There will be poetry at sunrise on canoes and floats in Gowanus. Discussions of elite power, introductions to new authors, and talk of banned books. Most of all, it will be a celebration of books and the people that make them.
What started as a one-day festival featuring authors from Brooklyn 17 years ago, with a program printed on two sheets of paper, has grown to a nine-day event spanning numerous venues across the city and online, welcoming more than 40,000 visitors. The program is now 36 pages, and the Brooklyn Book Festival is firmly on the map as a premier international event for authors and publishers alike.
“We happen in Brooklyn. We're proud Brooklyn is our home,” Carolyn Greer, co-producer of the festival, told me over the phone last Friday. “But we present authors and publishers from all over the world and have plans on going intergalactic at some point.”
That may be a grand ambition way down the road, but the Brooklyn Book Festival has been evolving over the years, including making the most of the challenges. While the event went online during the pandemic without much choice, this year, one of the days was programmed to be virtual by design.
“Part of what the virtual day allows us is to have both authors and audience from around the world,” said Liz Koch, the other co-producer of the festival. “It allows it [the festival] to be much more inclusive.”
Authors from over 20 countries are participating, and the organizers are proud of how the event has grown to showcase emerging voices alongside well-established, balancing the two, often in conversation.
This year, BoBi (Best of Brooklyn) award recipient Esmeralda Santiago will introduce emerging authors the festival particularly wants to highlight - Caitlin Barasch (A Novel Obsession), David Santos Donaldson (Greenland), Sasha Fletcher (Be Here To Love Me at the End of the World), Sidik Fofana (Stories From the Tenants Downstairs), and Carleton Eastlake (Monkey Business).
“We don't have a situation where one author gets up and just talks about themselves and their book,” Greer says. “We bring together authors from very different backgrounds to find a common ground within their writing, to have conversations. We often bring iconic, well-known authors together with emerging authors. Their point of commonality is the topic and the narrative of their books, less so than that one is popular.”
Brooklyn Book Festival benefits from a large, all-volunteer literary council that looks at submissions and helps decide who to feature—being part of the current social conversation matters.
“The festival is very contemporary. The topics that we're dealing with are contemporary,” Koch says. “At the Children's Day, for instance, there'll be a program about banned books this year. And even when it's a fiction topic, it's connected to conversations that people are having at this moment, and that are important to them to grapple with and think about and talk about at this time."
"We also try to hit all of the different emotions – we have love, we have crime, we have mystery – we try and cover all sorts of things. Because we're trying to reach that audience and say, we have something for you," says Greer.
That goal this year translates into 50 programs on the main festival day on October 2 and more than 60 throughout the city, from poetry readings in canoes on the Gowanus Canal (which you should not miss on September 30) to a fully programmed Children’s Day on October 1.
That’s a lot of events, both Greer and Koch agree, but the idea is that one can only take in so much at any one time, and organizers hope that rather than just coming to the tables on Sunday, people will partake in more events during the week.
In addition to the literary events, some 200 publishers from across the country will be represented, including many small, independent presses from Brooklyn.
“Akashic and Archipelago, and Enchanted Lion books, which is just a wonderful, wonderful children's book publisher,” Koch says. “Melville House is also in Brooklyn. Ugly Duckling Presse. They're all part of it and the dozens and dozens that come from further away. It's a marketplace like no other for the literary prowess and New York City and arguably on the East Coast.”
How to make the most of it?
“Like any good tourists coming to this literary destination, you want to look at it all in advance,” Greer says, “Have a game plan.”
“It's nine days, and every day, there is some amazing event taking place in the city somewhere,” Koch says. “It's a good way to get out of your comfort zone and into other boroughs to see events taking place in Staten Island, wonderful things up in Harlem.”
So go, show some love the Brooklyn way, buy some books, and who knows, meet the love of your life. It’s been known to happen at the Brooklyn Book festival before.
The main festival day will take over Downtown Brooklyn, all around the Brooklyn Borough Hall on Sunday, October 2, from 10 am to 6 pm.
Gowanus dawn reading of the poetry of Hart Crane in canoes, organized by Gowanus Dredgers will take place on Friday, September 30, from 7:00 am to 9:00 am. You should arrive at 7:45 am to watch and listen from the shore of the Lowes Parking lot off 9th Street.