Brooklyn Book Festival 2009

Reported and Photographs by Linda Yau


On Sunday, September 13, 2009 – once again I made my way to the annual Brooklyn Book Festival. There were several different aspects this year, one JLHLS was there as unofficial press, two for last year I was able to attend the Book Festival for the full day with I-hsiu, and Jilly. Here was our coverage from last year. This year I had a planned half day meet up with Rachel. So be aware of a possible write up from her as well for this event sooner or later on JLHLS.

This year, there was the addition of New York Comic Con taking a larger part and area, of the book festivities. JLHLS had been able to cover news of their convention this year, and with the news of the merging of dates for the Comic Con to be with New York Anime Festival, that is coming up next year. Graphic novels is taking a bigger part in mainstream publishing for youth, and grown ups alike.

At 10am, I met up with Rachel, and we made our way to listen to the panel of Comics Get Synocated: Memoir, History, Biography and Reportage in Comics Today. This panel was moderated by Brenden Burford, who is the editor of Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays. Panelists include Sarah Glidden, Victor Kerlow and Alex Holden who are contributors in the mentioned work. This was a panel about the publication of non-fiction comics, which is inspired by the author’s real life.

These were points I heard and twittered about:

  • Life experiences are key to being an inspiration for a comic.
  • Extensive research and accuracy is good for comic integrity.
  • Glidden spoke about her inspiration with a personal experience in visiting another country for a sibling adoption. Her next work is going to be on a trip to Israel.
  • Holden spoke about his experience and interest in graffiti to then putting as much words into his story. Spoke about how he had extensive hours of audio interview to transcribe to then condense into a twelve page piece.
  • Kerlow went to School of Visual Arts, and is experiencing the world for what he sees, free drawing on the spot for inspiration, and a plot point.
  • Nonfiction comics is having an identity crisis, of people now knowing where to shelve it or market it. It would probably end on the bookstore somewhere collecting dust, if there is no clear section or audience to pursue for them.

Following the 10am panel, Rachel and I went inside the Brooklyn Borough Hall, to the Community Room, where it was already packed for The Future of Literary Fiction panel.

This is the description for the panel in the Festival’s handout: The Future of Literary Fiction. What are the challenges facing fiction writers during an economic recession and a volatile publishing landscape? How does the digitization of literature impact the creative process? What unexpected opportunities might present themselves? A panel discussion featuring T Cooper (Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes), Elizabeth Nunez (Anna-In-Between) and Keith Gessen (All the Sad Young Literary Men).

The moderator for this panel was former literary editor Richard Nash, with panelist contributions from T Cooper, Elizabeth Nunez, and Keith Gassen. This was an interesting panel, and there some points mentioned, as the panelist went back and forth with some drawn out discussions. Underneath is a summarization of what I took in my notes that day, and it would appear that I heard a lot from Cooper and Nunez, with some comment from Gassen. I am putting in some of my interpretation and thoughts in parentheses.

T Copper started with saying that he went to his friends on Facebook to ask about what their thoughts were for the future of literary fiction, and the outlook was pretty depressing, and grim. "Serious fiction might be dead," "Buy fucking new books," or "Don’t go to the library…." (This last comment was made from his agent, but there was an appreciation from the author for libraries, since the library is the largest market for the flow of books. A librarian in the crowd made this response that Cooper spoke differently.) That the current success strategy it seems to be succeeding for literary works was to go co write with directors about zombies or vampires. Cooper couldn’t help but talk about the underhanded side of the business. That it would be rough for editors who push good books, and get laid off because of sales not being as high as it could be.

Elizabeth Nunez initially spoke about how black authors would get stereotyped in writing. She cites the example of Terry McMillan. Small press saves literary novels (with their print on demand, and willingness to publish good writing). In spite of winning literary contests, this wouldn’t equate book sales though.

What would be the future of literature though?

  • There is going to be opportunity of digital literature.
  • Texting or twitter novels.

Panelists were pretty against this future aspect though, with the mentions of the drafts being an important thing in the writing process, but because the internet/technology was spontaneous and that can be a bad thing for the writing though. Copper mentions that the worst of humans comes out without editing.

Modernist writers do what movies can or cannot do. Fitzgerald was mentioned as an author of choice by Gassen. Novels are considered slow or fast, something that can match the pace of the Internet.

The panel then brought out the topic of book reviews, where it is good to have a book review than none at all. Cooper held the position that he never reads any reviews, because it marginalizes the reader into a specific type of genre group. (But there are going to be reviews, because the sheer amount of works being published, that reviews are necessary for a bite size interpretation.)

Nunez mentions that "Literary fiction writers are the thinkers of this society" That if people don’t read, then thoughts turn into crap – pornographic crap – just crap and a breakdown. She believes that literary writers are the cusp of society, that reading literary works should change the minds of readers.

Toward the end of the panel there were several responses from the audience, one is that response from the librarian about Cooper’s comment, and another is a comment about the panelist being snobbish, and how the panels would envision for a future where there is a refusal for accepting what is the trend. The panel closed with it there being an author’s choice of what is there to read, and a transient desire for people to pick up a literary novel. So if want to read another interpretation of this panel, you can check out Emily Magazine’s blog entry.

After the Literary panel was over, Rachel and I went to explore the various booths were at the Festival this year. There were some familiar authors/publishers from the previous year that I recall- For Beginners Press, Robert Cabell, Norman Beim among others. Above is the appearance of Yelp.com in a table. That was surprising. Rachel and I went off to look for a place to eat, and were surprised with the offer of free lunch from Chipotle nearby. At 1pm we tried to go to the panel for Literature in a Digital Age, but because there were too many people, we ended up finishing our time at the Brooklyn Book Festival earlier than planned. Information about Brooklyn Book Festival 2010 should be forthcoming. The next convention that I would be attending and covering would be New York Anime Festival 2009 for this upcoming weekend. So be on the look out for my coverage on that as well.

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