketball,” which locates notable brownstones and public courts throughout Brooklyn. You can find the map and both essays in full in Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas.

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“Brownstones and Basketball” legend

Dance RecitalJJ SchapiroNonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know and see New York City, in an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

An Invitation to the San Francisco Release Party for Nonstop Metropolis at McRoskey Mattress Factory, 11/17

A note from Rebecca: This event has been planned for a long time. But after the election, we’re making it a focus on cities as cosmopolitan places of coexistence, tolerance, subversion, resistance, and joy, of Black, Asian, Latino, Muslim, Jewish, Quaker, immigrant, queer, drag, trans, feminist lives and victories. Please join us tomorrow evening for this free community celebration. 

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“In orienting oneself in this atlas…one is invited to fathom the many New Yorks hidden from history’s eye…thoroughly terrific.”—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
“Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro’s collection achieves the trifold purpose that all good cartography does — it’s beautiful, it inspires real thought about civic planning, and, most of all, it’s functional.”—The Village Voice
“…the New York installment [of the Atlas Trilogy] is eccentric and inspiring, a nimble work of social history told through colorful maps and corresponding essays. Together, Solnit, Jelly-Schapiro and a host of contributors — writers, artists, cartographers and data-crunchers — have come up with dozens of exciting new ways to think about the five boroughs.” —San Francisco Chronicle

Nonstop Metropolis, the culminating volume in a trilogy of atlases, conveys innumerable unbound experiences of New York City through twenty-six imaginative maps and informative essays. Bringing together the insights of dozens of experts—from linguists to music historians, ethnographers, urbanists, and environmental journalists—amplified by cartographers, artists, and photographers, it explores all five boroughs of New York City and parts of nearby New Jersey.

We are invited to travel through Manhattan’s playgrounds, from polyglot Queens to many-faceted Brooklyn, and from the resilient Bronx to the mystical kung fu hip-hop mecca of Staten Island. The contributors to this exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated volume celebrate New York City’s unique vitality, its incubation of the avant-garde, and its literary history, but they also critique its racial and economic inequality, environmental impact, and erasure of its past. Nonstop Metropolis allows us to excavate New York’s buried layers, to scrutinize its political heft, and to discover the unexpected in one of the most iconic cities in the world. It is both a challenge and homage to how New Yorkers think of their city, and how the world sees this capital of capitalism, culture, immigration, and more.

Learn more in our Nonstop Metropolis blog series.


Rebecca Solnit is a San Francisco writer, historian, and activist, and the author of seventeen books about geography, community, art, politics, hope, and feminism. She is the recipient of many awards, including the Lannan Literary Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. A product of the California public education system from kindergarten to graduate school, she is a contributing editor to Harper’s, where she is the first woman to regularly write the Easy Chair column (founded in 1851).

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro is a geographer and writer whose work has appeared in The New York Review of Books, New York, Harper’s, and the Believer, among many other publications. He is the author of the newly-released Island People: The Caribbean and the World.

Contributors: Sheerly Avni, Gaiutra Bahadur, Marshall Berman, Joe Boyd, Will Butler, Garnette Cadogan, Thomas J. Campanella, Daniel Aldana Cohen, Teju Cole, Joel Dinerstein, Paul La Farge, Francisco Goldman, Margo Jefferson, Lucy R. Lippard, Barry Lopez, Valeria Luiselli, Suketu Mehta, Emily Raboteau, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Luc Sante, Heather Smith, Jonathan Tarleton, Astra Taylor, Alexandra T. Vazquez, Christina Zanfagna

Interviews with: Valerie Capers, Peter Coyote, Grandmaster Caz, Grandwizzard Theodore, Melle Mel, RZA


Scribes & Cartographers: The Nonstop Metropolis Team at NACIS 2016

This past weekend saw cartographers from the world over gather in Colorado Springs, CO for the North American Cartographic Information Society’s annual meeting. On Saturday eve, the Corlis Benefideo Award for Imaginative Cartography was presented to Rebecca Solnit. Attending in her stead, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, co-author of Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, accepted the award on Solnit’s behalf.

In addition, Jelly-Schapiro delivered the keynote address, where he discussed in detail the maps from the city atlas series. His comparison of a scribe being awarded a cartography prize—by the top mappists in the land—being a bit like Bob Dylan winning his Nobel Prize in Literature was met with appreciation (and laughter) from the crowd.

