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Brooklyn’s literary legacy — a timeline

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From the grandfather of literary Brooklyn to a Fort Greene author’s Pulitzer Prize-winning moment, here’s a look at some of the borough’s most-notable literary moments:

Pre-1500s: Brooklyn’s earliest residents, the Lenape Native American tribe, had no formal writing system, but instead made petroglyphs, which are symbols carved into rocks. Today, these tribal designs make for — what else? — popular tattoos.

1823: Walt Whitman moves to Brooklyn Heights, near what is today Whitman Park. After moving at least 10 times in the area, he goes on to become editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (which bears no connection to today’s publication) and write the groundbreaking “Leaves of Grass,” which later inspired Bill Clinton’s indescretion with Monica Lewinsky.

1930: Poet Hart Crane publishes “The Bridge,” an eloquent ode to the Brooklyn Bridge that benefitted from the fact that the bridge didn’t exist in Whitman’s time.

1938: Henry Miller publishes “Tropic of Capricorn,” a smutty, semi-autobiographical novel inspired by his rough-and-tumble upbringing in Williamsburg (which is now downright prudish by Miller’s standards).

1948: Norman Mailer debuts with the 700-page, bestselling “The Naked and the Dead.” Though most Brooklyn Heights residents know him as the barrel-chested guy walking around in a wife-beater on Montague Street.

1949: William Styron moves to Flatbush, setting the stage for his bestselling novel “Sophie’s Choice” — and, of course, his subsequent depression.

1955: Red Hook’s longshoremen are immortalized in Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge.” The play has a long run. The longshoremen, not so much.

1959: Truman Capote starts his legendary essay, “House on the Heights” with the seminal (and much misinterpreted) line, “I live in Brooklyn. By choice.”

1964: Jonathan Lethem is born. More to come.

1966: Poet Marianne Moore leaves Fort Greene due to rising crime, prompting L.J. Davis to lament that “the sun had set forever on its [Brooklyn’s] literary life.” He spoke too soon.

1977: Pete Hamill publishes “The Gift,” the first of many books to draw on his childhood growing up in Park Slope.

1985: Paul Auster publishes “City of Glass,” the first part of what’s to become his “New York Trilogy.” Unlike Hamill, however, Auster still lives and works in Brooklyn.

1999: Lethem’s upbringing finally bears fruit, first with “Motherless Brooklyn” and “Fortress of Solitude,” the former his breakout hit, the latter an autobiographical look at 1970s Brooklyn that solidified him as a voice of a generation.

2002: Jonathan Safran Foer emerges as the greatest writer of his — or perhaps anyone’s — generation by releasing, “Everything is Illuminated,” beginning a controversial streak that sees him writing about the Holocaust, 9-11 and vegetarianism.

2006: Borough President Markowitz launches the Brooklyn Book Festival, which is still going strong — and, thanks to the end of term limits, will be for some time.

2008: Colson Whitehead, who became one of the stars of the borough’s literary scene with “The Intuitioni­st,” rolls his eyes at the hype with his satirical essay, “I Write in Brooklyn. Get Over It.” No one listens.

2010: Lethem moves to California — the most heartbreaking betrayal of Brooklyn since the Dodgers left.

2011: Fort Greene author Jennifer Egan wins the Pulitzer Prize for “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” further upping the ante.

— Meredith Deliso

Updated 3:57 pm, August 16, 2011
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Reasonable discourse

Matt T. from Cobble Hill says:
I know this isn't meant to be thorough and authoritative, but still, no mention of Hubert Selby Jr.?
Aug. 11, 2011, 8:17 am
Judith Rascoe from Murray Hill says:
The L.J. Davis you quote was a he (he died this spring) and you're missing his great Brooklyn novel, A MEANINGFUL LIFE. He lived in Boerum Hill for almost fifty years.
Aug. 15, 2011, 6:27 pm

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