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10 New York City-Based Anthologies You Need to Read

Picture of JW McCormack
Updated: 27 July 2017
New York is one of the greatest literary cities in the world, in terms of both its status as the nexus of the publishing world and as a setting used by hundreds of writers since the very beginning of American literature. In fact, there’s far too much writing from and about New York for even the most industrious reader to keep track of—hence, these anthologies offer a cross-section of writing centered on the five boroughs.

Writing New York (1998)

Writing New York | Courtesy of Library of America
Courtesy of Library of America | © Library of America

Edited by acclaimed essayist Phillip Lopate, Writing New York is the definitive New York anthology from the Library of America, collecting the foundations of American urban journalism, fiction, and poetry. Luminaries like Herman Melville and Walt Whitman appear alongside contemporary writers like Colson Whitehead and Don DeLillo, and every page brings another revelation, whether in the form of a lament by F. Scott Fitzgerald or Hart Crane’s seminal “To Brooklyn Bridge.”

The New York Stories of Henry James (2005)

The New York Stories of Henry James | Courtesy of NYRB Classics
Courtesy of NYRB Classics | © NYRB Classics

Henry James’s connection to New York has always been ambiguous as it is the setting of some of his greatest works, many of which were composed in James’s adopted home in London. As a result, James’s New York is a vanished place, familiar yet slightly out of reach. Colm Tóibín (who fictionalized James’s life in his novel The Master) edited The New York Stories of Henry James, the best introduction to James there is, with stories like “An International Episode” and the beloved “Washington Square.” Other must-read NYRB Classics are The New York Stories of Edith Wharton and of Elizabeth Hardwick.

The Unprofessionals (2015)

The Unprofessionals | Courtesy of Penguin Books
Courtesy of Penguin Books | © Penguin Books

New York-based Paris Review has undergone a renaissance since Lorin Stein took over as editor in 2010, and The Unprofessionals: New American Writing From the Paris Review collects some of the most memorable pieces from this latest age in American literature, featuring nonfiction from the magazine’s “Southern Editor” John Jeremiah Sullivan and breakthrough pieces by Emma Cline and Otessa Moshfegh, along with work from eminent contemporary writers like Zadie Smith.

Watchlist (2016)

Watchlist | Courtesy of Catapult
Courtesy of Catapult | © Catapult

Watchlist: 32 Stories by Persons of Interest is a fresh, fascinating roundtable of fiction pieces on that most New York of subjects: surveillance and the individual as seen by the state. A typical entry like Jim Shepard’s “Safety Tips for Living Alone” raises Cold War questions for a contemporary audience, while stories by Randa Jarrar and T.C. Boyle take on paranoia and technology. This collection from small publisher Catapult is a fantastic survey of young and established authors musing on some of the most vexing questions facing New Yorkers today.

Wonderful Town (2000)

Wonderful Town | Courtesy of Random House
Courtesy of Random House | © Random House

No list of NY anthologies would be complete without a contribution from The New Yorker, and Wonderful Town: New York Stories From The New Yorker is the magazine’s most heartfelt tribute to the city it calls home. Editor David Remnick introduces classics like “The Five-Forty-Eight” by John Cheever, “The Cafeteria” by Isaac Bashevis Singer, and many more short stories that contributed to the city’s second life in fiction. The anthology offers a play by play of 20th-century New York, showing it as an immigrant destination, yuppie stomping ground, and punk paradise.

New York City Noir (2012)

New York City Noir | Courtesy of Akashic Books
Courtesy of Akashic Books | © Akashic Books

This long-running series of classic and contemporary noir from Akashic Books runs the gamut from seedy dives and beleaguered detectives to pitch-black depictions of Wall Street deprivation. The five-volume New York City Noir (sold together and separately) collects stories covering each of New York City’s boroughs. And there’s no need to stop there as further installments have covered cities from Chicago to Manila as well as specific NYC neighborhoods and more specialized subjects (see Prison Noir).

Brooklyn Was Mine (2008)

Brooklyn Was Mine | Courtesy of Riverhead Books
Courtesy of Riverhead Books | © Riverhead Books

As its rapid changes over the last few decades threaten to make it unrecognizable while also making it a destination for writers worldwide, Brooklyn is New York in a nutshell. Brooklyn Was Mine looks at this complex legacy through essays by a brilliant cross-section of current literary Brooklynites like Jennifer Egan, Emily Barton, and Darin Strauss, who relate anecdotes of “their Brooklyn.” The result is a far-ranging vision of the city that is as multifarious as Brooklyn’s neighborhoods.

Happiness (2014)

Happiness | Courtesy of FSG
Courtesy of FSG | © FSG

Brooklyn-based n+1 is the magazine that intellectually defined a generation of writers, and Happiness collects some of the most controversial and accomplished pieces to appear in the magazine, including Wesley Yang’s meditation on a school shooter, Kristin Domnek’s shattering “How To Quit,” and some of the magazine’s best editorials on politics and literature. There’s also a handful of short stories (including Rebecca Curtis’s “Fish Rot”), the kind that could only have appeared in n+1.

A New Literary History of America (2012)

A New Literary History of America | Courtesy of Harvard University Press
Courtesy of Harvard University Press | © Harvard University Press

Edited by Greil Marcus, A New Literary History of America presents a massive collection of essays covering subjects (and featuring writers) dear to New Yorkers’ hearts—T.J. Clark on Jackson Pollock, for example, as well as contributions from Philip Roth and Jonathan Lethem)—making it an indispensable and unusual rendering of American literature, expanded to include not only the likes of The Scarlet Letter and Huckleberry Finn but also the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

New American Stories (2015)

New American Stories | Courtesy of Vintage
Courtesy of Vintage | © Vintage

Dozens of fiction anthologies come out every year, but for the best selection of contemporary, boundary-pushing short stories, you only need one: New American Stories. Edited by the brilliant Ben Marcus, a professor at Columbia University in New York, this anthology features some of the best stories you’ll ever read by George Saunders, Denis Johnson, Lydia Davis, Sam Lipsyte, and Rivka Galchen.