What It Cost Eight Women Writers To Make It In New York

Eight_women_writers2Brent Cox in The Awl:

In 1967, Patti Smith wrote in Just Kids, she was considering a move to New York City. “I had enough money for a one-way ticket. I planned to hit all the bookstores in the city. This seemed ideal work to me.” Twenty-seven years before her, in 1940, Shirley Jackson and her soon-to-be husband Stanley Hyman graduated from Syracuse and moved to New York. According to this biography, “For quite some time they had known exactly what they were going to do: move to New York City, live as cheaply as possible, take menial jobs if necessary and wait for the Big Break. Not just wait—push for it.”

And fifteen years before that: “The first week of January 1925, Zora Neale Hurston moved to New York City, as she recalled, with a dollar and fifty cents in her purse, 'no job, no friends, and a lot of hope,'” as one of her biographers put it.

The equivalent young female writer arriving in New York in search of literary success in 2012 (as calculated by the CPI Inflation Calculator) would have $19.51 in her purse, which could buy breakfast at Balthazar, or a pack of smokes and one Happy Hour cocktail, or about ten hours' rent.

We've looked at how much the costs of things like Reeses peanut butter cups and TV sets have changed over time—very specific items. Let's cast a wider net. For more than a century, the young flock to New York as the place to launch a career in the arts. Is it as expensive a proposition now as it always has been? Has the size of the potential rewards increased or decreased? And more importantly, just what was it like? In what ways was hanging at the Algonquin Roundtable just like (and not like) bumming around the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel? Let's look at the Bohemian set over time, as seen through the eyes (and pocketbooks) of some of the women writers we've been reading for decades, from Dorothy Parker and Hurston onward to today.