The Princess of 72nd Street

A Novel

Introduction by Melissa Broder
A provocative and thoroughly feminist “cult classic” (The New Yorker) about a smart and sensitive yet deeply troubled young woman fighting to live on her own terms—now returning to print for the first time in over a decade

I am glad I have the radiance. This time I am wiser. No one will know. . . . The radiance drifts blue circles around my head. If I wanted to I could float up and through them. I am weightless. My brain is cool like rippling waves. Conflict does not exist. For a moment I cannot see—the lights are large orange flowers.

Ellen has two lives. A single artist living alone on New York’s Upper West Side in the 1970s, she periodically descends into episodes of what she calls “radiances.” While under the influence of the radiance, she becomes Princess Esmeralda, and West 72nd Street becomes the kingdom over which she rules. Life as Esmeralda is a colorful, glorious, and liberating experience for Ellen, who, despite the chaos and stigma these episodes can bring, relishes the respite from the confines of the everyday. And yet those around her, particularly the men in her life, are threatened by her incarnation as Esmeralda, and by the freedom that it gives her.

In what would turn out to be her final published work, Elaine Kraf tackles mental health and female agency in this utterly original, witty, and inventive novel. Provocative at the time of its publication in 1979 and thoroughly inconoclastic, The Princess of 72nd Street is a remarkable portrait of an unforgettable woman.
“A raggedy genius is finally queened, bringing a fairy-tale ending to this cracked dark story of the old West Side.”Joshua Cohen, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Netanyahus

“For a novel that is in many ways about fantasy, there is a bracing wind of keen discernment that sweeps through from the first pages to the last. Though Ellen is transported into an alternate (and preferable) reality by what she calls her radiances, she maintains an eagle eye on the world she's in and the people around her: their habits, their hypocrisies, their desires, their wounds. It is one of the marvels of this book that Elaine Kraf manages to be so recklessly fantastical and so coolly perceptive at the same time.”—Jen Silverman, author of There’s Going to Be Trouble

“This frenetic and glittering manifesto, wherein a woman wrestles—or dances—with the most misunderstood parts of herself, is a well-deserved reintroduction of what is bound to be a beloved classic for contemporary young women.”—Olivia Gatwood, author of Life of the Party
Elaine Kraf (1936-2013) was a writer and painter. She was the author of four published works of fiction: I Am Clarence (1969), The House of Madelaine (1971), Find Him! (1977), and The Princess of 72nd Street (1979)—as well as several unpublished novels, plays, and poetry collections. She was the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts awards, a 1971 fellowship at the Broad Loaf Writers’ Conference, and a 1977 residency at Yaddo. She was born and lived in New York City. View titles by Elaine Kraf

About

A provocative and thoroughly feminist “cult classic” (The New Yorker) about a smart and sensitive yet deeply troubled young woman fighting to live on her own terms—now returning to print for the first time in over a decade

I am glad I have the radiance. This time I am wiser. No one will know. . . . The radiance drifts blue circles around my head. If I wanted to I could float up and through them. I am weightless. My brain is cool like rippling waves. Conflict does not exist. For a moment I cannot see—the lights are large orange flowers.

Ellen has two lives. A single artist living alone on New York’s Upper West Side in the 1970s, she periodically descends into episodes of what she calls “radiances.” While under the influence of the radiance, she becomes Princess Esmeralda, and West 72nd Street becomes the kingdom over which she rules. Life as Esmeralda is a colorful, glorious, and liberating experience for Ellen, who, despite the chaos and stigma these episodes can bring, relishes the respite from the confines of the everyday. And yet those around her, particularly the men in her life, are threatened by her incarnation as Esmeralda, and by the freedom that it gives her.

In what would turn out to be her final published work, Elaine Kraf tackles mental health and female agency in this utterly original, witty, and inventive novel. Provocative at the time of its publication in 1979 and thoroughly inconoclastic, The Princess of 72nd Street is a remarkable portrait of an unforgettable woman.

Reviews

“A raggedy genius is finally queened, bringing a fairy-tale ending to this cracked dark story of the old West Side.”Joshua Cohen, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Netanyahus

“For a novel that is in many ways about fantasy, there is a bracing wind of keen discernment that sweeps through from the first pages to the last. Though Ellen is transported into an alternate (and preferable) reality by what she calls her radiances, she maintains an eagle eye on the world she's in and the people around her: their habits, their hypocrisies, their desires, their wounds. It is one of the marvels of this book that Elaine Kraf manages to be so recklessly fantastical and so coolly perceptive at the same time.”—Jen Silverman, author of There’s Going to Be Trouble

“This frenetic and glittering manifesto, wherein a woman wrestles—or dances—with the most misunderstood parts of herself, is a well-deserved reintroduction of what is bound to be a beloved classic for contemporary young women.”—Olivia Gatwood, author of Life of the Party

Author

Elaine Kraf (1936-2013) was a writer and painter. She was the author of four published works of fiction: I Am Clarence (1969), The House of Madelaine (1971), Find Him! (1977), and The Princess of 72nd Street (1979)—as well as several unpublished novels, plays, and poetry collections. She was the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts awards, a 1971 fellowship at the Broad Loaf Writers’ Conference, and a 1977 residency at Yaddo. She was born and lived in New York City. View titles by Elaine Kraf