For more than two decades Manhattan hosted New York is Book Country which grew to become one of the nation’s largest, busiest and most beloved book fairs. Every autumn, starting in 1979, a long section of Fifth Avenue was closed to traffic while hundreds of thousands of readers spent the day strolling among exhibit booths, buying books, and attending panel discussions and author signings.
In 2004, New York is Book Country was moved from midtown Manhattan to Greenwich Village, the date shifted from September to October and the program expanded from one day to two. The following year the book fair disappeared entirely. Devoted readers waited for the posters and announcements that would proclaim the location and featured speakers for 2005, but they never arrived. The nonprofit organization that ran the event shut down. That, it seemed, was that. Booklovers mourned.
Today New Yorkers rejoiced at the introduction of new literary fair: The first annual Brooklyn Book Festival.
Held at Borough Hall, the fair featured approximately 100 exhibitors, including two outdoor stages, a children’s pavilion and booths for bookstores, publishers and literary journals and organizations set up alongside the Greenmarket. Inside, the rotunda was dedicated to author signings while panel discussions and readings were held in the Courtroom and Community Room. Admission to all events was free on a first-come-first-served basis.
Most of the participating authors and poets have strong connections to Brooklyn, either by birth, residence or subject matter. Among those appearing at the Festival: Pete Hamill, Jonathan Ames, Colson Whitehead, Paula Fox, Jonathan Lethem, Jhumpa Lahiri, Philip Lopate, Rick Moody, Jennifer Egan, Kate Pollit, Edmund White, Gary Shteyngart, Jonathan Ames, Simcha Weinstein, Nelly Rosario, Ann Brashares, Colin Channer, Phil Levine, Nicole Krauss and Myla Goldberg.
Of course, the Brooklyn Festival was a bit different than the version that used to be held in Manhattan. There was less emphasis on bestsellers and antiquarian books and more on new and emerging talents. The crowd was smaller and more diverse, the presses and magazines represented tended to be more experimental, and everyone and everything (with the exception of a few painfully out of place, hipper-than-thou poseurs) was friendly, open and accessible.