New York in the Fifties

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Wakefield lived in New York from 1952 to 1963, first as a student at Columbia University, then as a free-lance journalist in Greenwich Village. He knew most of the major figures in journalism, literature, and the arts in the city at that time, many when they were struggling nobodies.

NEW YORK IN THE FIFTIES includes profiles of the Columbia professors who most influenced the budding writer: literary critics Mark Van Doren and Lionel Trilling and radical sociologist C. Wright Mills, for whom Wakefield later became a research assistant. There are also portraits of James Baldwin, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, May Swenson, Murray Kempton, and Allen Ginsberg, the latter recalled most fondly of all by Wakefield and the friends he interviewed for their recollections of the period.There are also briefer appearances by Seymour Krim, Michael Harrington, Joan Didion, John Gregory Dunne, Calvin Trillin, and other young writers then just getting started.

NEW YORK IN THE FIFTIES is notable for its presentation of Manhattan in a time of cultural and political change as Wakefield describes the dire effects of McCarthyism and the excitement of listening to the jazz of Charlie Mingus and Thelonious Monk. Such hangouts as the White Horse Tavern, San Remo, and the Five Spot come to life perhaps even more vividly than those who frequented them. Wakefield offers a vibrant account of being at the center of America’s intellectual and artistic life just before the great city began its decline as a source of inspiration to the young.