Historian Terry Golway Explores the Other Side of Tammany Hall

Denisse Moreno  | July 23, 2014 11:31 AM

MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman interviews Terry Golway about his new book Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics.

Tammany Hall is remembered as a corrupt New York political organization that rigged elections and stole money. In the book Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics, author Terry Golway explores a different side of the former political society.

Tammany, which was also known as the Society of St. Tammany or the Columbian order, started as a private men’s club in the late 18th century. It later became a political organization and took over the New York Democratic Party.

The book, which takes a sympathetic view of the political organization, also follows the careers of major Tammany Hall leaders like Charles Francis Murphy and Alfred E. Smith. Golway also emphasized the relationship between Irish immigrants and Tammany Hall in his book.

“Even in the 19th century, at the high point of thievery, Tammany stood for immigrant rights, and stood for what we would call today pluralism,” he said. “So, I would argue that in many ways it’s a very modern political organization in its best sense.”

During the Great Irish Famine, Tammany acquired major support from incoming immigrants.

“Tammany was very good with math and to be able to count, and they realized all these immigrants were coming,” Golway said. “And Tammany said ‘you know what, if we can work for these people, they’ll work for us.’”

Golway, who is the director of the Kean University Center for History, Politics and Policy, describes the early 20th century as the golden age for Tammany. He attributes the organization’s success during that period to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, a historic event in which 145 people, the majority women, burned to death because of locked doors in the workplace.

“There was a great outrage over the lack of workplace safety and that expanded into a movement for workers’ rights,” explained Golway. “Over the next few years, led by two Tammany figures, Al Smith and Robert Wagner, New York investigated these conditions, wrote legislation, but also began the conversation about things like workers’ compensation, minimum wage and all the things that we associate perhaps with the New Deal.”

However, Tammany did not survive as a political organization. According to Golway, the Immigration Act of 1924 and the New Deal killed it. “The New Deal institutionalized a lot of the things that Tammany did,” he said. “You no longer had to go to the local clubhouse to get help because you were entitled to help now. The immigrants that it sought to assimilate to American society in fact assimilated and moved to the suburbs. There was no longer any reason for Tammany’s existence.”

Decades of Harlem Through Photographs

Denisse Moreno  | June 25, 2014 11:44 AM

Jack Ford interviews photographer Camilo José Vergara about his book Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto.

Camilo José Vergara has been photographing Harlem for decades.

In his new book, Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto, Vergara takes readers on a forty-three year photographic journey through Harlem. Vergara holds a master’s degree in Sociology from Columbia University and was the first photographer to receive a National Humanities medal in 2013. He was also named a MacArthur fellow in 2002 for documenting urban changes throughout the country.

“I was chronicling a world that was falling apart,” said Vergara about Harlem, “All of my life I’ve been interested in things that are falling apart. There were other people at the same time that were interested in brand new cars with big fins and stuff like that. I was just interested in rust and things that were crumbled.”

In the interview, Jack Ford asked Vergara if the cover photo of the book, which shows three boys standing on top of rubble, reminded him of Berlin after World War II.

“To me it was a world of destruction in the beginning,” he said, “of tremendous destruction, and violence, and crime, and the drugs that sort of dominated the neighborhood. To me that’s what I was seeing.”

Vergara began documenting Harlem in the seventies when New York City was on the edge of bankruptcy. However, instead of documenting what he thought would be the fall of Harlem, he photographed its survival and emergence of the neighborhood.

Vergara captured the neighborhood’s transformation by returning repeatedly to photograph the same locations and buildings over several years.  Throughout his book, Vergara also documented the people of Harlem, along with its streets and landmarks.

“You live with two Harlems,” he said, “you live with the Harlem that you’re looking at and you live with the Harlem of all the great people that live there.”

 

May 15: Rebuilding After Sandy, NY Times Op-Doc “Animals Are Persons Too,” Little Free Libraries

May 14, 2014 12:39 PM

On this edition of MetroFocus, it’s been a year and a half since Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast region and the search for innovative solutions is still underway. Now the U.S. government is getting help from the Netherlands, where managing water is a way of life.

