Walt Whitman, Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates have all been inspired by NJ.
New Jersey has long served as creative inspiration for some of America’s most prolific writers. Our friends at NJ.com have compiled a list of the top 15 quotes celebrating the state’s abundant beauty and unique residents. Enjoy!
‘Paterson,’ William Carlos Williams The nearly lifelong Rutherford resident was a doctor as well as a major Modernist poet. His most impressive work was “Paterson,” a five-book epic series published between 1946 and 1958, which utilizes both poetry and prose to show “that a man himself is a city, beginning, seeking, achieving and concluding his life in ways which the various aspects of a city may embody — if imaginatively conceived — any city, all the details of which may be made to voice his most intimate convictions.”
‘The Sportswriter,’ Richard Ford The Mississippi-born author was living in New Jersey when he penned his breakout novel, “The Sportwriter,” which follows a failed novelist working as a sportswriter and grappling with the death of his son in the fictional town of Haddam, NJ — loosely based on Princeton and the points along the Jersey Shore.
‘One for the Money,’ Janet Evanovich The South River native breaths life into Trenton’s fading Italian-American enclave of Chambersburg in her mystery series about fictional lingerie buyer turned bounty hunter Stephanie Plum.
‘Eddie and the Cruisers,’ P.F. Kluge This 1980 novel by the Berkeley Heights native is set in Vineland and the Jersey Shore and details a 1950s rock band that is torn apart when their charismatic lead singer dies in a fiery car crash while possibly leaving behind a stockpile of groundbreaking music. “What I love about New Jersey is the mix of it,” said Kluge in a 2011 interview. “The classiness, the vulgarity, the humor, the clutter.”
‘Dostoyevsky in Wildwood,’ Stephen Dunn In Local Visitations, the Pulitzer-winning poet imagines literary greats including Edgar Allen Poe and Fyodor Dostoyevsky encountering his adopted South Jersey — he’s a professor emeritus at Stockton University.
‘American Pastoral,’ Philip Roth In his 1997 novel, the Newark-born author revisits his hometown to note the city’s fading industrial and commercial significance and waning comfort of the middle-class before white flight shifted the demographic of the city in the 1960s.
‘Atlantic City,’ Bruce Springsteen The Freehold native got his start at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park and still draws inspiration from the Jersey Shore.
‘Hamilton,’ Lin-Manuel Miranda While NYC takes the spotlight in the musical sensation about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, Miranda’s line about New Jersey — referring to the state’s laissez-faire attitude on dueling — invariably evokes laughter amongst the crowd.
‘I’m From New Jersey,’ John Gorka The Colonia-born folk singer’s 1991 song “I’m From New Jersey” is a nod to the state’s often self-imposed inferiority complex. “It works to your benefit,” he told New Jersey Monthly in 2010. “If you never feel like you’ve got it made, you always work at getting better.”
Walt Whitman in ‘With Walt Whitman in Camden’ The poet’s last four years of life in the South Jersey port city were chronicled by essayist Horace Traubel, which drew from a collection of conversations, correspondence and character observations of the famed writer who lived on Mickle Street until his death in 1892.
‘Night Driving,’ Joyce Carol Oates The longtime Princeton professor and prolific novelist and short story writer scribed this poem about a drive back to the university town through the industrial areas of North Jersey, which she found, “somehow comforting, sort of beautiful, because it’s familiar, it’s home.”
‘Jersey Rain,’ Robert Pinsky The former U.S. Poet Laureate is a Long Branch native and Rutgers graduated whose 2000 poem views rain as a great equalizer across the Garden State: ‘The Jersey rain, my rain, soaks all as one: It smites Metuchen, Rahway, Saddle River, Fair Haven, Newark, Little Silver, Bayonne.”
‘The Pine Barrens,’ John McPhee When this New York writer and lifelong Princetonian penned his 1968 non-fiction work on the largely untouched pinelands of South Jersey, the area was being considered as the site for the world’s largest supersonic jet port, which would be four times larger than Newark Liberty, JFK and LaGuardia combined. Fortunately, conservationists stepped in and thwarted the project.
‘Gone for Good,’ Harlan Coben Born in Newark, raised in Livingston and now a longtime resident of Ridgewood, Harlan Coben knows a thing or two about NJ and sets most of his bestselling novels in his native Essex County.
‘The Beautiful and the Damned,’ F. Scott Fitzgerald The Princeton dropout gave a romantic account of Palisades Park in his 1922 novel about ill-fated love The Beautiful and the Damned.