By Kevin Truong
DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN – Alicia Boyd can still recall the moment a book first captured her imagination as a child—back when she was an eight-year-old growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
“The first book that I ever read was Charlotte’s Web,” Boyd said. “And it wound up being a classic. It was wonderful.”
Today, the 58-year-old grandmother is trying to instill that same love of reading in her four-year-old grandson, Chase.
Both were in attendance Sunday for the 14th edition of the Brooklyn Book Festival‘s main Festival Day and Literary Marketplace which transformed the open plaza surrounding Brooklyn Borough Hall into an array of white canopied tents and portable tabletops stacked high with books. The annual event brings together book lovers and casual readers with authors and publishers from across the globe.
For many in attendance, the festival offered a rare opportunity to interact directly with the creative minds behind some of their favorite stories.
Dozens of authors, publishers, and literary organizations set up tables across the plaza to spread awareness about their work as the steady stream of festival-goers grew larger throughout the afternoon.
This was Boyd’s third year coming to the festival, which she initially learned about through a friend.
“I think we need to go back to understanding the importance of books, physical ones you can actually open up and put an elephant ear on,” Boyd said. “I think that we need to have that experience, both tactile and intellectually.”
Sophie Herron agreed that the tactile quality of holding a book was one of the reasons that many festival attendees were drawn to the event.
“I think sometimes people say, ‘print is dead,’ or, ‘no one reads,’ and this is the biggest counter-argument to that,” Herron said of the turnout to the festival.
Herron works at the 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center in Harlem and has been working a table at the Brooklyn Book Festival for five years.
Jared Fagen, who runs the independent literary press Black Sun Lit, was stationed at a table across from Herron. Fagen said the festival provides an opportunity to interact with readers in a way that he doesn’t always get as a publisher.
“This is a really great opportunity to get to know what people are looking for, what they like,” Fagen said. “And also let them know what they might expect in the future.”
Mel Peterson lives in Park Slope and attended the festival for the first time on Sunday. Peterson said one of the biggest draws of the festival was the opportunity for in-person interaction with authors and publishers.
“It’s really cool to bring authors to the front of the stage and hear directly from them about their work and what they think is important,” Peterson said.
One of those authors, Denis Gray, has been writing for 25 years. This was his seventh year tabling at the Brooklyn Book Festival.
“I think most writers believe in community. That’s where our source of information comes from, through people,” Gray said. “We’re always dealing with humanity. So it’s nice to have contact and connect with humanity all the time.”
His wife of 52 years, Barbara Gray, sat next to him at his table. She pointed at her husband as he talked to a festival attendee about one of his books.
“See what he’s doing now—talking to people about how he came about putting these stories together. That’s important,” she said. “You have to have physical contact with people. There are people out there that still like to hold a book.”