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Gilbert Sorrentino Birthday Tribute at St. Joseph’s College

Writers celebrate the lost Bard of Bay Ridge

The Brooklyn Paper
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They’re turning over a new page on an old master.

A band of Brooklyn authors are celebrating late Bay Ridge literary giant Gilbert Sorrentino’s birthday by reading from his canon at St. Joseph’s College on April 27. A Ridge-born publishing executive said it is all part of his ongoing plan to start a Sorrentino renaissance among the borough’s bookish.

“I kept on waiting for a Sorrentino revival to start — especially given the fact that Brooklyn has become this almost cliche of a red-hot literary territory — so I kept on waiting for all the Brooklyn writers to discover this native Brooklyn author, but they haven’t yet,” said author and Doubleday editor Gerry Howard, who grew up on Fourth Avenue near 78th Street.

Howard discovered Sorrentino when he reluctantly returned to Bay Ridge after graduating from Cornell University, he said. He dreaded the prospect of laying roots in what he thought of as a parochial backwater, but reading Sorrentino’s treatment of the neighborhood in his 1970 novel “Steelwork” helped change his perspective.

“I didn’t really know that writers came from Bay Ridge, let alone write superb novels about it, and it just blew me away,” he said. “He was very clear-eye and unsentimental. His characters — a lot of them — were very alive and vividly rendered but a lot of them also seemed a bit trapped by their circumstances and limited in their outlook. But he was never snobby or superior about it — he had a real feel for working-class life and that’s not very common in American literature.”

Sorrentino was born in Bay Ridge in 1929 and attended PS 102 with childhood friend and fellow author Hubert Selby Jr. He taught at several colleges, including Stanford University, before retiring to Bay Ridge. He died there in 2006.

Howard partnered with Fort Greene’s Greenlight Bookstore to organize the event — the book purveyors pulled strings to secure the venue, and Howard pulled together the talent, said store owner Jessica Stockton Bagnulo.

Readers slated for the birthday bash include award-winning novelist Don DeLillo, Sorrentino’s son Christopher, and “Marine Park” author Mark Chiusano. Chiusano, a Marine Park native, said he also identified with Sorrentino’s passages about living in a far-flung part of Brooklyn.

“I came to Sorrentino through ‘The Moon and its Flight’ — a story about a young guy who’s sorely, sickly in love, who lives in Brooklyn and is sad about that and wants to move to Manhattan,” he said. “Growing up in Brooklyn, it resonated with me.”

Howard and Ridge scribe Henry Stewart will also lead a walking tour of the neighborhood on May 3, passing by some of Sorrentino’s old haunts and capping the walk off with a thin-crust slice reminiscent of Sorrentino’s favorite pizzeria Lento’s, which has closed. Like the reading, the tour is gratis, Howard said.

“You’ll have to pay for your pizza, but that aside, this is a public service,” he said.

Gilbert Sorrentino Birthday Tribute at St. Joseph’s College, Tuohy Hall [245 Clinton Ave. between Dekalb Avenue and Willoughby Street in Clinton Hill, www.greenlightbookstore.com, (718) 246–0200]. April 27 at 7:30 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Lisa Lynch from Red Hook says:
I was a student of Gil's at Stanford in the 1980s - he was a great inspiration and a favourite teacher of mine.
April 23, 2015, 7:46 am
Richard Grayson from Williamsburg says:
Sorrentino's books are an amazing legacy. He had a tremendous range as a fiction writer, going from experimental (I was blown away by "Mulligan Stew") to realist. He was our Faulkner.
April 24, 2015, 9:34 am

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