Henk Ovink, the Netherlands’ acting director-general of Spatial Planning and Water Affairs, is now a senior advisor to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and the creative force behind “Rebuild by Design,” a competition for architects, engineers, planners and community leaders to come up with ways to protect and plan for future storms and rising sea levels. “I think you have to…change the perspective on the future and not say a disaster is something you can solve,” Ovink tells MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman. “We want to live with water and embrace that culture of uncertainty.”

Can animals be legal persons? Animal rights lawyer and author Steven Wise says yes, and he and his Nonhuman Rights Project are working their way through New York state courts in a campaign to win personhood for animals. The New York Times Op-Doc “Animals Are Persons Too” follows Wise and his team as they choose their first plaintiffs, four chimpanzees living in New York.

The Op-Doc is from a new documentary film “Unlocking The Cage,” currently in the making by directors Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker. After the Op-Doc, guest host Jack Ford interviews Wise about this first-of-its kind court battle. Wise says, “They are autonomous beings. They can determine their own lives.”

And multimedia producer Marisa Wong shows us the wonderful world of little free libraries. Wong takes us to the Two Bridges neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to see community leaders, children and architects bring one of the little libraries back from a winter break.

Architectural designer Chat Travieso designed the library for a spot outside a mixed-income affordable housing tower in the neighborhood as part of a project by The Architectural League of New York and the PEN World Voices Festival. Children flock to the library and Travieso says, “It functions on an honor system. If someone steals a book, they steal a book. What’s the worst that can happen? …someone’s reading the book.”

Preview May 15: Rebuilding After Sandy, NY Times Op-Doc “Animals Are Persons Too,” Little Free Libraries

May 9, 2014 12:18 PM

On the next edition of MetroFocus, it’s been a year and a half since Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast region and the search for innovative solutions is still underway. Now the U.S. government is getting help from the Netherlands, where managing water is a way of life.

Henk Ovink, the Netherlands’ acting director-general of Spatial Planning and Water Affairs, is now a senior advisor to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and the creative force behind “Rebuild by Design,” a competition for architects, engineers, planners and community leaders to come up with ways to protect and plan for future storms and rising sea levels. “I think you have to…change the perspective on the future and not say a disaster is something you can solve,” Ovink tells MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman. “We want to live with water and embrace that culture of uncertainty.”

Can animals be legal persons? Animal rights lawyer and author Steven Wise says yes, and he and his Nonhuman Rights Project are working their way through New York state courts in a campaign to win personhood for animals. The New York Times Op-Doc “Animals Are Persons Too” follows Wise and his team as they choose their first plaintiffs, four chimpanzees living in New York.

The Op-Doc is from a new documentary film “Unlocking The Cage,” currently in the making by directors Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker. After the Op-Doc, guest host Jack Ford interviews Wise about this first-of-its kind court battle. Wise says, “They are autonomous beings. They can determine their own lives.”

And multimedia producer Marisa Wong shows us the wonderful world of little free libraries. Wong takes us to the Two Bridges neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to see community leaders, children and architects bring one of the little libraries back from a winter break.

Architectural designer Chat Travieso designed the library for a spot outside a mixed-income affordable housing tower in the neighborhood as part of a project by The Architectural League of New York and the PEN World Voices Festival. Children flock to the library and Travieso says, “It functions on an honor system. If someone steals a book, they steal a book. What’s the worst that can happen? …someone’s reading the book.”

MetroFocus airs:

WLIW:  Wednesday, 5/14 at 7:30pm

Thirteen:  Thursday, 5/15 at 8:30pm

NJTV: Thursday, 5/15 at 10:30pm

Novelist Adam Gittlin Discusses “Deal” Trilogy and Writing Thrillers

March 21, 2014 3:44 PM
(View full post to see video)

Rafael Pi Roman talks with Adam Gittlin, a New York City commercial real estate executive who has turned to writing thrillers.

Adam Gittlin has published three novels, including the first two installments of his Deal trilogy. The books use as their background the world of high-end commercial real estate in which Gittlin works. Rafael Pi Roman talks with Gittlin to discuss his characters, his writing process and the particular sample of New York City culture that brings his stories to life.

