The Bushwick Book Club, a hip literary series that launched in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood in 2009, is a bit of a misnomer—it’s not really a book club, and it has spread far from Brooklyn. The series, which brings together performers at monthly events celebrating a single literary work, has U.S. branches in Los Angeles; New Orleans; Portland, Ore.; Santa Barbara, Calif.; and Seattle, as well as international branches in Malmo, Sweden, and Toronto. New chapters are developing in Ireland and Wales, there’s talk of an event in London next month, and its inaugural Oakland, Calif., event is slated for August 29. There’s even a podcast. What it doesn’t have, though, is a book club.
That befits its origins—the series was founded by Susan Hwang, a songwriter, at a beloved, now-closed Bushwick arts and music venue, Goodbye Blue Monday. The idea, she said, was to have a night of new songs inspired by literature. The owner’s response was, simply, “Sure.”
With Jessie Kilguss, who handles communications—her position is listed on the website as “architect of world domination”—and technical director Charlie Nieland, Hwang has taken the series much further. The trio will travel to Oakland later this month, where an event will be themed around the late Oliver Sacks’s Musicophilia.
A typical event involves a communal evening featuring songs and other performances, all of which interpret different aspects of whichever book has been chosen as the night’s theme: Jonathan Ames’s Wake Up, Sir!, for instance, or, Chuck Palahniuk’s Legacy last year, for which the group orchestrated a three-city tour. Earlier this summer, the group held an event at Barbès, in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, for Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife, and another at the same location in July for Dean Haspiel’s The Red Hook, a webcomic turned comics collection. (Haspiel called himself “thrilled and honored to become an audience member of my own graphic novel.”) Last year the group partnered with the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Film as part of the One Book, One New York initiative, putting on a show at the City Winery as an official ancillary event.
In addition to the free publicity the events bring to a particular book, some also serve as opportunities for authors and publishers to sell their books. “When the author is present at the shows, their publishers sometimes arrange with a local bookseller to have the books available for sale—and then the author can sign the books as well,” Kilguss said, noting that this was the case with Ames, Palahniuk, and Haspiel.
“People are thirsty for stories, savoring the written word and excited by new ways of extending the enjoyment they get from their favorite literature,” Hwang said. The way she sees it, she added, “readers enjoy hearing, seeing, and tasting their books, while the musicians and artists who take on the Bushwick Book Club challenge enjoy the artistic experiment of absorbing the book, seeing how it interacts with them and allowing for that exalted human experience of making a new thing.”