Nonfiction: Brooklyn in Time and Memory
Chris Knutsen & Valerie Steiker, editors, Brooklyn Was Mine (Riverhead Books, 2008)
The collection begins, appropriately, with an immigrant. Lara Vapnyar has just arrived from Moscow, only to find that her new neighborhood, Brighton Beach, is "far more Russian than in real Russia." This is what happens all over Brooklyn, she says –"immigrants go to ridiculous extremes to recreate their homelands, only to end up with a vulgar pastiche." It is a notion that Dinaw Mengestu responds to in "Home at Last," the final essay of the anthology. He writes: "If there was one thing I admired most about [Brooklyn immigrants], it was that they had succeeded, at least partly, in recreating in Brooklyn some of what they had lost when they left their countries of origin."
While some writers focus on the landscape (Susan Choi tracks the geothermal shifts that carved out the hills and edges of Brooklyn), there are those who understand Brooklyn as existing in time and memory. Jennifer Egan shows us World War II Brooklyn through the letters of Lucy, a shipfitter for the Navy Yard. Lucy wrote religiously to her husband, who was serving in the navy. The daily correspondence spanned five months, a mere snapshot of domestic life in the midst of war. The scope of the letters, touching on a vast experience—is remarkable: "the glorious blossoms on the tree facing our window –that is the tree in Brooklyn. The last thing I say good morning to before sleeping." One can only wonder if that tree still exists.
There is heartbreak, there is redemption, there is refuge in Brooklyn. Alexandra Styron talks of "escaping Manhattan," Robert Sullivan finds calm in the vortex of a windstorm on Montague street, and Katie Roiphe finds young love in the Coney Island Cyclone. But it is in the absurd that Brooklyn can best be explained. Jonathan Lethem's portrait of downtown Brooklyn is maniacal, comical and eerily true. His descriptions are brash, abrupt, confusing, and exact, yet he stops flat and proceeds, self consciously, to question this obsession to 'reclaim Brooklyn.' His essay, he says, is a "memo to those who think they can control or define a place like this."
Not just love letters to Brooklyn, the essays are honest depictions, portraits under an unforgiving fluorescent light – each of them expressing a frank acceptance of a borough not always known for its positive aspects. To put it simply, these writers see Brooklyn as home, in all its flaws and complications. Earlier generations saw it as a transitory place, a place to get out of as soon as you could. When John Burnham Schwartz decides he's moving to Brooklyn, where his dad grew up, the father says, "Over my dead body."
Brooklyn's different now, these writers seem to say. None of them is blind to the rapid gentrification and increasing globalization of the borough, but they see Brooklyn as something beyond bulldozed buildings and disappearing landmarks. Brooklyn Was Mine is an eloquent response to a changing place, an effort to capture something continually in flux. "Whatever happens to Brooklyn," writes Phillip Lopate, "its literary soul is sound and robust, and its writers fiercely loyal."
Janine Yu is a freelance writer living in New York City.
The Morozov Collection: Icons of Modern ArtBy Natalia Gierowska
MARCH 2022 | ArtSeen
The Morozov Collection: Icons of Modern Art brings to light the forgotten story of Russian brothers Mikhail Morozov (18701903) and Ivan Morozov (18711921), who amassed one of the worlds most spectacular collections of Impressionist and modern art. It is the first time that the Morozov Collection, which comprises nearly two hundred paintings and sculptures, has been shown outside Russia.
from the she said dialogues: flesh memoryBy Akilah Oliver
FEB 2021 | Poetry
Akilah Oliver (1961–2011) was born in St. Louis and grew up in Los Angeles. She was the author of two books of poetry: A Toast in the House of Friends (2009) and the she said dialogues: flesh memory (1999), which received a PEN Beyond Margins award. Her chapbooks include A Collection of Objects (2010), a(A)ugust (2007), The Putterer’s Notebook (2006) and An Arriving Guard of Angels, Thusly Coming to Greet (2004). Oliver was an influential teacher and a notable performer. She collaborated with a range of artists and musicians and co-founded the experimental, feminist performance collective Sacred Naked Nature Girls in 1994. She was also a member of the Belladonna* feminist avant-garde collaborative and a graduate student in Philosophy, Art and Social Thought at the European Graduate School. Oliver lived for many years in Boulder, Colorado and taught at the Naropa Institute’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. In addition, she taught at Pratt Institute and at The New School in New York City, where she lived at the time of her death.
The Cancellation of RussiaBy Darra Goldstein
JUNE 2022 | Critics Page
People throughout the world are demonstrating solidarity with Ukraine by erasing the words Russia and Russian, a first step in the attempt to erase Russia itself. In Brighton BeachBrooklyns Little Odessa populated mainly by Russian-speaking Jews who fled from Ukraine and other former Soviet republicsthe community grocery store Taste of Russia has changed its name. Bobby and Elena Rakhman, the stores owners, wanted to demonstrate support for Ukraine.
Aaron Angello’s The Fact of Memory
MAY 2022 | Books
Aaron Angello’s new collection of lyric essays, The Fact of Memory, is the result of a daily practice stemming over some four months. It consists of one short meditation for every word in Shakespeare’s twenty-ninth sonnet (“When, in disgrace with fortune and mens eyes”), written every morning for 114 consecutive days. Alongside its emphasis on structure, Angello’s collection revels in the gap: the open space without a railing, the leap readers must make on their own, without the help of explication or transition.