I got to thinking about which writers I felt had earned a city. There are writers who just come to mind when you think of a particular city. This might in some cases be where they are from, but just as often- it’s a place they brought to life in their writing. I think perhaps setting is the most gratifying aspect in writing, which can also be thoroughly overlooked. A successful writer really can’t get away with not including character or plot, and most of us pay too much attention to theme. But it’s not often demanded of us to utilize setting to the utmost. And for that reason, when someone brings setting to life- makes setting a character- delivers a palpable place- readers are excited. I love being given a previously unknown place when I read. And it’s often what I take away with me, even when I loved the characters and story; I’m incredibly satisfied to feel I experienced a place deeply, especially if it came in the form of fiction.
But giving out cities to writers really says more about the person doing the assigning than anything else. For example, I’d like to give Paris to Hemmingway, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin and Adam Gopnik. Ridiculous! All Americans! Says something about me and what I’ve read. I’d give the whole state of Mississippi to Faulkner over Twain- again just me. Who would argue to give Sacramento to Joan Didion? London I’ve enjoyed through Will Self, McEwan, and Zadie Smith. All contemporary- sorry Dickens. My Chicago goes to Saul Bellow. NYC? Yikes. Well I want to give it to Bernanrd Malamud and again James Baldwin- but there’s Walt Whitman, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, EB White- just too many. Let’s say F. Scott Fitzgerald gets Long Island and Philip Roth gets Newark.
This photo is of a trestle bridge at the Hudson River Park in Albany. There can be no question- and I’m serious here- that Albany belongs to William Kennedy. Having gotten to know Albany through his words, as much as the many visits I’ve made there, when I walked into this park and gazed at the dark river one evening, it was Kennedy’s voice in my ear. Lucky for me that he captured his city, and by doing so, helped define it.