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Call It Sleep: Henry Roth in the Village


Henry Roth was living at 61 Morton Street in New York City while writing his classic novel of the immigrant experience, Call It Sleep, published in 1934. His birthday is February 8.

After Call It Sleep was published, Roth suffered from a profound case of writer's block that went on for decades. He published his next work, A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park, 60 years later in 1994. In between books, Roth worked as a woodsman, a schoolteacher, a psychiatric attendant in a state mental hospital, a waterfowl farmer, and a Latin and math tutor.

He did not follow these various lines of work while living in the Village. He had left New York City. Perhaps he should have stayed on Morton Street.



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Call It Sleep, Manuscript

Hi John, I enjoyed this post. Just a note that the Berg Collection in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building as the original holograph ms. of Call It Sleep. It was written in NYU exam notebooks, the first of which is inscribed by the author, "Walk to Market." There were later changes incorporated in the published text.

The Inspiration of Morton Street.

When I was young I lived near the corner of Morton Street. I have often thought that I should have stayed on Morton Street! Apart from being very picturesque and as austere as a monestary, it is in the hub of Greenwich Village, a few blocks away from the marvelous Arch at the end of Fifth Avenue, and the splendid fountain which billowed water like showers of silver in the morning sunlight. My apartment was very unique with very high ceilings which I painted blue and stuccoed walls that were white. As evening came a blue light from the ceiling illuminated the walls and gave the rooms the appearance of a fish tank. There was a huge window which was so high up that one would have to stand on a ladder to look out. There was an echo when one talked. It was on the ground cumbersome climbing stairs! There were beautiful trees lining the street. Although I am not familiar with Henry Roth's work, I can well understand why living on Morton Street may finally have inspired him to write again. Another famous person who lived in Morton Street was Maya Deren, who was very well known as an avant garde filmmaker. Her films were were surreal, thought provoking, mysterious, strange, and beautiful. One of the most famous was called "Meshes of the Afternoon." In recent years it was shown at MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. I do not know if Edgar Allan Poe often visited Morton Street, but I heard that he often wandered the streets of Greenwich Village, and no one could ever deny that he was one of the most unique and inspired writers America ever had. Other writers who inhabited the village were Damon Runyon and Peter Hammill, the prolific journalist whose wit and great perceptions kept readers in awe through all his years as a writer. I believe that some of them got some of their inspiration from living on Morton Street, or at least from being in Greenwich Village. Definitely they have a magnificent aura.

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