New York is the biggest, fastest, richest city in America. It holds more people than Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia – combined. There are eight million stories in the naked city, soon to be nine million (The New York metropolitan area has 22 million, or one out of every fourteen Americans). They make its 321 miles the most densely populated place in North America. As Le Corbusier observed, “a considerable part of New York is nothing more than a provisional city, a city which will be replaced by another city.” What has replaced the well-known and beloved New York of the twentieth century? What is the inner life of the Salvadoran busboy, the Pakistani cabbie, the Senegalese street vendor, the Mexican maid? What about the Nigerian investment banker, the Iranian real-estate developer, the French cellist, already far richer than most of their neighbors? Who are all these people who come into Manhattan and clean our tables and sew our clothes; own our banks and are automatically seated at the best tables in the best restaurants; and where do they go at the end of the day? How do they fall in love, raise their children, pay the rent?
Two-thirds of New Yorkers today are immigrants or their children, and immigration is one of the most important domestic issues in America today. This course will open students’ eyes to the splendid feast of the city’s immigrant neighborhoods, explore the complex issues involved in immigration and city life, and help them write about it in a way that does justice to the human beings behind the numbers. Although the focus of this course is immigrant New York, ‘the gorgeous mosaic’, we will also be considering some of the other worlds and subcultures of the city, such as the music scene, religious communities, and small businesses.
Each student will choose and report on one group or neighborhood in the city throughout the semester. Reporting will take the form of journal entries and short assignments, which will be posted to a blog every week and workshopped in class. At the end of the course, students will be expected to turn in a 3000-word essay growing out of their reporting. Throughout, we will examine the techniques of long-form narrative nonfiction, through magazine and newspaper essays that deal with New York’s social worlds. Examples include Andrea Elliott’s NYT series on Muslims in Bay Ridge; Ellen Barry’s series on the Liberian community in Staten Island; and Janet Malcolm’s reporting on Bukharans in Queens.
The course will prepare students to tackle extended literary reportage, and it is hoped that some of the final pieces will serve as the foundation for magazine articles or book proposals. On occasion, we shall venture into the field. Guest speakers will include experts on New York’s cultural and immigrant communities.
- One out of Three: Immigrant New York in the Twenty-First Century, ed. Nancy Foner
- The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream – Patrick Radden Keefe
- Random Family – Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
- Up in the Old Hotel – Joseph Mitchell