As a charter member of the Brooklyn Literary Council, the volunteer group that organizes the Brooklyn Book Festival, I couldn’t be more biased in my view that the annual BBF has become an almost singularly important event with legitimate cultural and political clout. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that even if I weren’t associated with the festival, I’d still be a major fan of one of the country’s most celebrated celebrations of books, reading and independent publishing, in all its many guises.
Taking place on Sunday, September 23, in and around downtown Brooklyn, the BBF features a full and free day of more than 150 panels, readings, signings, exhibition booths and interactive events for readers of all ages and inclinations.
In its early years, the festival was largely a homegrown affair, with Brooklyn-based writers taking up the vast majority of speaking slots. But as the BBF has grown hotter (in keeping with the borough’s supposed ascendance) the festival has started to attract high-wattage literary stars like Joyce Carol Oates, Salman Rushdie and Mary Higgins Clark, earning comparisons with more established book fairs in places like Los Angeles and Miami. Happily, there’s still a continuing effort to put independent publishing front and center with indie bookstores, publishers and authors given prime real estate in both the exhibiting quad and on the panel discussions.
The Nation has been a sponsor and programming partner since the Festival’s inception in 2005. This year Nation speakers include Katrina vanden Heuvel and Eric Alterman talking about election 2012 with Tom Frank and Touré; Victor Navasky discussing the art of magazine making; Chris Hayes taking questions about Twilight of the Elites from Michelle Goldberg, Richard Kim and a live audience; Laura Flanders moderating a panel on the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street with Marina Sitrin, Tariq Ali and Todd Gitlin; and Eyal Press leading a conversation about conscience with Louisa Thomas and E.O. Wilson.
More highlights: Walter Mosley, Edwidge Danticat and Dennis Lehane discussing their unforgettable characters; Bernice L. McFadden, Joyce Carol Oates and Colson Whitehead taking questions on fiction; Adam Shatz leading a conversation about literature and the urban imagination with Mexican author Alvaro Enrigue, Christine Smallwood and Pankaj Mishra; an unabashedly lefty panel of activist artists, including Mr. Fish and Peter Kuper, discussing the relevance of political cartoons; Kate Bolick, Dan Savage and Kristin Davis in conversation about marriage and monogamy, and, in Brooklyn’s best kitschy fashion, Brooklyn’s own Tony Danza in conversation with Borough President Marty Markowitz!
The festival is also committed to programming that reflects Brooklyn’s great diversity. Many events have an international flavor. This year, one session focuses on African novels with child narrators and another features leading Indian writers. Two events honor the 50th anniversary of independence in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Another seminar looks at poetry and narratives in light of the Arab Spring, while Isabel Wilkerson talks with Amy Goodman about the 20th century northward migration of African-Americans in the US.
Check out the full schedule. Hope to see you there!
(Apologies to all of you far from the New York City area for this regionally-specific post; you can check the BBF site for streaming and video information.)