Publisher Johnny Temple might be Brooklyn's biggest cheerleader. Once the bass guitarist for the post-punk rock band, Girls Against Boys, he now runs the Brooklyn indie, Akashic Books, which he said aims at the "reverse gentrification of the literary world."
In addition to overseeing one of Brooklyn's best known publishing houses, Temple is also the host of the borough's flourishing book festival. We talked to him about the event--happening this week--and how it's changed.
How and why did the Brooklyn Book Festival come about?
The literary legacy of Brooklyn is quite profound, and dates back to the middle of the 19th century when Walt Whitman was the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle. Before the Brooklyn Book Festival, however, there was no large public book fair in the borough. The festival was launched in 2006 by then–Borough President Marty Markowitz, along with his staff, particularly Carolyn Greer, and Liz Koch. I came to them with the idea of a massive book festival, and it turned out it was something they were already hoping to stage. So we joined forces to launch the joint.
How has the festival evolved over the years?
The festival has grown much, much larger, and our reputation has spread internationally—something boosted by the fact that every year we add more authors who travel overseas to participate. We have authors from Brazil (Paulo Scott), India (Amit Chaudhrui), Cuba (Mylene Fernandez-Pintado), Israel (Assaf Gavron), Haiti (Frankétienne), South Africa (Lauren Buekes), England (Nadeem Aslam, Hamid Ismailov, and Nadifa Mohammed), France (Scholastique Mukasonga), and Mexico (Mario Bellatin), among other countries, participating in this year’s programming. All in all, we have around 300 authors participating in programs on over a dozen stages.
We have also expanded our programming from a one-day affair to a full week. The heart of the festival is still a single day (September 21 this year), but there is a full week of programming, which we call Bookend Events, leading up to the Sunday. Whereas the Sunday has events in and around Borough Hall, including a marketplace of over 250 vendors, the Bookend programs take place all across Brooklyn. This year we have over 60 Bookend events. When combined with the Sunday events, the total number of programs reaches nearly 200.
We also have a newly formed board of directors helping to ensure the festival's sustainability into the future. This complements our fantastic array of collaborative partners that includes the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the PEN American Center, St. Francis College, the Nation magazine, the New York Review of Books, and others.
What factors are most important in creating a successful literary festival?
The programming is organized by the Brooklyn Literary Council, a group of about 20 publishing professionals who volunteer their time. We are amazed every year at the dynamic ideas brought forth by this highly intelligent and generous group spearheading the events. I think we have something to offer anyone attending—from fans of comics and graphic novels to children of all ages and people of any religious and cultural background. All those interested in lively discussions, a vibrant range of Bookend events, draw-offs, and literary mingles will find so much to celebrate and enjoy at the festival.
Brooklyn is trending right now: What role has the book festival played, if any, in the borough's emergence as a cultural and literary hub?
There’s no doubt that the festival has been a major catalyst on the literary side of things. In 2006 there was a critical mass of authors, readers, and publishing professionals relocating from Manhattan to Brooklyn, but most literary programs remained on the other side of the East River. That has all changed, and any night of the week, at any time of year, Brooklyn provides heaps of literary delights. Manhattan is jealous.