The Brooklyn Public Library has just announced a shortlist for the Brooklyn Eagles Literary Prize, seeking “the defining Brooklyn literary works” of the past year. Hey, wait though, what’s a Brooklyn work? Is it anything that’s written by someone who lives here? Is it anyone writing about the borough itself? Is it an autobiography by a subway rat?
New York Times editor Charles Duhigg was quoted as saying, “Exactly what constitutes a great ‘Brooklyn book’ is difficult to pin down, but each of the shortlisted works captures some unique and defining aspect of the Brooklyn experience.” Well, we can tell you one thing: we’re having the Brooklyn experience right here, right now. Or one of many experiences. In Brooklyn.
The BPL’s literary prize was invented by a group of library volunteers called the Brooklyn Eagles, who “celebrate Brooklyn’s literary culture with input from the people and institutions essential to its vibrancy: bookstores, librarians and artists.” The shortlist was made up of nominations by borough bookstores like WORD and Community Bookstore, individual librarians, and some Brooklyn Eagles themselves.
Authors selected by the group are cited as being “authors who have lived in Brooklyn, portrayed it in prose or addressed themes relevant to the life and culture of the borough.” Portraying the borough in prose doesn’t quite seem the same as living here, since people do a pretty terrible job of the former on a regular basis.
In any case, the books on the shortlist are still worth a read, if only to see how much you agree with their Brooklyn-ness. In the fiction category is Anya Ulinich’s Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, which examines “the challenges of parenting and dating in Brooklyn,” perhaps simultaneously. And in the nonfiction category is Claire Prentice’s The Lost Tribe of Coney Island, which takes a spooky inside look at the sideshow days of seaside past.