Brooklyn Book Festival Brings People Together

September 28, 2021
A crowd of people between rows of blue canopy tents. In the background is a white building with columns and peaks of white tents.

Brooklyn Book Festival Literary Marketplace tents with Brooklyn Borough Hall in background.

By Guest Contributors Carolyn Greer and Liz Koch, Co-Producers of the Brooklyn Book Festival

The 2021 Brooklyn Book Festival is Sweet 16, and its two moms want to brag a bit!

Since it began, literally thousands of national and international, iconic and debut authors have graced our stages and hundreds of thousands of people have experienced vibrant and spirited discussions with writers. We like to think that being at the Festival is like having the opportunity to enjoy a lively dinner conversation with your favorite authors.

Writing and reading are solitary experiences, but the Brooklyn Book Festival creates a large metaphorical tent for a shared experience. Bringing people together who love books is so important to our ethos and spirit and it happens on so many different levels — from the authors and the audience to the marketplace publishers and booksellers, and the partners. We even know about first dates at the Festival that led to marriages that are still going strong.

How It All Began

Two woman browse a loosely organized shelf o books outdoors.

Literary Marketplace on Festival Day, Brooklyn Book Festival.

The Festival has unusual origins and maybe that’s why it never followed a conventional path. First, it was born in a government office when Brooklyn Borough President Markowitz matched a punk rocker publisher, Johnny Temple of Akashic Books, with two staffers (and avid readers) — Carolyn Greer, the Tourism and Public Events Director, and Liz Koch, the Arts Advisor — to figure out how Brooklyn could have its own literary festival. With all the writers, publicists, editors and publishers working in coffee shops and making their home in Brooklyn, it was long overdue.

What happened next is that in the true spirit of the literary community, so many smart and talented people jumped in to help, and the Brooklyn Book Festival Literary Council was born. That “Lit Council” along with Temple, and Greer & Koch (the Festival’s two moms), organically grew the festival into its own not-for-profit that presents an internationally acclaimed, robust, week-long literature festival. Today, there are nearly 40 people on the Lit Council and genre committees working together to create a Festival that is hip, smart, diverse and inclusive, and that effort is amplified by our partners and authors.

Left to right: poets Danez Smith, Sam Sax, Elizabeth Acevedo, Aja Monet, Tina Chang at
Words on the Page panel. Photo: Claudia Cortinez.

The Brooklyn Book Festival’s many events and locations include virtual and in-person literary Bookend events (September 26 — October 4), a Children’s Day (October 2) and the main Festival Day and Literary Marketplace outside Brooklyn Borough Hall (October 3).

Festival Day, Sunday, October 3

A black woman holds a pen and talks to white man who listens next to her. Both are seated at wooden table. There is a book on table in front of man. Behind them is a commemorative plaque on a wall that needs repainting.

Authors Edwidge Danticat and Paul Auster at a Brooklyn Book Festival event in 2012.

Accommodating early birds to night owls, there are 58 programs on Festival Day, Sunday, October 3. The Festival is in-person from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Downtown Brooklyn and then flips to evening virtual “stages” from 5 to 11 p.m. Authors — the true heart and soul of the Festival — are brought together for public conversations that push beyond the usual groupings, often pairing iconic and emerging authors.

Programs range from Iconic Across Genres with Paul Auster and Joyce Carol Oates (2 p.m.) and Where Do We Go From Here? Heather McGhee in conversation with George Packer (3 p.m.) to discussions about cooking, romance, comic memoirs, poetry, theatre, social justice, Bollywood, and fantasy and fiction. Authors from Iceland, China and Cuba can share the virtual stage in Twilight Zones of History (6 p.m.), featuring Sjón, Sheng Keyi, and Leonardo Padura in conversation.

Recently, an author wrote to us that “Time after time, you all never cease to amaze me with this incredible celebration of the world and the word,” — feedback that reflected our hopes and goals for the Festival.

