“I really should have tidied up,” she said, glancing around the lived-in but not-at-all messy loft. A recent party had left all the furniture pushed into an unusual arrangement. “So it's not an accurate representation of my apartment,” she said. “Even if I try to be a perfectionist I can't be a perfectionist.”
This space is the third one Attenberg has called home in this industrial Kent Avenue building. She's moved in and out, up and down, but “ATTENBERG” is clearly printed next to her current buzzer, though she often spends large parts of the year elsewhere.
Over a decade ago she was invited to a party in this building, her first foray into Brooklyn since moving to the city in 1998. She was quickly enamored with the view from the roof, and told herself that if she ever moved to Brooklyn she would need to find a place just like this. Not much later she answered an apartment listing on Craigslist which led her back to the exact building where the party had been. She's been here, on and off, ever since.
At Home with Jami Attenberg
On one of the coldest nights of 2008, however, there was a building-wide eviction after the city uncovered an illegal matzo bakery in the basement. The building, they said, was a matzo explosion in the making. Attenberg, heartbroken, moved in with her boyfriend at the time, but hoped the building would re-open. Eventually it did and she moved back in, but as South Williamsburg continued to charm new-comers with it's 14-foot windows and city views, the rent spiked. Not wanting a roommate (“I'm, like, 40 years old,” she said, unconvincingly) the adventurous Attenberg began a habit of leaving the city for many months at a time, subletting her apartment so she could afford to live there the rest of the year.
“It's crazy expensive here,” she admitted, “it's not really a great place to be an artist.”
But she always comes back. Not even a few months in New Orleans renting a much larger place for a third of the cost, could charm Attenberg away from Brooklyn for good.
There's been much chatter lately about the fact that Brooklyn is a magnet for writers. Just before the annual Brooklyn Book Festival in September, this magazine published a spread profiling a handful of editors, writers, bookstore owners and reading series curators. The inevitable backlash came a few weeks later, most notably in the form of an essay by Morten Høi Jensen of Hyper Allergic. Jensen decried the very concept of Brooklyn Literature and Writers, and declared it twitter-obsessed and overly nice. He likened the mingling, socializing literary community here to a Ladies Garden Club, and longed for more “cranks and weirdos” and writers who say “fuck you” instead of “thank you” to the person who says they loved their last book.
Attenberg said she found the piece, “actually really amusing,” but said she might feel differently if she had been the one picked on in the essay. Emma Straub took the brunt of that one; she was faulted mainly for having a strong Internet presence, which Jensen thought must make her actual writing secondary to her writing career, a notion he seems to disprove when he admits that she has published two books in the last year and has another novel due in 2014.
“I'm sure Emma is totally over it by now,” Attenberg said, speaking of the backlash against Straub's success, twittering and tumblr-ing. “People could make fun of me for doing the same thing,” she said in reference to her own twitter and tumblr accounts, and the blog she has maintained since the late 90s.
What struck her the most about this most recent critique of the Brooklyn literary scene was that it left out the fact that the conversation was primarily about middle-class, white people. “That's definitely not all the writers we have in Brooklyn,” Attenberg said, hypothesizing that it's maybe a majority of the writers who tweet. Still, she agreed that we could stand to have a few more cranks, a few less empty congratulations or book events that feel like work.
But Attenberg, who works very occasionally at the Greenpoint bookstore, Word, sees her community as more populated by readers than writers. “When I think about being here, I think about being in that store and talking to people about books.” It's an uplifting perspective to have at a time when book publishing can feel like a whisper under the roar of the internet.
“Oh, one last thing,” Attenberg said. “I'm taking pictures of anyone who interviews me.” Smile. Click.
“You've been tumbled,” she said.