Image source: Flickr/Roman Iakoubtchik
HI GUYS I’M IN NEW YORK!!!!
Okay, sorry, I’ll be chill. It’s just hard not to be excited. You wanna know what I’ve been doing? Going to heaps of awesome parties, hiking in the mountains upstate, making friends with celebrities, eating haute cuisine, concert-hopping, shopping my brains out at Bergdorf Goodman and getting seven dogs! What, you don’t believe me? FINE, you caught me. I haven’t been doing any of that stuff. What I have actually been doing is going to literary events. Lots of them. That’s basically all I do anymore. Any given night in NYC you can see Very Famous and Good Writers, and very often, it’s free. The fact that NYC is the world’s great publishing hub means that there’s a huge breadth and depth of talent for event programmers to pick from, and it shows.
I thought I’d put together a guide to some of the great literary venues and events in the Big Apple. Also I want to make you jealous and come visit me! I have no friends.
1. McNally Jackson Books
52 Prince St
I’m sorry to be so vulgar, but McNally Jackson gives me a boner. It goes without saying that it’s one of the best bookshops in the city. The fiction selection is so well curated that I could basically walk right in off the street, choose a book at random and walk away happy. (I have a friend who actually does this there.)
But to events: the bookshop runs, on average, one event per day, catering to many different tastes and crowds. Every month I wait for the event calendar to be published, like a weirdo, and I happily book myself out a few nights every time. I’ve seen the magical critic and essayist Hilton Als do a reading from his exquisite essay collection White Girls, attended a YA festival event hosted by David Levithan, and seen fiction master Colm Toibin interview cult favourite Lynne Tillman. FOR FREE. They recently had a Harry Potter rereading book club which I didn’t go to because I hate life.
The last thing I went to was the book launch party for Boyhood Island, the third book in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. Let me set the scene: it’s 4:30pm, and the line for the event, which doesn’t start until 7pm, already stretches around the block. I see bunches of different friends in the line, as excited as I remember being while waiting for a rock band to start cranking out the tunes. Hundreds of us waited two and a half hours to see the Norwegian novelist talk about his book to Zadie Smith. Oh, didn’t I mention that? ZADIE SMITH WAS THE INTERVIEWER. It was great, even though it was really hot down there and I almost fainted.
2. Barnes & Noble
I hesitate to include Barnes & Noble here because I have actually never been to an event here. But I see the events pop up all the time, and they are often big-ticket events that I only avoid because, Karl Ove Knausgaard excepted, I don’t tend to like to line up for anyone. But at the moment, if you search all the NYC locations you’ll find an event for the legendary Joan Rivers’ Diary of a Mad Diva, a preview event for the heavily anticipated forthcoming third book in Lev Grossman’s Magicians series, and, if you’re willing to go all the way to Flushing, you can catch rapper Ja Rule talking about his book, Unruly: The Highs and Lows of Becoming a Man. They do not play around at Barnes & Noble.
A friend of mine was working at the PEN World Voices Festival this year, and I was so glad she worded me up to it. In a city like this, where so much stuff is happening every night that it’s easy to lose track of what’s on when, events and even festivals can pass you completely by. Fortunately, thanks to her, I caught one of my favourite writers, Lydia Davis, at two events: a reading from her exquisitely funny new story collection, Can’t and Won’t, and a panel with the Icelandic writer Sjon and Chicago poet Osama Alomar.
Also, just thought I should mention that I saw Bjork at this event. BJORK, you guys.
4. Greenlight Bookstore
686 Fulton St, Brooklyn
So, a few weeks ago, I went to the definitively sunny writer Emma Straub’s book event at the Greenlight Bookstore. Her new novel, The Vacationers, is out, and to celebrate, she was holding a party at the Greenlight, where she used to work. Not only did she do a reading and hold a friendly, fun Q & A session, but there were sandwiches and cookies and wine. I can’t express how excited this event made me. It was all the things I like best.
5. New York Public Library: LIVE from the NYPL
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street
Finally, I can’t go past the wonderful LIVE from the NYPL event series at the gorgeous Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. In the spring and the autumn (or “the fall”, as they call it here), the NYPL runs fascinating events featuring names that make my mouth drop open (a sample: Margaret Atwood, David Byrne, Don DeLillo, Joan Didion, Umberto Eco, Jeffrey Eugenides, Shepard Fairey, Jonathan Franzen, Frank Gehry, Gilberto Gil, Elizabeth Gilbert, Newt Gingrich, Werner Herzog, Jay-Z, Miranda July…they’re just show-offs, really). These events are ticketed and often sell out, but they’re certainly worth a look if you’re around during those seasons. The last thing I saw here was Jeffrey Eugenides interviewing Karl Ove Knausgaard (okay, okay, I know).
Estelle Tang is a writer and the convenor of #pitchbitch..
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.