Paul Auster is well-known as a Brooklyn writer. In Winter Journal, he writes of first moving to Brooklyn in 1980 after enduring stints in suburbia and an overpriced rental in Manhattan: "Why hadn't you thought of this in 1976? you wondered
but the fact was that Brooklyn had never ever crossed your mind back then, for New York was Manhattan and Manhattan only, and the outer boroughs were as alien to you as the distant countries of Oceania or the Arctic Circle." Auster, of course, never looked back, living in a series of homes in Brooklyn, including the house in Park Slope he has shared with his wife, fellow writer Siri Hustvedt, for the past twenty years.
Reading Auster's descriptions of Brooklyn's tough, almost ugly, underbelly in the 1980s and early 1990s is intriguing, given the borough's current reputation as a hotbed for hipster beekeepers and stroller-pushing young families. Brooklyn has also gained a reputation for its writers, which include Auster and Hustvedt, of course, but also people like Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Lethem, and countless others.
The annual Brooklyn Book Festival is one of the largest in the country, drawing largely from the bounty of local authors. Condé Nast Traveler magazine even offers a "Brooklyn Writers' Guide to Brooklyn," complete with the best coffee shops in which to write, the best bookstores, and the best sites for inspiration. Brooklyn Magazine published a special issue called The Essential Guide to Brooklyn Literature in 2012, featuring articles on Brooklyn writers, the indie publishing scene, and what Brooklynites read on the subway during their commutes to day jobs in Manhattan.
With all this literary activity, it's tempting to think of Brooklyn as some kind of writerly nirvana, a place where becoming and succeeding as a writer is somehow easier than elsewhere, surrounded by others pursuing the same goal and by a sort of creative vibe that makes the whole pursuit that much more organic and achievable. Not so, writes Brooklyn author Colson Whitehead in a New York Times essay on the topic: "What's it like to be a writer in Brooklyn?" he asks himself. "It's hard. The way it is everywhere."
Image of Jonny Temple, Edwidge Danticat, Paul Auster, Pete Hamill at Brooklyn Book Festival by Joann Jovinelly
This article was originally published in October 2012, and has been updated for the
November 2013 paperback release.
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