Franklin Park is Magic

1. Mihal Ansik, Rhoda Belleza, & Melissa Perez-Halley, who are all members of the Crown Heights Writing Group. Belleza edits a YA anthology tentatively titled “Cornered,” which will be put out by Perseus. 2. (Back row) Readers Zetta Elliott, Alexi Zentner, Ned Thimmayya, & Anthony Tognazzini. (Front row) Franklin Park Reading Series intern Jamie Reich, reader Helen Phillips, & Franklin Park Reading Series curator Penina Roth.

It was “Myth and Magic” kind of night yesterday at Franklin Park. The bar, as usual, was crowded. And so was the patio — people everywhere, at every table, drinking beer, talking, even working on laptops and reading books. My friend commented that between the spaciousness and the spring air, it felt like she had been transported out of cramped little Brooklyn into somewhere big and warm, like California or Texas. Such is the power of magic.

1. Amitai, a mathematician (a mathematician! at a reading series!), & Hannah, a reading teacher. Amitai is visiting from Israel and told that the reading would be good times. 2. Shifra & Zoe, who live in the neighborhood and had been meaning to check out the reading for a while, since Franklin Park is “a great bar.”

Ned Thimmayya was the first reader, and he shared two short pieces. The first was an excerpt about “a famous monster fish that terrorizes a pond.” I got all set to hear about Nessie, but no, his story was much creepier than that, and about a catfish with an “appetite for massacre.” The second was from his short story collection, Old Ghost Stories, and was called “The Stump.” It was about exactly that, but the kind that comes from chopped down trees, not amputated limbs.

Anthony Tognazzini was up next, with his story “Falling Autobiography,” which was about a family with a legacy: a long line of skydivers. The narrator’s parents prepared him for his genetic condition — a need to jump — by purchasing a parachute for him when he was fifteen, and the narrator prepared himself by doing things like jumping off roofs. Tognazzini’s writing was graceful, chilling, funny, tender, and imaginative… so in short, wonderful. Later I told him how much I loved the story, and that I could even relate a little bit because my parents met because my father was my mother’s skydiving instructor (fact!).

1. Sara, Arj (a Canadian and fledgling writer), & David. 2. Henry Stewart, who works for L Magazine and Brooklyn Magazine, & Jessica Panettieri, a student at Brooklyn College.

Zetta Elliott read two excerpts from her YA novel, A Wish After Midnight, which took place in the exotic land of pre-9/11 Brooklyn. Both scenes took place in the Botanic Gardens. In the first one, we got acquainted with the narrator, Genna, and the “only white person she knew,” an old man who painted in the park. In the second one, we slid into magical territory, as Genna made a wish in the pond in the company of ghosts.

Helen Phillips read five stories from her new book, And Yet They Were Happy. Five stories may sound daunting, but it’s not: the book consists of 150 340-word stories that fall under various themes. Phillips said that picking five to read was difficult because, although partially autobiographical, nearly all of the stories have to do with magic and/or myth. My favorite of these was “Monster #2,” which Phillips said was inspired by a dream she had when she was ten and never forgot. “Woah,” someone in the audience said when she was done. “Yeah,” Phillips said. “That one scares me.”

Alexi Zentner was the final reader, and, as curator Penina Roth said, it looks like he’s going to take over the world — his book, Touch, is being published in nine countries. He asked us to first applaud Roth for working so hard every month at sharing the arts with us, and the crowd eagerly did his bidding. Then he sassily told us that he was “going to skip around a bit, so keep up.” We heard about a family in a “boom-town gone bust” in the Pacific Northwest (which sent my Twin Peaks-saturated brain reeling — thanks a lot, Netflix!). His prose was full of humor and haunting, surreal images.

If that wasn’t enough magic for the crowd-goers, they could get more in the Franklin Park bathroom: there’s a wind vortex because of the tininess of rooms and the most powerful of hand dryers.

–Julia Jackson is working on her MFA in fiction at Brooklyn College, and is a regular contributor for Electric Dish.

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