The Princess of 72nd Street

The Princess of 72nd Street


Ellen is a single artist living alone on New York’s Upper West Side in the 1970s. She is beset by old boyfriends, paint pigment choices, and, occasionally, by 'radiances' - episodes of joyous, reckless unreality. Under the influence of 'radiances' she becomes Princess Esmeralda, and West 72nd Street becomes the kingdom over which she rules. Life as Esmeralda is a 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.

The Princess of 72nd Street is Elaine Kraf's witty, dizzyingly inventive take on female liberation and mental health, a work of immense literary power and unbridled energy. Provocative at the time of its publication in 1979 and thoroughly iconoclastic, it 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, The Netanyahus

About the author

Elaine Kraf

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 (1977), and The Princess of 72nd Street (1979)—as well as several unpublished novels, plays, and poetry collections.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.
Learn More

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more