The Empire City

In a comic-picaresque epic that is one part Cervantes and two parts Brecht, Paul Goodman gives us the coming-of-age of Horatio, a sane man in an absurd world. Our endearingly optimistic hero resists his compulsory mis-education, does battle with the System, and scours post–World War II Manhattan for an elective family of fellow-thinkers and, more important, fellow-feelers. It’s a big book, but Horatio’s is a big world, and his question the biggest a man can ask: “How does one live the right life?”

As Goodman once told Studs Terkel, “I might seem to have a number of divergent interests—community planning, psychotherapy, education, politics—but they are all one concern: how to make it possible to grow up as a human being into a culture without losing nature. I simply refuse to acknowledge that a sensible and honorable community does not exist.”

The Empire City is a book originating in good will, mature candor, and an urgently fermenting more-than-secular morality. . . The spirit inside, and the text itself (which seems not so much written as whistled, teased, prayed), come as close to imparting man’s gratuitous love for his own kind as mere language ever can.
Robert Phelps, The New York Herald Tribune

The Empire City reads like Joseph Heller and William Gaddis doing a mid-twentieth-century version of an old educational romance like Rousseau’s Emile . . . This anti-realist, darkly comic narrative is . . . a remarkable achievement. Black Sparrow Press and Taylor Stoehr have done American literary history a major service by putting it back in print.
Thomas Hove, Review of Contemporary Fiction

Paul Goodman was born in New York and educated at City College. Rather than taking a job after graduation, he chose to live with his sister and pursue a literary life among Manhattan’s burgeoning bohemian scene. He spent the thirties and forties writing novels and short stories and teaching at a variety of progressive institutions, including Manumit School and Black Mountain College. While his fiction was well-received, Goodman is now best remembered for his works of social criticism, especially the groundbreaking Growing up Absurd, and of anarchist philosophy. He was also a lay therapist and a co-founder of the experimental Gestalt method of psychotherapy. Goodman died in New Hampshire in 1972, leaving behind dozens of works of fiction and nonfiction.

Taylor Stoehr was the literary executor of George Dennison and Paul Goodman and edited many of their volumes, along with writing six of his own books on culture and literary criticism. Stoehr was also a longtime professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and helped found the Dorchester District Court program for Changing Lives Through Literature.