Piecing History Together After Sandy

Christina Knight  | December 6, 2012 10:42 AM

 

Bungalow homes in Broad Channel, Queens.

Bungalow homes in Broad Channel, Queens on Oct 10, 2012, before Sandy hit. Photo by Flickr/d.aniela

One of the smaller communities in New York City, as defined by shared geography, is Broad Channel. According to the 2010 Census, less than 2,500 residents share this a sliver of an island in Jamaica Bay, where canals separate some side streets and only one through-street — Cross Bay Boulevard — provides a connection to the rest of Queens. This tiny, close-knit enclave celebrates its existence every two years with Historical Day.

The occasion landed on Oct. 28 in 2012, one day before Sandy did. The main event was the Broad Channel Historical Society’s exhibition, which included its collection of photos and memorabilia,  a book-signing and the sale of the new 2013 calendar, touted for its all-important listing of high tide times. The October calendar image is unintentionally prescient: a rowboat delivering mail in 1947 after flooding.

Boat washed into house in Broad Channel

A boat washed onto the sidewalk and partially into home in Broad Channel, Queens. Photo by Flickr/Boss Tweed

Even though many people were busy securing their homes in advance of the storm, the society went ahead with Historical Day at the VFW Hall.

“We had the day planned, so we figured we might as way do it and some people actually came,” said the society’s chairperson, Barbara Toborg.

One day later, many of Broad Channel’s approximately 950 homes were ruined by Sandy, as was much of the collection, though some of it was protected by its placement in plastic containers.

Barbara Toborg, chairperson of the Historical Society of Broad Channel, stands with the collection, which was spread out to dry at Vetro Restaurant in Howard Beach, which also was damaged in the storm. Photo courtesy Doris Harris.

Ultimately, the timing of the one-day exhibition may have been a saving grace. The society couldn’t return the items to their normal home at the Broad Channel Library because it was closed on Sunday and they didn’t want to leave it at the VFW since it bordered an inlet of Jamaica Bay.  Instead, members brought the collection of photos dating to the early 20th century, civic association minutes, books and audio-visual materials to the storage room the society rents at the former St. Virgilius Parochial School.

Though St. Virgilius did flood, damage at the VFW Hall and the library, which remains closed, was worse. 

World War II air raid wardens in Broad Channel, Queens, in front of volunteer firehouse.

Air raid wardens during World War II in front of Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Association. During Sandy, the volunteer fire department lost two trucks. Photo donated by Conneely to the Broad Channel Historical Society.

After the water receded and despite suffering the wreckage of their own homes, historical society members and volunteers quickly got to work rescuing the water-logged collection at donated space in Howard Beach. For five days, volunteers dried out books and paper in the dining halls of Russo’s on the Bay and Vetro Restaurant, both on Cross Bay Boulevard and temporarily closed due to storm damages of their own.

“Broad Channel people have a talent for organizing and contacting elected officials and getting things done,” Toborg said, but she was at a loss when it came to applying to any kind of  storm-recovery grants.

She explained, “We’re all volunteers so can’t apply for nonprofit cultural grants, we’re not a 501C-3, so we can’t apply to FEMA. We have money in bank from previous fundraising but it’s daunting what we will have to replace. Our laminator and DVD player were destroyed. We have [recorded] interviews. Regular paper, laminating sleeves are gone.”

The act of preserving history and having the resources  for conservation efforts is a challenge.

“I’m often astonished at amount and quality of work that friendly associations with an interest in history do…it’s hard to establish an historical society or incorporate as a nonprofit,” said Jacob Nadal, the director of library and archives at the Brooklyn Historical Society and an expert in the field of preservation.

He explained that recovery is very difficult even for established libraries, archives and museums (“LAMs” in conservation-speak). “The technology of recovery — things like the vacuum freeze-drying of collections, distributed digital preservation networks — are pretty well developed,” Nadal said. “The costs of those services are a stumbling block. Recovery funds for LAMs are extremely scarce.”

