Listen to three Brooklynites talk about their personal connections to places across the borough. We’ll hear from a Walt Whitman scholar at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, an LGBTQ activist in Brighton Beach, and one of Biggie’s biggest fans on a block in Clinton Hill.
Want to read more about the topics brought up in this episode? Check out the following links:
- Attend Clinton Hill Library's Biggie Smalls bookshelf dedication on March 7.
- Read more about Brighton Beach Pride.
- Learn more about the effort to landmark Walt Whitman's one-time Brooklyn home.
- Come hand out with us at Central Library's first ever night of podcasting: "Listen Up, Brooklyn!" on March 14.
Adwoa Adusei Krissa, what’s your favorite place in Brooklyn?
Krissa Corbett Cavouras You know, there’s this — my favorite place is technically the boardwalk in Coney Island but it’s partially that I like to bike down there and I take Ocean Parkway, it’s a straight shot south from my neighborhood and the road just ends right at the boardwalk and it’s the sort of not carnival end of Coney Island. It’s the border between Coney and Brighton Beach so I like to just bike straight down there in the mornings in the summer, chain my bike to the fence on the boardwalk and then just run out into the sand. It just feels magical.
Adwoa Adusei Sounds beautiful.
Krissa Corbett Cavouras Yeah. What about you, what’s your favorite place?
Adwoa Adusei For me I think it’s got to be in Fort Greene Park. There’s a monument, it’s really tall, and it was featured in a Spike Lee movie called “She’s Gotta Have It” where there’s like this dream dance sequence and I’ve always dreamt of dancing there.
Krissa Corbett Cavouras So you haven’t done it yet?
Adwoa Adusei No.
Krissa Corbett Cavouras You haven’t memorized the dance routine?
Adwoa Adusei I have not. [Laughs]
Krissa Corbett Cavouras Brooklyn is such an enormous place. I mean, just from Fort Greene Park to Coney Island, it’s probably like eight or nine miles. We’ve got 2.5 million people in those 70 square miles so, it’s sometimes hard to feel like you have a place to call your own.
Adwoa Adusei But, you know, for whatever reason we do manage to make connections to certain places. And today on Borrowed we’ve selected just three of those Brooklynites to tell their stories about connections to place in Brooklyn.
Krissa Corbett Cavouras Our first story comes from Karen Karbiener.
Karen Karbiener Hi, my name is Karen Karbiener and I am a Whitman scholar at NYU. We are at the Fulton Ferry Landing, which is at the very end of Fulton Street on the Brooklyn side. Specifically, we’re looking at the South Street Seaport area which used to have tall ships, at least when Walt was here. Walt meaning Walt Whitman.
Of course, the city didn’t look this way when he was looking at it. But I think it’s not just the ephemeral things. It’s not just the buildings that are here, but it’s the water. This is one of the few places in Brooklyn where you can get close enough to touch the water. And there’s something really enduring and eternal about just looking at the East River, this really beautiful, deep river.
So, he would leave from where we’re standing, 1855, 1854, 56, he was crossing all of the time. He was living in Brooklyn, working in the city, enjoying the opera and the theater and everything else, going up and down Broadway. But really thinking about this spot as a point of departure. And, as I said, a point of inspiration because out of this spot comes the great New York poem: “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.”
It avails not, time nor place—distance avails not,
(neither does that jet ski behind me right there … )
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd
… So you get this feeling that he’s, like, out there somewhere. And he kind of saw, in some way, the same thing. Maybe not the exact same objects, but the spirit. Which I guess I would just call the spirit of New York, right?
Krissa Corbett Cavouras Karen is part of the Walt Whitman Initiative, which is currently organizing to landmark Whitman’s one-time home in Clinton Hill. That’s where he finished the first edition of his most famous book, Leaves of Grass. We got to know Karen because we worked with her while we were filming Brooklynites reading aloud from “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” during the 200th anniversary of Walt Whitman’s birth, which was in 2019. So we’re going to put a link to that initiative and we’re going to embed the film on our website.
Adwoa Adusei Our next voice you may remember from an earlier Borrowed episode. Lyosha Gorshkov was featured on Season 1 Episode 10 as an instructor at the library’s first ever University Open Air. For this interview, our producer went with him to Brighton Beach on a particularly windy day.
Lyosha Gorshkov So, my name is Lyosha Gorshkov and now we are at Brighton Beach. It’s the heart of the Russian-speaking resettlement, mostly Soviet resettlement. I was forced to leave Russia because of persecution. And I was a gay professor and I created Queer Studies in Russia and when in 2013 the propaganda law, propaganda of non-traditional values, was passed and Putin signed it into law, the secret services started rounding up a lot of people who were openly promoting non-traditional values. Basically, by default, LGBTIQ. And I ended up in Brooklyn, in New York.
