This year’s Best of NYC 2013 issue of the Village Voice featured a hefty offering of new restaurants to try, stores to patronize and places to visit, and as a literary enthusiast, I felt both proud and and a bit smug about the Voice naming the Franklin Park Reading Series as NYC’s Best Reading Series. Booklynites have long known the delight of writer Penina Roth’s brainchild, but in the past two years, the event has become hard to ignore for anyone in New York City who loves books. From Sam Lipsyte, to Justin Taylor to Colson Whitehead, all across the fiction and non-fiction spectrum, the series has been a veritable guide to what’s happening in the book world. Meanwhile, Roth herself has become a stalwart supportor of literary scene in Brooklyn, keeping herself ever-aware of new books, upcoming authors and book news, and tirelessly spreading the word. Beyond the reading series, Roth works hard to help new voices find an audience, and to keep like-minded people connected.
The Franklin Park Reading Series is proof that the literary scene still lives and thrives and New York City, only now, it’s just over the bridge. We caught up with Penina Roth to gather some insight into how the series was born and how it grew to be the city’s best reading series. Warning: your to-read list is about to be filled through 2015.
How did Franklin Park Reading Series start? Tell me about the first one. How did you find your location?
As a longtime Crown Heights resident and community news reporter, I was very attuned to the neighborhood’s transition, beginning in 2007. In researching articles on local real estate and culture, I talked to many merchants and residents, old and new, and decided it would be fun to host an entertaining and enlightening community-wide event that could bring different groups together, including new transplants, Caribbean Americans and Hasidim. A big part of my research involved hanging out in Franklin Park’s courtyard, talking to the patrons and learning about their interests and backgrounds. It turned out that many of them were lit enthusiasts like me, and I thought there’d be an audience for a literary event. Since I’d profiled Franklin Park for a Styles piece in the Times, I was friendly with the owners and they let me use their large bar room for free, for what was supposed to be a one-off event. At the time I only had three friends who’d published books–Matthue Roth, Liza Monroy and David Goodwillie–and I thought the reading could be a showcase for them. Forty people showed up at our first reading in March 2009 and bought a lot of beer, so the owners were happy and asked me to make it a monthly happening.