Brooklyn has long been a muse for book writers. And now there’s a book about it.
In “Literary Brooklyn,” Evan Hughes chronicles the borough’s wordy past, starting with the “grandfather of literary Brooklyn,” Walt Whitman, to modern-day scribes associated as much with the borough as their bestselling novels (we’re looking at you, Jonathan Lethem, even if you no longer live here).
It’s as definitive a book as one could attempt — until the next big new Brooklyn author emerges, of course — but it was one Hughes felt was time to track.
“With the richness of Brooklyn’s literary history, I was surprised to find this book didn’t already exist,” said Hughes, a literary critic who lives in Fort Greene. “It’s hard to walk around without running into a writer or an editor or a literary agent.”
Brooklyn book boosters agree that, even though Brooklyn’s literary prowess has been going strong since Whitman crossed Fulton Ferry, the timing couldn’t be better for a comprehensive history.
“Brooklyn’s almost a brand, and the literary scene is very much associated with that brand,” said Lena Valencia, events coordinator at powerHouse Arena in DUMBO, which hosts the writer for a reading on Aug. 16. “Brooklyn’s always bene pretty prominent in the literary world, and there really are a lot of cool writers coming out of Brooklyn, especially in the past decade. This book pulls everything together nicely. It’s a good time for it.”
Hughes’s history has all the usual suspects — from writers who wore the borough on their sleeve, including Hart Crane and Lethem, to authors who are well-known for simply living here, such as Jhumpa Lahiri and husband-wife authors Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss, to those who should be better known for their borough roots, like Henry Miller, who’s long been associated with Paris since publishing his smutty, semi-autobiographical works, “Tropic of Cancer” and “Tropic of Capricorn,” there, but has done his fair share of writing —and womanizing — here.
To set the scene over the course of the nearly 200 years covered in “Literary Brooklyn,” Hughes details the work and life of the writers, as well as adds some historical context for an engaging mix of literary biography and urban history.
“I wanted to trace the story of the place through the eyes of these writers,” said Hughes.
To further help with that, the writer interviewed some of Brooklyn’s writers featured in the novel, including Nelson George and Alexandra Styron, as well as, of course, read. A lot.
“I read all of Henry Miller so you don’t have to,” said Hughes.
Evan Hughes reads at powerHouse Arena [37 Main St. at Water Street in DUMBO, (718) 666-3049], Aug. 16 at 7 pm, free. For info, visit www.powerhousearena.com; Greenlight Bookstore [686 Fulton St. between S. Elliott Place and S. Portland Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 246-0200], Aug. 26 at 7:30 pm, free. For info, visit greenlightbookstore.com; and BookCourt [163 Court St. between Pacific and Dean streets in Cobble Hill, (718) 875-3677], Sept. 13, time TBA, free. For info, visit bookcourt.org.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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