colson whitehead writes in brooklyn

Way back when, when I was still blogging from New York City, and this blog had a completely different (and very small) readership, I quoted Colson Whitehead: here, and here. (I just went back and checked the posts: I had been blogging for four days! It's safe to say my readership was, at most, two: me and Allan.)

Whitehead, a New Yorker, wrote a collection of essays called The Colossus of New York. It's a contemporary cousin of E.B. White's classic Here Is New York, two love songs to a place. I love them both.

One of Whitehead's essays was published in the New York Times Magazine, as part of a special post-9/11 issue. I was reading it on a flight to Dublin, on November 11, 2001. A plane had crashed outside JFK Airport that morning. For the first and only time in my life, I was afraid to fly.

I was finally going to Ireland, a much-anticipated trip. I was reading Colson Whitehead, and thinking about how much I love New York City. I was thinking about how much I love my dogs, and how much I wanted to see them again. It's a very clear and potent memory.

A new essay of Whitehead's ran in yesterday's Times: "I Write In Brooklyn. Get Over It."

I lived in Brooklyn for seven years, including my first years on my own after graduating university, and my first years living with Allan. Both my parents grew up in Brooklyn, and I visited family there all my life. But I hope people with no connection to that fine borough will still appreciate this terrific piece.
I live in Brooklyn. I moved here 14 years ago for the cheap rent. It was a little embarrassing because I was raised in Manhattan, and so I was a bit of a snob about the other boroughs. At the time there was a big buzz about the "Black Renaissance" of Fort Greene. It was one big house party thrown by Spike Lee and Branford Marsalis, Rosie Perez swinging from the chandelier. I wanted to be part of the vibrant cultural scene. Who doesn't want to be part of a vibrant cultural scene? That didn't happen, but it was cheap, and I grew to love it and it's my home.

It's changed a lot. As you may have heard, all the writers are in Brooklyn these days. It's the place to be. You're simply not a writer if you don't live here. Google "brooklyn writer" and you'll get, Did you mean: the future of literature as we know it? People are coming in from all over. In fact, the physical act of moving your possessions from Manhattan to Brooklyn is now the equivalent of a two-year M.F.A. program. When you get to the other side, they hand you three Moleskine notebooks and a copy of "Blogging for Dummies." You're good to go.

I have a hard time understanding all the hype. I dig it here and all, but it's just a place. It does not have magical properties. In interviews, I get asked a lot, "What's it like to write in Brooklyn?" I get invited to do panels with other Brooklyn writers to discuss what it's like to be a writer in Brooklyn. I expect it's like writing in Manhattan, but there aren't as many tourists walking very slowly in front of you when you step out for coffee. It's like writing in Paris, but there are fewer people speaking French. What do they expect me to say? "Instead of ink, I write in mustard from Nathan’s Famous, a Brooklyn institution since 1916." "I built my desk out of wooden planks taken from the authentic rubble of Ebbets Field. Have I mentioned how I still haven’t forgiven the Dodgers for moving to Los Angeles?"

Do yourself a favour, read the whole essay here.

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