Literary Boroughs #5: Brooklyn, NY

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the fifth post on Brooklyn, New York by Melissa Sandor. -Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor

Come like a light in the white mackerel sky,
come like a daytime comet
with a long unnebulous train of words,
from Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, on this fine morning,
please come flying.
— Elizabeth Bishop, “Invitation to Miss Marianna Moore”


Born and bred Brooklyn – U.S.A.
They call me Adam Yauch – but I’m M.C.A.
— Beastie Boys, “No Sleep ‘til Brooklyn”

With 2.5+ million residents, Brooklyn is New York City’s most populous borough. Larger than Philadelphia and almost as big as Chicago with 71 square miles in total and 30 miles of waterfront, Brooklyn is a city unto itself and one with a rich literary legacy. Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed both Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, considered the latter to be his “masterpiece.” Today, the borough boasts more than 700 arts and cultural organizations and a multitude of events from the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Roulette to the home grown famed Brooklyn Flea, Coney Island’s annual Mermaid Parade, and open studio tours along Red Hook’s historic piers.

City:  Brooklyn

What the City is known for/what makes it unique:  The “If you believe that, then I have a Bridge to sell you” started in Brooklyn with the 8th wonder of the world famously sold many times over – The Brooklyn Bridge; Junior’s Cheesecake, The Cyclone, “Da Bums” Brooklyn’s heartbreakers, the Dodgers, Nathan’s Famous, Saturday Night Fever, DiFara Pizza and we can’t forget the world famous accent… fuggedaboutit!

A Sampling of resident literati (…easier to compile a list of writers who don’t live in Brooklyn.)

Jami Attenberg, Paul Auster, Emily Barton, Nicholas Boggs, Susan Choi, Jennifer Egan, Joshua Ferris, Nick Flynn, Jonathan Safran Foer, Paula Fox, Keith Gessen, Philip Gourevitch, Myla Goldberg, Amitav Gosh, Pete Hamill, Kathryn Harrison, Samantha Hunt, Nicole Krauss, Jhumpa Lahiri, Katy Lederer, Phillip Levine, Fiona Maazel, Sarah Manguso, Suketu Mehta, Dinaw Mengestu, Rick Moody, Tracie K. Morris, Heather Aimee O’Neill, Meghan O’Rourke, George Packer, Arthur Phillips, Nathaniel Rich, Katie Roiphe, Elissa Schappell, John Burnham Schwartz, Laura Secor, Vijat Seshadri, Darin Strauss, Alexandra Styron, Michael Thomas, Colson Whitehead, and on…

Literary references

Truman Capote penned In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s in a federal style home at 70 Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights. Norman Mailer wrote while enjoying the nautical view from his fourth floor Brooklyn coop that overlooked the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan’s downtown skyline. In Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, Walt Whitman claimed “Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine.” Betty Smith created 11 year old Francie Nolan, describing a little girl’s life in the tenements of Williamsburg in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943). Paul Auster ambled through Green-Wood Cemetery, a source of inspiration for his novel Sunset Park. In Desperate Characters, long-time Brooklyn resident Paula Fox examined one Brooklyn woman’s anxiety brought on by the bite of a neighborhood stray cat. William Styron dreamed the story of Sophie, Nathan, and Stingo in Sophie’s Choice 30 years after Styron lived in a rooming house on the edge of Prospect Park.

Where to learn: 

Brooklyn College’s Creative Writing MFA
The program, consistently named one of the top programs in the country, is noted as a highly personal program offering two-year degrees in Fiction, Poetry, and Playwriting. Past, current and visiting faculty include:  Julia Agoo, Michael Cunningham, Amy Hempel, Heidi Julavits, Ben Lerner, Christine Schutt, Rob Spillman, Mark Strand, Hannah Tinti, and many others.

Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus offers an innovative MFA in Creative Writing. Students study with distinguished permanent faculty including Jessica Hagedorn and Lewis Warsh and a prestigious roster of visiting writers:  Laird Hunt, Fanny Howe, Francisco Goldman, Thulani Davis to name just a few.

Founded in 2002, Sackett Street Writers Workshop offers Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Manuscript Consultation, and MFA Preparation workshops in a variety of settings throughout the borough. Instructors are professional writers, teachers, and editors who have taught at major universities and have earned MFA degrees in prestigious programs across the country.

Where to find reading material: 

Known for its rows of brownstones and tree-lined streets, Brooklyn’s diverse neighborhoods are home to a thriving independent bookstore scene. Many of the bookstores listed offer a free reading series so check their websites for upcoming events.

Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens:  The Community Bookstore which one Yelp devotee described as “one huge, organized-disorderedly shrine to all types of written word” and which offers 20% off of new releases. BookCourt hosts a popular reading series and a roster of emerging writers manning the shelves and registers.

Fort Greene/Clinton Hill:  Greenlight Bookstore 

DUMBO:  The Powerhouse Arena boasting a collection of select fiction, non-fiction, fine art, and specialty books and P.S. Bookshop which has a vast selection of used, out of print, and rare titles.

Red Hook/Columbia Waterfront:  Freebird Books

Williamsburg/Greenpoint:  Spoonbill and Sugartown and Word 

Brooklyn Public Library: As an independent system, separate from the New York City system, Brooklyn Public Library serves the borough’s residents and visitors, offering 60 locations in every neighborhood throughout the borough, thousands of public programs, millions of books, a Brooklyn archive rich with historical source material, and use of more than 1,100 free Internet-accessible computers. All free!

