Last week, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and BuzzFeed launched an ambitious new reading program, “One Book, One New York,” aimed to unite the country’s most literary city (I will fight you) with a single title. With the announcement, One Book, One New York becomes the largest community reading program in the country: offering an initial selection of five books—culled by five celebrities from a long list compiled by librarians, academics, and people in publishing—for New Yorkers to vote on. (New Yorkers can vote for their favorite book on subway platforms via the MTA’s On the Go kiosks as well as online–the winner will be announced in March.) It’s a terrific list: Bebe Neuwirth picked the raucous and romantic Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Larry Wilmore, the sci fi-inflected postcolonial bildungsroman of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz; Danielle Brooks, the searching and scorching Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, William H. Macy, the unflinching and big-hearted A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith; Giancarlo Esposito, the ferocious satire of The Sellout by Paul Beatty. I talked with Isaac Fitzgerald, BuzzFeed’s books editor, about the story behind this tremendous project.
Brooklyn Magazine: Tell me about the genesis of One Book, One New York.
Isaac Fitzgerald: Commissioner Julie Menin and her team at the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment had been thinking about getting this program started for a while, and came to me and Saeed Jones, Executive Editor of Culture at BuzzFeed, about a partnership. We leapt at the opportunity. After bouncing a few ideas around, we decided to kick things off with five books backed by five celebrities, which the city would then vote on, as opposed to only picking one book from the get-go. The long list was curated by publishers, booksellers, and librarians around the city. One Book, One New York is a chance for different parts of publishing to come together, along with the five incredible actors, to make this program happen and get the word out. It’s been wonderful to see all the ads on the subway, to see the videos on Taxi TV. It’s been a delight.
Why is this work important to you?
New York is a place that’s built on reading: it’s one most literary cities in the world and it hosts a huge number of major publishers. One of my favorite things to do is to check out what people are reading on the subway, because there are so many people reading such a wide variety of books. Literature is a part of New York’s soul. And since other cities were having One Book-type programs—Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, L.A—I thought it was so important for New York to embrace this idea too, to rally behind the book publishing industry in this way. I hope this becomes an annual program.
Can you reveal what your vote will be?
I shouldn’t! [laughs] But I can tell you I think each book is spectacular, and that I did indeed vote, and you should too.
What’s the response been like so far?
Just keeping up with it on social media is kind of overwhelming. The folks at Picador have already created a website for The Sellout, voteforthesellout.com, and it’s awesome to see all the displays in the independent bookstores throughout the city. The strongest reaction I’ve had has just been seeing the program advertised on the subway. Whenever I visited the city as a kid, looking at all the subway ads felt like such an unforgettable, classically New York part of the experience. But the craziest moment so far was seeing it up on the Jumbotron in Times Square. To see that kind of space used for books is so important and powerful.
Illustration with courtesy to the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and BuzzFeed