Rebecca McClanahan

Rebecca McClanahan, author of ten books, has received two Pushcart Prizes, the Glasgow Award in nonfiction, the J. Howard and Barbara M. J. Wood Prize from Poetry magazine, and four fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council. Her work has appeared in Best American EssaysBest American Poetry, the Georgia Review, the Kenyon Review, the Sun, and in anthologies published by Doubleday, Simon & Schuster, Norton, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Bedford/St. Martin’s, and numerous others. She teaches in the MFA programs of Queens University and Rainier Writing Workshop and lives with her husband, video producer Donald Devet, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

All Books

In the Key of New York City

Rebecca McClanahan

Publication Date: September 1, 2020

$14.95 Tradepaper

ISBN: 978-1-59709-850-2


Our lives are sublets anyway, and too quickly gone at that.

In this lively and deeply affecting memoir, Rebecca McClanahan tracks the heartbeat of New York as only a stunned newcomer can: in overheard conversations on park benches, songs and cries sifted through apartment walls, and in encounters with street people dispensing unexpected wisdom. Having uprooted their settled lives in North Carolina to pursue a long-held dream of living in Manhattan, she and her husband struggle to find jobs, forge friendships, and create a home in a city of strangers. The 9/11 attacks and a serious cancer surgery complicate their story, merging the public with the private, the present with the past, to shape a journey richer than either could have imagined.


“How brilliantly Rebecca McClanahan marries New York to the country of her life and imagination, thus recreating the city. One lives with her in this beautifully-wrought memoir as one lives in a New York apartment—hearing the neighbors breathe, inhaling the tense air, scanning the prairies of the streets, and greeting the mysteries of strangers as though no one has ever seen such things before. ‘Play each scene as if it were new,’ she quotes her teachers, who she says are dead. Yet their words live here. It’s no easy feat to make New York new. This writer does it wondrously.”
—Roger Rosenblatt, New York Times–bestselling author of Making Toast and The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood

“This book—by turns witty, thought-provoking, and moving—invites the reader to reflect on urban life in contemporary America. A keen observer of much that often passes unnoticed, this writer inspires us to reconsider the meaning of the insignificant events and circumstances of our own lives.”
—Kathleen Norris, New York Times–bestselling author of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography and The Cloister Walk

“The 9/11 essays in Rebecca McClanahan’s In the Key of New York City are wondrous, evoking the rich vibrancy of life in the city even as horrific events shadow the horizon. McClanahan, one of the finest practitioners of the creative essay in America today, daringly weaves the city and its creatures into a memorable and resilient testament: the world was changed, but New York endures.”
—David H. Lynn, Former Editor, the Kenyon Review


Rebecca McClanahan Interview with Laraine Herring

I met Rebecca McClanahan on Facebook. I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting her in person. I saw the cover of her new memoir in essays: In the Key of New York City, and because I’m starting to get braver at reaching out to people I want to know, I messaged her and […]

Rebecca McClanahan Interview at SOUNDINGS magazine with Sydney Elliot

A PDF of In the Key of New York City: A Memoir in Essays by Rebecca McClanahan sits on my desk, held together with a big clip. The top page is stained with coffee and food and notes scribbled all over the surface. Squirrel, 9/11, cancer, God, cookies. When I first started reading the book, […]

Rebecca McClanahan Interview at Talking River Review with Jennifer Anderson

In her new book, In the Key of New York City: A Memoir in Essays, slated for release on September 1, 2020, Rebecca McClanahan recounts the decade that she and her husband lived in New York City. Not only are these essays individually rich in texture, they are expertly woven together to create a vibrant […]

Rebecca McClanahan Interview at Brevity Magazine with Nancy Geyer

In 1998, with a sublet lined up but without jobs, Rebecca McClanahan and her husband left North Carolina and moved to New York City. They were well into middle age. (“Isn’t that backwards?” asked one of McClanahan’s nieces. “Don’t most people go to New York when they’re young?”) Expecting to stay for two years, they […]

Rebecca McClanahan Interview at The Rumpus with Julie Marie Wade

Nearly twenty years ago, I read an essay that has always stayed with me. The writer is reading a copy of Denise Levertov’s Evening Train, which she has checked out from the New York Public Library. As she reads and documents this experience for her reader, the writer finds herself engaging not only with the nuances of […]


Review of IN THE KEY OF NEW YORK CITY: A MEMOIR IN ESSAYS by River Teeth Journal.

“Perhaps the sheer amount of time devoted to the work is part of the magic. McClanahan’s essays were written in the 2000s, most in and around 9/11, when she and her husband decided to have a short-lived adventure in New York City and ended up staying for eleven years. A respected essayist, she could have rested on her […]


The subtitle “A Memoir in Essays” suggests that this memoir will follow a nontraditional narrative, and its unexpected movements are part of the reward. The narrative rises and falls with the crescendo of sirens and tumbles into the bass notes of buses. Would-be chapters function like solos. We begin in the middle of things that […]


I’ve never lived in New York City, though I’ve always loved it from afar. Visits to friends in Brooklyn, a few work jaunts into Manhattan, a research trip one summer to the UN. The subway and sidewalks were always crowded, the department stores a wreck of frenzied humanity, and the streets in August reeked of […]