Cynthia Zarin on New York: "The City Becomes a Kind of Character in Our Lives"


Poet Cynthia Zarin writes hard truths with a soft voice, and for the first time she puts that same voice and poetic density into a book of prose. Out this month from Alfred A. Knopf, Zarin's memoir An Enlarged Heart: A Personal History is a series of essays about her life in New York: work, apartments, relationships -- all the normal things -- but written about from a rare place of fierce tenderness and self-awareness. I was caught up from the very first page of the book's first essay, "Real Estate," and by the time I'd finished it I knew I wanted to talk to Zarin about her book and her relationship to the city came to be. We spoke by phone.

I loved the book's opening -- the rooftops of Harlem and the train. We must live only a few blocks apart. Can you talk a little about your connection to this city?
For those of us who live here, the city becomes a kind of character in our lives. A kind of person or megalopolis. I think we all have a kind of love affair with it. The map of it becomes a psychic map . . . there's hardly any corner where something hasn't happened. It's all a receding mirror, or a series of overleafs. Almost seen through water.

I think one of the great difficulties of living in the city -- especially as a writer -- is the awareness that the events that occurred on those corners are significant only to you. How do you deal with bumping up against all those other narratives?
I think, isn't that wonderful I think our experiences are shared. [Readers] have said to me, "You're writing about my life." The stories that happen to us are pretty much all the same, it's just the details we choose to bring out. . . . I like being part of the mural.

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