7 Stories Up at SNFL, Author Talks: Terry Williams with Natalia Filippova Williams: Life Underground: Encounters with People Below the Streets of New York

Date and Time
Wednesday, July 17, 2024, 6:30 - 7:30 PM
End times are approximate. Events may end early or late.


Tickets available for In Person
Event Details

Sociologist and author Terry Willians joins us to discuss his new book, Life Underground: Encounters with People Below the Streets of New York, with economist Natalia Filippova Williams.

This event will take place in person at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library on the 7th Floor.

Aboveground, Manhattan’s Riverside Park provides open space for the densely populated Upper West Side. Beneath its surface run railroad tunnels, disused for decades, where over the years unhoused people have taken shelter. The sociologist Terry Williams ventured into the tunnel residents’ world, seeking to understand life on the margins and out of sight. He visited the tunnels between West Seventy-Second and West Ninety-Sixth Streets hundreds of times from 1991 to 1996, when authorities cleared them out to make way for Amtrak passenger service, and again between 2000 and 2020.

Life Underground explores this society below the surface and the varieties of experience among unhoused people. Bringing together anecdotal material, field observations, photographs, transcribed conversations with residents, and excerpts from personal journals, Williams provides a vivid ethnographic portrait of individual people, day-to-day activities, and the social world of the underground and their engagement with the world above, which they call “topside.” He shows how marginalized people strive to make a place for themselves amid neglect and isolation as they struggle for dignity. Featuring Williams’s distinctive ethnographic eye and deep empathy for those on the margins, Life Underground shines a unique light on a vanished subterranean community.

At this event,  sociologist Terry Williams will discuss his new book and more with economist Natalia Filippova Williams

To join the event in person | Doors will open 30 minutes before the program begins. For free events, we generally overbook to ensure a full house. Priority will be given to those who have registered in advance, but registration does not guarantee admission. All registered seats are released shortly before start time, and seats may become available at that time. A standby line will form 30 minutes before the program.


Terry Williams is a professor in the Department of Sociology at the New School for Social Research. He has written many books about New York and has become a biographer of New York City’s hidden social worlds. His previous books are: Growing Up Poor (1985); The Cocaine Kids (1989); The Crack House (1992); and most recently The Con Men: Hustling in New York City (2015); Teenage Suicide Notes: An Ethnography of Self-Harm (2017); Le Boogie Woogie: Inside an After-Hours Club (2020); and The Soft City: Sex for Business and Pleasure in New York City (2022).

Natalia Filippova Williams grew up in Ukraine and received her Ph.D. in economics in the United States. She lives in New York.


Don't have a New York Public Library card? Get one here!



  • Assistive listening devices and/or hearing loops are available at the venue.
  • You can request a free ASL (American Sign Language) interpretation or CART (Communication Access Real-Time Translation) captioning service by emailing your request at least two weeks in advance of the event: email accessibility@nypl.org or use this Gmail template.
  • This venue is fully accessible to wheelchairs.


Sign up for our e-newsletters to stay up to date on upcoming events and Library offerings.

Please submit all press inquiries to Amy Geduldig at least 48 hours before the event: email amygeduldig@nypl.org.


The New York Public Library's free services and resources are made possible thanks to the support of the Friends of the Library. Join this group of Library lovers and take advantage of special membership benefits, like invitations to members-only virtual events, discounts at the Library Shop, and more. Join now.

All programs are subject to change or cancellation. 


The 7 Stories Up Series at SNFL is made possible by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF).