In 2014, Protection Islander Craig Taylor moved to New York City to take on a project he couldn’t turn down: “Speak to 200 New Yorkers and see what happened.”
Last week the local author unveiled the results of that assignment with the launch of his new book, New Yorkers: A City and its People in Our Time. In it, Taylor shares the stories of 75 people of all walks of life he met while living in the Big Apple. The book follows Taylor’s 2011 release Londoners, which also tells the story of a city from the perspective of its residents.
“I just love the idea of a collage of voices because it allows people with very different attitudes and politics and outlooks to coexist and be given space in the same project,” Taylor said. “And so you might not agree or even like every voice in the book, but they’re all there to provide this kind of kaleidoscopic portrait of a place.”
In all, Taylor spoke with more than 180 New Yorkers, filling up 71 notebooks and recording nearly 400 hours of interviews. Some people he met through random interaction, others he sought out because he thought they seemed interesting.
He said “there’s a lot of miss in the hit-and-miss,” but when he did find people to talk to, he didn’t have difficultly getting them to open up.
“They weren’t like reticent Nanaimoites. They love to self-mythologize and talk…” he said. “You’d sit down with one person but the person at the next table would suddenly get involved in the conversation and start butting in.”
In selecting the 75 New Yorkers featured in the book, Taylor said he chose the stories that “really resonated.”
“There’s a lot of emotional stories in the book and sometimes those stories are about the big events in the past 20 years of New York’s history, like 9/11, like COVID, like Hurricane Sandy, and then some of them were stories about smaller resilience that really resonated,” he said. “So there’s a guy who collects and recycles cans in Manhattan and that’s not a big-ticket story but it really resonated and is a very emotional journey.”
Taylor said he had visited New York a few times before starting the project, but working on the book pushed him out from the places familiar to him to the “depths” of the five boroughs.
“I was able to be taken under the wing of so many born-and-bred New Yorkers who showed me places that I’d never seen and spoke about issues that I didn’t know much about and for someone from out here that kind of opportunity is incredible,” he said.
As far as what defines a New Yorker, he left that up to his interview subjects.
“One guy I spoke to had just moved to New York. He was there for about a week and he was calling himself a New Yorker, so who am I to say if you are or you aren’t?” he said. “And some people weren’t interested. They were too busy working, they were too attached to their home country. It’s a fascinating term to see how people react to it and either accept it or don’t.”
Despite spending much of the past seven years living in and visiting the city and gaining new insights about it, Taylor doesn’t see himself as a New Yorker. He said when he writes about a place he’s always an outsider.
“It’s good it be someone who isn’t pretending to be a New Yorker or a Londoner because that way people explain to you more,” he said. “You’re just some funny Canadian who showed up.”
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