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City Boy

My Life in New York During the 1960s and '70s

Edmund White


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Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (10/7/2009)
MP3 CD (11/3/2015)


Groundbreaking literary icon Edmund White reflects on his remarkable life in New York in an era when the city was economically devastated but incandescent with art and ideas. White struggles to gain literary recognition, witnesses the rise of the gay rights movement, and has memorable encounters with luminaries from Elizabeth Bishop to William Burroughs, Susan Sontag to Jasper Johns. Recording his ambitions and desires, recalling lovers and literary heroes, White displays the wit, candor, and generosity that have defined his unique voice over the decades.

Praise For City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and '70s

“[A] moving chronicle…that peacock's tail, those stag's antlers--they're here, to be sure, but so are vulnerability, doubt, failure and long years toiling at the sort of cruddy day jobs that most literary writers know all too well…In City Boy, White is amusing and raucous as ever but he also lets the mask slip…his losses and struggles, as consequence, seems less sculpted, but more real….City Boy, plain-spoken and knowing, is a survivor's tale, a missive from one of those antlered boys of that era to the others who are gone: this is who we were, this is how it was, this was our city. Some stories don't need to be embellished to glow.” —New York Times Book Review

City Boy is Mr. White's second memoir in three years, and a great deal of his fiction (notably the novel ''A Boy's Own Story'') has been autobiographical. You get the sense of a writer slowly peeling his life like an artichoke, letting only a few stray leaves go at a time…this one is salty and buttery, for sure. Mr. White's ''Oh, come on, guys'' meekness has vanished into thin air.” —New York Times

“Novelist and critic White weaves erotic encounters and long-ago literati into a vast tapestry of Manhattan memories… How he overcame setbacks and confronted his insecurities to eventually write 23 books makes for fascinating reading…White writes with a simple, fluid style, and beneath his patina of pain, a refreshing honesty emerges. This is a brilliant recreation of an era, rich in revels, revolutions and ‘leather boys leading the human tidal wave.'” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A colorfully detailed remembrance…with his novelist's brilliance in turns of phrase in evoking these places, [White] also recalls the many celebrated writers he encountered over the years in his slow climb to writerly success. A special invitation to a world gone by.” —Booklist (starred review)

“A graceful memoir of a decidedly ungraceful time in the life of New York City…. A welcome portrait of a time and place long past, and much yearned for.” —Kirkus

“[White] retained a keen appreciation for the varieties of affection, which is gracefully displayed here. Lively sketches of James Merrill, Susan Sontag, Robert Mapplethorpe, and others are occasionally sharp as well as fond, but White's candor extends equally to his own doubts and failures.” —New Yorker

“So witty, so insightful, so bristling with gossip, that one almost fails to notice that it is an essential chronicle of a revolution in many ways no less important than the fall of Communism: the gay liberation movement, in which White was both an actor and a privileged spectator…In one of his many discourses on friends famous -- Jasper Johns, Peggy Guggenheim, James Merrill -- and otherwise, White described a now-forgotten novelist's book as lacking "that key, embarrassing literary quality no one knows how to discuss: charm." City Boy is full of it, even when discussing weighty topics.” —Harpers

“The oral histories of Edmund White--who relives his decades-old glory days as a hobbing, nobbing City Boy.” —Vanity Fair

“As someone who lived through the period and knew most of the people Ed White writes about, I was delighted to read his new book, City Boy. The charm and candor of his work has never been more apparent. I finished City Boy wanting still more--which is a rare reading experience.” —Martin Duberman, author of Waiting to Land

“Since White is a born raconteur, his gimlet-eyed anecdotes about celebrities of the era are as tangy as blood orange sorbet served after lobster Thermidor… [he] matches his talent for journalism with brilliant imagistic prose.” —Gay City News

“In his 23 books, novelist and literary critic White has become one of the premier chroniclers of New York City intellectual life and the gay world…White unabashedly turns the pen on himself and the dozens of writers and artists he met in his years coming of age as a gay man in New York.” —NY Post

“Edmund White's writing of the past quarter-century adds up to a story of inner life repressed and then bursting forth into full expressive flower, as well as a neat encapsulation of the history of gay subculture…He's eloquent on the horrific psychic cost of closeted gay identity, pre-Stonewall.” —Washington Post

