Drugs, Sex and Coffee: Stories on Our Streets at LitFest

“I’m sorry,” says Jami Attenberg, pausing in the middle of her reading, “this is a little seedy for 10am.”

Yes, there was depravity this past Sunday when McNally Jackson and Housing Works Bookstore Café launched the inaugural Downtown Literary Festival. The first event, On the Grid: Stories on Our Streets, featured 14 New York writers reading work about New York and NYC nights. Maybe it was the daylight, but the darkside of New York seemed to shine.

1. Kris Jansma & Adam Wilson debrief 2. The magician himself: Lev Grossman

In Housing Works, Adam Wilson’s reading from Flatscreen put us in the head of a narrator standing on a drugstore line reflecting on his recent past as a time of “booze, barbiturates, and cocaine combos, twitching highs that almost didn’t make up for the after lows. Forearms sprung with shooting pain, body sweat and wet until I would wake in the soaking sheets whining whispering, ‘baby,’ stroking my stubble.”

What better way to start the day than to jump in to a mind that crushes on a black cashier and fantasizes about a paradise where they “could fornicate and drink as yet amenable Four Lokos …[and] bump out babies on mass: bi-racial, bi-curious — raised in the solar powered glow of Obama’s America.” Amen.

1. Boys about town: Ricardo Galbis & Ben Feibleman 2. Brendan Jay Sullivan, DJ VH1

Amor Towles nailed the trials and tribulations of native New yorker-ism in Rules of Civility “That’s the problem with being born in New York. There’s no New York to run away to.”

Kristopher Jansma, whose book launch was covered by The Outlet last month, read a scene from The Last Days of Disco. Outside, the line is “a tragic mob scene of rejection.” How do they behave inside? Well, “Drinking gives you the illusion of control, but, unfortunately, little of the reality.”

After a free bagel intermission, the readings continued across the street at McNally with a new set of readers and perspectives on New York. David Goodwillie read from an essay on the Bowery’s past and present, Gangs of New York-style, where you could see “the story of a city told by those that sleep on its streets.”

But where’s the magical realism, you ask? Lev Grossman answers.

Enter The Magicians. Imagine, after graduating Hogwarts, Harry Potter moves to the Lower East Side, shacks up with Hermione, carouses all day and all night, and instead of doing magic, does massive damage to his personal life: “After coming down from coke or ecstasy, his body felt strange and heavy, like a golem fashioned out of some ultra-dense star metal.”

On the Grid wasn’t a round of bloody marys, but it was still a good start to the new spring Sunday.


–Sean Campbell lives, writes, and occasionally updates his blog in Bed-Stuy

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