Brooklyn hot spots

Franklin Park Reading Series

By Elyssa Goodman

Once a month, Franklin Park Bar and Beer Garden in Crown Heights is flooded with literature groupies sipping happy hour beverages, waiting to listen to lush poetry and prose. The space is home to the Franklin Park Reading Series, curated by writer and editor Penina Roth. Roth has been hosting readings at the bar since 2009, and it seems like each time I go more and more people are crammed into the bar’s “Big Room” to hear work from literary greats like Jennifer Egan, Colson Whitehead, A.M. Homes, Rick Moody and countless others. Space fills up quickly, so I have regularly seen grown adults come to the readings and voluntarily sit on the floor of the bar to listen to their literary heroes.

Roth likes to draw from the Crown Heights pool of talent when possible, though readers have and do come from all over the country, sometimes the world, and read when they are passing through New York. Perhaps accordingly, the Franklin Park Reading Series has been named one of the best readings not only in Brooklyn but in New York by such publications as The New Yorker, The L Magazine, The New York Times, BOMB, and New York Magazine, among many others.

Readings are held on the second Monday of each month, and tonight, June 10th, we are privy to the literary stylings of Matthew Aaron Goodman, Matt Bell, Amy Brill, and Edwidge Danticat. This night the series partnered with the PEN American Center, which works to “to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to make it possible for everyone to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others.” Every now and then the series will partner with another literature staple, as it has in the past with well-known literary magazine Electric Literature.

The room buzzes with voices, people juggle beers and look for a last-minute seat in a room that’s crowded despite the downpour outside. Roth’s sweet voice cuts through the room and it falls quiet.

First to read is Goodman (no relation to this writer), whose new book Hold Love Strong was chosen by Barnes & Noble as a “Discover Great New Writers Book” and a “New Voices Pick” by USA Today. He reads his essay “Leaving Brooklyn,” a love letter to the borough: “I am the naked boy, your naked boy,” he reads, as he unravels the story of his journey through writerdom’s vulnerability after arriving in the borough with just “$200, a pen, and a lighter but no cigarettes” in his pocket.

Brill is next, reading from her latest novel, The Movement of Stars. The novel is set in 1845 and follows the character Hannah Gardner Price, whose aspirations are less for marriage and more achievements in astronomy. The Movement of Stars has thus far been positively reviewed in Vanity Fair, Booklist, Marie Claire, People, The Village Voice, and more Brill herself is a writer and producer, whose work has appeared in Salon, Redbook, Guernica, and MTV, among others.

Author Matt Bell follows. He reads from his new novel In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, which shares the trials and tribulations of marriage and parenthood through the lens of magical realism. It follows a husband’s growing resentment and a wife who can sing objects into being “and from there it begins to get weird,” he jokes. Bell teaches in the English department at Northern Michigan University and a senior editor at Dzanc Books. He has had his work anthologized in The Best American Mystery Series and Best American Fantasy.

Last but certainly not least is Edwidge Danticat. Currently based in Miami, Danticat is originally from Haiti and has won myriad awards for her work, including but not limited to the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Story Prize, among others. She was also recently awarded a Doctor of Letters from Yale this past May. “You guys are really nice people who have been drinking a while,” she laughs as she reads from her latest novel, Claire of the Sealight. “It was clear something other than love had been made in that room that night,” she reads to a silent room her story of a girl who has gone missing in a small Haitian town. She finishes and the room explodes into applause, another Franklin Park Reading Series drawing to a close.


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