Behind the Article: Taking a Closer look at “Literary Brooklyn Heights”
Join Literary Traveler as we go ‘behind the article’ with Norm Goldstein, author of our August 13th article, “Literary Brooklyn Heights.” After reading about the wealth of literary history in Brooklyn, we were very excited to learn more about the past, present and future of the borough and all it has to offer the literary traveler.
Literary Traveler: So much is written about city life at the turn of the century. Do you think more attention needs to be paid to Brooklyn?
Norm Goldstein: Brooklyn, I’m pleased to say, certainly is getting its share of attention these days. It’s the new “in” place; Brooklyn is cool. And it is deserving of the attention. It’s changed dramatically for the better, especially in the last dozen years or so. Its history is fascinating, from the days of the early Dutch settlers through the Revolutionary War to its growth after the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, then the subway extension. And it all started in Brooklyn Heights, called Breukelen by the Dutch.
LT: You mention a few books on the topic in your article. Is there one book on the subject that you would recommend to those interested in reading more?
NG: I recommend February House by Sherill Tippins for those interested in more about that unique gathering of talent in one Brooklyn Heights house in the pre-World War II years and Literary Brooklyn by Evan Hughes for the broader picture.
LT: How do you feel Brooklyn influenced the work of the writers who have lived there? Do you think this has changed over the years?
NG: In earlier times, there’s no question that the lure was cheaper rents. In 1939, W.H. Auden was talked into moving to the so-called February House from his apartment a few blocks away because he’d save money.
This has certainly changed over the years; rents in Brooklyn Heights are far from cheap today. But there is the lure of a quieter space than the usually frenetic Manhattan, the peaceful views from the waterfront, and, of course, Brooklyn’s unique idiosyncrasies — and characters — enough literary fodder for a lifetime of novels.
LT: Who is your personal favorite writer who lived and worked in Brooklyn in the 19th or early 20th century? Tell us a little about your choice.
NG: For that period, I’d have to choose the poets, Whitman and Hart Crane. The latter is a personal favorite for his poem about the Brooklyn Bridge. I often walk to the Promenade overlooking the bridge and the East River for substantially the same view he had when he described the fusion of “harp and altar” and feel his passion.
LT: For those unfamiliar with Brooklyn, what is the best way for a new visitor to experience the area?
NG: Brooklyn is a huge borough, a conglomeration of hundreds of distinct neighborhoods; it’s impossible to see it all. There are bus tours for an overview of some of it, but I suggest a walking tour of Brooklyn Heights, beginning with a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to get there.
LT: For Literary Travelers visiting Brooklyn, do you have any off the beaten path suggestions of things they should see and do?
NG: Plan a visit during the Brooklyn Book Festival.
(Editor’s note: The year the Brooklyn Book Festival is taking place Sunday, September 23rd, with preliminary events beginning on September 17th. According to the Festival’s website, “The Brooklyn Book Festival is the largest free literary event in New York Citypresenting an array of literary stars and emerging authors who represent the exciting world of literature today. One of America’s premier book festivals, this hip, smart, diverse gathering attracts thousands of book lovers of all ages.” This year’s festival boasts appearances by Dennis Lehane, Mary Higgins Clark and Joyce Carol Oates, among others.)
LT: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. I look forward to exploring Brooklyn in more depth, and I have a feeling that our readers will be similarly inspired.