By Jessica Allen
From Philip Roth to Zadie Smith, Jonathan Franzen to Jennifer Egan, Joan Didion to Jay McInerney, you can’t swing a quill in this city without hitting a well-known writer. Nevertheless, we decided to cap our list of famous writers’ residences to six greats who have long since shoved off this mortal coil. Our tour takes you from the Bronx to Brooklyn, with plenty of stops in Manhattan too. You just might be inspired to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.
70 Willow St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Today, the gorgeous manse at 70 Willow Street is owned by the creator of Grand Theft Auto, but a few decades ago it housed Truman Capote. (When Dan Houser bought the property for around $12 million in 2012, it was the most expensive sale in Brooklyn to date.) Here, Capote wrote some of his most famous works, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, in a basement apartment. “I live in Brooklyn,” Capote once said. “By choice.” Maybe he sometimes swapped metaphors with Arthur Miller, who lived down the street (at 155), until he left his first wife for Marilyn Monroe.
New York, NY 10024
In 2006, Nora Ephron published an essay in the New Yorker describing how she fell in love with an apartment at the Apthorp, a huge, storied apartment building on the Upper West Side where she moved in 1980. “From the street, it’s lumpen, Middle European, and solid as a tanker, but its core is a large courtyard with two marble fountains and a lovely garden,” she explained. Her five-bedroom apartment became “home in a profound, probably narcissistic, and, I suspect, all too typical way, and it seemed to me that no place on earth would ever feel the same.
437 East 12th St.
New York, NY 1009
After graduating from Columbia, Allen Ginsberg moved to the East Village, where he lived for some 50 years—for better or worse: Ginsberg once compared his neighborhood to “Hell City,” with “heat smog humidity stench and sulfur color of sky and street dust.” He roomed with William S. Burroughs at 206 East Seventh Street for a while, but eventually settled with his partner, Peter Orlovsky, at 437 East 12th Street, in a fourth-floor apartment. Channel some of Ginsberg’s spirit in nearby Tompkins Square Park, where he used to chant.
20 East 127th St.
New York, NY 10035
In the final decades of his life, Langston Hughes wrote newspaper columns, poems, lyrics, essays, and autobiographical pieces, experiencing a great creative burst that some attribute to the very vibrancy of Harlem itself. Hughes first visited the neighborhood in 1921, while a student at Columbia, and lived in the brownstone on East 127th Street from 1947 until his death 20 years later. These days, the privately owned house remains empty, though preserved and protected by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. It’s been on the market at various times in the past few years, just in case you’re looking for new digs.
Edgar Allan Poe
2640 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY 10458
While trying to establish himself in New York’s literary scene, Edgar Allan Poe lived in numerous spots around the city in the mid-19th century. However, when his young wife, Virginia, got sick with tuberculosis, the couple moved to Fordham Village, a bucolic area full of trees and clean air, along with Virginia’s mom, in 1846. Alas, Virginia died shortly thereafter, leaving Poe to descend into depression and alcoholism. Today, you can see the bed in which she took her last breath and tour the rest of the tiny farmhouse where Poe wrote “Annabel Lee” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” now part of a park in the Bronx.
Patti Smith (and lots of others!)
222 West 23rd St.
New York, NY 10011
Patti Smith resided in the smallest room of the Hotel Chelsea with best friend Robert Mapplethorpe in 1969, an experience she movingly details in her memoir Just Kids. If punk rock, photography, and poetry don’t float your boat, you’ll still want to swing by the famed residence, currently being renovated. Among the many other literary notables who called the hotel home at one point or another were Arthur C. Clarke, Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, Tennessee Williams, O. Henry, Mark Twain, Joseph O’Neill, and Jack Kerouac. More recently, 17-year-old Nicolaia Rips published a memoir about growing up there.