THE PLACES: 1. Tea Lounge 2. Press 195 3. Perch Café 4. Ozzie’s 5. Brooklyn Public Library 6. Brooklyn Writers Space 7. 826NYC 8. Brooklyn Reading Works/ Old Stone House 9. Brooklyn Lyceum 10. Prospect Park 11. Pete’s Candy Store 12. Sunny’s 13. Pacific Standard 14. Moe’s 15. Community Bookstore 16. BookCourt 17. Heights Books 18. Union Hall 19. Brooklyn Social 20. A Public Space 21. One Story 22. n+1 23. Ashbox 24. Roebling Tea Room 25. Atlas Café 26. Café Grumpy 27. Lucky Cat 28. Brooklyn Rail 29. Brooklyn Book Fest 30. Fort Greene Park (A full list of the Brooklyn Literary 100 follows the article. The illustration is by Marcellus Hall.)
The idea of a Brooklyn literary “scene” is one that has become so ingrained in the city’s consciousness that, in true Brooklyn style, it has now become fashionable to consider writerly Brooklyn in an ironic manner, to comment on the ridiculousness of the idea that a place can, in fact, be said to help define a literary community. Take, for example, Colson Whitehead’s cheeky New York Times Book Review essay—“I Write in Brooklyn. Get Over It”—from last month, in which he questioned the very idea that the borough could be said to inspire any kind of literary imagination. He wrote: “There was the famous case of the language poet from Red Hook who grew despondent when the Shift key on her MacBook broke. She couldn’t write for weeks. Overcome by melancholy humors, she jumped into the enchanted, glowing waters of the Gowanus Canal, her pockets full of stones. And … she was cured! The metaphors came rushing back. With eccentric spacing between the letters, but still.”
Of course, as Mr. Whitehead himself tacitly acknowledges, writers have long found refuge across the East River (if often for financial reasons). Norman Mailer held his famous late-night parties in a Brooklyn Heights brownstone (his neighbor, for a time, was the playwright Arthur Miller); Truman Capote lived in the neighborhood in the ’50s and ’60s; poet Hart Crane lived in Brooklyn Heights for part of his short life. Poet Marianne Moore lived in a Fort Greene brownstone for decades. In Brooklyn Heights, at 7 Middagh Street, was a writers’ and artists’ commune of sorts that at various points in the 1940s counted Carson McCullers, Richard Wright, W. H. Auden, and Jane and Paul Bowles among its residents. (“I think Auden was kind of the father to the house,” said Evan Hughes, a 32-year-old writer in Fort Greene who is writing a history of literary Brooklyn. “He made sure the bills got paid and whatnot.”) And of course, no mention of literary Brooklyn is complete without reference to its patron saint, Walt Whitman, who first moved to Brooklyn at the age of 4 and made his living as a journalist at a number of local papers while writing poetry.
Still, it’s true that Manhattan—especially the Upper West Side and Greenwich Village, and Elaine’s—for years occupied a special place in the city’s literary landscape, and still, today, it’s not surprising to find those neighborhoods clinging to the tops of mastheads, with older authors and senior agents and editors living in the Classic 6 on West End Avenue, where they’ve been since the 1970s. But making the jump across the East River, and onto Carroll Street and Clinton Avenue—along with the assistants and junior staffers and newly minted MFAs—are now the likes of (No. 1 New York Times best-selling author!) Jhumpa Lahiri; Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss, who famously bought a Park Slope townhouse for $3.5 million in 2005; and the veritable Renaissance man Kurt Andersen, who makes his home in Carroll Gardens. And so they clack away on their MacBooks at Ozzie’s or the Tea Lounge in Park Slope or the Central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza, and do readings at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg or the Brooklyn Lyceum, and contribute to A Public Space or One Story or n+1, and meet their editor for drinks at Union Hall, and play football in Prospect Park on the weekends and tutor kids at 826NYC and buy their friends’ books at the Community Bookstore or Book Court and raise money to fight the Atlantic Yards project by contributing essays to a book called Brooklyn Was Mine, published by Riverhead in January.