When I came in 2014 and I started getting to know people, and most of them lived either in Brighton Beach or Sheepshead Bay, and they would recall some stories about homophobia which occurred here and they would tell, “Oh, those people insulted us,” or “Those people physically threatened us.” And I was surprised. We are in the United States. How come you can tolerate? Because you traumatized yourself again. You survived that mistreatment in your countries, and you’re coming here and you tolerate that? So, I said we cannot. We should do something about that. But people did not take it seriously. They said, “Okay, the better way, strategy, is to move out of Brighton Beach and to live somewhere else to break the old connections to Russians.” But I said, “You can move but you cannot escape from yourself.” But it took me over like two years to realize—to come to the idea of the Pride. Since 2017, we are having our Pride, Russian-speaking Pride, on the boardwalk which is about forty minutes long. So, we march from Coney Island through the old boardwalk up to Brighton 15th Street and we have our rally right here on the benches.
Before, it was a kind of conspiracy of silence. Nobody would talk about that. People who were older and they are LGBT, they would live here and they always will be silent and not discussing the issues. Or they will be dismissing all mistreatment. So, people here lived in kind of a bubble and a cave. And now, when we come here and they see “Oh, it’s public…” Because, after the first Pride, The New York Times posted, a lot of press, media coverage … and it exposed Brighton Beach as a homophobic resettlement. And all of a sudden they realized that something has changed in the attitudes. People got to know Brighton Beach, and not in the best spotlight. And, it’s not easy. It takes courage, it takes strength because sometimes people love to give up on that and just move and not taking that fight because I understand it could be very exhausting. So, that’s why what Brighton Beach does right now, it acknowledges that we exist and we’re here and we are in Brighton Beach and Russian-speaking resettlement. We are not some strange monsters or creatures.
Adwoa Adusei 2017's Brighton Beach Pride was the first ever Russian-speaking Pride event outside of Russia — it’s been happening every May since then.
Krissa Corbett Cavouras Our last story comes to us from Clinton Hill. LeRoy McCarthy met our producer on a very special street.
LeRoy McCarthy I am LeRoy McCarthy. We are standing at the intersection of St. James Place and Fulton Street in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. And this is where it was named recently Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace Way.
Well, Biggie grew up on this same block, St. James Place, at 226 St. James Place. This is where he come from. And a lot of his friends still live in the neighborhood. The neighborhood has changed a lot over the years, but even the supermarket, Key Food, he used to buy groceries there … So, I thought it would be very significant to have a street named for a world-wide figure in his home borough on his block.
I was raised in Brooklyn. Like Biggie, I am a son of Jamaican immigrants. So his music is very symbolic of Brooklyn. Brooklyn moxie, and also substance. And so with that I really appreciate the music he put out. “Ready to Die,” “Life After Death” … you go around the world, people know who Biggie Smalls is, and they know of Brooklyn partially because of him.
Hip hop is going to be fifty years old. And so with that, there’s an opportunity now to establish hip hop as an indigenous, New York City and American art form which should be celebrated along the same line as jazz, as country music, as classical, along that line. And so with that, getting these street names for these hip hop acts: one for Wu-Tang in Staten Island, which is already successful, and for the Beastie Boys in Manhattan and A Tribe called Quest in Queens and Big Pun in the Bronx. So with all those locations, I’m trying to have the nearest location library to have a book shelf dedicated to hip hop and the artist as well. So I think that it would inspire young people, tweens, to read about hip hop and perhaps gain something from it … or at least just read a book and put down the joy stick.
Krissa Corbett Cavouras LeRoy talked about a book shelf and that’s because the Friends of Clinton Hill Library are dedicating a bookshelf to Biggie Smalls this weekend. We’re putting the details about that event on our website.
Adwoa Adusei Krissa, we started out talking about how big Brooklyn is at the beginning of this, right? We just traveled across the whole borough — we started at Fulton Ferry Landing at the waterfront, jumped to Brighton Beach, and then landed in Clinton Hill.
Krissa Corbett Cavouras Imagine how many stories we flew by on the way.
Adwoa Adusei Thankfully, you can listen to more! The library’s oral history archive called Our Streets, Our Stories will soon be debuting an exciting re-boot to the archive. It’ll be interactive, so you can navigate around a map of Brooklyn, click on different neighborhoods, and hear oral histories from everyday Brooklynites.
Krissa Corbett Cavouras It’s very exciting. And listeners, we know this episode was pretty short — but that’s because we’ve been hard at work planning for a truly fantastic event.
Adwoa Adusei That’s right. On Saturday, March 14 at 7:00 pm we’re going to be opening up the library for an evening of podcasting. The event is called “Listen Up, Brooklyn!” and we’re going to have a live recording of Borrowed, a bunch of incredible workshops on things like composing music for podcasts and how to archive your podcast and so much more.
Krissa Corbett Cavouras And we’ve got some pretty exciting guests. Stephanie Foo is going to be moderating a panel with Hillary Frank of The Longest Shortest Time, with WNYC’s Jim O’Grady, and with Keisha “TK” Dutes, of TK in the AM. So head to our website for details and RSVP there to let us know you’re coming. It’s bklynlibrary.org/listen-up. And that’s on Saturday, March 14 from 7:00 to 9:30 pm at Central Library.
Adwoa Adusei Hope to see you there!
Krissa Corbett Cavouras Until next time, storytellers!