Do All Writers Live in Brooklyn?

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Photo: Paul Schiraldi

That's the jokey premise behind one Sergio De La Pava's author bio in his forthcoming book, which the Chicago Reader praises as "the best author bio ever."  "Sergio De La Pava is a writer who does not live in Brooklyn," it reads. Funny! The punch line, of course, is that he's inverting the endless parade of author bios on websites and jacket covers that read, in sum, "so-and-so is a writer who lives in Brooklyn," as if those were credentials enough. Annoying! Smug! Parochial!

And also, living in Brooklyn is a thing that writers in Brooklyn are hyper-self-aware about, as they are about many things. "What is it like to write in Brooklyn?" Colson Whitehead wrote, presumably in Brooklyn and definitely in the Times. "It's hard. The way it is everywhere." It is also a longstanding cliché, and there is nothing that writers (and cool-seekers, which is what we are meant to presume at least some of these writers in Brooklyn are doing in Brooklyn) are supposed to hate more than cliché. How is your writing ever going to be original if your existence isn't? (The bookend to the non-Brooklyn writer's worry that he won't run into the right person at a book party or the coffee shop or the York Street F.)

But probably, despite very high-profile exceptions, the writer-in-Brooklyn commonplace is also a byproduct of the fact that many (often young) people who write in Brooklyn and list it on their bios have not yet accrued tons of laurels, and perhaps have moved to New York for proximity to opportunity and community, and then to the outer boroughs for livable rent, not just a literary zip code. And making that outer-borough rent on top of trying to write for websites that pay a pittance, if at all, still takes up a lot of their psychic energy. And besides, they probably don't have any kids or spouses or fly-fishing trophies to tout. So why not display a little hard-earned geographic pride instead of just listing a virtual home like Twitter, when asked to fill out a little author bio line with something that, hopefully, sums up their "brand" in a way that comes across as neither too self-promotional nor too self-deprecating nor too self-conscious? Whitehead's right: It is hard, and you haven't even gotten past the bio line.