Saturday, June 30, 2007

Literary Landmarks of New York: The Algonquin Hotel

Communities like WritopiaLabs show us just how much New York can--and does--inspire writers and artists of all ages and all interests. With its vibrancy, diversity and unpredictability, New York has been the birthplace of so much creative expression that it's almost impossible to quantify it; Arthur Miller, Mel Brooks, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Madeleine L'Engle, Herman Melville, and Chaim Potok all spent significant parts of their careers living here, to name just a few. As a result, New York is filled with "literary landmarks"--places where writers lived, worked, met to share ideas, or simply found inspiration. Some are better known than others: children's-book character Eloise famously wreaked havoc in the Plaza, and Henry James' Washington Square was set in the downtown New York neighborhood of the same name. However, many places have slipped out of New York's collective memory, despite the fact that they were instrumental in the development of our city's cultural history.

The first place that I found out about in my quest to uncover New York's literary landmarks is the Algonquin Hotel.

Located on West 44th St. in Manhattan, the Algonquin is an unassuming, albeit luxurious hotel, with very little to outwardly distinguish it from the many such hotels in the neighborhood. However, what sets it apart is not any singular characteristic, but rather, the history that occurred within its walls. In 1919, a series of lunchtime meetings began in the hotel, which were called the "Algonquin Round Table." The Round Table, which later came to be known as the "Vicious Circle" for its members' biting wit, was a meeting-place for New York journalists, authors, actors and publishers, such as John Barrymore, George S. Kaufman, Alexander Woollcott and Dorothy Parker; such lunches occurred pretty much daily between 1919 and 1929. The ideas, tastes, and themes of that booming decade--one which would prove among the most culturally prolific in American history--were created and dissected in Round Table meetings. Ultimately, all of the literary greats of the Roaring Twenties, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, would spend some time at the Algonquin, exchanging "bon mots" about society, literature, and anything they saw fit. In fact, Fitzgerald had a family portrait taken in the lobby of the Algonquin near the end of his life. He could not have chosen a more appropriate place.

I am a sixteen-year-old high school student, about to enter my final year of high school, looking to improve my writing and to meet and learn from people who are trying to do the same. I have loved books--and loved writing--ever since I was quite wee, and find in Writopia the kind of warm, welcoming writers' community that I think is vital to keeping that love of words and that creativity alive and thriving.


Nico said...

This was by far one of my favorite posts thus far, Emma. WritopiaLab is so unequivocally "New York", and it is great to see the creative geniuses of yore who walked down the very streets that we have and who were also inspired by the city that never sleeps.

Carol said...

The Algonquin Round Table! Two of my all time favorite writers were Round Tablers! I've read James Thurber's satirical fairy tale "The White Deer" dozens of times, and still find it charming.

Robert Benchley wrote about mundane things and made them hilariously funny. My favorite of his stories is "My Face". It talks about his catching a glimpse of his own face unexpectedly in a reflection, and how it never looks like he expects it to look. I laugh out loud when I read it.

Ruthie said...

this is so interestng!