Barbara Toborg and Dan Mundy of Broad Channel Historical Society St. Virgilius School. They're holding a transit authority poster of an "A" train passing through Broad Channel during the boat races at Mardi Gras. The train is a 1915 vintage BMT. Photo courtesy Dan Mundy.

Broad Channel Historical Society was founded in 1994 with some seed money provided by then State Senator Ada Smith, but Broad Channel itself dates to the late 19th century. The Long Island Railroad put a station here in 1881, helping turn the cluster of vacation homes into a more permanent settlement.

One of its homespun holidays, Mardi Gras, is believed to have started in 1911 and is celebrated every Labor Day weekend with a parade, boat races and festivities.

When asked about proud moments in history for residents, Toborg answered, “I think being able to purchase the land after a struggle of 40 years with the city, that was Broad Channel’s finest hour.  They owned their houses, but paid rent to city for land.”

In 1982, home owners won the right to purchase the land through state legislation. The society’s timeline cites that on Sept. 14,  Mayor Edward Koch arrived by helicopter to present first deed.

One of the small, but meaningful artifacts damaged in the storm was the society’s framed copy of the state legislation with the pen used to sign it.

“Those kind of things you hate to lose,” said Toborg.

Toborg said they did save the bulk of written and pictorial materials, but by the week after Thanksgiving, a lot of the items had mildew growth. Toborg thought that water-curled photographs, including some from 1910, could be straightened out in a chemical bath, and that  other papers could be straightened by ironing.

Barbara Toborg at Vetro Restaurant on Cross Bay Boulevard, which gave the Broad Channel Historical Society space to dry out its wet collection. In the background is the canal the tugboat called "Little Toot," which was made famous in a 1940s children's story.

Barbara Toborg at Vetro Restaurant on Cross Bay Boulevard, which gave the Broad Channel Historical Society space to dry out its wet collection. In the background is the canal and the tugboat called "Little Toot." The boat was made famous in a children's story written in 1939. Photo by Doris Harris.

Beyond material losses, which Toborg felt were relatively minimal, what will hurt the work of the  society in the near future is the dispersal of its members whose homes were destroyed. Toborg ticked off the names of four who have left Broad Channel, saying “They are as important a loss as anything else.”

Jenny Swadosh, an archivist by profession, and Albin Jones, who researches historical maps, relocated to Brooklyn but are determined to remain active in the society.  “We love Broad Channel and the other members,” said Swadosh. “It’s an amazing place so we would like to preserve its history in any capacity we can.”

The society eventually moved the drying materials from the two dining establishments to Toborg’s home for further drying. But now, while her house is being renovated, Toborg will put the collection on the second floor of another place that she rents out.

While the society would like to find a better location, the rental property, she said, “at least gets us access to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.” She continued, “It’s a tight-knit community. Come back in a year and I think things will be alright.”

 

Comic Con Fans are Heroes to NYC Comic Industry

Evan Leatherwood  | October 12, 2012 4:00 AM

A costumed woman in silver at Comic Con on Thursday promoted the comic-themed restaurant Action Burger in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It's a collaboration with BIO-Sapien Comics & BIAlien Sci-Fi novels. Photo by Evan Leatherwood.

New York Comic Con proves superheroes are big business for Gotham City.

This week, an anticipated 115,000 fans, many in costume as their favorite movie and comic book characters, will converge on the Javits Center for New York Comic Con from Oct. 11 to 14. Billed as the biggest “popular culture convention” on the East Coast by event producers ReedPOP, attendance has grown by more than 500 percent since 2006, its first year.

“The growth staggers me,” says Lance Fensterman, Global VP for ReedPOP.

In just six years, New York Comic Con has grown to almost 90 percent of the size of its decades-older, West Coast equivalent, San Diego Comic-Con. Fensterman and others agree that the growth stems in part from New York’s pride of place in the history and business of comic books.

“New York City has a rich history of comic conventions,” says Fensterman, “and it absolutely helped that Marvel and DC are both based here and supported the idea from day one.”

Three cubes depicting DC comics hang over its enormous area at Comic Con at the Javits Center. Photo by Evan Leatherwood.

