Harlem Is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America

"No geographic or racial qualification guarantees a writer her subject....Only interest, knowledge, and love will do that — all of which this book displays in abundance." (Zadie Smith, Harper's

A finalist for the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award in Autobiography, and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

For a century Harlem has been celebrated as the capital of black America, a thriving center of cultural achievement and political action. At a crucial moment in Harlem's history, as gentrification encroaches, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts untangles the myth and meaning of Harlem's legacy. Examining the epic Harlem of official history and the personal Harlem that begins at her front door, Rhodes-Pitts introduces us to a wide variety of characters, past and present. At the heart of their stories, and her own, is the hope carried over many generations, hope that Harlem would be the ground from which blacks fully entered America’s democracy.


"A beautiful account of Harlem that tells us as much about the author, her life, her tastes, her politics, and her unique sensibility as it does about this extraordinary part of Manhattan. As a result, HARLEM IS NOWHERE is much more than a work of urban history; it is a work of literature." — Ian Buruma, author of Murder in Amsterdam

"In this beautiful and inventive book, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts finds — in a stray photograph, the corridors of a library, a wax museum, or a sidewalk chalk tract — pathways that lead us through and around another Harlem, interior to the ones we have known, and unforgettable. Written in the visionary documentary tradition of James Agee, Walter Benjamin, and Ralph Ellison,Harlem Is Nowhere is a work of great imagination and quiet splendor." — Rachel Cohen, author of A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, winner of the PEN/Jerard Award

"Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts has written a very striking meditation on Harlem as a place and a symbol, and at a time when Harlem is changing profoundly. She is a brilliant addition to the literature on Harlem that reaches back to James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, to Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson. But hers is most definitely a fresh, new voice. There is a certain graceful cool, an unfailing aptness of tone, in her writing. Harlem Is Nowhere tells you things that you didn't know you didn't know about Harlem." — Darryl Pinckney, author of Out There: Mavericks of Black Literature, andHigh Cotton, winner of theLos Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction

"A Harlem book that fluently and lyrically assays the geography, mythography, ethnography, and dream books of the fabled Black Mecca. It is also a record of the author's own insightful wanderings about uptown's still mean, mirthful, romantic, but now highly marketable streets. What Rhodes-Pitts contributes to the Harlem chronicles that others have only vaguely glimpsed is how eloquently, extravagantly, and defiantly the people rooted there take ownership of Harlem storytelling every damn day." — Greg Tate, editor of Everything but the Burden