“[White] is a more highbrow Augusten Burroughs; a more sedate and scholarly David Sedaris…[City Boy] is an exquisitely written, devilishly detailed account of White's life in the City.” —Huffington Post

“[An] exuberant, thoughtful memoir… White's affectionate yet candid portraits of literary celebrities Richard Howard, Harold Brodkey and Susan Sontag celebrate those friendships, with the eminences coming across as quite distinct from their forbidding pubic personas, even lovable…Sparkling cameo appearances by the likes of Truman Capote, Robert Mapplethorpe and Fran Lebowitz expand the feeling that artistic Manhattan then was a very different place than it is today. All fun aside, the gadabout boulevardier at some point had to take a back seat to the fiercely ambitious emerging writer. White's vivid analysis of his artistic struggles and literary progress during these years is like a master class for other writers…. White's memoir…has charm to burn.” —Shelf Awareness

“Decades before Times Square looked like a trailer park filled with tourists in lawn chairs and real estate prices hit the stratosphere, New York was seedy and dangerous. But for a young gay man from the Midwest, it was also a refuge, full of possibility and excitement, where strangers became lovers with one furtive glance, as Edmund White evokes in his fascinating historical memoir City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and '70s…like his novels, the portrait he paints is unflinching.” —Modern Tonic

“CITY BOY is an amazing memoir of White's hunger for literary fame -- for publication even -- and intellectual esteem in the superheated creative world of '60s and '70s New York. His sketches of writers and artists, including everyone from poets James Merrill and John Ashbery to artist Robert Wilson and editor Robert Gottlieb, are full of bon mots, sharply observed details, and great honesty about his own desires for love and esteem. CITY BOY vividly brings to life the sheer squalor of life in 1970s New York …A wonderful raconteur with a well-stocked fund of anecdotes and observations, White's writings reveal much about alliances, alignments, and personalities from a vanished world that still echo strongly in our own.” —This Week in New York

“Edmund White is no one-trick pony. The prolific novelist, critic, memoirist, gay activist, professor and social aspirant has waded into countless literary and intellectual pools and sent visible ripples through each. White's latest book, a ruminative and rambling memoir of his time in New York City in the 1970s, takes readers on a dime tour through the writer's initiation into circles that spun with such blinding talents as Susan Sontag, Richard Howard, John Ashbery, Michel Foucault, even Vladimir Nabokov and Anthony Burgess. ‘City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and '70s' dispenses with the jaw-dropping lyricism of the books that made him famous (his beloved memoir ‘A Boy's Own Story,' especially) and replaces it with a didactic narrative flecked with powerful bits of insight, buried like chunks of brown sugar in a big pot of literary oatmeal…'City Boy' presents an exhilarating sketch of the grizzled, untamed and dangerous way of life that was New York in the 1960s and '70s… Surely [White] deserves a notable place in the pantheon of the artists and writers who populate his book, which serves as a testament to his talent and to the credibility he has laboriously built up in his years as a working writer…We're lucky for the pioneering work of White, his insistence on casting himself as a ‘gay' writer, even if it continues to harm his entry into the upper echelon of global literary talents…[City Boy] offers a valuable glimpse into the mind of an indispensable writer and critic, one whose obsessions -- with his city, with other artists, and especially with himself -- help to demystify a fascinating moment in culture and time.” —Buffalo News

“Instead of imagining that far-fetched, science-fiction-based ideas like time machines will ever become a reality, most of us rely on books and movies to take us to places we will either never get to visit, or missed out on entirely. The 1960s and 70s were a pivotal time for gay men, a time when homosexuals made history by redefining their role in society at large by standing up for the basic human rights we enjoy today – and then there's all that rampant, unbridled sex on the Chelsea piers. Popular gay historian, novelist, memoirist and survivor Edmund White takes us there in style in City Boy…. In his own classy, restrained, inimitable style, Edmund White presents graceful ruminations on an ungraceful time as one forgotten decade casts a long shadow on the one that followed. Simply put, this book is a gem, and if time travel were indeed a possibility, White would make the ultimate tour guide.” —Bay Area Reporter

