Ms. Tippins sighed. "But it's so appropriate, because if you could learn to continue loving someone like that who treated you that way, then you could love humanity in the spiritual way.
"I had never heard that Auden and McCullers shared a house. When you reread her work that she wrote there, it's so clear, Auden's influence on her. Nobody before has put the stories side by side, day by day, and seen what the two people were doing, side by side.
"So it is interesting to see. Because McCullers said this book [The Member of the Wedding] was about love. Agape. And that's exactly what Auden was engaged in at the time. And to think that they were down there in bars that were seedy. It was skid row down there."
I suggested that potential readers would be interested in how she put this book together. None of its principals were alive. The house on Middagh Street was long torn down.
"The first thing I read about it was in Carson McCullers's biography that has a chapter about 7 Middagh Street. There were still a lot of people alive who the biographer, Virginia Carr, interviewed; people who are now dead. I read that, and that gave me a basic idea of the house. Then I read other biographies, and they gave me a snapshot from each person's point of view. But I hadn't fully gotten it yet until I decided to make a timeline. The timeline ended up being over 100 pages. I entered each person in a different color. So it was a beautiful little timeline. I also entered historical events that were happening at the same time.
"I have a friend who is a rare-book dealer, and he bought me a book about World War II that tells you what was happening every day. That was convenient. That was one of the first books I had. Then I could see the three-dimensional story emerge. I also could look back and see when any two people first met and became friends; that went all the way back to the early 1930s when George Davis met Auden and Paul Bowles met Isherwood."
Isherwood, Ms. Tippins said, "was curious about the house. He wrote Auden very early in the year asking, 'Is Gypsy Rose Lee living with you?' Auden wrote back after she moved out, saying, 'The Gypsy affair is over.'
"It makes sense that Isherwood [who by this time lived in California] would have been curious and would have heard rumors. So anyway, I put that timeline together, and that was when I first saw the story in its context. Then, 9/11 happened and I was doing volunteer work. The leaders of the volunteers told us, 'Be sure when you go out and visit people, make sure that they're emotionally okay. Tell us right away if they don't answer. We're worried that they'll have been traumatized.' Because you could see the Twin Towers from Brooklyn Heights. From the roof of my Brooklyn brownstone, I saw the towers fall. I, like everybody else, was traumatized.
"But these older people were fine. It had been a call to arms for them. They were the strong ones. 'You'll get through it; we'll figure out what to do.' It was so odd because we came, expecting to be support for them. That brought home to me how hard it had been in World War II. They talked about brownouts and what New York was like and what a state of emergency the city was in then.
"And then as our troops went to Afghanistan and then the war in Iraq and the political confusion and people wanting to get involved, all that was happening at the same time that I was doing the research for the story. I would have had much less of a feel for the time the book represents if I hadn't been writing it now."
"Being born in '55, there must have been so much to read that you had never read, that you got to read."
"Yes, I have floor-to-ceiling cases full of books now. Thank goodness for Amazon.com. They're all available.
"I hadn't read Carson's stuff in 20 years. Rereading it, I was stunned. I hadn't read Auden in a long time except for September 1, 1939. I had never read Jane Bowles or Paul Bowles."
"Did you listen to music composed by people who lived in the house?"
"Yes, and I now have a copy of Britten's Paul Bunyan. I have an eight-year-old; I played it for her, and I'm trying to get her school to perform it. I like it. I'm a real fan. I think it's so exuberant and full of life."
"What did people say when you did your reading the other night in Brooklyn?"
"There were, of course, a lot of local people and a lot of people from the volunteer organization. They wanted to know what Brooklyn was like at that time. We talked a lot about that. They were interested in the fact that most people in the house were gay. They wanted to know what it was like then to be gay. We talked about how in New York there had been a crackdown on homosexual activity because of the World's Fair, so private homes became more important for socializing. There were a lot of houses like that around at the time."
"What did you say about what Brooklyn was like then?"
"Brooklyn Heights has always been a very proper neighborhood, but it was at its lowest point economically during the Depression. Many beautiful brownstones got chopped up and made into boarding houses. This house was one of those. Because it was at the edge of the neighborhood, it was not as rich a part of the neighborhood. It was right on the border between sedate Brooklyn Heights and the docks below. There were trolley cars everywhere, near Fulton Street where the business district was. Richard Wright liked to live there because there was a black community by Fulton Street, and there was a black barbershop he could go to with people with Southern accents and gossip, which made him feel better, because he was sharing a house with white people. So he would go there sometimes."