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Flophouse: Life on the Bowery
Synopses & Reviews
In its heyday, close to one hundred thousand men found shelter each night in flophouses along America's largest and most infamous skid row, the Bowery. Today, only a handful of flops are left, their tiny five- and ten-dollar-a-night rooms home to fewer than a thousand men, mostly long-time residents. In a handful of years, this world will be gone.
In Flophouse, documentarians David Isay and Stacy Abramson and photographer Harvey Wang chronicle this vanishing world through the voices and portraits of a number of those residents, interspersed with photographs of their surroundings. The men come from all manner of backgrounds, and the rich variety of the tales they tell is a testament to the number of ways the bottom can fall out of life in America, even in prosperous times. This book warrants comparison with Walker Evans and James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, but the authors were inspired most directly by Joseph Mitchell, who wrote about some of these same flophouses with an honest warmth and an acceptance of life as it's found. Shimmering with humanity and utterly devoid of false sentiment, Flophouse is a powerful reminder that even on the margins, life defies all attempts at reduction.
"This book should be required reading in every home across the country. It tells of the lost ones, the forgotten men who have given up on the American dream, and once we enter their crumbling, derelict world, our own world will never look the same to us again. Harvey Wang's photographs are superbly honest and raw. The testimonies gathered by David Isay and Stacy Abramson are little poems of desolation, vast hymns to the paradoxes of the human heart." Paul Auster
"This book takes you to places you think you don't want to enter, to people you think you don't want to meet, to lives you think you don't want to live. And makes you rethink all your assumptions. It reveals the tremendous strength and humanity of those who are usually ignored. And as you pay attention, your humanity expands." Susan Stamberg, Special Correspondent, National Public Radio
"Here is another side of the so-called American dream — the loser's side — in all its hopelessness and squalor, its alcohol-etched faces and brief broken stories?heartbreaking stories, most of them, because so worn to the bone, so honest, therefore so dignified." Peter Matthiessen
"This lovely and moving book may be the last record we will have of the old Bowey — maybe the last, too, of New York City as a refuge for outcasts. Every human story in here is singular, and every one stands in for thousands, perhaps millions, of unrecorded others." Luc Sante
"Flophouse is an extraordinary journey into a forgotten corner of America. Each of these voices and each of these images tell a story of loss and discovery?though sadly not always in that order. I laughed and wept, and felt o fortunate to have had the chance to make the acquaintance of these men." Alex Kotlowitz
"In this extraordinary book (which grew out of a radio documentary Isay and Abramson produced in 1998), fifty of these men deliver a heartbreaking litany of the self-destruction and misfortune that brought them there. Wang's portraits wrest his subjects from the murk and dinge of their surroundings, investing even the most hopeless with dignity...the unvarnished testimony recorded by Isay and Abramson turns out to be just as colorful, articulate, and moving." The New Yorker
"Of all the stories in this naked city, none are more naked, nor so compellingly dear to the outcast legacy, now, renovated and co-op'd into oblivion." Carlo McCormick, Time Out New York
In this abiding photographic testament, the authors present an unforgettable journey into the surprising lives of the men who live in the last remaining flophouses on New York City's famed Bowery. Harvey Wang's haunting photos stand as an extraordinary valedictory to a vanishing world. 60 photos. NPR sponsorship.
About the Author
David Isay won a McArthur Fellowship in 2000. He is the Executive Producer of Sound Portraits Productions, an independent production company dedicated to creating radio that brings neglected American voices to a national audience. Isay is a regular contributor to National Public Radio's news-magazines, including "All Things Considered" and "Weekend Edition." Over the past ten years his radio documentary work has won almost every award in broadcasting, including two Peabody Awards, two Robert F. Kennedy Awards, and two Livingston Awards for youung journalists. Isay has also received the Prix Italia (Europe's oldest and most distinguished broadcasting honor), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1994). His is the author of two previous books. Holding On with Harvey Wang and Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago.
Stacy Abramson is a producer at Sound Portraits. Her early production credits include, A Letter to Butchie, and Charlie's Story. In 1999 she produced The Jewish Giant, a audio portrait of the life of Eddie Carmel, which aired on All Things Considered. She is currently co-producing a documentary called "Witness to an Execution" a collection of interviews with men and women who have witnesses or participated in many executions in Huntsville Texas. Stacy is also the Education/Outreach coordinator at Sound Portraits, currently spear-heading an educational project, in which Sound Portraits will be teaching juvenile offenders how to record and edit oral histories.
Harvey Wang is a professional photographer living and working in New York City. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and books, including Rock Wives and Holding On. His book, Harvey Wang's New York, is a classic.
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