With no shortage of creative guests and residents, The Chelsea Hotel spun a wide web of material across all mediums, from songs and poems to short films and photographs, in its nearly 130 year existence. Most notably, the hotel was of particular interest for authors, both as a place for them to write and one that offered an endless supply of inspiration. With the temperatures rising, and the summer season approaching, many of us look back to the familiar required reading lists of the school breaks of our childhood. Updated (and grown up) with a twist, below is a list of books written by authors who either took up residence at the hotel to write these works, or whose prose was inspired by the hotel’s boundless charms. Consider it your summer reading list.
“Across Spoon River: An Autobiography” by Edgar Lee Masters
Masters is the author of a poem titled “Hotel Chelsea,” though his narrative prose shines in this book. Published in 1936, this intimate autobiography by the Kansas-born poet is truly a segment of American life in the 1930s, and the author’s childhood in the Midwest. Kirkus Review called it “a real contribution to the history of American letters.”
“The Web and the Rock” by Thomas Wolfe
At Edgar Lee Masters’ urging, Thomas Wolfe moved into the Chelsea Hotel in 1937. It was there, in his room, where he wrote “The Web and the Rock,” though it was published posthumously in 1939. In this coming-of-age story, and with a narrator not unlike Wolfe himself, the novel centers around a novelist who moves from North Carolina to New York City to start his career as a writer.
“Confessions of an Irish Rebel” by Brendan Behan
Behan is considered one of the greatest Irish writers of all time, and in 1963 he lived briefly at the Chelsea Hotel. Published posthumously, “Confessions of an Irish Rebel” is an autobiography as unique and unorthodox as the author’s life as an IRA member and activist, as well as a playwright and poet.
“Naked Lunch” by William Burroughs
Chelsea resident William Burroughs wrote his seminal novel “Naked Lunch” in 1959. The book was originally only published in Paris due to strict US obscenity laws; it wasn’t until 1962 that the American edition was released, based on an earlier manuscript that fellow Chelsea presence Allen Ginsberg had kept for the author. A series of vignettes more than a conventional novel, Burroughs once said he’d intended for the chapters of “Naked Lunch” to be read in any order. It remains one of the most controversial and important books in American literature.
“After the Fall” by Arthur Miller
“Death of a Salesman” playwright Arthur Miller lived briefly in at the Chelsea in room #614, following his divorce from Marilyn Monroe in 1961. In 1964, he wrote “After the Fall,” which many considered a “thinly veiled critique” of the dissolution of his marriage to the Hollywood starlet. An adaptation for television was produced in 1974, starring Faye Dunaway, Christopher Plummer, and Brooke Shields.
“The Coast of Bohemia” by William Dean Howells
Written in the last years of the 19th century, “The Coast of Bohemia” follows a young woman who prepares to shed her comfortable middle class life to follow her artistic dreams. A literary critic and iconoclast, Howells was fascinated by the young Bohemian artists living at the Chelsea—as well as their direct subversion of the more conventional and aspirational bourgeois lifestyle of the time—and included them in his story.
“Chelsea Hotel Manifesto” by Yves Klein
French artist Yves Klein wrote his famous, impassioned manifesto in 1961, in response to the “mutual incomprehension” between himself and his critics after an exhibition in New York City at Castelli Gallery on the Upper East Side in which he failed to sell a single painting.
“Netherland” by Joseph O’Neill
A Dutchman moves into a two-bedroom apartment at the Chelsea Hotel in post-9/11 New York, navigating the breakdown of his marriage, his life as an expatriate, and the sport of cricket. It was chosen as one of the 10 Best Books of 2008 by the New York Times Book Review, who called it, “the wittiest, angriest, most exacting and most desolate work of fiction…about life in New York” after the twin towers fell.
“Under Milk Wood” by Dylan Thomas
Initially written for the radio, “Under Milk Wood” was written at the Chelsea in 1953, before Thomas’ death. Centered around the fictional Welsh fishing village of Llaareggub and a blind sea captain who dreams of his lost love and dead shipmates, “Under Milk Wood” was twice adapted for the big screen; first, in 1972 starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and again in 2015, where it was nominated as Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.
Please join Freeman’s on May 16 for the sale of The Stanley Bard Collection: A Life At The Chelsea. Exhibition opens to the public on May 11.
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