Insomniac City by Hill Hayes

“What is the opposite of a perfect storm? That is what this was, one of those rare moments when the world seems to shed all shyness and display every possible permutation of beauty.”


Bill Hayes came to New York City with a one-way ticket, all of his belongings, and only the vaguest idea of how he would get by. But, at forty-eight years old, having spent decades in San Francisco, he wanted a change. Grieving over the recent death of his partner, Hayes discovered quickly that the city, however ruthless its reputation, can also be a profoundly consoling place.

Within the city’s incessant rhythms, Hayes found companionship in unlikely sources—in the tree branches framed by his apartment window, in the sight of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings against the night sky, and in New Yorkers themselves, those strangers who, striving side by side, sometimes turn to face one another. A lifelong insomniac, Hayes took to wandering the city at night with a camera, gazing up at skyscrapers, meandering through deserted parks, and having chance encounters with other sleepless city dwellers. And he fell in love again, against all expectations, with his friend and neighbor, Oliver Sacks.


Insomniac City is a tender filled meditation on growing older. It's a gift from writer Bill Hayes as he finds himself in Manhattan, an island with over one million people, and yet still somehow manages to grasp, and to write about with so much detail, the many moments of intimate connection. 

Hayes’ writing is heartfelt and observant. It’s much like his photographs that are sprinkled throughout. Almost as though he’s slowing time and capturing the emotions of every thing and every being he encounters. 

It's the young suited man tearing up on the subway, the poet on the street bearing a bouquet of flowers, Ali at the convenience store, and the kid at the skatepark. Of course there's O, central to the story. Oliver Sacks needs little words, he moved me deeply as I'm sure he will you. 

Courtesy Bill Hayes

Bill Hayes is the author of Insomniac City and How New York Breaks Your Heart, a collection of his street photography, among other books. He is a recipient of the New York City Book Award for How We Live Now, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in nonfiction. Hayes has completed the screenplay for a film adaptation of Insomniac City, currently in the works from Brouhaha Entertainment, and he is also a co-editor of Oliver Sacks's posthumous books. He lives in New York.

Insomniac City is available for purchase in hardcover, paperback and audiobook format. Check IndieBound for a retailer near you.