Marvel and DC, comic book publishing’s rival titans, were both founded in New York City at the industry’s inception in the 1930s.  Many comic legends, like Spiderman creator Stan Lee and Batman creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger, were born in New York City.  It perhaps explains why New York has been destroyed by more supervillains and saved by more superheroes than any other place on earth.

“Comics are absolutely part of New York City’s cultural DNA,” says Matt Desiderio, a manager at Union Square comics retailer Forbidden Planet, which has been in business since 1969.

Gerry Gladston, co-founder of Midtown Comics and one of the stars of National Geographic’s reality TV series Comic Store Heroes, agrees: “New York is to comics as LA is to film and television … New York has always been a mecca for comic books—since the 1930s—and New York Comic Con has done a great job of mining that potential.”

This character at Comic Con on Thursday passed out copies of the New Gen: New Dawn comic book by DC comics. Photo by Evan Leatherwood.

Since it’s founding in 1997, Midtown Comics has expanded to three locations across New York City and has grown to become the world’s largest comic book store, which reflects the strength of the nation’s comics retail industry, thriving at a time when the loss of brick and mortar stores and the move to digital is eroding other parts of the publishing business.

“Business is booming,” says Gladston, “The print comic business is up approximately 20 percent across the board … we’ve all been enjoying a nice surge in the sales of print comics and related books and collectibles.”

The uptick in interest around the world is due in large part to Hollywood’s mainstreaming of comic book heroes like The Avengers, Spiderman, and the X-Men, but the increased sales in New York can be linked directly to the growth of New York Comic Con itself.

Since the convention began in 2006, the number of vendors on the floor has gone from 600 to 2,000, an increase of about 330 percent. ReedPOP’s Fensterman says the increase in video game and toy companies has been “huge,” but that hasn’t taken away from the comics business.

“Midtown Comics says that the days leading up to, during and immediately after New York Comic Con are the busiest they have all year,” says Fensterman. “It’s like a second Christmas for them.”

David Reynolds of Daves American Comics in Radnor, PA, at his booth at Comic Con on Thursday. Photo by Evan Leatherwood.

Retail profits are a big draw for exhibitors from the Tri-State area and the nation.  Midtown Comics, which has been an official retail sponsor of the event since 2006, not only devotes a hefty amount of floor space to retail in their booth, but even buys stock specifically for the event.

“We sell a ton of stuff every year,” says Gladston, “We have expert buyers who plan this months in advance.  We have it down to a science.”

In addition to retail sales, the marketing benefits of displaying their brand before legions of devoted fans is not lost on major players like Marvel and DC, both of whom will have highly visible floor presences, housing events like signings, give-aways, photo ops, and product roll-outs.

The convention has also become known as a comics industry pow wow and marketplace.  ReedPOP has reserved a half-day out of the weekend for industry professionals only, and tied in this year’s Con to ICv2, a state-of-the industry gathering for comics pros that assesses the impact of digital publishing on their business.

Even publishing enterprises that don’t specialize in comics, like Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, and Sci Fi and Fantasy specialist Tor Books are investing in a floor presence this year.

New York Comic Con’s focus on printed comics, rather than the movies and TV derived from them, is a boon to comic book stores, but also part of what makes New York Comic Con unique.  San Diego Comic Con’s proximity to Hollywood has allowed movies and TV to outshine the comic books that started it all, but in New York, it is still primarily about ink and paper.

Evan Leatherwood (www.evanleatherwood.com) writes about books, the arts and productivity.  He directs communications for Fordham University’s Bernard L. Schwartz Center for Media, Public Policy & Education.

During Playoffs, Poll Shows New Yorkers Back the Yankees Above All

Christina Knight  | October 10, 2012 10:52 AM

On the eve of Game 3 between the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles on the Yankees’ home turf, NY1 announced the Bronx team the definitive winners of New Yorkers’ hearts in a poll on local sports teams.

Conducted in partnership with the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, the poll asked men and women across all five boroughs about nine area teams, including the former New Jersey Nets, Newark’s Devils and the Islanders (based in Uniondale, Long Island).

"Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees From Before the Babe to After the Boss" by former Yankees PR director Marty Appel delves into the history of the famous New York team.

