Alice Sparberg Alexiou

Author and Journalist

That's me sitting in my mother's lap, 1952


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.



"A necessary look into Jacobs' thought and influence, equally admiring of both the flawed and the fantastic in her writing."

              -Fast Forward  Weekly (Calgary)

"Alexiou—a native New Yorker and the granddaughter of a man who for a time owned the Flatiron Building in partnership with Harry Helmsley—has written an engaging and informative account of the building's construction and its lasting place in New York's lore."

              –Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

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