BROOK­LYN RE­TREAT

From Ja­panese ce­ram­ics classes to cel­e­brated fic­tion work­shops, here are some things to try in New York’s most cre­ative bor­ough for the per­fect in­spi­ra­tional es­cape.

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - BROOKLYN RETREAT - Words CANDICE CHUNG Pho­tog­ra­phy CHRIS SORENSEN

ON A MONDAY night, a crowd of 40 or so New York­ers gather up­stairs at 61 Lo­cal, a for­mer car­riage house turned neigh­bour­hood bar on a quiet cor­ner of Cob­ble Hill in Brook­lyn. There’s a hushed ex­cite­ment in the air — the kind that breaks into an­i­mated chat­ter right be­fore a live show. But there are no bands or per­form­ers in sight. In fact, the night’s spe­cial guest isn’t a mu­si­cian or co­me­dian, but a po­etry in­struc­tor. At 7pm, craft ales in hand, ev­ery­one gets ready for what they’ve been wait­ing for: an hour of guided po­etry writ­ing at the Brook­lyn Poets Yawp.

In an­other city, the idea of an af­ter-work po­etry jam may not be ap­peal­ing. In Brook­lyn, how­ever, an earnest love of the arts isn’t just tol­er­ated, it’s en­cour­aged. Cre­ated in 2013, the Yawp is a pop­u­lar half-work­shop, half-open-mic event that’s held on the sec­ond Monday of ev­ery month. It’s also the kind of highly so­cial (yet un­abashedly nerdy) night out that al­lows at­ten­dees to flex their cre­ative mus­cles for a mere $5.

“In Brook­lyn, you have this in­cred­i­ble con­flu­ence of dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties, back­grounds and sex­u­al­i­ties,” says Ja­son Koo, founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Brook­lyn Poets — the non-profit be­hind the Yawp. “When you have so many peo­ple in close spa­ces to­gether, it forces you not only to get along, but to ac­tu­ally be aware of dif­fer­ence, and be stim­u­lated by it.”

LIT­ER­ARY BROOK­LYN

De­spite ram­pant gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, there’s no deny­ing that Brook­lyn re­mains a breed­ing ground for up-and-coming

artists and writ­ers. In fact, as in­flu­en­tial au­thor and jour­nal­ist Mal­colm Glad­well says, “In­tel­li­gent thought is not dead in New York, it has sim­ply moved to Brook­lyn.” Lit­er­ary greats such as Walt Whit­man, Henry Miller and Tru­man Capote have all called the bor­ough home, and you don’t need to ven­ture far from the tree-lined brown­stones, cafes and parks to spot fa­mous writ­ers. You may see award-win­ning word­smiths such as Jen­nifer Egan in Fort Greene, Ta-Ne­hisi Coates in Cob­ble Hill, and Ni­cole Krauss in Park Slope. Such a high num­ber of au­thors per capita means lo­cals are con­stantly ex­posed to the new­est book launches and in­dus­try gos­sip, cre­at­ing a hot­bed of highly en­gaged read­ers and in­de­pen­dent book­sell­ers.

“You can ba­si­cally walk into a book­store any­where in Brook­lyn on any night, and there’ll be great events,” says Ju­lia Fierro, au­thor of The Gypsy Moth Sum­mer and founder of the beloved Sack­ett Street Writ­ers’ Work­shop.

A grad­u­ate of the famed Iowa Writ­ers’ Work­shop, which has pro­duced some of the coun­try’s finest writ­ers since it was founded in 1936 (and where Han­nah is ac­cepted in sea­son four of HBO’s Girls), Fierro started her own sa­lon-style classes in 2002 from the kitchen of her brown­stone apart­ment. She was 25 years old when her first novel was re­jected by pub­lish­ers, and the work­shop was born out of a de­sire to find her own com­mu­nity and pro­vide sup­port to other writ­ers.