Sixty-three percent of the city’s residents say that the Bronx Bombers are the best team of the last 20 years. The Giants, with two Super Bowl titles, rank a distant second, with only 15 percent of the vote.

The stats on the Yankees’ hometown rival, the New York Mets, are interesting. While a rare 4 percent of New Yorkers called the Queens-based team the “best area sports team” of the past two decades, 52 percent are optimistic and say it’s likely or very likely that in the next 20 years, the Mets will win their first World Series since 1986, when they forced a seventh game against the Boston Red Sox.

On MetroFocus, Marty Appel, author of “Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees From Before the Babe to After the Boss,” shares the history of the Yankees-Mets rivalry and how the Bombers rivalry with the Boston Red Sox began in the first place.

WATCH VIDEO:

Coming up on the October episode of MetroFocus, anchor Rafael Pi Roman talks baseball with Marty Appel, former PR director of the New York Yankees and author of “Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss.”  Here, Appel describes the development of rivalries between the Yankees and the Mets, and the Yankees and the Red Sox.

 

 

Pinstripe Empire: A Look at Yankees Legends Past and Present

Michelle Michalos and Georgia Kral  | October 5, 2012 4:43 AM

"Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees From Before the Babe to After the Boss" by former Yankees PR director Marty Appel delves into the history of the team that is one of the most recognizable sports teams in the world. Cover photo by Arnold Newman, courtesy of Bloomsbury USA.

The Bronx Bombers have done it again.

After a tight race with the Baltimore Orioles in September and a season filled with injuries, the New York Yankees made it through to the playoffs on Thursday night, ousting the Boston Red Sox for their 13th division title in 17 years.

Though the Yankees enter the postseason without veteran closing pitcher Mariano Rivera for the first time since 1981 (Rivera tore a knee ligament in May), the team moves forward with the two fellow remaining members of the “Core Four,” shortstop and team captain Derek Jeter and pitcher Andy Pettitte (catcher Jorge Posada announced his retirement after 17 years with the Yankees this January).

There are many legendary Yankees.  In “Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss,” author Marty Appel (the Yankees PR director in the 1970s) takes us behind the dugout for a closer look at some of the folklore and little known history surrounding the sports team perhaps best known for its winning streaks. From Yogi Berra (“A beloved American figure – I think everybody just smiles and feels good when they hear his name,” says Appel) to Derek Jeter, MetroFocus takes a look at Yankees legends.

WATCH VIDEO:

Coming up on the October episode of MetroFocus, anchor Rafael Pi Roman talks baseball with Marty Appel, the author of “Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss.” Hear stories about Yankees legends in this web extra clip.

And today’s legends in the making…

Derek Jeter, who by all counts has played an incredible season this year, at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 23, 2012. AP/Kathy Willens.

 

Derek Jeter

Now 38, Jeter has been with the Yankees for 18 seasons and is the team captain. Jeter finished this year’s season with a .316 average, 32 doubles, 15 home runs, 58 RBI’s, 99 runs scored and 216 hits, which is the most in the majors. Even though Jeter is likely entering the twilight of his career, his performance this season certainly solidifies his reputation as one of the premier baseball players in the Major League, and as a Yankees legend.

 

 

 

Second baseman Robinson Cano hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning in the game on Oct. 3 that clinched the Yankees' place in the playoffs. AP/Kathy Willens.

 

 

 

Robinson Cano

A Yankee since his major league debut in 2005, Cano plays second base and is known for his excellent batting skills. Oh, and he’s also responsible for the Yanks making it into the playoffs this season. He went 4-for-4 against the Boston Red Sox Wednesday night and hit two home runs. It was his ninth consecutive multi-hit game.

A New York Yankee only since July, outfielder Ichiro Suzuki is the first MLB player to enter the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. AP/ Kathy Willens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ichiro Suzuki

Originally from Japan, outfielder Ichiro Suzuki was traded by the Seattle Mariners to the Yankees this July. He’s already poised to play an important role on the team in the playoffs. Ichiro’s batting records are impressive, and include Major League Baseball’s single-season record for hits with 262. He had 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons. He may be new, but he’s a Yankee through and through.

