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Brooklyn's Emerging Writers Spread Their Wings at Renegade Reading Series

By Sonja Sharp | August 14, 2012 10:51am | Updated on August 14, 2012 11:34am

CROWN HEIGHTS — Caitlin Elizabeth Harper had just two goals in mind when she started the Renegade Reading Series for emerging writers last summer: to feed people cupcakes and make them listen to stories. 

If the series' first anniversary party in Crown Heights this past Sunday is any indication, pastries and poems are a winning combination.

"I have all these people who come for the wine and cupcakes and stay for the readings," Harper said. "They come up after and they’re like, 'I really like that poet' — people who’ve never read a poem in their life apart from Robert Frost, and they come away really liking poetry."

While intrepid bookworms can find readings almost every night in Brooklyn, the Renegade series is unique in its focus on emerging writers, most of whom have seen their poems and stories in small literary journals but who lack the clout of local literary luminaries. 

"Everyone is so famous — all of our neighbors are published authors," Harper said. "I feel like a lot of writers who are really talented get overshadowed by the New York experience."

A recent graduate of the New School's MFA program, Harper said she wanted to create a space for young authors to share their work, similar to the salons she and fellow students had enjoyed while in school. More importantly, she wanted to encourage other relative unknowns to step up to the proverbial plate.

"I'm working on a novel, so I submitted one of the sections from that," said Joe Winkler, 26, of the Upper West Side, who was among more than a dozen authors who read at Sunday's soiree. "I'm trying to transition to being more public."

For many Renegade alumni, that nudge has paid off. Several have graduated to the neighboring Franklin Park Reading Series, which features a mix of local up-and-comers and established authors who seek out its stage to promote their forthcoming work.

Among those reaping the benefits is Harper herself, who was featured at Franklin Park's August reading. 

"I used to sit in the back of Franklin Park at the reading series and say, I wish I could be here," Harper said. "I don't want to go back to sitting at the back of the room and watching someone else read."