Below is the speech penned by Rebecca and delivered by Josh. And, thanks to the world we live in, we could follow along via live reports from the scene:

Including a shout-out for the work of contributing cartographer, Chris Henrick:

Many years ago, I heard my dear friend and mentor Barry Lopez read his story “The Mappist,” in which the character Corlis Benefideo appears. I loved it, and of everything Barry’s ever written that I know, it seems most like Jorge Luis Borges’s work: a proposition about the possibilities of the world and the objects in it—in this case, maps and atlases, and their capacity to tell stories, transmit wonder, elicit passion, deepen our sense of place, and become compelling works of art. The story proposes other kinds of beauty than the ones we commonly hear about: the beauty of meaning, of devotion manifested through longterm projects, of intimate sense of place, and of maps as aesthetic objects.

To receive an award for maps of real places named after a fictional character is magical realism enough, but I want to exult in the fact that Barry Lopez wrote a small gem of an essay for the final atlas in our trilogy: Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, co-directed and co-edited by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, who’s come to accept the award on behalf of this eight-year three-volume project of mapping the three cultural capitals, the three island republics, that adorn the three coasts of the Lower 48. To receive an award named after a fictional character by a writer who also appears in the work for which the award is given is convoluted in a wonderful way, a moebius strip of friendship and impact, a tribute to how we make the world we inhabit.

I am sorry I can’t be here tonight, not least to try to recruit a few dozen cartographers for any future projects that may arise, but I’m truly grateful and deeply honored. Who better to decide the merits of our adventures in mapping than the people who make maps? I want to thank the cartographers I’ve worked with on these three books, Ben Pease, the main cartographer for the first atlas, Shizue Seigel for the second, and Molly Roy for the third, with extraordinary contributions by Richard Campanella, Chris Henrick, Darin Jensen, Jakob Rosenzweig and Ruth Askevold of the Estuary Institute, all designed into harmonious glory by Lia Tjandra of UC Press.

There are two kinds of books, and the kind that have maps in them have always struck me as slightly better, whether they’re maps of fictional places, as with the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and its beautiful maps hand-drawn by Tolkien’s son, or of places on this earth, as with the endpapers for Bernard DeVoto’s 1846: Year of Decision or so many of the western and urban books that fed my ideas about place and about the possibilities of maps. Maps are invitations to dream, to travel in our heads, to contemplate places and movements and relationships. Like no other kind of art, they invite us to imagine our own movements across the space depicted.

I began making atlases for several reasons, and I learned so much about maps as I went along. I wanted to make a series of propositions about cities that maps could make in ways my lifelong main medium, writing, doesn’t. If the narrative we call a storyline is like a road, a path, a river, then a map allows multiple storylines and times to overlap, collide, converge, and intersect. My first proposition in the maps we made was that cities are places of myriad coexistences between complementary and competing phenomena. The second was that cities are intellectually infinite: you can just map the roads and the parking and maybe the shopping or restaurants and leave it at that, and most utilitarian maps do, but there’s no reason why you can’t map the butterfly species or queer public spaces, the musical history or crime scenes or carbon footprints or spiritual life and sea level rise. Maps are versions of places, and every place exists in innumerable versions. The old Borges story about the map on a 1:1 scale with the territory was a joke, because even that wouldn’t represent anything near the innumerable meanings, histories, presences, contexts a place has, though many maps could at least hint at that complexity. Maybe a third was that though the history of maps is often imperial and colonial, mapping can serve justice, diversity, forgotten histories, erased groups, marginalized communities.

Another concern of mine was the role and value of maps in our lives in an era where many are leaving paper behind not for digital maps, but for digital directions. I’ve been struck by how many younger people are not map-users, but are phone-users, and how those of us who use maps internalize the knowledge so that, in a sense, we become atlases, become oriented, capable of traversing a place knowledgeably (or of getting lost without being helpless because we’ve learned to negotiate the unknown with skill). Thus it is that a paper map can be truly interactive, while a navigational device is something users depend on every time to issue instructions (or asking a local for directions). We learn to command the information on a map but submit to the orders of a device. I wanted to celebrate what maps have been and what they can be, portals to places and spaces through which we travel imaginatively in places we know and places we will never go. One of the things that I discovered along the way is that a great many people passionately love maps and respond to them with a joy that is unlike that elicited by any other art form.

