Today marks the pre-release of Greg Gerke’s My Brooklyn Writer Friend, a collection whose “stories conspire, like a dream, to create a world both uncanny and familiar, delirious and quotidian, funny and sad and completely mesmerizing.” (John Haskell, author of I Am Not Jackson Pollock and American Purgatorio)
Get the collection at the special price of $14.95 with immediate shipping.
Read first on the birth of Brooklyn, and be sure to check out the event schedule that follows.
La Naissance of My Brooklyn Writer Friend
I’ve often looked askance at author statements in galleries or museums and people who chose to give an in-depth psychology of prose or verse before reading it aloud. In public dissemination, the art is free of the artist, gone baby gone, and the receiver can chortle, fume, or appropriate as is her wont. I can describe this book’s birth because now, like the parent leaving the child with the agency, my responsibility for it ceases, as Maurice Blanchot says, “Reading is not writing the book again but causing the book to write itself or be written—this time without the writer as intermediary, without anyone writing it.”
And so, I will only act as a literary biographer with no hope of heaping criticism onto this distant enterprise and will try to map the book’s coordinates. With a few exceptions, all of the stories after the first section were written within some weeks of each other, during a very grueling winter just after I moved back to Brooklyn six years ago. I remember sitting on a bench in Prospect Park, looking at its Long Meadow covered in snow and ice, and writing some stories in longhand while gloved. Surprisingly, amidst the chill, a man crunched through the park’s icy walkways and sat next to me (there is only one bench facing west on the meadow proper) without comment—out of deference for my act or in awe of the failing puce sun about to be eclipsed by a large tower on Prospect Park West.
On another occasion, I couchsurfed in Bed-Stuy. Did that engender the story “My Bed-Stuy Friend”? Possibly, though I awoke another morning there, after attending a literary event in Soho that may have filled me with envy, despair, and anomie, and I scribbled “My Brooklyn Writer Friend.” But I have always seesawed while living in New York, usually writing away from my residence, often in the fusty Mid-Manhattan library on 40th and 5th—a kitten of a building, though six floors high, compared to the lionized behemoth kitty-corner to the kitten, the Steven A. Schwartzman building, as only librarians and those fusspots into the proper name thing call it. Much of my output has gone on in this decaying structure that I chose over its Big Daddy for the simple fact of being able to walk the stacks and peruse any book I fancied. It retains a colorful cast of characters, perspicacious librarians, as well as the homeless, who ofttimes line up eighty deep before opening to be the first in, and various older men who go to their self-appointed floors, and sometimes chairs, and open the volumes accompanying them like so many children. This motley crew includes a dapper Japanese gentleman I have seen on and off for ten years and who just last Tuesday refused to acknowledge my stare at the incredible coiffure that is his hairstyle, with a side part and bangs jutting out like freestanding sculpture. In those years, I too assigned myself the third floor because of its proximity to the Belle-Lettres sections, which I often needed for reference and recharge, including Elizabeth Bishops’s Poems: North & South. A Cold Spring first edition, an object holding a poem that forced its way into a story, the way the weed in her eponymous poem, “lift[s] its head all dripping wet/…/ and answered then: ’I grow,’ it said,/’but to divide your heart again.’” Sitting on the wooden chairs, many stories came to light with the awful silent whine of fluorescence overhead, accompanied by the too loud cell-phone conversation or a person yelling at unseen others.
Many were written in between bouts of sending out job applications and worrying where I would live, sometimes not knowing where I would sleep at night. It was a frantic time. I spent five days of the Christmas week stuck in the Upper East Side bed of my friend’s parents (they were all in the Hamptons) with the second worst flu of my life, having to ask my Harlem friend to buy and bring panaceas galore. Then a month’s sublet in Bushwick, home to the most bedbugs per capita, though luckily only small cockroaches crawled about my bed at night in a windowless room. In the midst of this, I went to interview Paula Fox at her semi-palatial apartment in Brooklyn Heights. I dated a documentarian, but she didn’t make jokes and didn’t get mine. Plus, a few weeks were spent in a second floor apartment off of one of the Lower East Side’s noisiest intersections, Ave. A and 4th, listening for hours to the debaucheries of the new jet set through a thin pane of glass. But it was a glorious time because the muse had pointed her finger and bade me write. I would have never made it through but for the kindness of friends.
My Brooklyn Writer Friend Reading Schedule:
Sept. 28 – Unnameable Books with John Keene and Vincent Czyz; Brooklyn, RSVP
Oct. 8 – Boswell Book Company with Ben Tanzer; Milwaukee, RSVP
Oct. 10 – City Lit Books with James Tadd Adcox and Megan Kirby; Chicago
Oct. 19 – Powerhouse Arena, with Miles Klee; Brooklyn, RSVP
Nov. 4 -Wandering Goat Cafe with Robert Hill Long, Eugene
Nov. 6 – Mother Foucault’s Bookstore with Cheston Knapp, Portland
Nov. 10 – Third Place Books (Ravenna) with Matthew Simmons, Seattle
Future dates in NYC: Sundays at Erv’s