Bronx Accent: A Literary and Pictorial History of the Borough


For the last three hundred years, and through all its social and economic transformations, The Bronx has been a major literary center that many prominent writers have called home.

Bringing together a variety of past literary figures as well as emerging talents, this comprehensive book captures the Zeitgeist of the neighborhood through the eyes of its writers. Included are selections from the writings of Jack Kerouac, Mark Twain, James Baldwin, James Fenimore Cooper, Tom Wolfe, ...

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For the last three hundred years, and through all its social and economic transformations, The Bronx has been a major literary center that many prominent writers have called home.

Bringing together a variety of past literary figures as well as emerging talents, this comprehensive book captures the Zeitgeist of the neighborhood through the eyes of its writers. Included are selections from the writings of Jack Kerouac, Mark Twain, James Baldwin, James Fenimore Cooper, Tom Wolfe, Herman Wouk, Theodore Dreiser, Washington Irving, Clifford Odets, Cynthia Ozick, Grace Paley, Edgar Allan Poe, Chaim Potok, Kate Simon, Leon Trotsky, and Sholem Aleichem.

Lloyd Ultan and Barbara Unger place the literature of these and other writers in historical context and reproduce one hundred vintage photographs that bring the writings to life. Filtered through the imaginations of authors of different times, ethnic groups, social classes, and literary styles, the borough of The Bronx emerges not only as a shaper of destinies and lives, but as an important literary mecca.

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Editorial Reviews

Official Bronx Borough Historian Ultan (history, Fairleigh Dickinson U.) and poet Unger (English, Rockland Community College) assemble excerpts from known and unknown writers, and black-and-white photographs, to chronicle the history of New York City's northernmost borough from the middle of the 17th century to the present. The material is presented according to the period the writer is discussing rather than by publication date. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
New York Times Book Review

Gouverneur Morris fights the new American government in vain to prevent a road from cutting through his large farm. Edgar Allan Poe takes refuge in the village of Fordham, which is so isolated it has no post office. . . . Clive Campbell and Joseph Saddler are reborn as the hip-hop artists Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. Through such moments Lloyd Ultan and Barbara Unger tell the history of the borough in Bronx Accent: A Literary and Pictorial History of the Borough. . . . The result is a vibrant mix of historical and contemporary voices; at one point an excerpt from E. L. Doctorow's novel Billy Bathgate is followed by an account from Kate Simon's Bronx Primitive: Portraits in a Childhood.
New York Observer

Anyone interested in urban history, in American literature or, more generally, in how people shapeùand, in turn, are shaped byùplace, will find Bronx Accent a fascinating book. Like some ingenious choral arrangement, the book contains scores of voices recounting, in fact and fiction, how life was lived in the Bronx from colonial times to the end of the 20th century. The authors . . . provide a well-constructed narrative that frames the story of New York City's northernmost borough. But like good straight men in a comedy act, they do an excellent job of setting things up and then stepping out of the way, leaving all the high notes to poets, novelists, letter-writers, diarists, urban scholars and journalists. Part comedy, part tragedy, part cautionary tale, the book conjures up the early years of the Bronx as a woodsy retreat from the rigors of life in the great city to the south; the Bronx heyday, which lasted from about the beginning of the last century to its mid-point; and the borough's chaotic decline and recent rise from the ashes.
New York Post

The authors take a novel approach: By placing examples of classic writing (Poe, Twain, Baldwin, Kerouac, Wolfe and Wouk, among others) and vintage photographs of da boogie down in historical context, Bronx Accent gives the reader unique insights into the ækaleidoscopic shifts in life in the Bronx over the centuries.'.

[Bronx Accent] celebrates its subject. The editorsùa historian who knows more about the borough than anyone living and a poet born and reared in it streetsùembrace the stubborn triumph of a Bronx now on the verge of a renaissance. . . . It is as if each writer included in the book is a friend or family, a literary Bronx meshpochah.

