“Literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourses of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness.”
—Helen Keller (1880–1968)
March is National Reading Month and Women’s History Month. Here we are celebrating both.
Stretching for two blocks, from Fifth Avenue to Park Avenue, along East 41st Street a unique tribute to the glories of reading books can be found.
Although the tendency in New York City is to look up at the skyscrapers, strolling along Library Way, as this two-block stretch has been officially known since 2003, offers a good reason to look down. For embedded in the sidewalk are 97 plaques; each one features a quote from a book artfully and often cleverly illustrated. Adding context, the book’s title and its author are listed.
Out of the 97 plaques, 11 are from works by women writers and 34 are by male authors. The plaques are the same on both the north and south sides of the street.
In 1996 the Grand Central Partnership (GCP), a non-profit, business improvement co-operative; the New York Public Library; and The New Yorker, the weekly magazine, brought together a panel of literary experts and librarians. Their task was to select books and quotations from those books that highlight the importance and impact of literature and reading.
This entertaining promenade leads to the New York Public Library’s main facility, its Beaux-Arts-styled Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Library Way was completed with the combined efforts of the GCP, the New York Public Library, property owners and commercial businesses along East 41st Street, and the New York City Department of Transportation.
Majestically reclining outside the New York Public Library, “Patience” and “Fortitude,” the pink Tennessee marble lion sculptures, guard its doors. Standing on what once was the site of a reservoir of the city’s water supply, the library building contains an extraordinary collection. Its comprehensiveness covers 15 million items, ranging from priceless medieval manuscripts, to ancient Japanese scrolls, to contemporary novels and poetry. Also, baseball cards, dime-store novels, and comic books are part of what it houses. The library maintains its commitment to providing free and equal access to its resources and facilities for all people.
Brought to life by Gregg LeFevre, an urban sculptural artist whose studio is on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village but lives in Harlem, the quotes are beautifully and often amusingly designed. Installed at regular intervals in the sidewalks along East 41st Street, Library Way was honored with an “Excellence in Design” award by the New York City Arts Commission in 1998.
Weekends are best time to walk Library Way without the foot traffic interfering with your ability to read each plaque. On both sides of the street quotes taken from the works by 45 writers, in 11 countries, spanning 20 centuries can be enjoyed. Text from such wide-ranging authors as Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, Albert Camus, Virginia Woolf, and Dylan Thomas have been selected. Approach Library Way along 41st Street from Park Avenue at its eastern end to get the best read; the plaques are facing east. Walk towards “Patience” and “Fortitude;” you can stop to read some inspirational words along your way.
A quote from Song of Winnie by Gwendolyn Brooks is included along Library Way. At the time of the project’s creation Ms. Brooks had not died; therefore, only the year of her birth is listed. She died in in 2000.
Our Subway Art Tour Three features a permanent art installation at 59th Street with a quote from a poem by Ms. Brooks, “Conduct your blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind.” Our Tours connect the art, history and life of the Big Apple. Take the Tour; Know More!
ALL PHOTOS AND TEXT, EXCEPT CREDITED QUOTES, © THE AUTHOR 2020