From Brooklyn Heights to Fort Greene with a few books in between!
Brooklyn is steeped in literary history, a borough Walt Whitman, Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, and William Styron – to name a few – proclaimed both muse and home. And the borough’s literary greatness continues to this day. With the annual Brooklyn Book Festival running through this weekend, we’ve come up with a weekend ride for the bookish among you.
Thomas Wolfe, in his short story, Only The Dead Know Brooklyn, wrote, “It’d take a guy a lifetime to know Brooklyn t’roo an’ t’roo. An’ even den, yuh wouldn’t know it all.” While that may be true, this ride will acquaint you with some of the noteworthy spots that figure in the borough’s literary life. Along the route, you’ll pass some of the writing quarters where authors like Wolfe endeavored to bring their visions to fruition, the serene sights that inspired them, and, of course, a couple of the borough’s great independent bookstores. Looking for a quiet, relaxing place to read? We’ve got you covered there, too.
Begin in Brooklyn Heights, described by Truman Capote as “the only place to live in New York.” Undock a bike from the Citi Bike station at Columbia Heights and Cranberry Street. From there, ride east on Cranberry, making your first right onto Willow Street. Pedal down to 70 Willow, a yellow brick house where Truman Capote lived from 1955-65. Here, Capote penned the novel, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as well as his masterpiece, In Cold Blood.
Continue along Willow to house #155, one of the many spots playwright Arthur Miller called home in Brooklyn Heights. Miller certainly seemed to have a nomadic instinct, and apartment hunted like a modern New Yorker. A little off the route, at 31 Grace Court in Brooklyn Heights, is where Miller also lived for a brief period of time and where he wrote the outstanding work Death of a Salesman.
Off Willow, make a left onto Pierrepont Street and pedal down to #102, one of Brooklyn’s most famous literary landmarks. It was here that Brooklyn native Norman Mailer began to write his classic World War II novel, The Naked and the Dead. Also living at 102 Pierrepont at this time was—no surprise—Arthur Miller! In Evan Hughes’ Literary Brooklyn (a great read on Brooklyn’s rich literary history), Mailer recalls meeting Miller one morning at the mailboxes, and remembers thinking, “‘This guy’s never going anywhere.’ And I’m sure he thought the same about me.”
Far from never going anywhere, however, Miller was apparently going everywhere - at least within the Heights. To see another Miller abode, make a right off of Pierrepont onto Cadman Plaza West, and then a right on Montague. Pedal down to 62 Montague, and you can see the first of Arthur Miller’s many Brooklyn abodes. Right nearby at 5 Montague Terrace, novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote Of Time and the River while living in 4th floor apartment during the 1930s.
Keep pedaling and make a left Pierrepont Place and then a left onto Remsen Street. On your left is 49 Remsen, where Norman Mailer completed The Naked and the Dead. Continue to the end of Remsen Street and you’ll arrive at Borough Hall, the site of the Brooklyn Book Festival. Walk your bike a block and dock at the Joralemon Street and Adams Street station to check out the events of the day.
After spending some time at the festival, get your wallet ready - it’s time to do some shopping. First, head south to Book Court, located at 163 Court Street. To get there, head south on Court Street and make a left on State Street. Dock your bike at the State Street and Smith Street station, and take a short walk west on State to Court. Hang a left on Court to stop in and browse this family-owned, independent bookstore. While you’re there, check out the event calendar, which is always packed with upcoming readings from visiting authors and writers’ workshops where you can hone your own authorial skills.
Next we’ll head to Fort Greene. Abroad and homesick, Walt Whitman once wrote to his mother in America, “How I should like to take a walk on Old Fort Greene.” Whitman was, in fact, influential in the park’s creation, using his position as an editor at the Brooklyn Eagle to advocate for the park. Fort Greene Park is also where writer, reporter, and activist Richard Wright would sit and work on his iconic novel, Native Son.
Haven’t gotten your shopping fill yet? Looking for a copy of Native Son? Or maybe Whitman’s Leaves of Grass? Perhaps another title? Then before heading to the park, stop by Greenlight Bookstore, located along the route at 686 Fulton Street. To get there from the State and Smith Street station, take State down to 3rd Avenue, where you’ll make a left and then a quick right onto Lafayette. Hang another right off Lafayette to get onto South Portland Avenue and dock your bike at the South Portland Avenue and Hanson Place station. From there walk one block North to Fulton and Greenlight will be on your left. Be sure to check out their local author table with selections from Jonathan Lethem, Colson Whitehead, and Jhumpa Lahiri, who all have ties to the borough.
Afterwards, easily make your way to the park by riding east on Hanson Place. Make a quick left on Fulton Street and a right onto South Oxford Street. Take a right onto Lafayette and then make a left onto Carlton. On your right, you’ll pass 175 Carlton, which is where Richard Wright spent many hours working on Native Son. Make a left onto Myrtle and, lastly, a left onto Cumberland, where you can dock your bike at the Washington Park station, located at the easternmost edge of Fort Greene Park. Head towards the center of the park to enjoy a book on the Richard Wright memorial bench, located atop the park’s center staircase, in the shadow of the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument.
We’ll leave you with another quote from Wolfe’s Only The Dead Know Brooklyn: “You ain’t neveh gonna get to know Brooklyn…not in a hunderd yeahs. I been livin’ heah all my life…an’ I don’t even know all deh is to know about it, so how do you expect to know duh town…” Wolfe’s Brooklyn, though, was a Brooklyn well before the advent of Citi Bike, before entirely new worlds were only a short bike trip away. If only he could see it now!