I was lucky to have my most recent trip to New York coincide with this year’s Brooklyn Book Festival, which bills itself as the largest free independent literary festival in the U.S. It is 10 days of events spread across venues in the heart of the borough: Hundreds of national and international writers, editors, independent booksellers and small-press publishers. Food trucks. Books and magazines and mugs and tote bags and Kurt Vonnegut dolls for sale. Crowds of happy, friendly word lovers crammed into the narrow aisles of bookstores. Standing-room-only poetry readings. Cheers and whistles. Long, loud applause. Panels and Readings The festival runs for a week. The main day of events this year was Sunday, September 20. I attended with my daughter, Kathy, who lives in Brooklyn and works in publishing. Eight or nine events were scheduled every hour from
10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Programs included The Writer’s Life, with Joyce Carol Oates, Ben Greenman and Pico Iyer reading from their new work and discussing process and inspiration; John Leguizamo and Jonathan Lethem talking about storytelling; and memoirists Charles Blow, Augusten Burroughs, Kate Bolick and Robert Christgau sharing stories about family. Terry McMillan was there and A.M. Homes, Jim Shepard, Stuart O’Nan, Heidi Julavits, Russell Banks, Edwidge Danticat, Andre Dubus III—to name just a few of the dozens of writers I love to read but didn’t get to see because I couldn’t be in four places at once.
Shopping Every book by every author at the festival was for sale somewhere and also books from indie publishers like Ugly Duckling Presse, Featherproof and Poets Wear Prada, and exciting lit mags with exciting names: Bomb. Epiphany. Confrontation. I fell victim to a T-shirt vendor displaying merchandise that featured my favorite Brooklyn poet, the one who rode the ferry and wrote “. . . stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn! / Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions and answers!”
Prizes Kathy and I bought hot dogs and fries from Nathan’s food truck and found a shady seat for the Quotables contest. Festival staff read a quote and the first person to call out the author’s name won a prize. Not to brag, but Kathy and I each won an official BBF T-shirt within 5 minutes of arriving. Then we decided to move on to give everyone else a chance.
Inspiration Tina Chang, Marie Howe and Jean Valentine—past and present New York state poets laureate—reading new work—angry, moving, obstinate poems about current events. Saeed Jones reading from his debut collection Prelude to a Bruise. It is the story of Boy, a queer African-American growing up in the South. It is stunning. Buy it. Mark Doty leading a conversation between Elizabeth Alexander and Tracy K. Smith about poets going deep to write memoirs of personal grief.
The Battle for the Paddle—Brooklyn Book Festival vs. Brooklyn Public Library. I regret to say we skipped this. Maybe next year. www.brooklynbookfestival.org
|Annual indie party at Greenlight Bookstore|
Pat Daneman is a New York native who lives in Lenexa, KS. She is a poet, pet sitter and freelance writer/editor. Her most recent poems appear in the anthology New Poetry from the Midwest, I-70 Review, Comstock Review and Bellevue Literary Review. On November 7, she will be teaching a workshop on putting together a poetry chapbook at The Writer’s Place in Kansas City. Her chapbook, Where the World Begins, is available from Finishing Line Press . See more at Pat Daneman