Festival turns Brooklyn into book-land

September 24, 2012 By Raanan Geberer and Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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On Sunday, the seventh annual Brooklyn Book Festival attracted tens of thousands of book lovers to Downtown Brooklyn along with a record 280-plus top national and international authors, literary organizations and booksellers.

There were 14 stages at Borough Hall, St. Francis College, St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church, outdoors at Columbus Park and other nearby locations. At some of the more popular events, such as one that presented readings by various poet laureates past and present, the lines were huge, and some people had to wait 10 minutes or more to get in.

Among the most popular events were “I’d Like To Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had,”a  conversation between actor Tony Danza and Borough President Marty Markowitz about Danza’s taking time out from his career to teach; back-to-back all-star lineups at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church starring Pete Hamill, Edwidge Danticat, Paul Auster, Joyce Carol Oates and several others; and a discussion called “Let’s Talk About Sex” on the main stage.

Also very popular was a discussion between Jimmy (Dyn-o-mite!) Walker and Bern Nadett Stanis, both of the pioneering 1970s sitcom “Good Times.” Walker has a book out, “Dyn-o-mite: A Memoir.”

At St. Francis, Pete Hamill read a story involving a discussion between a young man and his disabled uncle, Roy. When the younger man asks Roy what he wants for Christmas, Roy answers:

“I want to see Ben Webster [a 1940s jazz musician]. I want the Dodgers to play the Cardinals with Stan Musial for the pennant, and then face the Yankees. I want to go to the old Garden with my friends and see Ray Robinson fight. I want 1949!”

Later, when asked how he gets ideas for his stories, Hamill advised the questioner to read the notebooks of Henry James. James would write down something that happened during the day, then explore possibilities: What if the person was a woman rather than a man, and so forth.

Chris Hayes, editor at large the Nation, also at St. Francis, talked about today’s political scene. He said that one must look past the narrow Republican-Democrat dichotomy to see what political forces might succeed in the future.

Today, he said, it looks like a combination of political liberalism and social conservatism might be a winning one. “We live in a country where most people think it’s possible to talk to angels, and where most people think the wealthy have too much power,” he said.

He also said that the average person often confuses the financial elite – his term for what many people call “the one percent” – and academic experts.

“When they hear about climate change scientists, they often write them off as being part of the elite. But they don’t really have power, because if they did, this country would be very different,” he said.

Toward the end of the day, Nora Guthrie, daughter of Woody Guthrie and the author of the book “My Name Is New York: Ramblin’ Around Woody Guthrie’s Town,” spoke on a panel with Robert Santelli, author of a book about Guthrie.

Nora said many people are surprised that Guthrie spent what was basically the second half of his life in New York, and most of those years in Coney Island.

One fact that many people don’t know, she said, is that Guthrie became fascinated by New York Jewish culture, and wrote songs about knishes, hamentaschen and celebrating Chanukah.

Illustrating Woody Guthrie’s many influences, she showed a photo of him riding a horse. Many people would think it was taken in his native Oklahoma – but it was taken at a stable on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn.

There was plenty for the younger set, too. Appreciative crowds packed the Youth Stoop tent in Borough Hall Plaza for the many panels aimed at teens and young adult readers.

Best-selling authors Simone Elkeles (“Perfect Chemistry”); Carolyn Mackler (co-author of “The Future of Us”) and Melissa Walker (“Unbreak My Heart”) with moderator Christopher Grant discussed the evolution of the themes of love and relationships before hundreds of obvious fans.

Elkeles, whose books star young Mexican men, described how she usually starts her stories off with stereotypes, which break down as her books progress. She added that she enjoyed writing romance books because the “always have happy endings.”

Walker described her story about a girl who betrayed her best friend, and how “she really beat herself up over it.” Her character struggled with her self-image, Walker said, and the question, “Is she lovable?”

Mackler described her process of collaborative writing with her writing partner Jay Asher. “I wrote the girl chapters and he wrote the boy’s, and we both revised both characters.”

Younger children relaxed on comfy pillows inside the Target Children’s Tent for a series of author readings and craft projects.

In addition to the discussions and readings, there were booths throughout the plaza, sponsored by literary journals, “indie” book publishers, university presses, children’s book publishers and more.

 “With an entire week of literary events celebrating the written and spoken word, the seventh annual Brooklyn Book Festival was bigger and better than ever,” said Johnny Temple, chair of the Brooklyn Literary Council.

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