Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Still 'Rail'-ing after all these years

By Aaron Short

Brooklyn has changed exponentially in the past 10 years — but sometimes it takes a compact anthology to remind us exactly how.

Our pals at the Brooklyn Rail are celebrating its 10-year anniversary this month with that very compendium, “Pieces of a Decade: Brooklyn Rail Nonfiction 2000-2010,” featuring a set of lively essays and features on everything from gentrification to Iraq.

Editors Theodore Hamm (pictured left) and Williams Cole sifted through hundreds of critical observations on art, culture, politics, and, frankly, what it means to be from Brooklyn, to pluck topics that explore the nostalgic romance for Brooklyn’s past, how race, class and politics interrelate in Brooklyn’s neighborhoods, and the complicated feelings towards the effects of gentrification in Williamsburg.

“We’ve been a part of it, we don’t try to deny it,” said Hamm. “The arts get priced out pretty quickly. When we started, Wiliamsburg was the next Chelsea, the next Soho. Now, it’s the next Lower East Side, the next East Village.”

Many of the essays in the anthology are gems. Topics jump from a youth recreational center in Brownsville by prolific Metro reporter Amy Zimmer to a letter from Jane Jacobs opposing the rezoning of the Williamsburg waterfront, to Ryan Grim’s pathologically hilarious confession of a Wall Street hustler.

“I go to bars and people ask me where are you from, where is your accent from,” said Cole. “A lot of our stories are about rootedness.”

A sadness lingers through many essays. Matthew Vaz’s literary reflection on a changing, cacophonous Coney Island, Sabine Heinlein’s heartfelt obituary for an abandoned Greenpoint warehouse destroyed by arson, and Carl Hancock Rux’s brief, fascinating history of Fort Greene should not be missed — even if the places they describe are no longer the way they were.

But the topics about gentrification in Williamsburg jolt the reader from her seat, as if playwright Danny Hoch or writer Jason Flores-Williams suddenly took a copy of “Pieces of a Decade” and  started smacking the reader on her solar plexus.

“Our original value is to be part of the Brooklyn literary tradition, not just past or present,” said Hamm. “People should recognize that the Brooklyn Rail is where they’ve seen these stories.”

Contributors will read from “Pieces of a Decade: Brooklyn Rail Nonfiction, 2000-2010,” at Spoonbill [218 Bedford Ave. between N. Fourth and Fifth streets in Williamsburg, (718) 387-7322], Oct. 8 at 7 pm; Rail 10th anniversary party at Boiler [191 N. 14th St. between Whythe Avenue and Berry Street in Williamsburg, (718) 383-0276], Oct. 9 at 7 pm. For info,


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