To­day, Sack­ett Street is widely re­garded as one of the best writ­ing pro­grams in New York, with more than 150 books pub­lished by its alumni. Classes are in­ti­mate — work­shops

of eight stu­dents are led by pro­fes­sional writ­ers, who are of­ten at the top of their game. Most classes are six to eight weeks long, and are best suited to those who already have a work in progress. In other words, con­sider this a boot camp for the novel or short sto­ries you’ve al­ways wanted to work on.

“We’re see­ing more and more peo­ple who are tak­ing a sab­bat­i­cal from work, and some­times com­bin­ing a life­long de­sire to have a New York ex­pe­ri­ence for a few months,” says Fierro. It’s a se­ri­ous com­mit­ment — but for those who don’t hap­pen to have six weeks to spare, Sack­ett Street also of­fers an ar­ray of on­line classes for out-of-town­ers.

For shorter writ­ing cour­ses, Brook­lyn Pub­lic Li­brary hosts free, gen­er­a­tive work­shops by pub­lished poets and novelists sev­eral times a month. Or cross the bridge to Man­hat­tan for one­day classes at Cat­a­pult or Gotham Writ­ers Work­shop. Both of­fer cre­ative non-fic­tion cour­ses, too, for any­one keen to try their hand in the hus­tle of food writ­ing, per­sonal es­says or mem­oirs.

GET ON STAGE

Some­times the thrill of be­ing in a new city is enough to pry us out of our com­fort zones. If you already have a com­pelling story to tell, why not test your skills (and nerves) at the home of The Moth Sto­rySLAM? Fans of The Moth Ra­dio Hour will be fa­mil­iar with the for­mat: True story. Five min­utes. No notes — it’s all per­formed and judged in front of a live au­di­ence.

The Bell House, in the in­dus­trial back streets of Gowanus (a sub­urb wedged be­tween Red Hook and Park Slope), puts on reg­u­lar Sto­rySlam events. Grab a drink and a meat­ball sub at the bar, then put your name down for a chance to get on stage in the moody Brook­lyn the­atre and share your story.

Two-time Sto­rySlam win­ner Sofija Ste­fanovic re­calls the mo­ment she took the plunge, “I’d just moved to New York from Australia,” says the au­thor and cu­ra­tor of Women of Let­ters New York. “Back home I never would have done it, as I would have felt self-con­scious. But in New York, I feel quite free to ex­press my­self, know­ing that no one will bat an eye­lid.”

Ste­fanovic says her in­volve­ment with The Moth has opened up new doors as well. “For one, they took me on the road with them and I got to per­form a story with their Main­Stage, which trav­els around the US. I was on The Moth Ra­dio Hour twice, which is broad­cast on more than 400 sta­tions Amer­ica-wide and goes out to the rest of the world, too.”

CRE­ATIVE PIT STOPS

What­ever cre­ative pur­suits you choose, take ad­van­tage of the work-friendly cafes in the bor­ough. Grab a cor­tado (espresso with steamed milk) and tap into the free wi-fi at Green­point’s Nordic-in­flu­enced Búdin cafe, or rub shoul­ders with lo­cals at Cafe Grumpy’s com­mu­nal tables, which formed the back­drop to Girls. Fort Greene’s Greene Grape An­nex of­fers des­ig­nated work sta­tions and a soul-re­viv­ing ap­ple­wood-smoked ba­con sand­wich. It’s li­censed, too — so you can switch to a chilled glass of white af­ter a hard day on the lap­top. In the evening, stop by Green­light Book­store across the road — a crowd

favourite known for host­ing read­ings by lo­cal tal­ents, as well as big name au­thors from the US and fur­ther afield, such as El­iz­a­beth Gil­bert, Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon.

From there, a five-minute walk along Ful­ton Street and Lafayette Av­enue will take you to multi-arts cen­tre BAM, or the Brook­lyn Academy of Mu­sic, which hosts mod­ern per­for­mance art classes and the pop­u­lar Eat, Drink & Be Lit­er­ary se­ries in spring­time ev­ery year.

