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.

The “Six” Boroughs: A Focus on the Bronx

This is the second of the “six” boroughs blog series celebrating Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. If you missed the first in the series, on Queens, you can read that here.

One of the most enduring images of the Bronx is that of a “burning Bronx.” Memorialized by the now well-know phrase “The Bronx is Burning,” we typically think of the Bronx as a borough of misfortune and loss. In the 1950s Robert Moses and his Cross Bronx Expressway tore through the South Bronx. The 1970s brought the fires, a result of declining property values and poor management of city finances. Today, the Bronx is home to one of the five poorest Congressional districts in the U.S. However, the real story of the Bronx is one of growth, natural beauty, and creativity.

Listen to the Bronx’s Grandmaster Flash with “The Message” as we move through all that the Bronx has to offer to New York City

The Bronx is home to one of New York City’s oldest treasures: the Thain Family Forest, 50 acres of the last remaining old-growth forest that originally blanketed the area. Trees in the forest date back to the 18th century, and are situated within the New York Botanical Garden, 250 acres of over one million living plants. The old-growth forest is not only home to centuries old trees, but to wildlife habitats, including coyotes, bald eagles,  and North American river otters.


The Bronx is well-known as the birthplace of hip hop, but techniques and styles that we take for granted now were groundbreaking and spreading throughout the Bronx in the early 1970s. Grand Wizzard Theodore started scratching records in 1975, when he was only thirteen. In Nonstop Metropolis he shares his memories of growing up in the Bronx.

I lived here in the Bronx, so hip-hop was always around me. When I’d go to the train station I’d see the graffiti on the trains. When I’d go to the parks I’d see the b-boys b-boying. As far as the MCs, there were always guys on the corner harmonizing and freestyling. And then once I saw my brother Mean Gene and Grandmaster Flash with two turntables and a mixer—that’s when I realized I was born into a culture we call hip-hop.

Back the [the parties we threw] were just called jams. We would go into abandoned buildings and do jams and charge people $1.99 or 99 cents to come in. We were doing “hooky parties”—people would skip school and go to the jams and everybody would throw their book bags to the side and we’d play music until three o’clock.

Perhaps nobody better expresses the re-birth of the Bronx than Marshall Berman, whose essay “New York: Seeing through the Ruins” is included in Nonstop Metropolis. Below is an excerpt:

I can remember when I first heard “The Message” blaring from a West Harlem record shop, in the Reagan summer of 1982. Right away I was thrilled. It wasn’t so long ago that I’d lost a kid (Marc Berman, 1975-1980); I’d been pretty low. Was I moving my limbs again? Now these kids from the city’s most horrendous ruins had created a masterpiece that looked the negative in the face and lived with it, and still dreamt of coming through. I thought, if they could dream this, then damn it, we were going to come through. I knew New York still had plenty of sorrow ahead. There were homeless families all over the streets and in the subways. A dear friend of mine had just died of AIDS—and I don’t think it had even been named AIDS. I couldn’t even conceive of crack, our 1980s twist of fate. But I knew our Via Dolorosa had a long way to run. Still, of all the forms of suffering, I thought, the worst is where your imagination shuts down. Once you can imagine getting out of the hole you’re in, even if you can’t imagine how, the worst is past.

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. Preorder your copy today.

The “Six” Boroughs: A Focus on Queens

These past several weeks we’ve revisited Infinite City and Unfathomable City, and made our first foray into New York City with the Wildlife map. Today we’re celebrating Queens, the largest (in area) of the five boroughs of New York City, home to both of New York’s international airports, and host to the Queens Museum, the hosting venue for Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlastie-in exhibition, Nonstop Metropolis: The Remix. Queens’ most defining characteristic, however, is that is the most ethnically and linguistically diverse place on the earth. With this blog post, we’re going to celebrate all that makes Queens what it is.

Queue up Queens’ own, Nas, as you learn more about the borough.

Seventeenth century Queens was home to a site of early religious freedom in the United States. In 1657, 31 citizens of Flushing signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a manifesto for religious freedom under Dutch rule, stating “The law of love, peace and libertie in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians….for wee are bounde by the law of God and man to doe good unto all men and evil to noe men.” Queens’ modern diversity is reflected in the variety and number of sites of worship. Home to Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, synagogues, baptist churches, Quaker meeting houses, and more, Queens is also home to the Unisphere, the world’s largest globe, erected at the 1964 World’s Fair, dedicated to “Peace through Understanding.”

Queens is also home to more languages than any other place in the world. The Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue subway station sits in the heart of America’s most linguistically diverse neighborhood: a place where people from the world’s linguistically rich countries—including India, Indonesia, Nepal, and the Philippines—converge in a single zip code.

Coptic, the last descendent of the Egyptian language of the pharaohs, has not been a language of daily life for centuries, but lives in as a liturgical language among the Egyptian Christian congregants at St. Mary and St. Antonio’s Coptic Orthodox Church.

Rikers Island, one of the world’s largest jails, holds new languages created by gangs to evade the authorities, as well as some of the first languages of the Americas, spoken by a handful of indigenous Mexican and Guatemalan prisoners who’ve effectively been stripped of their rights due to language barriers.

Mother Tongues and Queens
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These are just a few of the unique and incredible things about Queens. Nonstop Metropolis explores Queens from other angles: environmental, political, and culturally.

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. Preorder your copy today.

A look back at Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas

As Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas inches closer to release, we’re taking time to revisit the widely-loved, bestselling first two atlases from Rebecca Solnit and many illustrious contributing essayists and artists. Last week we spent time with Infinite City: A San Francisco AtlasThis week we’re pleased to bring you Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas.

This week we turn our attention to the second “city atlas” from Rebecca Solnit, created with co-author Rebecca Snedeker: Unfathomable City. New Orleans is a city that captures and warps the imagination, is rich in contradictions and enigmas, and is inexhaustible and boundless. Unfathomable City celebrates all that we love, cherish, and mourn about New Orleans.

Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas

Unfathomable City was as well received by the media as Infinite City was. Publishers Weekly called it a “vivid portrait of one of America’s most culturally rich city” in its starred review. New Orlean’s Times-Picayune said it was an “atlas-with-attitude,” as well as naming it one of the top 10 books of 2013 for New Orleans readers.

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Rebecca Solnit’s co-author Rebecca Snedeker is a New Orleans native and Emmy Award winning documentary producer and filmmaker. She is also currently the Executive Director for the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South at Tulane University. How they came to collaborate, as the New Orleans Times-Picayune tells it:

The editors met, in classic New Orleans fashion, when friends introduced them at Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar. Solnit was here to research a book about community responses to disaster. Snedeker invited the distinguished visitor to stay at her house if work brought her back to town.

“For me, it was natural to extend that invitation,” Snedeker said. “Part of my campaign for living in New Orleans is to welcome outside people and their ideas. I think that’s part of living a healthy and inspired life while remaining dug in here. As a port city, our prosperity always came from importing and exporting — not just cargo, but also ideas.”

You can purchase Unfathomable City, as well as pre-order Nonstop Metropolis (coming Oct. ’16) on our website and wherever books are sold.

Rebecca Solnit is the author of many books, including Savage Dreams, Storming the Gates of Paradise, and Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, all from UC Press.

Rebecca Snedeker is an Emmy Award–winning independent filmmaker and native New Orleanian.



New UC Press Podcast: The Rebeccas Talk Unfathomable City

Unfathomable CityIn the latest episode of the UC Press Podcast, Unfathomable City authors Rebecca Snedeker and Rebecca Solnit share how they became interested in making a book of maps about New Orleans, and what their respective “insider” and “outsider” statuses bring to the project. Like the bestselling Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, this book is a brilliant reinvention of the traditional atlas, one that provides a vivid, complex look at the multi-faceted nature of New Orleans, a city replete with contradictions.

In the podcast, the authors discuss the literal and metaphorical implications of the city’s status as a port, what they love about their favorite maps, and why walking down a street in New Orleans feels so different from walking down a street in the Bay Area.

Listen to the podcast now