Where to get published: 

Named after Wyndham Lewis’s influential 1914 journal Blast, Brooklyn-based BOMB Magazine was launched in 1981 because its founders saw a disparity between the way artists and writers talked about their work among themselves and the way it was described by critics. As a result, BOMB reinvented the question-and-answer format, developing an editorial method that delves deep into theory and practice, helping complex discussions to emerge. Like Blast, BOMB is edited by artists and writers. Annual Fiction and Poetry contests and a searchable archive of more than 1,200 writer and artist interviews provide opportunity and inspiration.

Founded in October 2000 and currently published monthly with a print circulation of 20,000 and an international online monthly readership of over 500,000, the Brooklyn Rail provides an independent forum for arts, culture, and politics throughout New York City and beyond. The Rail’s real commitment is less to a program than to a place, or better yet, to a set of traditions that place represents, declaring itself to be in some way representative of Brooklyn. “Walt Whitman was an anti-slavery newspaper editor as he began to chant democratically, and Marianne Moore, modernist that she was, eventually wrote odes to Muhammad Ali.” Writers should submit directly to the Rail’s section editors. Brooklyn Rail also houses its small press, The Brooklyn Rail/Black Square Editions, which publishes books of poetry, experimental fiction, prose meditation, artists’ writings, and interview with artists in addition to art and literary criticism.

n+1 is a print magazine of politics, literature, and culture that is published three times yearly.  As Malcolm Gladwell claims in reference to n+1:  “Intelligent thought is not dead in New York. It has simply moved to Brooklyn.” Writers can send a query or finished piece to the editors.

Co-Founded by Brooklyn writer and Editor-in-Chief Hannah Tinti, One Story features one short story mailed to subscribers every three weeks in a friendly format that allows readers to experience each story as a stand-alone work of art and a simple form of entertainment. One Story publishes each writer one time only, preventing the publication from relying on a stable of writers and creating opportunities for new and exciting voices. Between September and June, all writers can submit their work.

Slice has since garnered rave reviews from some of today’s leading authors, editors, and agents. Pulitzer prize-winning author Junot Diaz praises, “Beautiful, compelling, irresistible.  Slice aims to bridge the gap between emerging and established authors by offering a space where both are published side-by-side. The magazine is published twice each year, in March and September.

Hanging Loose Magazine’s first issue was published in 1966. The name was inspired by the format — mimeographed loose pages in a cover envelope — and that, in turn, was inspired by a very low budget. But the format was also meant to get across a point of view: that poetry is for now, not for the Ages. If you liked a poem, you could pin it to the wall. If you didn’t like a poem, you could use it as a napkin.

Founded in 2009, Moonshot Magazine publishes diverse, powerful voices across traditional and digital platforms. The magazine’s summer 2012 issue features work by Michael Kimball, Terese Svoboda, Victoria Redel, Chloe Caldwell, and many other writers and poets.

Where to write: 

New residents of Brooklyn often note the pleasure of living in a cultural mecca while still being able to see the sky. Green spaces abound, rich with civic history and providing inspiration and a free bench or spot on the grass to write. Valentino Pier is a bike ride away from downtown Brooklyn and the newly built Brooklyn Bridge Park with views of the Statue of Liberty and an industrial waterfront that is the setting of Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge.” 

Founded in 1838 as America’s first rural cemetery, Green-Wood Cemetery offers 478 acres of pathways and vistas, a reflection of the cemetery’s Victorian history as a green oasis removed far from bustling urban life. The Coney Island beach and boardwalk, located at the end of the NYC MTA’s “F” subway line offers beaches, amusement rides, sno cones, and more than a few weathered watering holes at which to perch with a notebook and pen.

Café culture is alive and well in the borough, with coffee hot spots serving as ad hoc writing studios. A few favorites:  Building on Bond a favorite of Cobble Hill locals including recent Pulitzer Prize winning poet Tracie K. Morris, Café Grumpy which offers a spacious Greenpoint location and a book exchange, Roots Café the self-described “place for artists, musicians and all creative types to come together and share their passion…” and Iris Café named best cafe in 2010 by New York Magazine.

When the occasion calls for a more conventional space i.e., a clean, well-lit 24/7 workspace with access to a printer, many of the borough’s most prolific writers join one of the three studios offered by Brooklyn Writers Space.


Brooklyn Book Festival is the largest free annual literary event in New York City, presenting an array of national and international literary stars and emerging authors. One of America’s premier book festivals, this hip, smart diverse gathering attracts thousands of book lovers of all ages to enjoy authors and the festival’s lively literary marketplace. Look for the 2012 Festival on September 23rd.

Brooklyn Lit Crawl is an off-shoot of the wildly popular NYC Lit Crawl. Brooklyn’s first Lit Crawl took place on May 19th. Look for the next event in spring 2013.

The Folding Chair is an occasional FREE reading series with Brooklyn-based writers and held at 61 Local in Cobble Hill. Follow the series on tumblr for details on upcoming events.

For the past decade, Pete’s Candy Store Reading Series has provided a stage for the borough’s literary luminaries. Events are held every other Thursday at 7:30PM and Pete’s website keeps an updated list of each season’s events.

Next post: June 21 | Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota…

BIO: Melissa Sandor is currently at work on her memoir. Her writing has appeared in BOMB, ArtVoice, EDNA, and Ploughshares. She is a past resident of the Millay Colony for the Arts. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, where she works as an arts fundraising consultant.

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