View Black Balloon Publishing’s Favorite Literary Venues in New York City in a larger map
A few months ago, we compiled a list of our favorite independent bookstores across New York, but we’ve since realized that book shopping can be a lonely pursuit. After all, once you’ve stocked up on all the titles on your reading list (okay, and a healthy supply of snacks and alcohol), what’s the point of leaving your apartment?
We’ve got you covered, though, with this list of the best places in New York to turn your love of literature into a social experience. With the variety of book clubs, reading series and launch parties on this list, you’re sure to find the venue that best suit your needs — and maybe even some friends who can finally relate to your literary interests!
1. Franklin Park Reading Series (Crown Heights)
Every second Monday of the month, Crown Heights’ Franklin Park Bar and Beer Garden hosts the only thing that could be more exciting than their spiked milkshakes: a reading series that, in addition to highlighting local talent, has drawn the likes of writers such as Jennifer Egan and Sam Lipsyte. The series also occasionally throws music into the mix, providing a stage for area musicians.
On June 9, the bar will hold a Summer Blockbuster Event with authors like Shane Jones and Amy Sohn, free admission and $4 pints. Time to start clearing your Mondays.
2. 92nd Street Y (Upper East Side)
If you thought that the most exciting thing going on at the 92nd Street Y was Israeli folk dancing classes, think again. The Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center hosts not only literary events but writing seminars as well and boasts an impressive digital archive of writers reading and reflecting on literature.
Want your voice to be immortalized along the likes of W. H. Auden and Pablo Neruda? You can record your favorite poem via SoundCloud and the Poetry Center will post it on their site.
3. Symphony Space (Upper West Side)
What do How I Met Your Mother, Sesame Street and author Denis Johnson have in common? Symphony Space, obviously, where on June 11 several actors from the famed TV shows will read Johnson’s “Emergency” and several other stories in a “Tales After Dark”-themed version of the organization’s popular Selected Shorts reading series.
Can’t make it to Selected Shorts in person? Don’t sweat it; the reading series appears in podcast form every Friday at 3 P.M. If that isn’t enough to sell you on Symphony Space, Black Balloon’s own Freddie Moore remembers spotting Willem Dafoe right behind her the first time she visited Symphony Space. “Now that, I’ll never forget,” she says. “There’s no other place like it.”
4. powerHouse Arena (DUMBO)
Publishers Weekly said it best: “powerHouse events are all-out parties.” When you get together a bunch of lit nerds, one of the best-curated book collections in the city and a space perfectly designed to bring the two together (plus throw an open bar into the mix), a party seems like the only viable option. powerHouse hosts frequent book launches, art shows and concerts, often all at the same time, making it a one-stop location for everything you’re interested in.
5. KGB Bar (East Village)
The name alone is enough to make you want to buy a drink at this East Village bar. Add to that its history (the bar was formerly a speakeasy for Ukrainian socialists during the McCarthy era) and free literary readings, and you might find yourself wanting to frequent KGB Bar every night of the week. After you’ve sobered up, be sure to check out the bar’s website, where they post fiction, reviews, interviews and more.
6. McNally Jackson (Nolita)
You probably know McNally Jackson as one of Manhattan’s best independent bookstores (and one of our personal favorites). In addition to stopping by the store for a copy of your literary crush’s latest novel, though, you might also want to visit McNally Jackson to attend one of their events — dinners with Ruth Reichl, magazine launch parties and authors in conversation, to name a few. With book clubs on topics ranging in everything from comic books to small businesses, the only legitimate reason you have for not attending is being unable to tear yourself away from browsing McNally Jackson’s shelves.
7. Bluestockings (Lower East Side)
Bluestockings describes itself as a “radical bookstore, fair trade cafe, and activist center.” It’s a lot to live up to, but Bluestockings fulfills its title with frequent events and book clubs, like the Anarchist Reading Group. “We carry over 6,000 titles on topics such as feminism, queer and gender studies, global capitalism, police and prisons, and black studies,” Bluestockings advertises. If that’s not enough to convince you to visit, though, the book store promises, “You can also find some good ‘ole smutty fiction.”
8. The Center for Fiction (Midtown)
The Center for Fiction hosts so many great literary events that there’s almost no reason to leave. In addition to readings and discussions, the center hosts reading groups and workshops, as well as managing an independent used bookstore. Once you’ve left the building, you can spend hours the center’s website reading book recommendations from your favorite authors and checking out one of their “Reading the Big Books Guide” (so you can attempt Moby Dick for the 42nd time).
Did we name any of your favorite literary venues on our list? Do you have any stories of a life-altering experience you’ve had (or just another Williem Dafoe sighting) at your local literary hangout? Be sure to let us know in the comments, and please list your favorite book-themed venue if we haven’t included it here!
Black Balloon Publishing is an independent press headquartered in New York, NY, with both print and digital distribution channels. We've published literary fiction, nonfiction and memoir, and we're willing to grow our reach in any direction that suits. Our books evolve, rotate, get mapped onto cities and light up your screen. We champion the weird, the unwieldy and the unclassifiable. The Airship is our blog and chief propaganda vehicle.
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