By Jessica Dailey
On the eve of Greenlight Bookstore's one year anniversary – actually next month – Jessica Stockton Bagnulo (left) and Rebecca Fitting (right), the Fort Greene duo who founded the shop are set to celebrate their first year at the Brooklyn Book Festival. On Friday night they'll host one of the festival's bookend events, The Brooklyn Indie Party featuring locals from Melville House and Akashic's own Johnny Temple
, the night's resident DJ along with music writer Dave Tompkins. We caught up with Jessica to talk birthdays and books.
BrooklynTheBorough.com: It's coming up on the one year anniversary of Greenlight Bookstore. What have been the highlights of the last year? Are there any authors or community members that made it particularly great?
Jessica Stockton Bagnulo: The entire community of Fort Greene has been so welcoming to us — we feel incredibly lucky to have landed in such a culturally vibrant, literary, and community-minded spot. Many authors who live in the neighborhood have been especially supportive — Toure, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jennifer Egan, and Nelson George come to mind, though there are certainly others. And we've been gratified that the larger Brooklyn and New York City community have joined us for many of our events — the huge crowds for Jonathan Lethem, David Mitchell, Gary Shteyngart at our store have proved that there's an enthusiastic audience for books in Brooklyn!
BTB: You opened in the midst of a recession, so on the other end of the spectrum, what has made the past year difficult?
JSB: Not having a previous year's numbers to compare with, it's hard for us to estimate the effects of the recession on our sales. We've actually exceeded the sales projections we created, though those were fairly cautious. The biggest challenges have been those all small business owners face: dealing with a leaky window, a broken gate, construction on our street — the usual stuff! Publishers, contractors, and customers alike have all been extremely generous in helping us make this place the best bookstore we can. Our biggest challenge has probably been keeping up with all of the energy the store has generated — Rebecca and I have worked long hours this year, but we couldn't be more gratified.
BTB: This is your first time being a vendor at the Book Festival. What are your staff picks for authors/readers/events that you're most looking forward to?
JSB: So many of them! We're the vendor for the Main Stage and Borough Hall programs, and there are some amazing conversations taking place there: Sarah Silverman with David Rakoff, Roseanne Cash with with Jancee Dunn, Pete Hamill with Esmeralda Santiago, and a plethora of amazing poets, reporters, novelists, performers, etc. We're of course rooting for our neighborhood authors and presenters who will be at the Festival too: Jennifer Egan, Nelson George, Colson Whitehead, Paul Holdengraber of the NYPL, and Martha Southgate, to name a few.
BTB: Why did you want to create a "Bookend" event focusing on independent presses in Brooklyn?
JSB: We've always had a focus on local Brooklyn talent culture at Greenlight, and we've worked with all of these publishers before in various ways, so it seemed like a natural fit. There are some huge headlining names at the Festival, but as an independent bookstore, we wanted to highlight the independent publishers of the borough who are creating some of the most vibrant and groundbreaking literary work, in books and also literary magazines. We're lucky that there's such a wealth of creativity concentrated here — the twelve book and magazine publishers represented at our event aren't the only ones, though
they're some of our favorites. We loved the idea of getting them all together for a party — because in the end, we just really like good parties.
BTB: How and why did you choose the special guest DJs, Johnny Temple and Dave Tompkins?
Johnny Temple, the publisher of Akashic Books, is a near neighbor and frequent customer. We brainstormed with him a bit about the party early on, and when he offered his services as DJ we weren't about to refuse — as the bassist for the band Girls Vs. Boys he knows his way around music! Dave Tompkins was suggested to us by Melville House, which publishes Dave's book How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop — so obviously his musical cred was pretty well established as well!
BTB: Why do you think its important to be a part of the Book Festival?
JSB: As mentioned, Greenlight's identity is rooted in being part of our Brooklyn community — as a neighborhood store and as a gathering place for our borough's writers and readers. The Brooklyn Book Festival highlights Brooklyn's rich literary culture, and its status as a place where writers from all over the world converge to share ideas and stories. We've all been attendees at the Festival for years, and have been thrilled to see it grow. The Festival is one of the best pieces of evidence for the continuing vitality of literary culture. So we're extremely honored and excited to be a part of the Festival this year
– to participate in this expression of local and worldwide literary culture, and to add our voice to this great tribute to our borough.
BTB: Is there anything else you'd like to add about your event, your store, or the festival?
JSB: As newbies to the Festival, we're honored to be in the company of other great independent bookstores of our city! We're grateful to the Festival organizers for including us and finding a place for us all. Also, some of the featured authors at the Festival have books being published after the Festival takes place — if you can't get the book you want at our booth, we hope you'll visit Greenlight or your own local independent bookstore in the year to come!