Friday, May 05, 2006

Chronicle: Brooklyn Literary Mingle (and a bit of SSP*)

Last night the ALP and I found ourselves in glittering company under the lights of the paparazzi cameras at the Brooklyn Literary Reception and Mingle in the beautiful old Brooklyn Borough Hall. Air kisses were exchanged, heads were thrown back in tinkling laughter, and wine glasses clinked in bookish toasts as Brooklyn's literary elite celebrated the kickoff of preparations for the Brooklyn Book Festival.

Okay, maybe it wasn't quite that glamorous – the wine glasses were plastic, the dress was casual, and the guest list may have been impressive only to a passionate Brooklynite and book nerd like myself. This is Brooklyn, after all, and our celebrations tend to be a little more down-to-earth and egalitarian than swanky Manhattanite soirees. The guest list was geared toward publishers, editors, and other behind-the-scenes book folk, rather than rock star authors (though those got name-dropped plenty). But it was great fun, and an exciting way to begin to build the buzz for the Brooklyn Book Festival in September.

I received my invite courtesy of Marcela Landres, who serves on the Brooklyn Literary Council in her capacity as creator and founder of Latinidad, serving Latino/a writers. I brought the ALP along as arm candy, and discovered first thing that one of my coworkers was there with his wife as well. Tom Roberge, whom I work with at McNally Robinson, is also an assistant editor at the supercool new literary magazine A Public Space, which has their offices in Brooklyn. Tom's boss, A Public Space editor Brigid Hughes (formerly of The Paris Review), is serving on the festival board, and I got to meet her as well.

As the bookish types filtered in and swirled around the wine and snack tables among the beautiful pillars of the Borough Hall rotunda, Marty Markowitz, our charismatic borough president, made his way through the crowd. He appeared to be expostulating in Italian to a man I recognized as Johnny Temple, the founder of Akashic Press, an awesome Brooklyn indie press. Johnny (who's also a member of the [post-]punk band Girls vs. Boys), as it turned out, was the MC of the evening, and he took the podium to introduce Marty, who delivered one of his inimitable Brooklyn booster speeches: congratulating us on being on the right side of the East River, and asserting that Brooklyn was the literary capital not only of New York, but of the entire country. (I tend to agree with him, but suspect that there's a certain amount of tribal pride and prejudice involved.)

After Marty's speech, the members of the Literary Council joined him behind the podium and were introduced by Johnny; they represented Brooklyn institutions from publishers to literary agencies to the Brooklyn Public Library, and included bigger sponsors like Washington Mutual Bank and Time Out New York.

The Book Festival, which will take place on September 16, will feature tents on the lawn of Borough Hall and events inside the hall, and will include readings by well-known and locally known authors, literary events for kids, panel discussions and other book fair staples. There's a brief article in Publishers Weekly about the announcement of the BBF, but I believe the web site and other informational tools are still in the works. I signed up to volunteer to help out with whatever is needed to get the festival off the ground, so you may be hearing more about it in the months to come!

After the speeches, we found Marcela and made some introductions; the ALP and I ended up having a fabulous conversation with a colleague of hers who is editing a volume of Latina erotica. I was too shy to introduce myself to Johnny Temple, but I did manage to find and reconnect with Richard Nash of Soft Skull, another kick-ass Brooklyn indie press (wearing what seems to be his signature fabulous pin-striped suit). He's about to leave the country to get married in the south of France, but we're putting our heads together to organize a get-together for young book industry New Yorkers in June; more to come on that as well!

After making the rounds and glad-handing a bit more, the ALP and I slipped away to have dinner at Faan, one of our favorite Smith Street restaurants. It was wonderful to walk through the Brooklyn dusk, with the mellow energy of those downtown streets flowing around us. I'm a Brooklyn nerd almost as much as I am a book nerd, and I'm thrilled to be a part of the literary tradition and innovation and community that it embodies. I can't wait for September!

* Shameless Self Promotion: Your Book Nerd is quoted in an article in ForeWord This Week about bloggers and independent presses. It's an insightful piece, with input from a number of my brilliant blogging colleagues. I hope to have time to write more about the issue soon, but check out the article anyway.