Huge impact expected for Brooklyn Book Festival, local authors say
There’s no place like home.
Just ask the “Bard of Boerum Hill,” Jonathan Lethem, who’s verklempt because he can’t make it back to B’KLYN for this year’s Brooklyn Book Festival.
“It’s tragic – I’ve had to say no,” the “Motherless Brooklyn” and “Fortress of Solitude” author told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Tuesday night at a Literary Mingle where the author lineup for the eighth annual book blowout was announced.
Lethem can’t take part in the local literati’s big day because he has a book tour scheduled for his novel “Dissident Gardens,” which is set for September publication. As a matter of unhappy coincidence, the book festival takes place on Sept. 22.
He joined writers, agents and publicists at the book fest kick-off event in Borough Hall’s rotunda while in town on a visit from Southern California – where he moved in 2010 to become a Pomona College creative writing professor. Festival organizers from the Brooklyn Literary Council and Borough President Marty Markowitz’s office turned out in full force too.
Lethem gave presentations at the first three or four book festivals and found the experience thrilling. “I was 100% moved by it,” he said.
He accepted the invite to the first book fest with “a kind of fatalism,” he said. “I expected it to be a ‘homely’ thing; I still think of Brooklyn as an underdog.
“And it was embraced, and deservedly so,” he said. “This isn’t a marginal place. It’s the center of everything.”
He really misses Brooklyn, but colleagues and students at Pomona are “lovely” and his job gives him ample time to write: “I’m in a catbird’s seat,” he said.
His new novel is set in Queens, Greenwich Village and other locales – but not Cali. “I don’t know how to write about California yet,” he said.
The more than 140 authors who have confirmed their participation at the upcoming book festival include big names like Pete Hamill, Tom Wolfe and Sapphire.
There’s still room in the festival lineup for a few more participants, Literary Council chairman Johnny Temple told the throng at Tuesday’s get-together.
Afterwards, poet Uche Nduka said he will ask festival organizers if he can be included.
He hopes to read from his newly published book of poems, “Nine East.”
“The festival is about literary intimacy, about putting the writers and readers together to exchange ideas and have a conversation,” said the Nigerian-born poet, who lives in Crown Heights and has attended the book fest as a spectator since he settled in Brooklyn in 2007.
Miriam Katin is elated: She made it onto this year’s roster.
She’ll appear in a panel discussion, where she will talk about her recently published graphic novel, “Letting It Go.”
“I never dreamed I’d get invited,” said the Hungarian-Israeli Holocaust survivor, who lives in Washington Heights. “It’s a really great honor.”
Her new book is about coming to terms with her artist son’s decision to move to Germany despite her family’s flight from the Nazis during World War II. “To keep my sanity, I had to draw,” she said.
In past years, she was at the festival signing copies of her first graphic novel, “We Are On Our Own,” about how she and her mother fled the Nazi invasion of Budapest.
Chelsea author David Goodwillie remembered the warm reception he got from a crowd at the festival when he read from his novel “American Subversive” a couple years ago.
“It was early in the morning on a Sunday, but nobody went to church,” he said.
Park Slope writer Elissa Schappell was on a panel last year about unsympathetic women in fiction, which also drew a crowd.
“That’s what special about the festival,” the author of “Blueprints for Building Better Girls” explained. “The panels pertain to the craft of writing.”
With so many writers in attendance, it might seem like a tough audience to please, but “it’s an open and forgiving crowd, too,” she said.
Clinton Hill author Jonathan Gray, who moderated a panel on comic books and politics last year, gave the free festival two thumbs-up.
“It’s a smorgasbord,” said the John Jay College professor, whose book “Civil Rights in the White Literary Imagination” was published in January. “Whatever you’re hungry for, it’s going to be there.”
So did Harlem novelist Salar Abdoh.
“I love Brooklyn – I love the energy of it,” said Abdoh, who is doing a translation of “Tehran Noir,” a book of crime stories, from Persian. “It’s an energy that doesn’t exist in Manhattan.”
Clinton Hill novelist Theo Gangi, who wrote the crime thriller “Bang Bang,” relishes the opportunity to hear from big-time writers at the festival.
Another Clinton Hill novelist, David Unger, who did a reading at last year’s festival from his children’s book “La Casita,” did have a suggestion for the organizers: They should do more to encourage Hispanics to attend.
“Latinos are not joiners,” the Guatemalan-born writer, who is at work on a new novel, “The Mastermind,” said. “The festival is too Anglo. The focus is too much on the ‘consecrated’ writers of Brooklyn.”
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