Thursday, June 25, 2015

Interview With Author Ellen Levitt, New York Chronicler

     Author of WALKING MANHATTAN (Wilderness Press)

Ellen Levitt is a lifelong resident of Brooklyn, New York, who has written for such publications as The New York Times, the New York Daily News, and New York Teacher.  She is also the author of the three books in the series The Lost Synagogues of New York City (Avotaynu).  A graduate of Barnard College, she has conducted walking, bus, and bicycling tour of New York City and is a veteran public-school teacher.

Below is an interview with the author/photographer about her new book:

1.   What inspired you to write your newest book? I had queried the publisher months earlier about writing a Brooklyn or Queens guide. They said that was covered. and I figured I wouldn't hear from them again. Lo and behold, a few months later an editor contacted me via LinkedIn, and asked if I would be interested in (as well as qualified for) writing a Manhattan guide. I said yes!

2.   Aren't there plenty of NY guidebooks out there? What's new in yours?  There are many NYC guidebooks out there. This series is known for specifically guided tours, with distinct "turn left" and "turn right" directions. The book is more than a descriptive list; it's as if you had someone leading you around. And I wrote a lot about parks, houses of worship, not just the best known sights/sites.

3.   There's nothing like walking NYC. What are your favorite places?  Some of my favorite places to walk in NYC are in public parks, such as Central Park, Inwood Hill Park, Riverside Park. I also like to walk around in the East Village and Chinatown-- but not on really hot days. Neither neighborhood has enough trees!

4.   As a lifelong New Yorker, how did you write the book for non-New Yorkers?  I chose to write this book for people who are out-of-towners as well as residents. (I also figured that would make it more marketable.) But I realized that certain sights are of particular interest to those who are newcomers. I was instructed to explain certain aspects for people who would have little background. The editors also reminded me at times to go into depth in certain parts, if necessary.

5.   Some of your other books are about NYC. Do you think that NYC is the most fascinating city in the US? in the world? Yes, I have written 3 other books about NYC, and have ideas floating in my head for at least 2 more NYC books! Is NYC the most fascinating place in the US? IMHO, yes. A few other cities are quite fascinating, such as San Francisco, Boston, Washington DC. But NYC has such a huge concentration of places that people want to visit. They touch upon history, culture, commerce, nature, entertainment... And I state this, as much as I love to travel I do think that NYC is the most fascinating. As far as the whole world... I think NYC is part of a small prized group of cities, and I would include it among London, Paris, Jerusalem. Maybe Berlin also?

6.   You are a Brooklynite. When will a Brooklyn book come out? Someone else wrote the Brooklyn and Queens walking tour books for this Wilderness Press series. I did offer to write a combo Bronx/Staten Island guide; we will see if that pans out.

7.   What advice do you have for fellow writers? Advice: Be persistent and be organized. I have queried publishers with other ideas that have been rejected. I cannot think of any writer who has not faced rejection; it is something you have to get over. It stings, yes, but you have to try again. Or sometimes you have to abandon a certain topic and try another. Once you do have the assignment, be organized. It's to your benefit. And be willing to be edited, and do editing.  And I think that there are many, many more opportunities for writing non-fiction than writing fiction. It's easier to be an unknown or lesser known writer, and get non-fiction opportunities. There are more ways to do it. If you turn up your nose to non-fiction, you will find it much harder to get published. It is something writers have to confront.

Book Excerpt
When people think of New York City, most often they’re thinking of Manhattan, the most densely populated of the five boroughs that constitute this city.  As a lifelong resident of Brooklyn, I bow my head in deference to Manhattan as the capital, the lifeline, the cultural core, the economic engine overall.

The Lenape Indians referred to this long, tin piece of land as Manna-hata, or “island of many hills.”  During colonial times, the Dutch and then the British had control over Manhattan.  Some parts sustained much damage during the American Revolution, but once the war for independence was won, New York became the first capital of the nation.

Through the years, Manhattan has been a center of commerce and finance, education and scholarship, entertainment and culture, innovation and research.  It has seen destruction in the form of fires, terrorist attacks, storms, power outages, looting, and accidents of many types – car, rail, and construction among them.  Meanwhile, the infrastructure of Manhattan is astounding: from bridges to alleys, skyscrapers to pop-up shops, along with commercial and residential edifices, religious and educational sites, parks and playgrounds.  Automobiles, buses, train, boats, and helicopters arrive and depart daily (but not airplanes; the nearest airports are in Queens and New Jersey). 

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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