Our Town! Brooklyn is the Literary Center of New York City

Ian McKaye and Thurston Moore
Ian McKaye and Thurston Moore

“First off, there’s no question—in my humble opinion—that the literary center of New York has moved to Brooklyn,” said our oh-so-humble Borough President Marty Markowitz celebrating the Brooklyn Book Festival in the ornate lobby of Borough Hall this past Sunday. “The authors live here, the illustrators live here, and the energy—there’s that energy!—among residents of Brooklyn.

“There’s no question that those in their twenties and early thirties—I think, just from a quick look—seem to be a significant part of the turnout today, and last year too. So it shows that obviously something is happening.”

I strolled around Borough Hall Park, pausing at vendors who had set up shop for the annual festival, which is in it’s third year. Tables offered piles and piles of new and old tomes, everything from childhood to adult literature. A veritable congregation of Brooklyn’s literary, artistic and community-oriented class surrounded me. There were lots of children, too.

Discussions throughout the day offered the likes of Joan Didion, Jonathan Lethem, Terry McMillan and Thurston Moore to name a few. I caught up with Thurston, who recently co-authored No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York 1976-1980, before he took the stage at St. Francis College with Ian Mackaye (of Minor Threat and Fugazi) to discuss the intersection of punk and publishing. I asked him his thoughts on what exactly is going on in literary Brooklyn these days.

“I think that every scene in Brooklyn has taken off, not just the literary scene,” he said. “I think it’s kind of correlative with the music scene and the art scene. I think it’s because most writers don’t have much money so it’s affordable to live here, as it was 35 years ago in Manhattan. Manhattan is like Los Angeles now.

“As far as the literary scene taking off,” Thurston continued, “if you have an independent publishing company it makes more sense to be here because of the economics. There’s more characters here, and they’re characters who are living creative lifestyles as opposed to the kind of yuppie liberal white stuff.”

Brooklyn is definitely a treasure trove of inspiration and full of new characters at every turn. Though maybe some of that yuppie liberal white stuff, too. Ahem, Park Slope.

“Even Kate [Christensen], her book The Great Man, I remember reading it when I was in my store one day,” said Christine Onorati, owner of Greenpoint book store Word. “And this woman walked in and in my head I was like, ‘Oh, I wonder if that’s this character’ and realized, ‘Oh, my god, that’s a novel!’ You almost forget. Brooklyn’s so big and so different from one end to the next there’s so much going on here, there’s tons of fodder.”

“I’ve been talking to a lot of writers lately,” said the author Ms. Christensen, whose et her tome in Greenpoint. “We all say, all of us, without any irony, that Brooklyn is the best place for a writer to live; and for a writer to say something un-ironically, that earnest, we must mean it.”

The close quarters, an infinite variety of perspectives and a literary legacy give Brooklyn some of it’s most unique characteristics, and young people are moving here in droves to enjoy it.

“I can’t fully explain it, but there’s a history there,” said Johnny Temple, publisher of Akashic Books and an organizer of the book festival. “And I think that people do feel like when they move to Brooklyn they’re part of a historical artistic continuum.”

“I was talking to Ian Mackaye on the phone a couple of weeks ago in advance of him coming up here because I arranged his program and he was bitching at me a little bit about how many people from D.C. have moved up to New York and he was being light hearted about it but he was basically saying that New York has sucked some of the musical life out of D.C.”

Maybe it’s because they’ve read so many great books about the place.

Nicole Brydson Written by:

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