By Bianca Silva
A literary collective is looking to bring English and French-language books to Brooklyn’s Little Haiti. On Saturday, a book truck provided by the House of SpeakEasy was parked at Parkside Plaza on the corner of Parkside and Ocean Avenue in Flatbush.
Residents had the opportunity to purchase books aimed for readers of all ages. In addition to the popup truck, there was an impromptu book signing featuring French film director and author Benoit Cohen.
Jeff Waxman, the Bookmobile director for the House of SpeakEasy, mentions how the Parkside Plaza, conveniently located across the street from Prospect Park and the westernmost part of “Little Haiti” was ideal to hold the literary event.
“I used to live in the neighborhood and I passed though this plaza so frequently that I knew that traffic was very good,” he said. “I knew the people who live here and I said: ‘We should probably be right there as soon as possible.’ ”
Elena Callahan, a volunteer for the Parkside Plaza and a Flatbush resident, explains how her collaboration with Waxman to have the book truck in the neighborhood came to be and the significance of holding such events at the plaza which didn’t exist three years ago.
“Our mission is to really make it peaceful for the community as a place to relax, hang out and get to know your neighbors but also [hold] events that really speak to the community,” she said. “When he reached out to me I said: ‘Is there anyway we could make it more relevant to the community?’ He had that idea to begin with but ‘can we get some authors that are French-speaking?’”
The purpose of the House of SpeakEasy bookmobile, according to Waxman is to provide much needed resources to communities who lack easy access to bookstores and libraries.
When it comes to catering to the needs of Flatbush residents, the possibility of connecting with them meant partnering with Albertine, a bookstore in Manhattan devoted to French and English books and is also part of the cultural services for the French Embassy.
“We are always looking for opportunities to bring books into communities that aren’t necessarily well-served by bookstores, he said. “We just want to open it up to everyone and part of that means bringing collections of books that are multilingual into our multilingual neighborhoods.”
When Waxman lived in the neighborhood several years ago, he began to notice how the overall book culture in New York City is heavily geared towards the english language despite being multicultural. Although Flatbush contains multiple bookstores and libraries, most carry english-specific material.
“When you live in a neighborhood,” he said, “you start to get a sense that english readers are not the only readers. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t even on a temporary basis start to address readers for everyone.”
Waxman hopes the House of SpeakEasy bookmobile can pop up more frequently in Flatbush as well as other spots throughout New York City. The next bookmobile appearance he mentions, will be in East Harlem where English and Spanish language books will be on display.