Brooklyn is probably second only to Manhattan when it comes to literary cachet — though you’ll find plenty who say Brooklyn has taken over the top spot in recent years. The borough is crawling with literary stars and wannabe authors who are clearly writing what they know. Brooklyn is so woven into the fabric of modern letters that almost everyone knows what you mean when you call something a “Brooklyn book”. Or do they? What makes a book très Brooklyn? Is it just using the borough as a backdrop? Is it the anxious internal ruminations of Ben Lerner’s characters or mysterious foreboding of Paul Auster’s Cobble Hill? Or is it the autobiographical Williamsburg novel à la Tropic of Capricorn and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?
Today the Brooklyn Public Library announced the short list for the 2016 Brooklyn Eagles Literary Prize, which takes on the challenge of answering that very question. Now in its second year, two prizes are awarded to the “most Brooklyn” fiction and nonfiction books recently released. The winners each get a $2,500 prize and bragging rights for being most in tune with the city’s most populous borough.
We asked the shortlist committee chairs, Krissa Corbett Cavouras (fiction) and Mark Daly (nonfiction) what they thought made the books on their list deserve this distinction. Both are Brooklyn Public Library librarians, both serious readers, both lovers of Brooklyn, and both well-qualified to know the essence of a Brooklyn book. The two committees Corbett Cavouras and Daly chaired were made up of Brooklyn librarians who volunteered for the task of choosing three books for each short list. They read all 13 books nominated by Brooklyn bookstores in their category and convened to debate which ones should move on to the final judging.
“Each of these books has something to offer, a new way of looking at the world, a new way of thinking about Brooklyn,” Daly said of the two long lists. Corbett Cavouras said “that in a couple of years [these lists] will be a mini collection of great books that speak to Brooklyn themes.”
The committees evaluated their books based on three criteria: whether the book is set in or about Brooklyn; whether the author a Brooklyn native or resident; and the most subjective: does it embody the “Brooklyn spirit?” None were absolute requirements, but Corbett Cavouras and Daly both found determining the Brooklyn spirit was the most important — and interesting — to consider. (more…)