Betsy McCully


Betsy McCully's book, City at the Water’s Edge: A Natural History of New York (Rivergate/​Rutgers University Press 2007), grew out of twenty years of research and nature exploration in her adopted city, where she has lived since 1984. She has given a number of talks on New York’s natural and environmental history, and has created an educational website, Her essays have appeared in a number of anthologies, most recently, Still the Same Hawk: Reflections on Nature and New York (Fordham, 2012).

City at the Water’s Edge offers a re-imagining of an urban place, a vision of a city as a human habitat that is part of a bioregion, both shaped by the land and shaping it. The book begins with the premise that only by such a paradigm shift, by our willingness to re-imagine the nature of the city, can we restore a balance between the city and nature. Understanding the history of a place helps us to envision its future, as we restore lost or fragmented habitats, recover endangered species, and create a sense of home that weaves nature and culture into a complex tapestry.

In addition to nonfiction, Betsy McCully writes fiction for young adults. Her story, “The Maize Doll,” was published in The North Atlantic Coast: Stories from Where We Live, edited by Sara St. Antoine (Milkweed Press, 2000). The life of a Lenape Indian girl is turned upside down by the arrival of the Dutch in New York. The colonists bring profound changes in the land, uprooting the ancient inhabitants. The girl grows into a woman with a healing gift, who befriends a Dutch woman and teaches her about Lenape plant medicine. During this time of upheaval and war, their friendship somehow endures, and each passes on to their daughters the legacy of their friendship.

Betsy McCully received her Ph.D. in American Literature from George Washington University in 1989. She has taught at George Washington University, Hofstra University, and New York University. She recently retired from her position as an Associate Professor of English at Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY), where she co-founded the Kingsborough Eco-Festival and Environmental Symposium, recipient of the CUNY Sustainability Award.

Selected Works

“A natural history of a different stripe.”
–William B. Gallagher
"CITY AT THE WATER'S EDGE: A NATURAL HISTORY OF NEW YORK is a top pick for two audiences: any collection strong in New York City representation, and both college and specialty holdings strong in urban natural history and ecology topics. The author's a long-time urban dweller who argues that NYC has a rich natural history underlying its human history - and her 20+ years of nature exploration lends to chapters covering these natural areas. From an early New York region before Ellis Island immigrants to Manhattan's geological riches, CITY AT THE WATER'S EDGE makes for lively, involving reading." Midwest Book Review, 2007.