It’s the half-way point of our pilot project, and it’s exciting to see that a few trends are emerging.
The New Haven based novels are falling into one of two camps. They’re either about a blue-collar kid coming to study at Yale and having trouble fitting in with the Ivy League elitist crowd or they’re a gritty murder mystery that takes place in the city’s industrial neighborhoods. Far from cliché, these two categories of novels make sense given the history and demographics of the city, and it’s natural for the city’s literature to reflect this.
New Haven used to be an industrial town. Erector sets were manufactured here as well as boilers, machinery and other industrial goods. Then, as it did elsewhere in New England, manufacturing moved out of the town and took jobs with it. Much of the city fell into disrepair as old factories and warehouses stood vacant. Job loss led to poverty which led to crime. New Haven started cropping up on those “Most Dangerous Cities” lists, and the city got a reputation as a tough town.
At the same time, Yale University and Yale Hospital grew in both size and stature. Empty lots around the green were gobbled up, dorms and academic buildings were built, and downtown New Haven, once a commercial center, became an extension of the Yale community.
At the risk of sounding like a social scientist, a huge disparity grew between the Ivy League Yalies who thrived in the post-industrial economy and local New Havenites who struggled. The two distinct communities that grew side-by-side (but not necessarily in tandem) has resulted in two distinct types of novels written about New Haven.
Our project deals with the role of geography in literature, and we’ve hit upon a very obvious example of a single location (the city of New Haven) inspiring art in very different ways. Other trends have started to emerge in other cities, and we look forward to discussing those in this space.