GET HANDS- ON

If DIY cul­ture is more your thing, you’ll find a hub of lo­cal ar­ti­sans teach­ing the tricks of their (small batch) trades in down­town Wil­liams­burg. Ceramic craft stu­dio Baked in Brook­lyn holds evening classes, where stu­dents learn to do silkscreen print­ing on pot­tery or mas­ter the art of mo­saic­mak­ing, all over com­pli­men­tary snacks and BYO wine. For the nat­u­rally dex­trous, try the in­tro­duc­tory sil­ver­smithing class at nearby Fitzger­ald Jew­elry. There, you can also learn about stone-set­ting and — be­cause it’s Brook­lyn — how to make your own be­spoke wed­ding rings.

But ask a crafty lo­cal and they’ll tell you noth­ing quite com­pares to the rise of hand­made ce­ram­ics in the past few years. At Cho­plet — widely con­sid­ered to be the epi­cen­tre of the move­ment — classes are held in a homely 31-wheel stu­dio space on Grand Street. Over the sum­mer months, the gar­den turns into an out­door stu­dio, com­plete with a canopy of fairy lights. “It’s the idea that you’re en­joy­ing life, like you’re in a cafe or a bar,” says French-born artist and owner Nadeige Cho­plet. “But, in­stead of drink­ing — or you might be drink­ing — you will be cre­at­ing things at the same time.”

Lessons go from one-day wheel throw­ing (where stu­dents learn to work with clay on a pot­ter’s wheel) to eight-week ceramic in­ten­sives. You get to take home your fin­ished work, and for some, per­haps even enough skills to start your own shop on Etsy. For the ul­ti­mate cre­ative re­treat, Cho­plet also hosts a raku week­end work­shop in up­state New York. Will­ing stu­dents get to ex­per­i­ment with the high-heat Ja­panese fir­ing tech­nique and spend the night in a river­side com­pound near Phone­cia.

As for those who can’t quite make up their minds on what to try, there’s al­ways the choose-your-own-ad­ven­ture op­tion at Brook­lyn Brain­ery. Poly­maths Jen Messier and Jonathan Soma co-founded the crowd­sourced learn­ing cen­tre in 2010, where am­a­teur in­struc­tors and hob­by­ists of­fer ‘ca­sual classes for cu­ri­ous adults’. Course sched­ules are off­beat and col­lab­o­ra­tive, mean­ing peo­ple can pitch ideas on what they want to learn and teach. A quick search and US$20 ($25) later, you could be on your way to dis­cov­er­ing how to write sketch com­edy, make fem­i­nist art, mas­ter Chi­nese take­away favourites or iden­tify neigh­bour­hood trees with the help of a forestry ex­pert.

But most of all, you’ll learn that no mat­ter where you hail from or what your in­ter­ests are, in Brook­lyn there are al­ways peo­ple who share your par­tic­u­lar ob­ses­sions and will want to spend the time in­dulging in them. “You can find 10 or 20 peo­ple who want to do just about any­thing with you,” says Messier. “With mil­lions of peo­ple, there’s at least a hand­ful who are in­ter­ested in what­ever else you’re in­ter­ested in — we’re just bring­ing those peo­ple to­gether.”

GET­TING THERE VIR­GIN AUSTRALIA OF­FERS FLIGHTS TO NEW YORK AND NE­WARK WITH ITS CODESHARE PART­NERS DELTA AIR LINES AND VIR­GIN AMER­ICA. TO BOOK, VISIT WWW.VIR­GIN­AUS­TRALIA.COM OR CALL 13 67 89 (IN AUSTRALIA).

FROM LEFT Brook­lyn Brain­ery co-founder Jen Messier; try a ce­ram­ics course at Cho­plet; Greene Grape An­nex. PRE­VI­OUS PAGE, FROM LEFT Nadeige Cho­plet, owner of Cho­plet; well­stocked shelves at Green­light Book­store.

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