I live in New York City, where I was born, the granddaughter of four Jewish immigrants who landed here in the beginning of the last century. I grew up in a lovely Long Island suburb that I hated. I hated all suburbs: All those empty streets and lovely houses surrounded by green, neatly mowed lawns felt utterly lifeless. Instead, I was always drawn to the city, even though back then--the '60s--New York was gritty and (my parents always warned me) dangerous. In fact it was that edginess which attracted me. Years later, when I read Jane Jacobs's masterpiece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, it felt like she'd fit together the pieces of a puzzle. Her insights, expressed in the most beautiful American prose ever written, enabled me to understand why cities, no matter how chaotic or beset with problems, have an underlying beauty.
I love all cities, but most of all New York because of my deep connection to it, and the warmth it extends towards immigrants. When I began my writing career--and I'll get to that in a minute--I didn't start out to be an urban historian. My beat chose me, not the other way around, and reading Jane Jacobs, and then writing her bio, had a lot to do with it.
I didn't become a writer until I was 40, when I began reporting stories for local newspapers, and then went on to Journalism School at Columbia. Before that, I taught high school Latin and French. I have a Ph.D. in Classics. Yes, really! It seems a natural progression, from reading the ancient authors in Latin and Greek to doing journalism. From the sublime to the immediate. It's all, ultimately, about the same thing: storytelling.