Former Courier Life reporter and longtime busker Stephen Witt says he is responsible for bringing the Nets to Brooklyn, but that doesn’t mean his second novel, “The Street Singer,” the tale of a subway performer who gets an arena built in his home town, is the story of his life . How do we know? Because reporter Will Bredderman had a chat with him about his new tome. Here’s how it went down:
Will Bredderman: So how did you get the Nets to come to Brooklyn?
Stephen Witt: I covered Borough President Markowitz’s first state of the borough address, and he talked about getting a basketball team to move to Brooklyn. So I took it upon myself to call the NBA to see if the Knicks had an exclusive on Brooklyn. I asked if there could be a new team in Brooklyn and the NBA said no, there could only be a move. But at that time, the Nets were in the finals, and they weren’t filling their stadium, so I called the Nets owner, Lewis Katz, and I asked if he’d be willing to move the team. He said he wasn’t against it, so I called Marty and I said, “Call this guy, I think he’ll move the team.” And I gave Marty the guy’s number. Marty gave me a call in February of 2003 and told me “I really think I hooked a big fish.” I wrote an article for the Village Voice about it, and that’s how it all got started. A couple months later they made the big announcement.
WB: That’s a pretty wild story. How much of that is in “The Street Singer?”
SW: None. The book is all fiction. A product of my imagination.
WB: You’re not a bona-fide busker?
SW: I am. I’ve been a subway musician for 30 years, ever since I came to New York — it helped pay the bills. I’ve done it with my wife and kids, too. We had a family band for a while.
WB: And the book isn’t about the Barclays Center?
SW: Well, there are some parallels with reality.
WB: I think I need to hear more about this story line that isn’t about you or the Barclays Center.
SW: Well, I had a great idea for a novel about the Barclays Center, but I didn’t want to write it from a journalist’s perspective. I wanted to write it from a subway musician’s perspective. You’re talking about a billion-dollar stadium, and subway musicians are usually the lowest of the low, so wouldn’t it be interesting if this middle-aged guy who plays in the subway gets involved with a developer who plans to bring a new stadium to Brooklyn.
WB: Sounds interesting — and vaguely familiar to what you just told me about yourself.
SW: It’s really kind of a [poet, novelist, and short-story writer Charles] Bukowski telling. It’s a real Brooklyn story. Like a cross between “Bright Lights, Big City” and “The Catcher in the Rye.”
WB: Cool. But it’s not about your life?
SW: Not at all.
Get your copy of “The Street Singer” at www.neversinkbooks.com, or pick one up at the book’s launch part at A.R.T.New York [138 S. Oxford St. between Hanson Place and Atlantic Avenue in Fort Greene] on Sept. 21 at 7 pm.
Reach reporter Will Bredderman at (718) 260–4507 or e-mail him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/WillBredderman