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.

Harpers and Harpooners Detail
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.

Harpers and Harpooners Detail2
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).


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.

Looking Back at Loft Jazz

This post is part of a blog series leading up to the American Musicological Society annual conference taking place in Vancouver, Canada from November 3–6. Please visit our booth if you are attending, and otherwise stay tuned for more content related to our Music books and journals programs.

by Michael Heller, author of Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s

Like so many others, I graduated college without a plan. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to work in music, and I somehow stumbled into a job with New York’s Vision Festival – one of the premier showcases of the jazz avant-garde. It was a small operation, with just three of us huddled in a tiny office in the East Village apartment of Patricia and William Parker. Patricia—a dancer and choreographer—was the organization’s executive director. In ten years, she had built the festival up from a tiny event run on $5,000 and elbow grease into a major event attracting international audiences and securing funding from top arts organizations. The work also put me in close contact with a close-knit community of avant-garde improvisers, based primarily around lower Manhattan. When I would ask about their influences, one topic kept cropping up over and over again: the New York loft scene of the 1970s.


What were the jazz lofts? In a nutshell, the lofts were a collection of venues organized by musicians inside of mostly vacant industrial buildings in lower Manhattan. Musicians often lived in the spaces as well, blurring the line between public and private spheres. The jazz history books that I had read so dutifully as an undergrad had scarcely a mention of them, although they cropped up occasionally in artist bios (“So and so began their career performing in lofts before moving on to…”). Yet for a generation of New York artists, the vibrancy of the loft era remained a powerful source of inspiration. It was influential not only due to the music that was created, but also for the empowering value it placed upon artist-organized production strategies—strategies that continue to animate projects like Vision up to the present day. It was those conversations in Patricia’s apartment that fueled my initial fascination, ultimately resulting in this book.

Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s makes no attempt to offer a comprehensive history of the scene. Instead, it works to unravel various threads of meaning that surrounded loft practices. This includes extended explorations of terms like “freedom” and “community,” ideals that crop up so frequently in jazz discourse but that can mean very different things in different contexts. It also considers the ramifications of private archiving among musicians, particularly in relation to a wave of affordable, consumer-grade recording equipment that came on the market in the 1960s. For a scene that produced fewer commercial records than earlier periods in jazz, these private archives become the linchpin for reconstructing the histories of local musical networks, even in the jazz mecca of New York City.

Over the course of my research, I would also learn that not everything about the lofts could be spun into a tidy romance. The spaces were as controversial as they were celebrated, beloved by some and abhorred by others. Perhaps nothing attracted more ire than the very phrase “loft jazz,” which opponents claimed was never a coherent style. Worse yet, some argued that the phrase glorified the meager settings in which innovative African American artists were forced to perform. These arguments are part of the story as well, and play a major role in the complex and conflicted legacies surrounding the period. But to those who remembered them fondly, the power of the lofts lie in the excitement surrounding a scene that teemed with artistic opportunity. Where music could be experienced every night on every block, and opening a venue could be as simple as opening your living room.

Heller.Headshot.2016Michael C. Heller is an ethnomusicologist, music historian, and Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh.

Celebrating in Song: A Nonstop Metropolis Playlist

In homage to ‘Singing the City: The New York of Dreams’, the first map in Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, we are celebrating the official publication of the book with a playlist curated from iconic songs from New York City’s boroughs.

The sheer range of songs celebrating New York, from Broadway musicals to hip-hop and every possible kind of ballad and rant in between, makes choosing which to feature nearly impossible.* So, we’re making it into a journey.

First stops, The Bronx and Manhattan:

Get a peek at the ‘Singing the City’ map and others in today’s feature on Brainpickings. Just like so many people have been inspired by one of Nonstop Metropolis‘ maps to envision the city’s subway map with stations named for famous women, imagine where your favorite New York song might fall on the map.

Stay tuned for our second Nonstop Metropolis playlist, featuring songs from Brooklyn & Queens.

And, if you’re just joining the party, see our series of posts about the atlas trilogy, as well as this selection of recent stories:

In a special event co-presented by Harper’s Magazine and BookCulture, Rebecca and Josh will be doing a reading and signing on Thursday evening. They will be joined in discussion by Paul La Farge.

*We also had to remaster our playlist of dreams based on what was available on Spotify. Some of those missing tracks might appear in future posts, but meanwhile feel free to tell us on Twitter what you’d add to the mix: @nonstopatlas.

A visit to the Nonstop Metropolis is around the corner

Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas will soon be released into the world. To kick things off, we’ll be celebrating with a launch party in partnership with the Queens Museum on October 2, from 2–5 pm.

The launch party will feature:

  • Remarks by Queens Museum Executive Director Laura Raicovich, and Nonstop Metropolis authors Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro.
  • Hands-on map-making workshop facilitated by Queens Museum educators.
  • “Songs of the City,” a unique mix of songs and music referenced in the book.
  • Drop-in readings of essay excerpts found in the book by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Garnette Cadogan, Jonathan Tarleton, and many other contributors.
  • Book sale and signings by the authors and contributors in attendance.
Maps from Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas in the Queens Museum’s Watershed Gallery

If you’re unable to attend on Oct. 2nd, make sure you head to the Queens Museum regardless to experience the exhibition tie-in to the book which opened in April (and is currently ongoing), “Nonstop Metropolis: The Remix.” The exhibition features original artwork by Miriam Ghani and Duke Riley, a series of on-site and off-site public programming, along with gratis map/essay broadsides excerpted from the book that are tied into the event programming.

The Queens Museum has been presenting a series of public talks, walks, and urban adventures led by the essay writers from the book, artists, and other imaginative thinkers addressing topics that include water and power, linguistic diversity in Queens, walking as an embodied act, the conjoined histories of environmental and financial disaster in Lower Manhattan, wilderness in the city, and Latino radio in NYC. There will be additional educational opportunities and map-making workshops taking place during the coming months.

The launch party at the Queens Museum isn’t the only opportunity to see Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro (along with many of the contributors to the project) discussing Nonstop Metropolis. Events taking place throughout October include:

You can order Nonstop Metropolis at your local bookstore, Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or through UC Press.

Dance Recital JJ Schapiro

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.