 

 

Brooklyn Book Festival Expands as Reputation of Small Presses Grows

Georgia Kral  | September 17, 2012 4:00 AM

The Brooklyn Book Festival takes over Downtown Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Borough Hall Plaza in an annual celebration of literature. In 2011, pictured above, 40,000 people attended. Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Book Festival.

Brooklyn has been a literary hothouse since the days of Walt Whitman. In this century, the tree-lined streets of Brooklyn Heights inspired the likes of Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, Boerum Hill-born Jonathan Lethem made his borough the setting of his bestsellers, and transplant Martin Amis recently settled into Cobble Hill. While writers and Brooklyn have gotten along famously for some time, the Brooklyn Book Festival is only in its seventh year.

The fact that the borough is chock-full of writers likely has something to do with the popularity of the festival (40,000 attended in 2011), which this year has extended to seven days and features more than 280 authors and 104 panels where fans can hear authors read and ad lib for free and aspiring writers might get advice from editors either during a post-talk Q&A or across a book sales table.

There’s a certain scrappiness and desperation and thirst and hunger that leads to the most exciting books.
—Johnny Temple, publisher, Akashic Books
But there’s another reason why the fest is booming: the Brooklyn Book Festival specializes in showcasing small, independent presses, and the interest in those publishing houses, those bastions of creativity that publish because of their deep love of the written word, is growing. Both nationally and internationally, the books of the U.S. indie press are in high demand.

“There’s never been a better time to be an independent publisher,” said Johnny Temple, founder of the independent publisher Akashic Books, the chair of the Brooklyn Borough President’s Literary Council and the de facto leader of the Brooklyn Book Festival.

When Temple first wanted to start a book festival in Brooklyn he found an interested party in Borough President Marty Markowitz, whose office presents the festival. The publisher said they had no idea that the festival, which celebrates international publishers and authors in addition to those from Brooklyn and the city as a whole, would catch on as it has.

“We said, ‘Yeah we sure did have a good idea!’” said Temple.

The Brooklyn Book Festival kicks off Monday, September 17, and runs through Sunday the 23rd. Highlights include a panel of literary heavyweights Walter Mosley, Edwidge Danticat and Dennis Lehane discussing character creation; editors Lorin Stein (The Paris Review), Rob Spillman (Tin House) and John Freeman (Granta) extolling the importance of literary magazines in contemporary culture; and the culminating day-long book expo on September 23 held outside of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall, where hundreds of publishers line up farmers’ market style to tempt readers with their latest books and backlists.

WATCH VIDEO:

The author Pete Hamill, 2012 festival honoree and Park Slope native, describes the rich inspiration Brooklyn provides writers. Video courtesy of the Brooklyn Book Festival.

While the festival does include some of the big publishers, the spirit of  the week  is largely independent and progressive. Temple said the festival  strives to  fully represent Brooklyn, which is, according to Temple, “hip, smart and diverse.”

“There isn’t a festival out there that does more careful curating than we do,” he said. “Other big festivals might have an equally impressive group of authors, but can feel thrown together.”

For example,  a panel in which authors discuss violence in their work and how they handle it combines first-time novelist Amelia Gray, who wrote the thriller “Threats,” Dennis Lehane whose ninth novel “Moonlight Mile” follows the investigators and victim he first wrote of in Gone Baby, Gone, and Sapphire, whose second novel “The Kid,” examines what happens to the son of the protagonist Precious, who was the center of her novel-turned-Oscar-winning film,  “Push.”

Last year at the Brooklyn Book Festival, a newspaper was available with the schedule of events. This year, there will also be an app for your smart phone. Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Book Festival.

Small Presses Get Big Respect from Literary World

For independent publishers, the festival is a chance to present their work to an interested and intrigued audience, but also to hobnob with like-minded people. It’s a see-and-be-seen event, where even the fans can hear their favorite authors speak, and sometimes meet them.

“It’s really a comfortable love fest!” said Dennis Johnson, co-founder of Melville House Books, an independent publisher in Brooklyn. “It’s everyone we know. It’s a very knowledgeable audience.”

