Talk about being brought down to earth!
The world’s literary elite were yanked out of their cozy writer’s garrets and lofty ivory towers to slog through the rain, get yelled at by protesters, and even have the dirty world of politics intrude on the beauty of art — all accompanied by a cast of Brooklyn characters they could only hope to dream up in their fiction — at this year’s Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday.
Thousands flocked to the Borough Hall extravaganza, despite a driving drizzle that could turn anyone’s copy of Jonathan Lethem’s “Chronic City” into a mushy mess. The print faithful were there to bathe in the words of more than 250 authors — Salman Rushdie, Paul Auster, Sarah Silverman, Rosanne Cash, Dennis Lehane, Pete Hamill and Michael Connelly among them — who spent the day discussing their work on nine separate stages.
This year’s festival was so massive that it spanned several blocks (the Brooklyn Historical Society on Pierrepont Street and St. Francis College on Remsen Street donated space for the event) and three days. The festival officially kicked off Friday night with a screening of an unfinished film about noted book collector William Byrd II at Light Industry on Livingston Street between Hoyt Street and Gallatin Place and an “intimate conversation” with filmmaker and author John Waters at Coco 66 on Greenpoint Avenue.
Other festival highlights included:
• Pulitzer Prize–winning poet John Ashbery — and former Brooklyn Public Library reference librarian and Brooklyn College professor — received the Brooklyn Book Festival’s “BoBi,” an award given to an author who “has made a broad impact on the field of literature.” Ashbery received the award during the festival opening gala on Sept. 11 at the Skylight One Hanson on Hanson and Ashland places. The next day, he spoke about his poetry with Auster, who won the coveted award in 2007.
• Politics came to the Brooklyn Book Festival when — just three days before primary day — a panel met to discuss how Albany just doesn’t work. Former Assemblyman Dan Feldman (D-Sheepshead Bay), author of “Tales From The Sausage Factory,” discussed how bills are mashed together into “all or nothing” super bills that everyone must vote for.
• In a scene out of a suspense thriller, the festival was turned on its ear, albeit shortly, when relatives of Briana Ojeda — the 11-year-old girl who died on Aug. 27 after an 84th Precinct cop refused to give her CPR, claiming he forgot how — rallied to demand that the NYPD repeatedly retrain its members on these life-saving maneuvers. More than two dozen placard-bearing protestors marched through the literary marketplace as they drove their point home.
Borough President Markowitz said that, rain and impromptu rallies aside, the festival was a success.
“This just reaffirms that Brooklyn is the literary center of New York City and filled with excited and avid readers,” said Markowitz. “But next year, we’re bringing better weather.”