Unlike Dublin, St. Petersburg, or many other places, New York City pays little attention to its rich literary heritage. There are precious few plaques on historic buildings where writers worked or slept. And in terms of statues, Ã¢â¬ÅThereÃ¢â¬â¢s only one I can think of now,Ã¢â¬? says Harvey Shapiro, poet and former Editor of the Times Book Review: Ã¢â¬ÅWilliam Cullen Bryant in Bryant Park, placed there by his cohorts of The Century Association, of which he was once the president.Ã¢â¬?
But recently, the idea of putting another NYC literary figure into stone has arisen, this time owing more to reverence than cronyism. As described on www.plimptonproject.org, it would be dedicated to the memory of George Plimpton, the author, literary man about town, and legendary editor of the Paris Review. Toby Barlow, who runs the site, thinks that a statue is the perfect tribute to Plimpton. Ã¢â¬ÅIÃ¢â¬â¢m not that into statues, really. I donÃ¢â¬â¢t think every great figure should be remembered that way,Ã¢â¬? says Barlow, Ã¢â¬ÅBut everyone has their own posthumous destiny, so just as itÃ¢â¬â¢s fitting and right for Hunter S. Thompson to get shot out of a cannon, Plimpton deserves to be remembered with a statue in New York City.Ã¢â¬?
When I told her about this idea, Maggie Paley, a longtime friend and colleague of Plimpton, says, Ã¢â¬ÅIt might be nice, knowing one could always go to a certain corner, and George would be there. On the other hand it might be a bit creepy to see him, when he was just alive a few years ago.Ã¢â¬? Barlow, who comes from a literary family background but did not know Plimpton personally, believes it is worth doingÃ¢â¬â
if for no other reason than the fact that Plimpton threw himself so wholly and completely into life, experiencing it and enjoying it and savoring it and smiling all the while. That I think deserves to be remembered.
Other cities around the world do seem to give their writers a more prominent public place. Ã¢â¬ÅThere are more statues of Pushkin in St. Petersburg than you can count,Ã¢â¬? says Shapiro. Ã¢â¬ÅYou can also stand in his footsteps, carefully outlined in a park, where he stood when he was fatally shot in a duel. So why canÃ¢â¬â¢t we have a few statues of writers in New York?Ã¢â¬? Still, given the rich literary tradition of New York, making George Plimpton one of its first new statues does have its problems. Says Paley,
Ã¢â¬ÅItÃ¢â¬â¢s a nice idea to start honoring literary figures with statuesÃ¢â¬âbut why start with George? He would probably be the first to ask the same question. On the other hand, if youÃ¢â¬â¢re going to honor dashing, bicycle-riding, brilliant, one-of-a-kind quintessential New Yorkers he has my vote.Ã¢â¬? In fact, one current design for the proposed statue does have Plimpton aboard his bicycle, a sight that many remember.
For his part, Shapiro sees a long line of overdue honorees as coming before Plimpton. Ã¢â¬ÅIÃ¢â¬â¢d begin with a statue of Melville somewhere on the Manhattan waterfront, near Wall Street,Ã¢â¬? he says. Ã¢â¬ÅThen a statue of Walt Whitman on the Brooklyn side, near the Eagle Warehouse where he spent his newspapering days. Then we should commemorate Henry James, Edith Wharton, Hart Crane, and Henry Miller. After that, then maybe a bust of Plimpton ringside or courtside at Madison Square Garden.Ã¢â¬?
The statue proposal for Plimpton is only one element of BarlowÃ¢â¬â¢s project. Ã¢â¬ÅWeÃ¢â¬â¢ve got a Ã¢â¬ÅGeorge Song contest with a hefty $400 prize. WeÃ¢â¬â¢re going to have more events like the George Haiku contest and the George Fireworks contest that will be unveiled as the site evolves,Ã¢â¬? Barlow says. If sparks fly over why Plimpton should be so honored, thatÃ¢â¬â¢s all the betterÃ¢â¬âit may open the way for the cityÃ¢â¬â¢s literary history to get its due on the map and in the guidebooks.