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September 15, 2014

Book Notes - Johnny Temple's Brooklyn Book Festival Playlist

Brooklyn Book Festival

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Johnny Temple is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Akashic Books and also bassist for the band Girls Against Boys.

This year's Brooklyn Book Festival will be held on September 21st, with Bookend events held all over the borough from September 15th through the 22nd.

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Johnny Temple's Book Notes music playlist for the Brooklyn Book Festival:

Although I am more publisher than bass guitar player these days, I was a musician long before I was a publisher or festival organizer. The following playlist is my own take on the backbeats of the annual Brooklyn Book Festival. The festival was launched in 2005 out of Brooklyn Borough Hall by our three-term borough president Marty Markowitz, who established the Brooklyn Literary Council and named me chair. Together with his staff, led by Carolyn Greer and Liz Koch, we built the council of volunteers to help program the festival. In this, our ninth year, the festival became its own nonprofit; we look forward to seeing everyone on September 21, with over 60 Bookend events taking place across the borough from September 15–22 (including A Spirited Celebration of Books and Music!).

People who have not yet been to the festival sometimes assume that it's primarily a celebration of Brooklyn authors. And while we have always had a strong representation of authors based here in town, this was never an exclusive focus. Every year the festival has become increasingly international, with authors traveling here from all over the world. This playlist is heavily Caribbean, which is a reflection of my own musical and literary tastes, along with some must-have Brooklyn artists and other songs that capture the spirit of the Brooklyn Book Festival.

"Redefinition" by Black Star. This hip-hop homage to Brooklyn paints a somewhat menacing portrait, and yet it still makes many of us proud to call this place home. "Brooklyn, New York City, where they paint murals of Biggie / In cash we trust, cause it's ghetto fabulous, life look pretty . . ." What's more, rapper Talib Kweli (one half of Black Star, with Mos Def) once ran an important book shop and community space, Nkiru Bookstore (RIP), here in Brooklyn. A powerful force in that endeavor was the rapper's mother, Dr. Brenda Greene, herself a Brooklyn Literary Council member from early on.

"Hot Hot Hot" by Arrow. Rain is a book festival's worst nightmare. So when I'm there at the festival in mid-September and someone complains, "Man, it's too damn hot out here," my mind goes to Monterrat singer Arrow: "My mind's on fire / My soul's on fire / Feeling hot hot hot . . ." Particularly under the threat of downpour, I agree with Arrow: heat can be a good thing.

"Mr. Consular" by Home T-4 and Yellowman. Our festival started out with an international focus and every year more authors have joined us from across the world. This year alone, authors from Brazil (Paulo Scott), India (Amit Chaudhrui), Cuba (Mylene Fernandez-Pintado), Israel (Assaf Gavron), Haiti (Frankétienne), South Africa (Lauren Buekes), England (Nadeem Aslam, Hamid Ismailov, and Nadifa Mohammed), France (Scholastique Mukasonga), and Mexico (Mario Bellatin), among other countries,will participate in our programming. With this breadth of authors, visa/border challenges occasionally arise, sometimes insurmountable. This song goes out to all those writers facing political and visa persecution. Only Yellowman can put soul into a consulate visit gone awry.

"Man Down" by Rihanna. This song brings a heavy, irresistible Caribbean vibe to the pop-song format. The Brooklyn Book Festival brings a heavy, irresistible Caribbean vibe to a literary format—with a host of authors of Carribean descent at this year, including Tiphanie Yanique, Marlon James, Frankétienne, Roxane Gay, Christopher John Farley, Tanya Batson-Savage, and Roland Watson-Grant, among others.

"S. Carter" by Jay-Z. Any Brooklyn resident making a playlist is required to include a Jay-Z track. This particular song suits my list well, both because of the reference to the most important TV personality in book publishing ("Hustler, nigga, move weight like Oprah") and the aggressive Brooklyn pride ("I'm from Bed-Stuy, killa with the flow / Let lead fly from out the four-four, motherfuckers . . .").

"The Don" by Peter Metro. This is a shout-out to the Calabash International Literary Festival in Treasure Beach, Jamaica, which has been a massive inspiration for me as both a festival organizer and a book publisher. Best-selling Jamaican author Colin Channer, one of the three Calabash architects (with Kwame Dawes and Justine Henzel), joined the Brooklyn Literary Council in our early days and helped us get the festival get off the ground, before he relocated from across the street from me in Fort Greene to points north.

"Give the People What They Want" by Jimmy Cliff. Speaking of great book festivals, this song lays out the basic ambition of all such endeavors. The Miami Book Fair International, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad, the Texas Book Festival, the Guadalajara Book Fair in Mexico—along with others across the world, every year these festivals serve up solid gold for book lovers of all ages and backgrounds.

"Roots, Rock, Reggae" by Bob Marley and the Wailers. According to my own moral code, I can't have a playlist and not include Bob Marley. In any event, book festivals are fundamentally upbeat and forward-thinking, so this song fits well.

"Royals" by Lorde. This lush and melancholic tune seems to run on the same steam as an Irwin Shaw or Thomas Wolfe short story set in 1930s Brooklyn—or a Jonathan Lethem (who will be at the Festival in conversation with Jules Feiffer) novel set in 1970s Brooklyn.

"Stay Positive" by The Hold Steady. Even New Brooklyn can be unabashedly optimistic, if only in fleeting doses.

"Minor Threat" by Minor Threat. This is a rejection of the apathy of adulthood, and along the way it also became an anthem for misfits (and others). Any large gathering of book lovers has an overrepresentation of misfits. Come to think of it, Brooklyn itself both generates and lures misfits. In some cultures the words for "artist" and "misfit" are interchangeable. Also, Minor Threat singer Ian MacKaye appeared in conversation with fellow underground musical hero Thurston Moore at the Brooklyn Book Festival in 2008.

"Welcome to Jamrock" by Damian Marley. One of the most badass songs of the past decade, this grim analysis of ghetto claustrophobia implicitly advocates for education and commitment to youth. "Come on let's face it, a ghetto education's basic / And most of the youths them waste it / And when them waste it, that's when them take the guns and replace it / Then them don't stand a chance at all . . ." Youth programming has always been vital to the Brooklyn Book Festival, along with our commitment to providing literary attractions for all ages, cultures, religions.

"Bam Bam" by Sister Nancy. What's not to love about a feminist Jamaican dancehall classic that little boys and old women alike will sing along to? It's a perfect closer for this massive global book celebration on September 21 in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Book Festival links:


David Ulin on #BKBF
Publishers Weekly

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists

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