“In his new memoir, "City Boy: My Life in New York in the 1960s and '70s" (Bloomsbury, $26), Princeton professor and novelist Edmund White vividly re-creates his 20 years as a journeyman writer in New York City, the rise of the gay liberation movement and the swirling social and literary scenes of four decades ago…[City Boy] is a chronicle of his uphill battle to get published and the explosion of the gay world in Manhattan that became so important to his writing. From the furtive male coupling of the early 1960s to the Stonewall riots and the euphoric pre-AIDS gay world of 1970s Greenwich Village, White provides a rollicking chronicle of a lost age. Along the way, White made himself into a prominent literary novelist and an openly gay man. Finally, he draws thrilling portraits of the important literary figures of the period, from the poets James Merrill and Richard Howard to the sharp-tongued, territorial Susan Sontag and the closeted writer Harold Brodkey.” —Newark Star Ledger

City Boy fully evokes New York's gritty beauty. It's a treasure trove of period detail… Because City Boy is as thronged as New York, many of these [character portraits] must be sketches. One of White's gifts as a stylist is that, like Sargent in his watercolors, he can capture people quickly. The labor never shows, the effects are fresh, the brush strokes loose yet precise…White, through-out, never lets the shadows get too dark. His refusal to become bogged down in self recrimination seems of a piece, perhaps, with his greatest strength: an absolute rejection of the shame queer people have always been told they should feel. Some may think he's spent too long looking at himself. But for White the self is always social; well observed, it's full of other lives, endlessly lush and complex. In City Boy, the stories of these lives--and White's--are recounted with the literary quality he tells us he admires most: charm.” —Lambda Literary Review

“Any writer's coming-of-age tale is bound to inspire would-be authors, but White's is particularly engaging, thanks to his bracing honesty about his despair, anxiety and impoverished existence…[The] deeply personal, idiosyncratic accounts of the bold-faced names White befriends as he builds his career are by far the most absorbing parts of City Boy.” —Time Out New York

“A zesty breeze of a book depicting a broken-down, crime-ridden city where artists could actually afford to live. White's takes on its gay and literary scenes and his portraits of Susan Sontag, Robert Mapplethorpe and many others are funny, sharp and sometimes scurrilous.” —Seattle Times

“After a series of unabashedly autobiographical novels, and a steamy 2006 memoir, My Lives, what is there left of Edmund White's life for Edmund White to mine? Plenty, as this delicious serving of homosexual dish demonstrates...White left New York for Paris in 1983, as AIDS was starting to decimate the demimonde he embraced. This gaily elegiac memoir is an elegant love letter to that time and place.” —Queer Syndicate

“If really thoughtful, layered, dish-best-eaten-cold gossip isnt New York writing, what is? White has a true sense of the city.” —Greil Marcus in Time Out New York

“Here's an X-rated, gay-hearted tour of a city of artists and writers and painters and lovers, all of them looking for happiness and love in a time when, as White points out, in some clubs every group of dancing men was required to include at least one woman. "A disco employee sat on top of a ladder and beamed a flashlight at a group of guys who weren't observing the rule." That's what White seems to be doing in this smart, gossipy roundup of all the men and ideas and good times and bad he danced with back then -- beaming his light.” —Alan Cheuse on

City Boy is a funny, gossipy scrapbook of White's years in Manhattan...his sketches of the little communities of friendship and love amid the Manhattan ruins are marvelous and moving...City Boy is a breezy and candid and deeply entertaining memoir of the bankrupt and crime-mad Lindsay- and Beame-era New York and the insanely creative who peopled it. More than that, it's a self-deprecatingly Proustian account (a weird combo, to be sure) of superserious literary ambition, his own and that of others. Genette famously wrote that the narrative of In Search of Lost Time could be summed up in four words: Marcel becomes a writer. City Boy updates that précis for the sucking-in-the-'70s New York. Ed becomes a writer.” —Critical Mass

Bloomsbury USA, 9781608192342, 304pp.

Publication Date: October 4, 2010

About the Author

Edmund White (b. Ohio, USA, 1940) is the author of many critically acclaimed books, the most recent being The Flaneur. He was made an officer in the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and won a literary prize from the Festival of Deauville. He now teaches at Princeton University. His acclaimed autobiography, My Lives, was published by Bloomsbury in 2006, while his play, Terre Haute, was published by Methuen Drama in 2007.