Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn-born writers, now in California, to discuss their roots

December 8, 2021 Andrew Cotto
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“It seems like every book jacket I pick up is by a writer who lives in Brooklyn,” says Brooklyn native, multiple-Emmy nominee TV writer-director and book author Reuben Leder. “But I’m not sure how many of them were actually born there.”

It’s an interesting question as the identity of Brooklyn and that of its indigenous writers has shifted over the course of this century from the homegrown variety who forged prose from an unglamorous terrain to the new breed who sought out Brooklyn as a destination for their literary lives. The writer with Brooklyn roots doesn’t really exist much anymore, though LA-based Reuben Leder and his Bay Area compatriot Joseph Di Prisco (acclaimed novelist, poet, memoirist and educator) are the exceptions despite their respective relocation from the borough of Kings to the Golden State as children. 

The two have teamed up — in conjunction with recent novels from both men — to collectively explore the truism that you can take the writer out of Brooklyn but you can’t take the Brooklyn out of a writer.

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This very topic will be front and center in a conversation with both writers presented by the Busby Group and co-hosted by BookTrib. 

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“The first real thing I ever wrote,” Di Prisco recalls, “was a poem when I was six years old. It was about garbage trucks on Humboldt Avenue, where I lived, and the noise they made, the smells, all those sensory things. Greenpoint was so alive back then and is still so alive in my memory, my imagination.”

The Greenpoint of Di Prisco’s youth was a generation ahead of gentrification, a rough and tumble neighborhood of characters and conflict, the aroma of cabbage from Polish kitchens and the presence of men, like his father, who ran the rackets that kept the machine oiled and food on the table. 

Di Prisco’s two seminal memoirs of his youth, “Subway to California” and “The Pope of Brooklyn” (the latter about his gangster father turned informant, which inspired the family’s escape to California), recall a bygone Brooklyn with pathos, poetry and a cerebral street elan, as if Pete Hamill was taking dictation from Walt Whitman. His latest novel, “The Good Family Fitzgerald,” is a decidedly left-coast affair on its face, but a Brooklyn underbelly is present in the dynamics in play and the narrative eye of a storyteller reared in Brooklyn and still with one foot on Humboldt Avenue.

Novelist and poet Joseph DiPrisco. Photo courtesy of the Busby Group

Leder took the more traditional path once in California, apprenticing with his filmmaker father who brought the family west to pursue his acting ambitions which were cut short by a major health issue. The young Leder and his sisters worked every imaginable angle of the independent movie business until Leder realized he could write better scripts than the ones he was seeing. 

A celebrated, decades-long career on some of Hollywood’s more prestigious TV series began (“Magnum PI,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Star Trek TNG”) as well as the sale of scripts to every major studio that often included directorial duties. He turned to novel writing with a pre-COVID set debut, “You Might Feel a Little Prick,” a satirical look at the medical world and insurance industry, an effort that has brought him full circle to Brooklyn where he has based a novel-in-progress on his childhood in Brighton Beach and the life of his family in America that began there.

“The answer can only go back to my dad and the environment that formed him into the man and father he became. He had a preternatural moral core, was wildly independent, and loved the Brooklyn Dodgers,” Leder says. “Probably not in that order. 

“Inevitably, these traits were the best inheritances I could have received. I inherently knew even as a kid, and then later as a writer, it was on me to do my best to live up to that inheritance. And presently, in outlining the novel based on my mom and dad’s journeys, I augment those inheritances from him, (both of them, of course), with my research into the Brooklyn he knew as a teenager.”

As Jonathan Lethem wrote in “Motherless Brooklyn” of “wheels within wheels,” the wheels of these Brooklyn-born writers continue to turn even after a lifetime away from the borough of their origins.

Andrew Cotto is the award-winning author of six novels and is a regular contributor to The New York Times. Andrew has also written for Parade, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, The Huffington Post, Condé Nast Traveler, Italy magazine, Maxim and more. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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