In celebration of the borough’s rich literary tradition, the Brooklyn Public Library is sponsoring the inaugural Brooklyn Eagle Literary Prize, which will be awarded to two books from the past year that embody the “spirit of Brooklyn.”
More important than awarding the prize, however, is that the contest will open a discussion about what exactly that tradition means, according to prize committee co-chair and New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg.
“We really wanted people to have a conversation about what they thought Brooklyn ideals were,” Duhigg said. “That’s kind of the fun of this: asking librarians what makes a book Brooklyn-ish.”
The only criteria, Duhigg said, was that the books were released in the last year and that they embodied the “spirit of Brooklyn” — however the judges chose to interpret that. They could be about Brooklyn — like Claire Prentice’s “The Lost Tribe of Coney Island” or Buddah Monk’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard biography “The Dirty Version” — they could be by Brooklyn authors like John Benditt and Tiphanie Yanique or just have a certain Brooklyn attitude.
“The goal is to bring the public’s attention to some great books, to books that they might not know about otherwise,” Duhigg said. “The truth of the matter is that right now there’s a lot of books published each year; it’s hard to get people to know about a book when it comes out.”
In addition to celebrating Brooklyn’s writers, Duhigg added that he hoped the contest would highlight the importance of Brooklyn’s libraries, which he said are central to the community in the book-loving borough.
“They have this far-flung network of branches that provide the huge tremendous service to Brooklyn,” Duhigg said. “It’s a cornerstone of a community. There are not only so many people who live in Brooklyn who are literary, including myself, but also a lot of people who write about Brooklyn.”
The contest, which was organized by the eponymous volunteer group the Brooklyn Eagles, started last week when local bookstores selected 30 books — 15 fiction and 15 nonfiction — for a long list.
That list then was whittled down by BPL librarians to a short list of three finalists in each category, which will be announced on Wednesday at the BPL’s Swing Into Summer Party. Finally, two panels of judges made up of Brooklyn-based writers will decide a winner from each group to take home the $2,500 prize at the annual Brooklyn Classic on Oct. 23.
While only one book from each category can win the prize, Duhigg said the nomination process has shown that Brooklyn’s bibliophiles have more than enough enthusiasm to go around.
“People got really into it,” Duhigg said. “When you discover a book when it comes out, you want to tell everyone about it. And that’s really the best part.”