Last Saturday at the Prison Martyrs’ Monument in Fort Greene Park, moms, dads, grandmas, great aunts, picnickers, lovebirds, strangers, and friends gathered to hear stories by the young writers of the NY Writers Coalition summer workshops, and from acclaimed writers Tayari Jones, Earl Lovelace, and Jessica Hagedorn.
Laurie Cumbo, the founder and executive director of the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art, kicked off the day’s festivities. After a brief celebration of clear, sunny skies, NYWC’s youngest writers took the stage. New York natives aged seven to ten regaled audience members with sometimes humorous, always thoughtful stories about ice cream and sharks and invisibility cloaks.
Writer Jessica Hagedon took the microphone next to share an excerpt from her 2011 book Toxicology. As the young writers played in the park and enjoyed snacks, audience members shifted out of parent-mode to take in Hagedorn’s story on the complexities of being teenaged, Filipino, and from New York. The end of her reading was marked with a swell of steel drum music, courtesy of the CASYM Steel Orchestra, which provided soundtrack for the festival.
The second group of young writers, aged eleven to thirteen, read next, soliciting a hearty response of laughter and “Awww!” from the audience as they performed poems and prose on topics silly and serious. Tayari Jones, the festival’s second professional writer, picked up on the more intense elements of their reading, sharing a segment from her own book Silver Sparrow about a young girl coming to terms with the realization that her father has a second family.
The last group of young writers, aged 14 to 17, maintained Jones’ level of introspection, turning their verse inwards to explore the complexities of their own adolescences. Stories and poems about dating, truth, and depression served as a logical follow-up to Jones’ character’s sudden introduction to the realities of the grown-up world.
Trinidadian writer Earl Lovelace ended day’s festivities on a lighter, though no less critical, note with a reading from his latest book Is Just A Movie. Festival attendees nodded and laughed in lighthearted solidary as Lovelace assumed the voice of a Trinidadian actor and told of his experience playing a “native” for an American film production company. Though a story that ends with a stage death might have marked an easy closure to some other literary events, the end of Lovelace’s reading did not signal the end of the day’s festivities. As folding chairs were stacked and litter was bagged, an excited group of readers and listeners migrated from Fort Greene Park to Greenlight Bookstore on Fulton Street for wine, cheese, cake, and mingling.
The Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival was a celebration of many things: foremost, good stories, but also community, intergenerational collaboration, and Fort Greene’s rich literary tradition. If the enthusiasm of this year’s participants is anything to go by, there will be a reason and an audience for this festival for years to come.
The Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival is presented by NY Writers Coalition, Akashic Books, the Fort Greene Park Conservancy, Greenlight Bookstore, with additional support from Amazon.comand The Walt Whitman Project.
Sponsors include Amazon.com, the National Endowment for the Arts, Bay and Paul Foundations, Valentine Perry Snyder Fund, Kalliopeia Foundation, Meringoff Family Foundation, City Council Member Letitia James, Brooklyn Community Foundation, and Poets & Writers, Inc. through public funds from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
Photos by Melvin Reeves.