Bookworms in Brooklyn

On an exceptionally sunny and warm first day of autumn, book lovers from all over the city came to Brooklyn for the eighth annual Brooklyn Book Festival. Brooklyn’s enthusiastic Borough President, Marty Markowitz, created the event to celebrate local writers, though it has expanded to include writers from outside the borough. At “Bookend” events, held from September 16 to September 22, various writers gave talks on all kinds of subjects.

The week of free literary events culminated with the festival in Downtown Brooklyn. The festival featured more than ninety events with writers, including Lois Lowry, Art Spiegelman, David Levithan, and Francesca Lia Block. This year, about 45,000 people attended the festival, which lasted from 10 AM to 6 PM on September 22. It was a fantastic opportunity for book lovers to hear their favorite writers talk about feminism, politics, motherhood, art, banned books, old age, and many other topics. Fans also had the opportunity to get their books autographed. Bookstores set up stalls throughout the area so that people could purchase books and find out more about independent booksellers.

Brooklyn Borough Hall
Brooklyn Borough Hall

I attended the festival for the first time this year, and I loved all of the events that I attended. As a lifelong bookworm, it was exciting to see my favorite authors speak about the writing process and give their opinions on various topics. I think people often see the authors of their favorite books as superhumans, so seeing and hearing them talk about relevant issues helps us relate to authors in the same way that we relate to their books. I also had the great opportunity of discovering new writers whose books I’m eager to dive into during my next vacation. Two of the events I attended were a discussion with Lois Lowry,  and “The Secret Lives of Girls,” featuring Meg Cabot, Sharon M. Draper, and Lauren Myracle.

Brooklyn Book Festival Presents Lois Lowry, 2013 BoBi Honoree

(Featuring Lois Lowry and Katherine Applegate)

St. Francis College Auditorium, 1 PM

This year Lois Lowry was given the Best of Brooklyn award. When I saw Lowry was going to be at the festival, I knew I had to go see her. I grew up reading her fantastic children’s book, such as The Giver quartet and Number the Stars. Outside of the auditorium, there was a long line of people waiting to see her. The line included ten-year-olds, college students, and seniors, which shows how many people Lowry has reached with her books over the years. Once we all got inside the packed auditorium, Markowitz introduced Lowry and Katherine Applegate, the author of the popular children’s series Animorphs.

Marty Markowitz
Marty Markowitz

The one-hour discussion touched on the motivations behind a writing career, the importance of precise language, and the challenges of writing for children. Lowry talked about her lifelong love of writing and the many years it took her to actually become a professional writer, due to starting a family at a young age. Applegate talked about the uncertainty and fear that she had in her writing ability, and how she eventually overcame it.

Lowry also addressed the idea of precise language for several minutes. She said that kids today don’t take the time to learn to write properly and then described an email that she received from a fan in which the grammar was so poor that she could barely understand what was being said. With the popularization of social media, children are growing up in a world of emoticons and abbreviations.

Both writers also addressed the challenges of writing for children. Lowry said that she doesn’t try to put any particular message into her books and instead allows children to make their own judgments on what they have read. Applegate said, “I started writing children’s books because I was stupid enough to think it was easier. It’s extraordinarily challenging to write for kids; they can smell BS a mile away.”

In their books, both authors introduce situations that make children think about difficult issues at a young age. As a child, I remember liking The Giver because its dystopian society seemed so different from other children’s book settings. There is nothing wrong with children’s books that are filled with happy and silly things, but I think it’s great for children to hear about adult issues in a way that is not didactic or difficult to understand.

(Left and Right) Lois Lowry and Katherine Applegate
(Left and Right) Lois Lowry and Katherine Applegate

Lastly, Lowry told the audience that The Giver will be made into a movie starring Alexander Skarsgard, Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Brenton Thwaites, and Katie Holmes. Lowry did not write the screenplay, but she was consulted during the writing and set design process. The film will be shot in South Africa and is currently in pre-production. It will be released next August. Unlike the book, the characters in the movie will be portrayed as older teens, and there will be a lot more action. I’m eager to see how the film will portray the quiet strength and introspection of the novel.

The Secret Lives of Girls

(Featuring Meg Cabot, Sharon M. Draper, and Lauren Myracle)

Youth Stoop (Borough Hall Plaza/Columbus Park), 3 PM

When I saw the name “Meg Cabot” on the list of authors, I was immediately brought back to my pre-teen self and the wonderfully funny The Princess Diaries books. During this event, Meg Cabot was accompanied by fellow YA authors Sharon M. Draper and Lauren Myracle. I was not familiar with Draper’s or Myracle’s work. However, I had put Myracle’s book The Infinite Moment of Us on my reading list a few weeks before, so this was a great chance to get to know her.

There was a lot of laughter during the hour as the writers discussed how they explore the difficulties that young adults face in their books. Cabot said she put some of her own adolescent experiences in her books. This made sense to me, because when I imagine Mia Thermopolis (the protagonist in The Princess Diaries), I imagine her as Cabot: funny, witty, and slightly awkward. When Cabot was asked what she would tell her teenage self, she said she would tell her to stop worrying so much and being sad all the time. She also described how she failed algebra, but still went on to have a successful career. It was good advice for teen girls who tend to obsess over every little thing and often don’t see the big picture.

(L-R) Meg Cabot, Sharon M. Draper, and Lauren Myracle
(Left to Right) Meg Cabot, Sharon M. Draper, and Lauren Myracle

Later on, the conversation turned to the challenges and joys of having a writing career. The writers were asked what they most liked and disliked about being a writer. Cabot said she loved that she never had to change out of her pajamas, but she wondered what it would be like to have coworkers. Myracle said that she doesn’t like the loneliness associated with the job, as writing essentially consists of sitting at your computer by yourself and just being with your own thoughts for a while. Draper pointed out that writing is not a glamorous occupation. A writer’s career is not about having a ton of fans or being featured on author panels. It’s about the stuggle to find all of the right words. Draper said that sometimes the words come out of her naturally, but at other times, she just feels stuck.

These three writers write for a predominantly female audience, so their work is commonly regarded as “chick lit.” This word has a negative connotation, as some people look down at female writers and the topics they write about. The writers all agreed that they don’t necessarily view their writing as chick lit. They don’t see themselves as female writers, but as writers whose work should be taken just as seriously as a man’s.

I highly recommend that everyone attend the festival next year. It’s a great opportunity to explore your love of reading and writing, as well to hear your favorite authors have awesome discussions with other writers. More information about this year’s festival can be found at the Brooklyn Book Festival site.

All photos taken by Slavena Salve Nissan.

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