The Place Where We Dwell: Reading and Writing about New York City

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The Place Where We Dwell: Reading and Writing About New York City Juanita But and Mark Noonan. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 2005.

At the height of the 1930s, the influential New Masses editor Mike Gold's injunction to proletarian authors was to focus on "mine, mill, and factory." In the immediate wake of the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster, working people again caught the attention of the public, only to vanish as the competitive individualism at the heart of American culture reasserted itself in tourist souvenirs of the site, a return to television's obsession with ritz and glitz, and a cessation of interviews with the blue-collar rescuers at Ground Zero.

As an instructor at an urban technological college with a substantial number of students who work the minimum wage and often part-time jobs that fuel our service economy, I seek undergraduate urban studies texts dealing with what might broadly be called the postindustrial urban scene. Those teaching such undergraduates would do well to consider this impressive new book, The Place Where We Dwell. It could do double duty in history and literature or history and ethnic studies courses with a focus on writing.

The selections range widely, from generous portions of Andrew Carnegie's ode to accumulation in "Wealth" to photojournalist Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives (1900), and to the director of a labor studies center's reflections on class in America in 2005. Similar strands of socioeconomic critique include Anzia Yezierska (the "ghetto Cinderella" of 1920), and Suki Kirn's "Facing Poverty with a Rich Girl's Habits" (1975), and an excerpt from Esmeralda Santiago's When I Was Puerto Rican (1993), and former gang member Nicky Cruz's previously unpublished "Into the Pit." Students with an interdisciplinary bent for the urban mosaic will find diversity studies aplenty here, as Ghanian, African American, Chinese-Puerto Rican, Chinese, and other minority writers share space and offer observations on the New York city mix.

All this is valuable enough. …