92nd Street Y Launches a New Online Archive with 1,000 Recordings of Literary Readings, Musical Performances & More

Kurt Von­negut once com­ment­ed, in an inter­view with Joseph Heller, that the best audi­ence he had ever encoun­tered was at the 92nd Street Y in New York. “Those peo­ple know every­thing. They are wide awake and respon­sive.”

Locat­ed at the cor­ner of 92nd Street and Lex­ing­ton Avenue, the 92Y has a ven­er­a­ble his­to­ry of pub­lic per­for­mance, con­ver­sa­tion, poet­ry and beyond. Von­negut him­self appeared at the 92Y sev­en times to read aloud from his own work. (Includ­ing this read­ing from Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons three years before the book was pub­lished.)

Cul­tur­al pro­gram­ming has been a focus at the 92Y since it opened in 1874. Orig­i­nal­ly, it served most­ly Ger­man-Jew­ish men (note, it isn’t a YMCA, but a YM-YWHA—Young Men’s and Women’s Hebrew Asso­ci­a­tion). But the Kauf­mann Con­cert Hall opened in 1930, and that’s where a ver­i­ta­ble Who’s Who of not­ed enter­tain­ment, pol­i­tics, sports, and sci­ence fig­ures have appeared over the years, speak­ing to that “wide awake and respon­sive” audi­ence.

Lucky for the rest of us, the 92Y record­ed the vast major­i­ty of those per­for­mances. And now 1,000 record­ings appear on a new site, 92Y On Demand. It’s a fan­tas­tic archive of audio and video files, search­able by top­ic, year or per­former name.

It’s all there: Yogi Berra look­ing back on his life and career. A 1961 read­ing by a young Nadine Gordimer. Harold Pin­ter read­ing his own short sto­ries and weigh­ing in on the Bea­t­les vs. the Rolling Stones. Andrés Segovia play­ing a clas­si­cal gui­tar recital. Lou Reed speak­ing on the eve of his live per­for­mance of Berlin (top). Bil­ly Crys­tal (below) on roast­ing Muham­mad Ali.

92Y is home to the Unter­berg Poet­ry Cen­ter, so the new archive abounds with poet­ry read­ings. Dylan Thomas read there in 1953. Two years ear­li­er play­wright Thorn­ton Wilder appeared and read from Emi­ly Dickinson’s work. And clos­er to our own time, Paul McCart­ney recent­ly read from his own poet­ry.

See many more cel­e­brat­ed fig­ures such as Maria Bam­fordMau­rice SendakDan Sav­ageJunot Díaz and Jamaica Kin­caid read and dis­cuss their work at 92Y On Demand.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Kurt Vonnegut’s Very First Pub­lic Read­ing from Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons (1970)

Lou Reed Rewrites Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” See Read­ings by Reed and Willem Dafoe

Allen Gins­berg Gets Heck­led by Beat Poet Gre­go­ry Cor­so at a 1973 Poet­ry Read­ing

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Fol­low her on Twit­ter.

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