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Franklin Park's Rowdy Reading Series Kicks Off Summer in Crown Heights

By Sonja Sharp | June 12, 2012 11:43am | Updated on June 13, 2012 10:55am
Author Andrew Cothren narrates at the Franklin Park Reading Series. The monthly event brings together big names and burgeoning locals.
Author Andrew Cothren narrates at the Franklin Park Reading Series. The monthly event brings together big names and burgeoning locals.
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DNAinfo/Sonja Sharp

CROWN HEIGHTS — If this were a novel, they'd be foils.

Diane Williams is in her 60s, the cultishly beloved editor of the literary annual Noon and the author of more than half a dozen books. Andrew Cothren is 23, with a couple of published stories to show for it. He lives on St. Johns Place in Crown Heights, and in the tradition of many great New York writers, works a menial day job to pay the bills. 

But the two writers shared a stage at Franklin Park on Monday night, bookending the Franklin Park Reading Series' hotly anticipated summer kickoff Monday night.  

"I'm impressed that there are so many people here, but when the reading begins, there's a quiet that's churchlike," Williams said. "There's a lot of very important energy here."

What began as clever ploy to sell more beer on slow weeknights has quickly become a destination for the borough's literati, and after three years, the popular monthly event can afford to be choosy about who it invites to the mic.

For Penina Roth, who founded the series in 2009, Cothren is just as much a choice as Williams.

"Whenever possible, I’m going to try to have somebody who’s never been published who’s a local," Roth said. "I totally give preference to Crown Heights writers who are unpublished."

The vivacious Crown Heights mom won't take credit for the bar's eclectic every night crowd, but it's hard to imagine skull-capped Hasidim would be here rubbing elbows with dreadlocked Jamaicans and flannel-clad hipsters if she hadn't done it first. 

"This reading is great — it's always an excited audience. It's a very vibrant audience," said author Patrick Somerville, who'd come from Chicago to read from his forthcoming novel This Bright River. "When you're up there reading, you feel it." 

And June's glittering lineup, which also included authors Jennifer Miller and Elizabeth Ellen, is just a taste of what's to come this summer, Roth said.

"Penina's one of the only people who runs a reading series who isn't shaking hands with one hand with a manuscript in the other," said friend and series regular Matthue Roth. "She's a fangirl, which is why she can fawn over people, but it also means she's in it for the fun of it."  

And Roth is most certainly having fun, grinning even as she whispers how much she hates having to stand up in front of the audience she built and introduce the authors who came here to share their work, but also because they like her.

"As a writer, you know she's read your work and she likes it," Roth said. "It feels like we're growing together."