At this point, I feel as if maps are themselves a territory, one I have begun to wander in and get to know a little. This wonderful award feels like an invitation to keep exploring what maps have been, are, and can be. So thank you again, citizens of the territory of maps.


Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know New York City, an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

This post is part of a series on the atlas trilogy.


Behind-the-Scenes at UC Press: The Making of Rebecca Solnit’s Atlas Series

By Lia Tjandra, Art Director with Dore Brown, Principal Editor

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A winning team: Lia Tjandra and Dore Brown

Each title in the atlas series had more moving pieces than any other book we’ve published. Multiple authors and contributors produced different parts that were worked on at different times. In our roles of project editor and art director, Dore Brown and I were the hub of the wheel, receiving and disbursing material from artists, cartographers, photographers, writers, copyeditors, proofreaders, museum partners, in-house staff, and, of course, the volume editors. It was a far cry from our usual linear workflow.

One of the first design decisions we made for the atlas trilogy was the trim size. I proposed that each map be shown on a spread and that the spread dimensions be square-ish, the way San Francisco is square-ish. In 2011, after the initial success of Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, I briefly entertained the idea that the atlases for New Orleans and New York should have customized trim sizes that fit their respective map footprints. This was totally impractical, of course, and detrimental to the harmonious series look. But it was fun to imagine for a brief time!

Rebecca Solnit, who’s incredibly well connected to people in the artistic and intellectual community, brought in San Francisco artist Alison Pebworth to conceptualize and put on paper the logos for all three atlases. Each atlas has a unique visual identity, brainchild of Alison and Rebecca’s creative partnership. For the final logos, check out the finished books, but you may find these in-process sketches fascinating.

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Sketch by Alice Pebworth, for Infinite City
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Sketch by Alice Pebworth, for Infinite City
3 AP_Unfathomable
Sketch by Alice Pebworth, for Unfathomable City
4 AP_Unfathomable_
Sketch by Alice Pebworth, for Unfathomable City
5 AP_Nonstop
Sketch by Alice Pebworth, for Nonstop Metropolis

For each map, I started work with a base map from the cartographer. The very first map, Monarchs and Queens, had a skeletal, almost wire-frame appearance. We hadn’t developed a look or any map specifications yet, hence what you see here, from Ben Pease, is raw.

1Monarchs_RawMap
Raw map for Monarchs and Queens from Infinite City

Many months later, we had established the general look and feel of the maps, including the color palettes and type specs. Here’s the resulting Monarchs and Queens vector file.

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Vector file for Monarchs and Queens map from Infinite City

After the map had been edited, I sent it to Mona Caron, a local mural artist. She tailored her illustration to the parameters of the map to create a vibrant piece of art that raised the map to a whole new level.

3Monarchs_Designed+Art
Final version of Monarchs and Queens map with illustration from Infinite City

The palette is one of the most important elements of each book. For Infinite City, the palette is muted and chalky. For Unfathomable City, we represented New Orleans with a watery and translucent look. For Nonstop Metropolis, we choose deeper and more intense colors to reflect New York’s energy and complexity.

It takes multiple rounds to get it right, and at least once during the production of each atlas we took all of the in-progress maps and spread them out on tables to see how they were gelling. The final decisions were always made by Rebecca and her coeditors.

Wildlife is one example of the creative process. Take a look at this early sketch and see how wildly the background colors and illustrations by Tino Rodríguez differ from the final version.

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Rough version of Wildlife map from Nonstop Metropolis, illustrations by Tino Rodríguez
2 Wildlife_Final
Final version of Wildlife map from Nonstop Metropolis, illustrations by Tino Rodríguez

From Nonstop metropolis: viewing a city’s crazy, diverse, complex history as an atlas in The Guardian:

“Tennessee Williams said: ‘America has only three cities, New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. All the rest are just Cleveland,’” Solnit explains, before admitting there were other reasons she expanded this undertaking, which began as a commission from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, to include the Big Apple and the Big Easy.

“They’re cultural capitals, three port cities on the three coasts of the US,” she says. “New York has been hovering in the wings for a long time. When this book comes out in October, I will be done making atlases for the foreseeable future.”

Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Rebecca SnedekerJoshua Jelly-Schapiro, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know New York City, an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

To get a copy of Nonstop Metropolis, visit your local bookstore, or purchase online at IndieBoundAmazonBarnes & Noble, or UC Press (to save 30% on ucpress.edu, enter discount code16M4197 at checkout).

This post is part of a series on the atlas trilogy.