Books About the Third Ward Written by Former Neighborhood Dwellers

by Nat Bodian


The 81 city blocks that made up Newark's old Third Ward ceased to exist as a unique neighborhood of Newark in 1954 when the City of Newark erased the old Third Ward lines and made the neighborhood a part of a larger, current Central Ward.

At least four writers who had lived in the Third Ward neighborhood during its life, authored books which described some aspects of Third Ward life -- two factually in autobiographical works, and two fictionally in widely-acclaimed novels.

The two biographical works were written by Third Ward neighborhood Newarkers who spent their boyhood in the Third Ward and went on to fame and fortune elsewhere. Both were white and Jewish.

The first was Dore Schary. From his Newark neighborhood environment, he went on to become head of MGM studios in Hollywood for eight years, wrote numerous plays and classic film scripts that won numerous awards, among them nine Motion Picture Academy awards or nominations.

Schary grew up on High Street (now King Blvd.) near Court Street, where his family operated a kosher catering establishment "Schary Manor." It operated out of two High Street locations, and later on Clinton Avenue--all bordering the Third Ward. He attended and graduated from Central High School.

Schary also helped direct plays at the old High Street 'Y' where he got his first stage experience.

His 1961 book was titled "For Special Occasions." It was taken from his family's catering establishment sign which read: "Schary Manor - Catering for Special Occasions."

The second autobiographical work was by Ed Koch, three-time New York City Mayor, and five-term New York Congressman. The book's title: "Citizen Koch."

Koch spent his boyhood on Spruce Street, between Quitman and Monmouth in Newark's old Third Ward and attended Monmouth Street School. He had lived there from the age of 8 with his impoverished family which had moved in with relatives while it struggled for survival.

Koch, in his book, recalled with great bitterness working with his father and brother in the checkroom of the Krueger Auditorium on Belmont Avenue near Springfield, their entire income derived from the ten-cent tips earned at dances and special events held there.

African-American Novelists

The two novels that dealt with Newark's Third Ward were written by acclaimed African-American writers and dealt with African-American life in the black ghetto that was part of Newark's Third Ward.

The first novel was written by Curtis Lucas, who had moved to Newark's Third Ward in 1946 from rural Georgia. He had written his critically-acclaimed African-American crime fiction novel while a Newark resident titled "Third Ward Newark."

The second novel was written by Nathan C. Heard in 1968 -- a former Third Ward resident. It was written inside the Trenton State Penitentiary while Heard was serving a seven-year sentence for armed robbery.

The book's title "Howard Street" bore the name of a black-populated crime-ridden Third Ward street.

It offered a firsthand experience of black life in a Newark black ghetto and thrust its author into the literary spotlight as one of the most accomplished African-American writers in the late 20th century.

"Howard Street" provided a unique insight into the psychology, motivations, and lingo of what one reviewer called "a street of doomed souls, whores, junkies, pushers, thieves, and corrupt cops."

Heard subsequently wrote several more novels touching on his neighborhood experience in Newark's Third Ward.1

Philip Roth's Father Recalls Third Ward

Pulitzer Prize novelist Philip Roth, a native of Newark's Weequahic section, deals with his father's recollections of Third Ward happenings in his award-winning 1991 testimonial to his father, "Patrimony."

Roth's father, Herman, had plod the streets of Newark's Third Ward as a sales agent for the Metropolitan Insurance Co. and knew the neighborhood intimately.

He relates his father describing "the kingpin Newark mobster, Longy Zwillman" and his gang of "Jewish boys around the Third Ward" who took care of the "Polacks" who attacked Third Ward Jews with beards.

This so-called "gang" also occupies a chapter in Dore Schary's book "For Special Occasions." Schary described it as a loosely-organized group known as "The Happy Ramblers' who defended Jewish peddlers on Prince Street, the Jewish shopping hub, from attacks by gangs of marauders from outside the Third Ward neighborhood.

Book Availability

All of the above mentioned books are out of print. However, copies exist in scattered libraries around the country and sometimes can be obtained by inter-library loan. I was able to re-read "For Special Occasions" recently through an inter-library loan from the Cranford Library.


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