Talking With Lincoln Michel, Co-Editor of Gigantic and Online Editor of Electric Literature

Long Island Historical  Society, ca. 1915; V1974.031.5; Brooklyn Historical Society
 photo via Brooklyn Historical Society

What first brought you to Brooklyn, and do you feel like you’re part of a larger creative community here?
I came to NYC to go to grad school at Columbia, and after graduation moved to Fort Greene. Brooklyn, at least before it became this expensive, really offered the best of everything. Gorgeous neighborhoods with plenty going on and a real neighborhood feel while still being a short subway ride from anywhere I’d want to go in Manhattan. I remember my father worrying I wouldn’t get to take advantage of Manhattan, not realizing that it’s drastically easier for me to go to most parts of Manhattan now than it was living way up in Morningside Heights.

As sappy as it might sound, I really love the artistic community in NYC. I definitely feel part of a writing community that overlaps with other art scenes. That said, I’m not sure how specifically “Brooklyn” that creative community is beyond a majority of people living here. I go to events or meet-ups with the same people in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens.

Since you’ve been in Brooklyn, what sort of changes have you seen in the cultural landscape?
The rapid pace of gentrification and the influx of money can certainly be seen in lots of neighborhoods, and that changes everything including the cultural landscape. A million think pieces have been written about this, but Brooklyn does seem to be the (ugh) “New Manhattan” in the sense that more and more of the cultural events and organizations are based here. Whereas 10 years ago (or maybe even 5) you might want to make sure your book launch or play or gallery show was in Manhattan, now you want it to be in Brooklyn even if you live in Manhattan.

How do you feel that the borough’s changing economic landscape has been detrimental to the development of people’s artistic pursuits? Or maybe you think it’s had no effect?
It’s probably had a much more detrimental affect on all the displaced lower class people in general, artists or not. Affordability and gentrification are real problems in NYC. As for artists specifically? I don’t know. Things have been bad, but the general economic collapse and rising inequality has a lot more to do with that than the rent in Brooklyn. I’ve seen my artist friends suffering in cities all over America. (Honestly, for the most part, my artist friends in NYC seem better off than my artist friends in other cities for reasons that would take an essay to tease out.)

Many people despair about the state of culture in Brooklyn today—it’s too expensive to live here; it’s impossible to make a living just from creative endeavors; cultural hubs are closing all the time. Do you think the future is bleak for Brooklyn as a cultural hub? Or is there hope?
Outside of Williamsburg, which has been a lost cause for years, I don’t feel this way. In fact, I feel like more cultural hubs are opening every day in other Brooklyn neighborhoods. (Those cultural hubs come with increased rent, to be sure.)

Is it impossible to make a living off of creative endeavors? It’s harder and harder, but again I feel that has little to do with Brooklyn. If people were making awesome livings off of weird short fiction, poetry readings, and dark comics in some other city then we’d be all be flocking there. It’s hard to make a living as an artist today, maybe even harder than it’s been in recent history, but if so that’s because of the general economic climate, rising inequality, the amount of free content and piracy online, and the shift toward celebrating “entrepreneurs” and tech bros over artists. Today you can get profiled in major magazines as a forward-thinking “‘trep”—instead of as a criminal—for having a website that has an advanced algorithm that steals or plagiarizes other people’s work without credit or payment, or be celebrated for figuring out a way for tech middlemen to absorb a larger chunk of an artist’s cut. That is bigger threat to the arts than the price of artisanal French toast by a condo in Wiliamsburg.


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