Four adults in casual dress sit on stools on a raised platform with white tent backdrop. Each has a standup microphone in front of their seat. They are all smiling as if sharing a laugh.

Left to right: Jacqueline Woodson, Rita Williams-Garcia, Gene Luen Yang and Ellen Oh at Brooklyn Book Festival. Photo: James Hyde, 2017.

We love working with the many literary and cultural organizations from around New York City that help create Festival programs, including this year’s Transnational Solidarity, from Bollywood to K-Pop (4 p.m.) presented by the Asian American Writer’s Workshop, and The Enduring Legacies of Amistad Books and Zora Neale Hurston (4 p.m.) with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Our minds alone would never have come up with the variety of programming that our partners contribute.

We learned in 2020 that virtual programming is all-embracing. The virtual format allows book lovers from all across the world to chime in on the chat line, announcing “I am in Hungary,” or “checking in from India,” and it provides incredible access to a global conversation. We loved finding out that people from 32 countries attended in 2020 and especially wondered who the two folks tuning in from Ecuador might be!

Author and poet John Keene wrote to us that “It was a pleasure to participate again, and it provided me with an opportunity to see Touré, whom I hadn’t even run into for over two decades, meet Hari Kunzru, whose work I deeply admire, and be in conversation with one of my former professors, A. M. Homes. I also was excited to see the sizable crowd too.”

People often say you can’t plan by committee, but the Brooklyn Book Festival — New York City’s largest free literary Festival — is a feat of collaboration. We invite one and all to experience the free literary festival that embraces the diverse readers of NYC and that we are proud to create and present!


Find all details about the wide-ranging festival at BrooklynBookFestival.org.

MetroFocus, THIRTEEN’s weeknight news and public affairs broadcast, is getting involved with the festival this week.

Wednesday, September 29 Broadcast

Stream Now

Screenshot of three people on a zoom call: a white man, a Black man, a Black woman

Left to right, top to bottom: publisher and Brooklyn Book Festival co-founder Johnny Temple; MetroFocus host Jenna Flanagan; author Jamal Greene.

MetroFocus welcomes Johnny Temple, Co-Chair of the Brooklyn Book Festival Literary Council and cofounder of the Brooklyn Book Festival, and Brooklyn author Jamal Greene (How Right Went Wrong: Why Our Obsession With Rights Is Tearing America Apart) to its half-hour program for a discussion. One of the first words a child learns is “mine” but immediately it is challenged by the word “ours.” American law has struggled since the Constitution was written to balance, respect and protect individual rights within the structure and laws of a democratic society. Greene and Temple will discuss America’s struggles to achieve proportionality between individual and societal rights beginning with the Bill of Rights and continued contemporary challenges.

(see See MetroFocus schedule on all stations.)

MetroFocus Host at Brooklyn Book Festival

MetroFocus host Jenna Flanagan will be at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday, October 3 and host a virtual Bookend event on Monday, October 4.

Sunday, October 3 at 12pm

The Past, Present, and Future of Black Music in America (12 p.m.) examines how the story of African-American musical expression is ever-changing, and its evolution and impact, titans and forgotten geniuses, routinely debated and reassessed. Jenna Flanagan of MetroFocus explores this with Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli (Vibrate Higher), who offers his own unique angle on Black music, and particularly hip-hop, as a vehicle for resistance.

Monday, October 4, at 1 p.m.

The virtual event Hanif Abdurraqib In Conversation features poet, essayist, and critic Hanif Abdurraqib, who has been celebrated for the lyricism and intimacy of his writing, as well as the piercing clarity of his insights on music, race, and American culture. His newest work, A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, is rightfully being lauded as his strongest to date. Jenna Flanagan of MetroFocus talks with Hanif about the new book and his creative process and journey.

A woman stands on an outdoor stage reading in front of a microphone. A large audience sits in folding chairs or stands listening in a park-like, urban setting.

Altered States, a 2012 Brooklyn Book Festival event in Columbus Park, downtown Brooklyn.