Maxwell Neely-Cohen is a man of many hats: financial advisor, author, Senior Advisor at non-profit Words After War, friend to Brooklyn’s finest book floaters and self-proclaimed perpetual teenager. While he spends a good deal of time writing himself, he is equally as eager encouraging others to take risks on their own work within the many creative communities of which he plays an integral part. Be it architecture, dance, music, film and more, his prowess on both the business and passion side of such projects keeps him at the center of Brooklyn’s artistic pulse, so don’t be surprised when he continues to pop-up on stage and behind the curtain for any number of the happening events you should find yourself hearing buzz about.
How/why did you become involved in your line of work?
I just sort of fell into everything. I feel sometimes like I’m perpetually a teenager, trying on identities and vocations to see what fits. The writing part of my life just sort of evolved from when I was in college. I quit doing music and became fixated on the idea of writing books. But the funding/connecting/investing/producing part of my life was, I think, inevitable, something I couldn’t escape even if I was doing something completely different. I always have been interested in figuring out ways to make other people’s creative shit happen. When I was a little kid, I became obsessed with the word “impresario” even though I didn’t know what it meant. Then someone told me, and I was like, “yes! I do want to be that! I want to throw concerts for people!” I’m not there yet, but that’s my dream descriptor.
Tell us a little bit about your present work, the Cliffs Notes version of your day to day and what is at stake.
I write as much as I can make myself. I’m really slow and my ideas take years, but I spend every day trying to think through the book I’m writing. Then I work at least a little business and investing stuff. The rest of the time I spend in a sort of ADD haze bent on making as much cool shit happen for other people as possible. Because I had a very hard time getting my first book published, I spend a lot of time trying to find places for outsiders in publishing, like finding them agents and editors. I spend a lot of time helping all sorts of creative work find funding, logistical support, press coverage, you name it. I’ve been lucky to have been involved in producing or supporting so many different things that I could never do myself: art, design, architecture, dance, theater, music, film, video games. So many creatives aren’t really into the business side of things, so I do my best to bridge that gap in any way that I can. Sometimes I feel like a fake literary agent. Sometimes I feel like a fake financial advisor. Sometimes I’m just trying to find people willing to write a check and take a chance. Sometimes I’m that person.
What do you find most fulfilling about your work?
When you finish a book it feels pretty fucking awesome. But I also love that moment when you convince someone to take a risk on something — when you are pitching someone’s dream, and manage to get it through. Or the feeling when you are the one taking the risk yourself, writing the check thinking, “I believe in this, and maybe it will fail, but fuck it I have to try.” I don’t get to do that as much as I would like to, but when I do, it’s great. But most of all, I just love being a part of creative communities. Nothing makes me more fulfilled than watching someone I love kick ass.
What is your proudest achievement with this work and what is your greatest challenge?
Even though I had an utterly insignificant role, I’m very proud of the work Words After War did over the past few years and of the times I helped someone find an agent or get a book deal. The greatest challenge is figuring out how to balance everything.
What do you hope changes or improves (or continues!) in your field in the future?
I hope, more than anything, that the American rich decides that spending lots of money to make cool shit happen is suddenly the thing to do. That’d be nice. I wish I could convince a few billionaires that founding publishing companies and museums and galleries and production companies was a better way to assert their egos than yachts. I wish that more people in the publishing and book world were entrepreneurial, were risk takers, were aggressive.
Who would you nominate for this list?
Alexis Sablone (artist/architect/designer/skateboarder), Chloe Daley (designer/prop genius/stylist), Jen Percy (war journalist), Mira Jacob (novelist).
Learn more about this year’s 100 Influencers in Brooklyn Culture.