The Blackout of 1977: Background information when reading Another Brooklyn

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Another Brooklyn

A Novel

by Jacqueline Woodson

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson X
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2016, 192 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2017, 192 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
The Blackout of 1977

Print Review

Blackout LootingSet in the 1970s, Another Brooklyn references numerous contemporary events, from Vietnam to Son of Sam (a killer convicted of a series of shooting attacks that began in New York City in the summer of 1976 and ended in the summer of 1977.) One event in particular that figures in August's memories is the electrical blackout of July 13-14, 1977. The blackout was notable for its geographic specificity (it knocked out power to almost all of New York City, but nowhere else in the Northeast) as well as for the length of time it took Con Edison to restore power and, most infamously, its incitement of looting and vandalism, as well as arson.

Blackout EffectThe blackout occurred during a period when New Yorkers were facing financial stresses, rising crime rates, and anxieties over the Son of Sam murders. The city was in the midst of a heat wave. A series of lightning strikes prompted the electrical outage, after most shop owners had gone home for the night. No one really knows why this particular blackout resulted in so many acts of vandalism and looting in so many (mostly poor) neighborhoods, when other electrical outages saw few, if any, of these kinds of criminal activities. By the time the lights went back on after 25 hours, arsonists had set 1000 fires, and looters had plundered 1600 stores and businesses.

Blackout Effect 2The blackout of 1977 has had a large influence on pop culture. Some historians have suggested that the looting of DJ and stereo equipment and the subsequent house parties that took place after the blackout were in part responsible for the rise of hip-hop culture in the late 1970s. Among other books written about it, the bestselling novel City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg takes place largely during the events of the blackout. Other references to the blackout exist in movies and even video games. To many, the blackout became a metaphor for what was a particularly dark time in New York City history and, ironically, shone a spotlight on class and racial tensions that had previously been largely ignored.

Looting during the 1977 blackout, courtesy of long70s tumblr
Blackout effect, courtesy of boomboomdown.com
Another blackout effect, courtesy of crimjohn

Article by Norah Piehl

This article was originally published in August 2016, and has been updated for the May 2017 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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