Ultan and Unger chronicle the rise, fall, and rebirth of New York City's northernmost borough in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by people who live or lived in the Bronx, or who simply chose to write about it. . . . Taken together the pieces, with additional explanatory text by the authors give a good narrative ranging from the Bronx's colonial period through the various waves of immigration and consolidation with Manhattan and the other boroughs. What's more, you get a good sense of how the many destructive forces converged to wreck the area, and how the people's stubborn spirit would not let all of their beloved neighborhoods turn to wasteland. . . . As the subtitle declares, it's also a pictorial history, and the majority of the 97 black-and-white illustrations give you a good idea of what the Bronx looked like way back in its heyday.
Bronx Press

Bronx Accent is particularly strong in explaining the twentieth century, when the population of The Bronx was at its highest and most of the writers cited resided in the borough. The book is adroitly arranged and provides hours of good and interesting reading. For $32.00, this publication of Rutgers University Press is a bargain. No where else can anyone find a survey of the Bronx past in one volume that can be so easily and enjoyably digested.
Bronx Press-Review and the Riverdale Review

The embattled Bronx and upscale Riverdale have been portrayed, analyzed and sometimes autopsied by journalists, sociologists and historians. But nobody has ever listened to its beating heart through its literatureùthe novels, stories, poetry and memoirs that capture the essence and excitement of Bronx life. Nobody has done it, that is, until now. . . . As an added bonus, the book features nearly 100 vintage photographs and postcard views, the postcards, some almost a century old. . . . Bronx Accent should have a far wider readership than just in the Bronx, since the Bronx, and writing like this, reflect so much of urban America, and its story in many ways is the story of America itself.
Bronx County Historical Journal

The book is full of insights and very readable. It does justice to the colonies and rural Bronx of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, it is especially rich in describing the twentieth-century urban scene, where there are so many different communities. . . . Ultan and Unger's work is both good history and good literature. Based on extensive research with scholarly selection of representative sources, it gives voice to the enduring spirit of The Bronx. If you would understand this place, start here.
Jewish Journal

Ultan and Unger emphasize and literary history of the Bronx, providing ample quotations to illustrate literature about the Bronx. They also have almost a hundred interesting photos. The material is organized chronologically, beginning with Jonas Bronck who, in the early 17th century, became the first European settler of the area that today bears is name.
Roger Wines

Through three hundred years, the people of the Bronx speak out about their lives, joys, tribulations, and aspirations. Lloyd Ultan and Barbara Unger's skillfully arranged anthology combines letters, diaries, memoirs, and literary sources with an insightful historical narrative. The book is particularly rich on the recent decades when the Bronx went from success to collapse and then rebirth. It is good reading and good history.
Editor of Editors on Editing: What Writers Nee Gerald Gross

Bronx Accent is an entertaining, surprising revelation of New York's borough of the Bronx, an unexpected center of literature where some of America's most famous authors lived, and which provided the setting and inspiration for their works. Their novels, poems, stories, and essays reveal the colorful, ever-changing history of this often underappreciated part of the city. Ultan and Unger are insightful chroniclers of the vast variety of their urban experiences. You will be delighted and astonished by the riches to be found in this literary treasure house.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813538624
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2006
  • Series: Rivergate Regionals Collection
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 330
  • Sales rank: 984,438
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface vii
Acknowledgments ix
1 Genesis: The Colonial and Revolutionary Bronx, 1639-1800 1
2 Out of Town: The Suburban Bronx, 1800-1898 21
3 "Like Country": The Urbanization of The Bronx, 1898-1919 46
4 A Step Up: The Bronx in Boom Times, 1919-1929 78
5 A Step Left: The Bronx in the Great Depression, 1929-1940 106
6 The Bronx Home Front: The War Years, 1936-1950 132
7 The Perils of Prosperity: The Bronx in the Postwar Years, 1946-1961 158
8 The Urban Crisis: The Bronx in the Years of Change and Unrest, 1961-1980 192
9 Devastation: The Bronx Is Burning, 1965-1991 220
10 Coping: The Bronx Endures, 1961-1988 240
11 The Phoenix: The Bronx Rises from the Ashes, 1975-2000 271
Index 299
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2001

    Accent On Excellence

    Excellent and well organized historical record of 'Da Bronx'. Ms. Barbara Unger and 'Mr. Bronx' himself, Profesor Lloyd Ultan, deliver many wonderful essays, literary excerpts and pictures, in the forms of snapshots and picture postcards. The source of the material include the works of many famous people including James Baldwin and Secretary of State Colin Powell. This book takes the Jahn's Kitchen Sink. Professor Ultan and Barbara Unger should be proud of their World Series winning effort.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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