Lin-Manuel Miranda to launch book 'In the Heights: Finding Home'
Actor Anthony Ramos was one of the reasons New York Times best-selling author Jeremy McCarter was excited about co-writing “In the Heights: Finding Home.”
“I love watching him become a huge, huge star,” said McCarter, of Chicago, in an email. “The chapter about him in (‘Hamilton: The Revolution,’ which McCarter co-wrote) – about growing up in the projects in Bushwick (in Brooklyn, New York), about President Obama singling him out for praise – was one of my favorite stories to tell. Getting to continue his story here was a big attraction of the project.”
McCarter, with co-authors Lin-Manuel Miranda (“In the Heights” and “Hamilton: An American Musical,” two blockbuster Broadway musicals) and Quiara Alegría Hudes (who wrote the screenplay for the “Heights” movie adaptation), will discuss their new book at the “‘In the Heights’ Virtual Book Launch Event with Random House” from 8-9 p.m. Tuesday via Nicola’s Books website. Emmy-winning actress America Ferrera (“Superstore”) will moderate the discussion.
The book traces the origins of “Heights.” Miranda wrote it as an ode to growing up in Washington Heights, a predominantly Latino neighborhood in the northernmost part of Manhattan, during his sophomore year at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. The play initially was a one-act play that ran for three days at Wesleyan's student theater company in 1999. In 2008, it opened on Broadway to rave reviews. The movie adaptation, directed by Jon M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians”) opened Friday with “Hamilton” veteran Ramos as main character Usnavi de la Vega.
“(Washington Heights has) always been an immigrant community. Now, it’s a Latinx neighborhood; it was Dominican when I was growing up in the 1980s. Before that, it was Irish, it was Italian, it was Jewish. It’s always the first chapter in so many stories, and that’s what makes it universal,” Miranda said in an email. “Quiara has written an incredible screenplay. I’ve always thought the themes of (‘Heights’) are home, community, and how America is made better by the people who come here to start new chapters in their lives. All of that is even more important now than when I first wrote the show.”
McCarter said Miranda wrote annotations to the song lyrics. Hudes wrote a series of essays about key moments in the story and reimagining it as a screenplay. McCarter chronicled the history of “Heights.”
“Lin, Quiara, and I are proud of how the book has come together. So it'll be fun to share the result with the world,” said McCarter. “Getting to work with a friend is kind of its own reward. (Miranda and I) have fun doing these things – figuring out the best way to assemble the puzzle pieces of what each of us is bringing to the project – especially since Lin's stuff is constantly insightful and funny and surprising. (Quiara’s) an amazing writer and has incredible stories to tell. It's been a privilege to work with her… A big part of the fun of this project was putting those puzzle pieces together: How can the three of us collectively tell one story?”
To McCarter, “Heights” represents musical theater rediscovering a powerful connection to popular music – particularly hip-hop – opening many doors for not only artists, but for American culture as a whole.
“It makes room at the table for artists who should have had those seats a long time ago," he said in the email. "And on a personal level, it’s a career-making achievement for some friends I love and admire. Back in 2007, I had spent years wishing somebody would tap into the power of hip-hop, and on the night I saw the show Off-Broadway, I knew before the opening number had ended that Lin was the guy. There had never been a score like that on Broadway. And it strikes a beautiful balance: It's specific to the Latino culture of Washington Heights, and it dramatizes the universal dream of finding the place where you belong. What I discovered in the course of writing the book with Lin and Quiara is that it's a show about home that was, in itself, a home for the artists who made it.”
The movie’s 2020 release was postponed due to the pandemic. If anything, that only deepened its meaning, McCarter said.
“(‘Heights’) is a celebration of living in communities, the kinds of connections that we lost for a year,” he said. “I remember watching a cut of the movie in the depths of the lockdown and feeling like the outbursts of communal joy – especially in the big production numbers like ‘96,000’ and ‘Carnaval Del Barrio’ – were a perfect distillation of everything we were missing. It's joyfully surreal to watch those numbers again now in a big crowd of cheering people.”
Added Miranda: “I started writing this show when I was 19, and I just turned 41. Even when I was 19, this show was bigger than it had any right to be… Finally, with this movie, Jon has brought it to the biggest canvas possible. To imagine 500 people dancing to your music in the middle of the Highbridge Park pool – for me, every day was a dream come true.”
'In the Heights Virtual Book Launch Event with Random House'
8-9 p.m. Tuesday
Nicola Books, 2513 Jackson Ave., Ann Arbor
Tickets are $45.50 (plus tax), which includes book purchase. Register at eventbrite.com.
For more information, call Nicola’s at (734) 662-0600 or visit www.nicolasbooks.com.