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Eleven Stories High: Growing Up in Stuyvesant Town, 1948-1968

Eleven Stories High: Growing Up in Stuyvesant Town, 1948-1968

5.0 2
by Corinne Demas

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This memoir evokes a girl's coming of age in a postwar New York City planned, "utopian" community.

Eleven Stories High is a memoir of a middle-class New York childhood, the perceptions of a girl growing up in a housing project that she deemed a “utopia of the fifties.” The story follows the process of memory, rather than the conventions of


This memoir evokes a girl's coming of age in a postwar New York City planned, "utopian" community.

Eleven Stories High is a memoir of a middle-class New York childhood, the perceptions of a girl growing up in a housing project that she deemed a “utopia of the fifties.” The story follows the process of memory, rather than the conventions of chronology, and explores the concept of “home,” how a place like Stuyvesant Town—impersonal, symmetrical, utilitarian—shapes a childhood.

This poignant memoir of life in Stuyvesant Town, a New York City housing project, describes growing up in what the author deems a “utopia of the fifties.” Corinne Demas evokes in convincing detail the friendships, foibles, and fantasies of a girl’s coming of age in a “vertical” neighborhood of pets, games, elevator rides, and family life. She follows the process of memory, rather than the conventions of chronology, to take us on a vivid journey of the 1950’s and 60’s America of Halloween costumes, roller skating, the new T.V. culture, high school dances, and music lessons. She lovingly tells of her father—an unconventional dentist—and her mother, both a traditional housewife and a high school biology teacher.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“…the peaceful urban idyll of Corinne Demas…” — The New York Observer

“…evokes a girl’s coming of age in New York City’s planned ‘utopian’ community.” — Publishers Weekly

“She writes with affection and humor about her years at 524 East 20th Street and her family, friends and neighbors.” — Peter Cooper Village/ Stuyvesant Town News

“This is an irresistible memoir. The book swarms with the sort of everyday detail that not only makes a life memorable but that asks the reader to savor rather than reject it. I smiled on every page.” — Anne Bernays, author of Professor Romeo

“Combines a startling immediacy of presentation with the inevitable distancing of retrospection....Eleven Stories High is richly layered, fondly written, and true in the necessary way of art.” — Sven Birkerts, author of Readings

“Corinne Demas is a wonderful storyteller, and her ability to render anecdotes about times and places gone by—to conjure up the tastes and smells and details of a vanished world—is quite remarkable. She has managed to give us a piece of urban history set within the framework of her own family history. She has also given us a stunningly detailed portrait of a most specific urban culture within a narrative that is itself a compelling story of one young woman’s coming of age.” — Jay Neugeboren, author of Imagining Robert: My Brother, Madness, and Survival: A Memoir

“Demas has found a perfect way to divide up her ostensible subjects—elevators, stores, games, school—to give us a very precise picture of her life in a vertical neighborhood, yet each opens out, by virtue of the author’s ingeniousness and candidness, into a much larger consideration of family, community, city. At the same time, she brings her family to us with remarkable clarity. This is a sociologically dead-on representation of mid-century urban life that is neither Leave it to Beaver nor Ozzie and Harriet in its simplifications nor Manchild in the Promised Land in its accusatory grimness.” — Rosellen Brown, author of Before and After

“Corinne Demas’s Eleven Stories High is a remarkable portrait of a vanished world but not a vanished place. The social history it captures is important, presenting the story of a transitional generation of women, suspended between the quietism of the American Dream of the post-war era of the 1950s and the tumultuous upheavals to come at the end of the sixties. A vivid and paradoxical picture of both the urban American and domestic life once lived, captured by a writer of lyric strengths and fastidious intellect.” — William O’Rourke, author of Signs of the Literary Times: Essays, Reviews, Profiles 1970–1992

“A marvelous memoir. I loved every word...Stuyvesant Town, with its unexpected charm, is as strong a character as any I’ve encountered in personal narrative. Demas’s portrait of her mother is exquisite.” — Anita Shreve, author of The Pilot’s Wife

“Eleven Stories High is a marvelously sensible, observant, honest, and often amusing portrait of a very particular place that manages at the same time to conjure the experiences of many contented children growing up in many kinds of places.” — Rosellen Brown, author of Before and After

“A very meticulous writer, steady and believable. Her powers of recall are extraordinary. I regard this as an important record of contemporary life, as well as a most interesting coming-of-age memoir.” — Shirley Abbott, author of Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Demas displays fine skills of observation in an otherwise slight memoir of growing up in a unique apartment complex. Designed as an ideal middle-class community in Manhattan, Stuyvesant Town occupies 18 square blocks; its brick buildings shut out the bustling city beyond the perimeter. Opened in 1947, the complex housed 9,000 qualified families, who, according to the author, were white and predominantly Jewish. These new residents placed a high value on education and the arts; in a particularly enjoyable chapter about the prevalence of music lessons, Demas notes that pianos "seemed like basic appliances" in Stuyvesant Town. Demas's Greek parents fully shared their neighbors' values. A comfortable, two-career couple (her father was a dentist, her mother a high school biology teacher), they sent their only child to competitive public schools. The book is most lively and engaging when Demas describes her family: her father haunted by his WWII memories or enjoying the camaraderie of fellow Greeks; her mother, in true '50s style, handling the domestic responsibilities. But Demas's depiction of apartment living--elevators, laundry rooms, lack of pets and most significantly, the close proximity to neighbors--may be most revealing to readers unfamiliar with apartment life. Many readers, however, will want more insight into the psychological makeup of Demas's family and the talented author. B&w photos. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

State University of New York Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.48(d)

What People are Saying About This

Anita Shreve
I loved every word … Stuyvesant Town, with its unexpected charm, is as string a character as any I've encountered in personal narrative. Demas's portrait of her mother is exquisite.
—Anita Shreve, author of The Pilot's Wife

Meet the Author

Corinne Demas is Professor of English at Mt. Holyoke College. She is the author of a novel, two short story collections, and many children’s books, most recently If Ever I Return Again.

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Eleven Stories High: Growing Up in Stuyvesant Town, 1948-1968 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was such a pleasure to read! I grew up in the suburbs of California during the 40s and 50s and let me tell you, MOST of our childhoods were like this one: good! My life couldn't have been more different as far as PLACE is concerned, but the emotions and the situations were exactly the same. I read a lot of memoirs and next to them and their DYSfuncional tales, this book was absolutely delightful! I hope it gets more publicity so we all can be reminded that youth was not AWFUL, but a time to grow and experience and enjoy.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I received this book as a gift from my sister and it made my day! I grew up in Brooklyn in an apartment complex like Stuyvesant Town during the same time. So many things, Corinne Demas wrote about were about my life...Howdy Doody, Good Humor, roller skating, being Greek, and we even share the same last name! The book was so well written I couldn't put it down. It brought me so much joy! She made me feel like I was back in my youth and I could see and feel everything she wrote about. It is a must read especially for anyone of that generation, and especially if you grew up in New York.As a school teacher, I can't wait to read her children's books so I can introduce my students to this fine author!