SOLITARY — A Public Space Issue 14 Launch Party

1. Chalk sign protected from the rain 🙁 2. John Haskell talking about homemade East German quince cake. 3. Geoff chillin’ hard.

Last night thirty-some-odd Brooklynites trekked to BookCourt through the wet and the cold to celebrate the release of A Public Space’s 14th issue. Featuring readings from contributors Teju Cole (Open City) and John Haskell (American Purgatorio), the issue meditated on its theme of the solitary walker in the city. When I walked into the back room I was stoked to see a huge projector screen pulled down next to the podium. I’ve noticed that multimedia readings, both audio and visual, have been getting more popular lately, and they’ve been consistently awesome (watch this man). After ten minutes of an idle bright blue on the screen, someone pulled up Lydia Davis’ Twitter feed and the ten or so early birds pretended not to gawk at Ms. Davis. I flipped through some of the new Pearl Jam book and sipped on a Stella, and felt maybe I had looked too long at a color photo of Bill Clinton seemingly enamored with a serious-looking Eddie Vedder. I noted that five wine bottles had been dusted before introductions were made.

1. Eva and Nathan chillin’ hard too, but not as hard. 2. Standard crowd shot.

After an introduction from Founding Editor Brigid Hughes, Haskell joked with the crowd and claimed he was his own “warm-up act,” then read two short excerpts from his piece “Joy.” Its narrator interviews some East Germans about the Berlin Wall — though Haskell said the story was about “walls in general” — hoping to find how they felt when it fell, but he ends up only breaking tea cups, eating homemade quince cake (which he didn’t like) and discovering everyone has a piece of the Wall framed like a trophy. Haskell made no use of the projector.

1. Booze table, Before. 2. Teju Cole telling a story about walking home on the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise.

Teju Cole was next. He presented a fiction-with-slides titled “Epigraph of the Eye.” Before he started he complimented the crowd for being great for coming to BookCourt instead of avoiding the cold with TV. His piece felt sort of like a ghost story. Cole narrated the experience of walking in Manhattan on 9/11’s tenth anniversary, wondering how to think about all of it. He explained that the photos were all shot with slow shutter speeds in an attempt to capture a ghostly quality to them, and they felt haunted indeed: blurred people and cars, a man meditating under the sun in Central Park, the closed Burlington Coat Factory building (which will be the future home of the mosque near Ground Zero). Then there was a photo of some nice looking shoes that ranged from $280-$380, which Cole noted were “affordable” prices.

1. Katie Assef (whose fiction is forthcoming in PANK) and Ashley Martin, A Public Space’s Event Coordinator and Assistant Editor, debate whether Melanie Parker’s (the intern) authority of photo-op yea/naysayer is valid. 2. Booze table, After. Seems like Steve Jobs is practicing his best Iman.

A Q&A session followed, one of the most exciting ones I’ve witnessed. After a short discussion of Modern Family, The Wire and Mad Men as soap opera, the questions careened towards the different methods of remembering, and which was the right way to remember. One audience member noted that remembering 9/11 for New Yorkers was honest and real before it had been co-opted by the rest of the country, when NYers were told how they should feel. Both Cole and Haskell seemed to agree that if you weren’t there, your memory of an event is what’s told to you.

I’ve never heard a Q&A session this good before. Usually there are the standard and often banal questions of the author’s inspiration for the piece, how s/he came up with the character, etc. etc., but this one was firmly placed in a discussion of both piece’s themes of finding a memory outside of the characters’ experience. Cole noted that this was why APS was great: it protects us from “forms of evil” and allows for fruitful, open discussions. He then instructed us to ignore his novel and buy APS. I looked at the Pearl Jam book some more, looked for more Stella but it was all gone, and braved the cold. You can buy APS here. I thought about quince cake on the ride home, and wondered what Haskell’s favorite Modern Family character was. I regretted not asking him, though I’ll venture it’s either Manny or Luke.

***

— Ryan Chang is a writer and student living in Brooklyn. You can find him on Twitter here.

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