Events were staged in Borough Hall itself, spilled down its steps and swarmed around the Court House and down the block. The largest affairs took place in the courtroom inside Borough Hall and auditorium at St. Francis College, just down Remsen Street from Borough Hall. Both venues required free tickets for entry, but the stages revealed themselves to be surprisingly personal. The courtroom opened up the festival with a panel featuring current it-writer Joseph O’Neill, who’s Netherland is garnering rave reviews. Temple moderated a panel discussion with musicians Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and Ian MacKaye of Fugazi, that he characterized as “a lot of fun” and, if anything, too short.
The festival played up local literary connections, giving away free bookmarks featuring Brooklyn authors such as Isaac Asimov. Special events emphasized local authors, from former literary wunderkind Jonathon Lethem to a group reading - “Brooklyn in the House” - featuring local poets. The Brooklyn Historical Society sponsored a stage that presented local historians and authors throughout the afternoon. Meanwhile, on the Main Stage in the shadow of Borough Hall, actors hammed it up while reading passages from local works such as Gypsy Rose Lee’s The G-String Murders and Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
The event also sported over 140 vendors, up from 100 last year, ranging from publishing bigwigs Harper Perennial to local stalwarts The Green-Wood Historical Fund. Court Street booksellers Book Court were featured prominently, peddling works by authors featured at the festival and holding signings after all the events. Drawn & Quarterly, the Montreal-based comics and graphic novel publishers, were featured in what one passerby deemed “the comics ghetto,” where local author Adriane Tomine patiently signed copies of his latest work, Shortcomings, in the blazing sun.
The festival was closed out by three headlining events. At one end of the festival, bestseller Russell Banks and Oprah Book Club author Jonathan Franzen drew a crowd in the Borough Hall Courtroom. At the main stage on the steps of Borough Hall, rock critic and pop culture-meister Chuck Klosterman read from his debut novel, Downtown Owl, sharing the stage with up-and-comers Ed Park and Charles Bock. The most eagerly anticipated event of the day was held at St. Francis Auditorium, where the New York Review of Books held a panel discussion on the 2008 Presidential Election, featuring columnists Mark Danner, Ronald Dworkin, Darryl Pinckney, and legendary author Joan Didion.
After Danner speculated on potential scenarios in the next 50 days, Didion read a prepared statement that recalled her best political work, decrying the McCain/Palin campaign’s attempt to “downplay their potential for trouble.” “We could forget this,” she said, “amnesia was our natural state.”
Dworkin, a legal philosopher who covers the Supreme Court for the New York Review, expounded on the potential for trouble in the legal realm after the coming election, but it was Pickney who brought down the house. He lauded the coming election not only as “the most important in 40 years,” but as a chance to “make up for the political violence of the 1960s.” Pickney stated a call to arms for readers to become involved in the process. “Democracy,” he said, “is worth fighting for at home - as well as abroad.” During the Q&A session, one dispirited booklover asked Pickney for a reason to stay in the United States if the election did not swing the way she wanted it to. He gave what he termed as a typical Brooklyn answer to the question: “There’s always next year.”