Melville House was founded in 2001, in order to publish what has turned out to be a very popular work, “Poetry After 9/11.” They also publish work from two Nobel prize winners. Johnson said another reason why the Brooklyn Book Festival is great for indie publishers is because “people come with their wallets.”

“It’s the clearest way people can show you they love you,” he said.

The Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest trade book fair in the world, is also taking notice. At this year’s fair in October, Anna Moschavakis of Brooklyn’s Ugly Duckling Presse and Temple will participate in a panel discussion called “How Independent Literary Publishers are Successfully Reaching Their Audience.

“America’s independent literary publishers seem to have figured out exactly who their readers are and how to reach them,” the event description reads.

Riky Stock, Director of the German Book Office of the Frankfurt Book Fair, located within the Goethe-Institute in SoHO, said she was seeing an increased interest in independent U.S. publishers from German publishers and that Frankfurt was hosting events with them in order to amplify the work they were doing.

“In Europe, everyone thinks of the U.S. as everything that’s extra large: publishing houses, blockbusters. What people forget is that there is a marginal scene as well,” she said. These small presses are the ones that “discover important American writers.”

Johnson, understandably, feels the same way.

“It’s really the indies where new kinds of fiction is happening,” he said.

The economic crisis didn’t hit indie publishers as hard either, said Temple.

“We’re always in an economic crisis,” he said. “There’s a certain scrappiness and desperation and thirst and hunger that leads to the most exciting books.”

Stock said that while the big publishers “look for the bestsellers,” independent publishers can  look for what has “literary merit.”

“The small publishers are doing this because they believe in the authors,” she said.

Believing in the authors and in the work itself is certainly what drives the staff at Ugly Duckling Presse, which operates out of the formerly functioning factory in Gowanus appropriately called the Old American Can Factory. All but one of the staff members of the press, which has been publishing for at least 12 years, are unpaid.

Brooklyn's Borough Hall was thronged with visitors at last year's festival. This year will likely be no different. Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Book Festival.

“We’re completely unprofessional, or anti-professional,” said Anna Moschavakis, co-executive director and an editor there. “We’re all volunteers.”

Moschavakis noted that the changing perception of independent presses, and their growing importance on the world literary stage, made their informal ways of doing things a non-issue.

“To the literary world and the National Endowment for the Arts, it didn’t matter how small we were. It just mattered what we were putting out,” she said. “You can have total legitimacy on one hand and on the other hand you’re doing it in a bootstrap style.”

At a time when the future of the publishing industry — at least for the major publishers — is desperately trying to adapt to changing technologies and consumer demands, some authors prefer the indies.

“It’s a tumultuous time and there’s been a real shift in the industry,” said Johnson of Melville House. “It’s a better publishing experience for authors” at independent presses.

Moschavakis said something similar of the craftspeople who spend so much of their time in isolation.

“They [authors] say we give them the attention they need…They want to be a part of a community.”

New App from AT&T Tracks Growing Festival

While the festival has grown exponentially, that wasn’t a goal. Temple said the organizers actually tried to limit the number of programs this year, but they couldn’t do it.

“We tried to shrink this year because we were bursting at the seams, but we completely failed!” he said with a laugh.

And so, in order to make it easier for attendees to navigate the many events, long-time sponsor AT&T has created an app, available for iPhone and Android, specifically for the fest. On Friday, the Brooklyn Book Festival app was released and is available in the Apple app store and in Google Play.

“Through this collaboration, AT&T is excited to help take the Brooklyn Book Festival to the next level and expand it to an even wider audience,” said Marissa Shorenstein, president of AT&T New York , in a statement. “Brooklyn has become the hub of technology for the city and Brooklyn is also the hub of the literary community.”

The app, which features writers’ biographies and maps their festival events, is also social. Users can vote for their “Fan Fav.”

But in the end, the festival has grown and is popular because it is where those who love and appreciate literature want to be.

“It’s a charge when you get out there and see all these little presses taking chances and making art,” said Johnson. “It’s a real kick in the pants. It reminds us why we’re doing this.”

 

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