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West Village Originals

Adult; Memoir; (Market)

New York City’s West Village has long been a haven for intellectuals, writers, artists, and activists. Jazz clubs, piano bars, coffee shops, and bookstores hummed with freedom from a more rigid society outside its borders. However, the area began to change, as curiosity shops gave way to top fashion designers’ stores. Michael D. Minichiello captures this shift through ninety interviews that paint an enlivening portrait of this Oz-like neighborhood.
Minichiello compiles a celebratory collection of ninety short interviews, originally published in the neighborhood paper WestView News between 2008 and 2020, conducted with the storied, lively personalities of New York City’s bohemian West Village, which has “nurtured generations of artists and activists who found refuge here from the greater metropolis of Manhattan.” People featured, many of whom have been part of the community for decades, range from internationally known figures like Calvin Trillin and Mimi Sheraton to more local influencers like Ralph Lee, founder of the storied Village Halloween Parade. Arranged by creative realms, such as “Community Activism,” “Music,” and “Theatre,” these profiles evoke deep feeling—including nostalgia—for a connected and vibrant community equal parts cozy and wild.

Though the flow of Minichiello’s interviews is somewhat formulaic—a bit about the interviewee’s childhood, their arrival to the West Village, and their professional and personal experiences in the neighborhood then and now—he lets each subject’s spirit shine through in their own words. Crucial themes tie together multiple places, such as frustration with the gentrification that has made the area unaffordable for younger creatives and led to some interviewees losing their homes, but even then Minichiello captures a range of individual responses to these changes, and the overall mood of the interviews stays upbeat. Including activists and business owners illuminates the heart of the community, as organizations and physical shops hold the soul and history of a neighborhood as much as people do.

Each piece packs a strong punch in about 800 words, and Minichiello’s consistent style facilitates a clean, compact layout, enhanced by vivacious photo portraits of each subject. This volume makes an attractive coffee table read, ready to be browsed or searched for a favorite’s story. The choice not to re-edit the interviews lets the older ones serve delightful double nostalgic duty: once for the West Village of an earlier generation, and another for that of a decade ago

Takeaway: Lovers of New York history will find inspiration and insight in these profiles of West Village residents.

Great for fans of: John Strausbaugh’s The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues, Jeff Kisseloff’s, You Must Remember This: An Oral History of Manhattan from the 1890s to World War II..

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

In this charming love letter to a historic New York neighborhood, reporter Minichiello collects over a decade of his “West Village Originals” columns from the WestView News. In these 90 short interviews, he asks West Village residents for their thoughts on the neighborhood’s roots, its sense of identity, and recent changes wrought by big money and big business. As Minichiello points out, “since 1916, when it first became known as ‘Little Bohemia,’ the West Village has nurtured generations of artists and activists.”; through the turn of the 21st century, the neighborhood was still known for its low rent, gay diaspora, and struggling artists. Many of the long-term Village residents interviewed by Minichiello mourn the loss of this uniqueness, and identify gentrification as the culprit. “Businesses... can no longer afford to be here,” explains naturalist Keith Michael. “The very thing that attracts people... is disappearing because of the influx of money.” Filled with nostalgia, each interview also brings a unique take on what continues to make the Village special. For jazz guitarist Peter Leitch, it’s the surprisingly small-town feel of a still star-studded community: “You never know who you’re going to meet, particularly among the older residents.... There are still some very interesting people here.” It’s an alluring mosaic of voices paying tribute to one of America’s famous neighborhoods. (Self-published)