The Brooklyn Eagles have short-listed three fiction and three non-fiction books for the group’s literary prize, and will determine the “most Brooklyn” winner at a ceremony on Oct. 23. Meet the nominees:
The heaviest-hitter among the fiction bunch appears to be Sunset Park’s Atticus Lish, whose debut novel, “Preparation for the Next Life,” recently won the prestigious Poets, Editors, and Novelists award. The novel is set largely in a Chinese enclave in Queens, but Lish drew inspiration from Sunset Park’s growing Chinese population along Eighth Avenue, and a Fourth Avenue gym he frequents plays a big role in the book.
“The scenery — the ceiling, the people in it, the machinery — all of that is from Richie’s [Gym],” he said.
Lish is honored that Brooklyn librarians short-listed his novel, he said. The scribe moved to Brooklyn alone in 2006, planning to land a job and apartment before his family followed him here, he said. In a borough of 2 million strangers, the library gave him companionship.
“I lived in Flatbush and went to local library,” Lish said. “I found Jeanette Wells’ ‘The Glass Castle,’ and that book kept me company while I was getting established. Under those circumstances — when you’re really by yourself — a good book will go a long way.”
Fort Greene native James Hannaham’s nominated novel “Delicious Foods” is not set in Brooklyn. Instead, it tells a brutal story of a woman’s struggle with a crack addiction that results her in enslavement in the American south in the early 1990s. But Hannaham says that it has Brooklyn values, such as an inquisitive and introspective attitude toward the realities of life. And he says he’s honored to receive a nomination from the library group, because who knows books better than librarians?
“I’m really thrilled that librarians in particular seem to like the book,” said Hannaham. “Not only because of their implied expertise with literature, but because I fear that somewhere down the line someone may try to ban the book, so it’s good to have them on my side.”
Kensington writer and illustrator Anya Ulinich said that she was a little surprised when her graphic novel “Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel” was short-listed for the Brooklyn Eagles literary prize.
“I was happy, but I was also — you know, my book is kind of dark. It’s not really a ‘Rah-Rah Brooklyn!’ book,” she said. “It’s a mid-life crisis book, but with a character who is not fully grown up. It’s kind of a belated a coming-of-age book.”
The book follows a divorced mother of two who moves to Park Slope and has a disastrous series of Internet dates, all detailed through comic book-style drawings and word balloons. Ulinich thinks that the character — and her unique perspective — may have resonated with judges and readers familiar with Brooklyn demographics.
“She’s kind of new to Brooklyn, so she’s kind of a hipster gentrifier,” says Ulinich. “She’s one of those Brooklyn moms, but she’s also an outsider.”
Flatbush author DW Gibson spoke to developers, gentrifiers, and the gentrified to write his book “The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century,” and he hopes the result will give readers a fresh and all-inclusive look at the issue on the tip of every Brooklynite’s tongue.
“I try very hard to curate this big conversation about a very complicated issue,” he said.
Gibson said he was grateful to be short-listed for the Brooklyn Eagles Literary Prize and to be recognized for his positive contributions to the gentrification conversation. Numerous long-time Brooklynites, he said, actually welcome changes to their neighborhoods.
“It’s a very rare thing to meet the individual that says, no, I don’t want any of it, don’t bring it here,” said Gibson. “There’s generally an openness on the part of New Yorkers and Brooklynites to receive change and receive improvements.”
Non-fiction finalist Claire Prentice presents the most Brooklyn-focused non-fiction offering in “The Lost Tribe of Coney Island” — an account of an American charlatan who enslaved 51 Philippine natives for a “human zoo” exhibit in Coney Island in 1905.
The book lays out turn-of-the-century Coney Island’s amusement district — one vastly larger than today’s — in stunning detail. And the book provides more than a written account of Sodom by the Sea. Photographs, historic maps, and period newspaper clippings impart a sense of place that may give other non-fiction contestants a run for their money.
29-year-old Prospect Lefferts Gardens resident Kent Russell is one of Brooklyn’s freshest and most talented young writers. His debut non-fiction title, “I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised A Timid Son,” is a collection of his most poignant essays.
In describing the book, he said, “I like to think that, in reading my book, you might better understand the fears and compulsions of that particular Brooklynite dude in your life whom you feel really, really ambivalent about.”