Colson Whitehead Writes about Writing in Brooklyn

Much as I like Colson Whitehead (Apex Hides the Hurt, 2006), I wasn’t even planning to read his essay in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, let alone link to it. One look at the headline (“I Write in Brooklyn. Get Over It.“) and I already felt fatigued. Bad enough that New York City is seen by so many as the citadel of fine writing–when it gets down to the borough-pride thing I like to think instead about some of the great writers we have here in the Midwest, like Richard Powers (The Echo Maker, 2006). Although many of the rest of them have moved to New York.

But I misunderstood the headline, and I’m glad I read the rest of the piece. It’s very, very funny.

There was the famous case of the language poet from Red Hook who grew despondent when the Shift key on her MacBook broke. She couldn’t write for weeks. Overcome by melancholy humors, she jumped into the enchanted, glowing waters of the Gowanus Canal, her pockets full of stones. And … she was cured! The metaphors came rushing back. With eccentric spacing between the letters, but still. Now you see people jumping off the Union Street Bridge all the time. They scramble out in a hurry, trying to get home before they forget the first lines of their memoirs. Their hair falls out, but that’s the price you pay for artistic creation. 

And makes a point, too:

But you’d have to be a bit dense to confuse a geographical and economic accident with an aesthetic movement, no matter how sick you are of hearing about how green the grass is over here, no matter how much you long for that nurturing Elysium of your dreams.



About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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