Thursday, September 9, 2010

Brooklyn, The Beacon of Literature's Future

If you're in the New York area and literarily-minded, you've probably set aside part of your Sunday afternoon to attend part of the Brooklyn Book Festival, an all-day event celebrating authors, literature, and the new writing culture that has sprung up in the outer boroughs. This is far bigger than just a regional event: authors of national renown, best-sellers and critical darlings--Rosanne Cash, Michael Connelly, Jennifer Egan, Mary Gaitskill, Sam Lipsyte, to name just a few--will all be making appearances. To be brief, there's a lot of interest in this festival that goes way beyond the borough. And it’s especially worth noting if, like me, you’re not sure which neighborhood to turn to find the quintessential New York literary scene.

It seemed like all writers used to congregate on the island—prior to moving here, all the iconic images I consumed of New York had to do with the writers that lived here: Lillian Hellman, Woody Allen, Nora Ephron, J.D. Salinger, Norman Mailer, Edith Wharton, Henry James, ...even the presence of Hans Christian Andersen and the Alice in Wonderland/Romeo and Juliet/Prospero and Miranda sculptures on the literary walk in Central Park gave me the sense that all writers lived above the Bowery. Beyond that, the major long-form reporters made their mark here: sure, The New Yorker was never called The Manhattanite, but you’d never know it based on the coverage of its hey-day. There was, of course, a great deal of writing going on in Brooklyn at that time as well, but you couldn’t really call it a movement.

Then suddenly, in the past 10-15 years, the literary population of Brooklyn exploded. Famous writers brought their families to Brooklyn. Beautiful independent bookstores threw their doors open. Bars and restaurants started hosting open mike nights, sometimes to the point of incorporating libraries into their interior design. I had been warned away from Brooklyn by parents who remembered it back in the late-70s, who remembered crack vials and used condoms on the stone stoops of Park Slope. But looking into the charming windows off of Flatbush Avenue and seeing overflowing floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, it was hard to imagine what could be so scary about a borough that read so much.

In his ode to the old neighborhood, The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem waxed nostalgic about the changes around him, saying “There were days when no kid came out of his house without looking around.” But that’s what New Yorkers have always been good at: bemoaning the thing that’s new for the thing that they remember as “good”. And it’s hard not to think that Lethem is privately pleased by the wave of gentrification that brought a wave of new people into his old neighborhood. (As a byproduct of that gentrification, he gets to be crowned the poet laureate of Brooklyn.)

Did I make a mistake when I relocated to Morningside Heights? Sure, I’ve got Book Culture nearby, but did moving away from Greenlight, Freebird, and BookCourt take away some of my cultural credibility? My apartment's not far from the literary haunts of James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Jean Toomer, but what're the chances that I'll bump into one of them buying groceries with their kids? Sure, Manhattan carries an incredible and unparalleled literary history, but Brooklyn is where new authors are coming from, where independent publishers are trying new methods of dispersing content, where designers and artists congregate at promotional events that feel like flash mobs compared to the cocktail launch parties of yesteryear. This goes back to the eternal conundrum of cultural consumption: do you go with the classics, or with the current? Brooklyn is definitely where it’s happening, and there’s something to be said for being just around the corner from the hot literary event of the weekend. Case in point: a fantastic kick-off party at Greenlight Bookstore tomorrow in Fort Greene, celebrating the boom of indie publishers, many of whom are based in Brooklyn. So many major names will be there, yet I hesitated ever so slightly to RSVP yes because the commute will take over half an hour. Wimpy? Yes, clearly—why bother living in New York if you’re not going to explore all that all the boroughs have to offer? And when a community emerges that proves culturally vibrant, shouldn’t we get over the problem of crossing the bridge?

So here I am, an Upper West Sider at heart, making the trek to Brooklyn to hang with all of you...after picking up five or six new lit-crushes this weekend, come join us for food, drinks, and general merriment to celebrate the FIFTH ISSUE of [tk] reviews!

To that end, please join us to celebrate our small but mighty milestone at Park Slope's High Dive bar on Thursday, September 16th. For those that speak the password--[tk]reviews-- there will be $2 High Life drafts, $3 Yuengling drafts, and a dollar off all other drinks from 7 p.m. 'til 10 p.m. We'll have reserved tables, and the more culinarily adept among us will even be bringing food.

We really hope you'll stop by, if only for a cheap drink and some witty banter. Reply to our Facebook page here, or email us at: Hope to see you there, no matter what borough you're from...

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