Brooklyn’s Latest Literary Venture


One of Alex Mayyasi's photographs of the 2011 Tahrir Square protests featured in Ahmed Salah's essay, The Spark, from Brooklyn Quarterly's upcoming issue. Photo: Alex Mayyasi

One of Alex Mayyasi’s photographs from the 2011 Tahrir Square protests featured in Ahmed Salah’s essay, “The Spark,” from Brooklyn Quarterly’s upcoming issue. Photo: Alex Mayyasi

When Tristan Snell and Jane Carr met at Princeton 15 years ago, they, along with fellow classmates, co-founded Kruller, a student literary magazine and the first campus publication with a web presence. Since then, they often discussed starting a new literary endeavor, looking to digital magazines like Guernica and Narratively for paper-free inspriation.

This fall the college friends will launch Brooklyn Quarterly, an all-digital publication that will examine political, social and cultural issues through a balance of creative writing, poetry and long-form journalism. A successful Kickstarter campaign, which ends today and surpassed its $5,000 goal on July 24, will finance the production of the inaugural issue, Garages and Grassroots, due out in October, which will focus on entrepreneurial efforts in the arts, culture and activism.

“People have spent a lot of time talking about or sort of wringing their hands over the demise of print and text and of reading, and we feel that it’s not so much that print and text are going to go away, it’s that they need to evolve and adapt,” says Snell, who lives in Brooklyn Heights.

Photojournalism, interactive design and eventually short documentary film will make the serious content accessible, Snell says. Going forward, Snell and Carr hope to commission long-form pieces and launch a community blog.

“Conversations that we start with the quarterly issues can continue with users being able to sign up for an account and being able to participate,” Snell says. “It’s really combining the polished, curated, edited quarterly paradigm with the open community blog paradigm that has really come to us more in the last 10 years.”

To build that vibrant online community Brooklyn Quarterly has partnered with Atavist, a Brooklyn media and software company that publishes its original nonfiction stories to mobile devices and e-readers and helps clients, including TED and The Wall Street Journal, develop robust mobile apps and interactive packages.

Content won’t live behind a pay wall or require a subscription, making the barrier for entry “deliberately low,” Snell says. Beyond backing the premiere issue, the Kickstarter funds will help pay Brooklyn Quarterly‘s writers, though financing the second issue, planned for January 2014, and blog may require additional fundraising. The magazine will also sell advertising space and apply for grants to work toward self-sustainability.

The preview issue features selected pieces from the upcoming edition, including an account of the Tahrir Square protests by activist Ahmed Salah (now featured on the Huffington Post), an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and an essay by Salon’s Anna North about the 2008 floods that swept the Midwest.

Even with the global content, the founders believe that their publication’s intellectual proclivities are fundamentally of Brooklyn.

“Having studied 19th century American literature, and being really conscious of Brooklyn’s longer history, everyone’s very much aware of its role as a literary, cultural renaissance spot over the last 20, 30 years,” says Carr, who recently completed her Ph.D. in English at New York University. Indeed, in recent years Kings County has nurtured Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Lethem and Jennifer Egan, as it did literary legends Walt Whitman, Hart Crane and Henry Miller.

“As a crucible for a lot of artistic movements and activism, that kind of template, that kind of map of what’s going on, makes Brooklyn a really good example of cultural elements that are developing and emerging and seen across the country and across the world,” says Carr, a Park Slope resident. “At any given moment, I think Brooklyn is happening anywhere.”

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