The Moment Magazine Guide to Jewish American Literary Sites: A Special Jewish American Heritage Pull out Section

By Alpert, Joan | Moment, May-June 2010 | Go to article overview

The Moment Magazine Guide to Jewish American Literary Sites: A Special Jewish American Heritage Pull out Section


Alpert, Joan, Moment


Whether you're an armchair traveler or road trip warrior, join us on a journey through America to visit homes, restaurants, bookshops, hotels, schools, museums, memorials and the occasional monument linked to some of our nation's Jewish authors. Along the way you'll gain insight into how these celebrated-and not so celebrated-writers lived and wrote.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

NEW YORK, NY

Built in 1902, the Algonquin Hotel still stands in all its Edwardian elegance at 59 West 44th Street. In its restaurant, beyond the signature oak-paneled lobby, is a replica of the celebrated Round Table at which, from 1919 to 1929, a group of sharp-tongued 20-somethings came together for food, drink (no alcohol in the Prohibition years) and repartee. The daily gathering purportedly got its start when hotel owner Frank Case, in hopes of attracting a literary clientele, offered these struggling artists free celery, popovers and a reserved table during the lunch hour. "No one outside the mythical order was permitted to sit at the Round Table," said Edna Ferber (1885-1968). One of the group's original members, she would become the most widely read author of her time with such works as So Big (a 1926 Pulitzer Prize winner), Giant, Show Boat and Cimarron. Her colleagues, "a hard-boiled crew, brilliant, wise, witty, generous and debunked," included George S. Kaufman (1889-1961), with whom Ferber co-authored such plays as Dinner at Eight and The Royal Family, as well as Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) (her father was Jewish) who was best known for saucy sayings; Herman J. Mankiewicz (1897-1953), who co-wrote Citizen Kane (1941); and comedian Harpo Marx, the onscreen silent Marx brother. On view today is the circular table holding their place cards and a six-foot-wide oil painting of the group recalling their famous exchanges: for example, Noel Coward's compliment to Ferber on her new suit. "You look almost like a man," he said, to which Ferber replied, "So do you." Kevin Fitzpatrick, a Dorothy Parker researcher, leads walking tours devoted to Round Table members; download the schedule at dorothyparker.com. Show Algonquin's management a published work or one in progress and receive a 25 percent discount on a hotel room.

Although born in Russia, prolific science fiction writer Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) always thought of himself as a New Yorker; he rarely left except for military service and to teach. Before he was 10, Asimov began working in the first of his father's Brooklyn candy shops. A graduate (before Norman Mailer, 1923-2007) of Boys' High School, an amazing Romanesque Revival building at 832 Mercy Street, Asimov was a 15-year-old Columbia University student when his father opened a store in 1936 at 174 Windsor Place, in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood. An old friend, Frederik Pohl, writes of how Isaac's father tried to prevent him from reading pulp fiction sold in the store because it would interfere with his school work, but Isaac convinced him that a periodical such as Amazing Stories was fine, because, although fiction, it was "science." Asimov's Foundation and Robot series are said to have inspired Gene Rod-denberry's Star Trek. The Windsor Place building still stands, as does Asimov's last home, on the 33rd floor of Park Ten Apartments at 10 West 66th Street, where he lived the last 17 years of his life.

As you cruise the city, stop by the art deco highrise at Two Park Avenue where Ayn Rand (1905-1982) (born Alisa Zinoviena Rosenbaum) was an unpaid typist for architect Ely Jacques Kahn while researching her famous novel The Fountainhead (1943); 206 East 7th Street, where poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) entertained Jack Kerouac and other Beat generation artists in his apartment; the Biltmore office building at 3 3 5 Madison Avenue, which now houses the Biltmore Hotel clock under which J.D. Salinger (1919-2010) used to meet New Yorker editor William Shawn; 31 Grace Court, where playwright. Arthur Miller (1915-2005) lived while working on Death of a Salesman. …

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