It might be true that Hlavinka (almost) crashed a fifteen-ton tractor while reading Gravity’s Rainbow, but what he lacks in field prowess he makes up for in bookish convictions. The Events Coordinator at Park Slope’s Community Bookstore, Hlavinka’s duties include programming talent such as Toni Morrison, Orhan Pamuk and Svetlana Alexievich. Once a book person, always a book person, however, so it makes sense that Hlavinka still spends time on the floor pushing his tastes on Brooklyn’s lit nerd contingent. With an eye on garnering a more international range of authors for future events, Hlavinka’s sure to keep both the shelves and the seats equally stacked.
How/why did you become involved in your line of work?
I grew up on a rice farm in Texas. I might have been the heir apparent, but the family’s kind of stopped talking about it. One time I almost crashed a fifteen-ton tractor while trying to drive and read Gravity’s Rainbow at the same time. I used to have a defense for this but I can’t remember! It was a different time! I bounced around for a few years after college then followed my fiancé to NYC, where I eventually landed at Community Bookstore. Ezra Goldstein and Stephanie Valdez, the owners, pretty much let me book whatever I want, which is right up my alley.
Tell us a little bit about your present work, the Cliffs Notes version of your day to day and what is at stake.
My day-to-day is an endless sway between event emails and bookselling on the floor. I never wanted to give bookselling up. It’s a kind of arrogance, really; I trust my tastes enough to foist this on you. And to a certain extent, book events end up being an extension of your own reading, so you need to be excited and engaged and committed to your bookish convictions. As for the CliffsNotes: on nights with a program, it’s breakdown around six, dousing any author nerves in wine a half hour later, and kicking things off just after seven. Per author-wine intake: a glass sets the stage, and two gets everyone smiling. Any more than that is risky business and should be encouraged only at curtain.
What do you find most fulfilling about your work?
I get the biggest kick out of putting together programs for reissues of books that, for whatever reason—bad timing, bad tastes, a tough market, cultural erosion—have gone off the radar. For New Directions’s reissue of The Last Samurai, we were able to get Helen DeWitt to come and read the (very funny) sex scene in front of a big audience of critics and journalists and readers. After we wrapped, she sat in our garden and smoked and chatted with each and every person that wanted a copy signed, then we all went to the bar. Sixteen years after the book originally came out, that was a hell of an event.
What is your proudest achievement with this work and what is your greatest challenge?
I’m proudest of my work collaborating with Stephanie and Ezra on Brooklyn By the Book, a large-scale offsite series in partnership with the Brooklyn Public Library and Congregation Beth Elohim. We’ve hosted Toni Morrison, Orhan Pamuk, Svetlana Alexievich, Javier Marías, Kazuo Ishiguro—it’s a bucket list series for an event coordinator. My greatest challenge: the underside of all this—getting responses, getting confirmations, getting details locked down, but mostly getting pitches rejected again and again and again, and starting over. But hey, Toni Morrison.
What do you hope changes or improves (or continues!) in your field in the future?
We need to get more international. Given the sharp turn rightward in America and the world, I hope that event folks at bookstores all across the country start putting together more and more programs for books and authors in translation. It’s already a trend in several stores across the country, in places like Chicago, San Francisco, and Houston, not to mention right here in Brooklyn. But I want to see Can Xue in Cleveland, or László Krasznahorkai in Tuscaloosa, or Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o in Albuquerque. You know how you fight fascism? Read outside your borders.
Who would you nominate for this list?
Learn more about this year’s 100 Influencers in Brooklyn Culture.