To Live And To Die In The Village

Image Credit:  City Lights Books

Image Credit: City Lights Books

By Angelica Martinez

Though Brooklyn-born, Grace Schulman, 83, has always loved Greenwich Village. Even before moving into her small studio apartment on University Place in 1957, Schulman has admired the area, taking inspiration from “the sense of freedom on every street” to its roots in American literature. It has charmed her from its neighborhood folklore centers and bookstores to the weathered plaques adorning the historic buildings along the park. Though the Jewish poet admits she’s moved apartments since then, she’s faithfully remained within the embrace of the Village.

It’s no surprise then that Schulman’s debut memoir, Strange Paradise: Portrait of A Marriage (Turtle Point Press), starts in the heart of the Washington Square Park itself. Schulman portrays the complexities of her relationship with her eventual husband Jerome, from their first meeting inside the park’s iconic fountain through his eventual death. Honest and eloquent, Schulman’s touching memoir elaborates upon the the stories readers saw vignettes of through her poetry-- from the raw emotion of discovering an affair to the warm embrace of reconciliation-- with wit, charm, add heartfelt emotion. 

Strange Paradise reads as a love letter in more ways than one. Readers simultaneously experience Schulman fall in love with Jerry as she becomes further enthralled by the neighborhood she eventually calls home. A teenage Schulman recalls “When I grew old enough to take the subway alone, I rode downtown to Greenwich Village. I walked on streets that curved and deviated and crossed themselves, West Fourth meeting West Fourth...I was free.” As a young woman having just moved into an apartment across the park, she describes “Faces, crowds of animated faces, people, like me, in their mid-twenties, were singing out ... as though their fervor alone could achieve peace on earth.” She explains her graduate education at NYU as something akin to “metamorphosis” or “alchemical change” as it transformed her from  “the eighteen-year-old who spent sleepless nights struggling futilely with assignments” into someone truly able to love school. Schulman’s affection for her adopted home is palpable throughout her work. Even today, when asked about living in the village for the past 61 years, the Jewish poet still considers it her “favorite place in the world.”