Bushwick Nightz, a collection of short stories about the increasingly infamous Brooklyn neighborhood, is the first extended project from Bushwick Daily, the popular chronicler of the neighborhood, published in conjunction with indie publisher Catopolis. Billing itself as a “honest, brutal and completely self-aware,” the book explores “the bright and dark moments of all that occurs here from drug deals, to gallery shows, drinking, sex, Zagat-rated meals, gentrification and trying to figure it all out.”
In anticipation of the book, which comes out July 15 and can be purchased at Better Than Jam, the Strand or Spoonbill & Sugartown, we spoke with Dallas Athent, the collection’s editor and one of its contributors, about the book and the neighborhood that made it possible.
What was the genesis of the project?
I’ve been living in Bushwick in the same apartment for the past five years. Being a writer, I had written a few stories just about my experiences living here. I thought maybe I could do an entire story collection, but since there’s so many interesting voices from the neighborhood, I figured it would be stronger if there were many voices than if it was just me.
How familiar were you with some of the other writers who ended up in the collection?
Jacob Perkins of Mellow Pages was one of the first people in the book. I had known him from doing a reading at the library and when I told him about my idea, he said he had written this story called “Utz Versus Them” about drug deals in Bushwick, and so from there I started to talk to other writers, and then the collection grew. I asked Nathaniel Kressen to write a story for the collection because I had read his book “Concrete Fever,” and can honestly say, he’s one of my favorite contemporary writers. So a lot of these people had work I was familiar with. But we also thought it was important to get voices from people we didn’t know, so Bushwick Daily did an open call, which was how we got Waldina Olivera, Prospero Vega, and John Jarzemsky.
Were there a lot more submissions than you ended up using?
We had about 10 submissions, and selected three that really stood out. All the stories were pretty interesting, but Waldina, Prospero and John had such strong voices that varied from each other. As soon as I read them, I said “that’s it.”
Given how diverse an area like Bushwick is, what viewpoints did you feel were critical to have in order for the depiction to feel complete?
I really wanted to have stories from people who experienced Bushwick from all different angles. That’s why we have writers who were raised here, writers who were raised in other areas of Brooklyn, writers who moved here from various parts of the U.S. and one who’s only visited. After having all of these perspectives, I felt like the collection was pretty well rounded. Obviously it was critical to have people who grew up in Bushwick, which was what the open call was for. I knew the collection was complete when we received our final from Matt Nelson, who wrote “Frozen Dream.” It’s such a cryptic, but beautifully written story about walking through the neighborhood at night. It describes the streets of the neighborhood in this really incredible way. I thought it was a great way to end the collection.
Bushwick is sort of the epicenter for a lot of Brooklyn/hipster stereotypes–was there anything in particular on that front you were hoping to skewer? Any stereotypes you find especially inaccurate or essentially true?
Honestly, not really. In many ways I’m sure some stories here affirm people’s stereotypes about Bushwick, like the drinking and bars and sex. But on the flip side, we have someone like Waldina Olivera, who wrote this really heartfelt retrospect about what it was like growing up here and seeing things change, and how she’s embracing it. Or with my story, “You Just Don’t Get It,” I tried to describe the point of view of a construction worker experiencing the neighborhood against his own will, and what it’s like for him not really understanding this place. What was most important was to look behind the veil of all of the coverage Bushwick’s gotten, and explore how it really feels to be here. Whether that validates or negates some myths, or even does a little of both is fine. As long as the stories are honest.