Brooklyn’s literary credentials are beyond reproach at this point, given that the borough is currently home to hundreds of writers and the base of operations for numerous small presses, reading series, and magazines. As a living organism—and one of the most rapidly changing urban centers in the world—history tends to get buried quickly in Brooklyn. Below are a few literary landmarks, including bookstores, bars, and famous residences, that remind us why Brooklyn is the center of the reading and writing world.
169 Clinton Street
You wouldn’t know from the pleasant Brooklyn Heights surroundings, but this unremarkable apartment building was once home to horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, who spent his time in Brooklyn going quietly insane. Though his tenure in New York was fairly brief, he composed “The Horror at Red Hook” while living here, and his enormous dislike of the area would go on to inform his most mature and bloodcurdling work.
Much has been written about Sunny’s, the venerable Red Hook bar that is one of Brooklyn’s true epicenters. Perhaps most notably, it informed Tim Sultan’s memoir Sunny’s Nights: Lost and Found at a Bar on the Edge of the Word. It really does feel like the edge of the world, by the way: the Red Hook waterfront inspired both James Agee and On the Waterfront.
Talk about distinguished roommates: 7 Middagh Street in Brooklyn Heights was once home to Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, W.H. Auden, and Paul and Jane Bowles. Christened February House because of the February birthdays of most of its tenants, the house no longer stands as it would have appeared back in 1940, when it was the secret home of Modernism.
Walt Whitman was editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, whose offices were here and what is now commemorated as Fort Greene Park, whose construction Whitman advocated for in an op-ed. He also wrote about the towering Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument, which you can find here, the subject of his poem “The Wallabout Martyrs.”
This enormous beer hall is a destination year-round, with an ongoing air of revelry and plenty of live music. It also happens to be adjacent to two literary landmarks, the charming used bookstore Book Thug Nation and the Lorimer Street tenement that was the setting for Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
Greenpoint, home to many Polish bakeries and cozy cocktail bars, is among Brooklyn’s most charming neighborhoods and Greenpoint Ave will lead you past the Black Rabbit tavern and the Brooklyn Night Market, down to the WORD bookstore (which also happens to be near the birthplace of Goodnight Moon author Margaret Wise Brown).
Park Slope’s legendary Community Bookstore is home to readings, literary events, and more than a few animals. It is also the neighborhood bookstore of Paul Auster and Martin Amis, who have been known to stop by from time to time to browse the tasteful and eccentrically stocked shelves, where you’ll find more than just the latest NPR-endorsed hardcovers.
Named for a Samuel Beckett novel, Unnamable Books is one of the most remarkable bookstores in the city, selling both new and used books and home to treasures mixed in with the stunning array of poetry, nonfiction, and small press titles. Open late, Unnamable is the best Brooklyn has to offer in terms of literary wonder.
Though Herman Melville is buried in the Bronx, Brooklyn can boast the peaceful and truly gorgeous Green-Wood Cemetery, whose residents include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Leonard Bernstein, and writer/NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson.