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A Public Space

Life doesn’t treat you. People do.

11/19/12

I am a baby Brooklynite, twenty-four years old and brand new to this strange and beautiful borough. A native New Yorker by birth, I long resisted the desire to actually live and work and perform the acts of adulthood here; of course, I was born fifty miles from the limits of Kings County, in a town that still feels worlds away from my humble apartment on Bedford Avenue.

To assuage the overwhelm of suddenly residing in such an intensely frenetic place (after spending my collegiate years in rural oblivion), I spend plenty of time in bookstores. Even more than the local public libraries, bookstores tend to command a calmness that is nearly impossible to find elsewhere. Brooklyn booksellers usually won’t even bother asking if you need help -- they know a dreamy, congenital browser when they see one. (If you do happen to require assistance, however, these well-positioned bibliophiles will provide ample support.)

On an inhospitably warm afternoon last spring, I took refuge in Fort Greene’s Greenlight Books, and after lingering for an obscenely long time, I found the book that would send me directly to the register, currency in hand, and back out into the thick brace of too-soon summer all the way home, where I could be alone and engrossed. The book was not a novel, or memoir, a collection of poems or a cookbook. It was a handsome little literary magazine called A Public Space, Issue 12. This volume alone unites scores of extraordinary voices: John Haskell, Dorthe Nors, Sarah Manguso, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Adrienne Rich, Tomaz Salamun, Karen Volkman, Kiki Delancey, Yiyun Li, Peter Orner -- honestly, the list goes on. The text on each page was clean and bold, the photo essay by Noemie Goudal utterly haunting.

As fortune would have it, Issue 12 was just giving way to Issue 13, which I obtained from BookCourt in Cobble Hill, another point on Brooklyn’s literary axis. On the backside of the jacket, a sentence from newcomer Miroslav Penkov’s story “The Letter” was quoted:

"How’s life treating you? she says in exactly those words. Life treating you. . . . A stupider question was never asked. Life doesn’t treat you. People do."

This was the story I read first, only after returning to devour the “If You See Something, Say Something” section, which included a short essay by Amy Leach and a musing by Leslie Jamison, two authors I have grown to adore and champion over the past year. And after "IYSS,SS," it was on to more brilliant fiction, essays, poetry, and a very powerful "Illustrated Guide" by Nora Krug.

But it was Miroslav’s story, his first ever to appear in print, that caused me to feel some irrevocable connection to the publication, some mad hunger for an intimate understanding of its mission.

A Public Space met me at the very moment I was quite literally trying to escape the chaos of the street: the bustle, the jostling, the crosswalks, the horns, the sirens, the subway grates, the warm trash, the incessant onslaught of objects and images. And yet by engaging with the work A Public Space had chosen to put into the world, I found myself making more room for the possibilities of the everyday. What might happen, I began wondering, if I paid more attention? If I eavesdropped more closely? If I peered into shop windows I had always bustled by? If I allowed those extra five minutes en route from A to B to chat with a street vendor, a bodega cashier, a transit worker, a fellow walker?

It’s a profound and unexpected effect for a magazine to have, and whenever I recommend the publication to friends, family, and perfect strangers, I even have trouble calling it a magazine, and that’s with all due respect to magazines; it’s simply that A Public Space is actually a mighty river that coaxes many tributaries, and trusts that together these streams will help create a more complete, more complicated, more lustrous representation of human experience.

A month or so after my first encounter, after mercilessly inquiring all over town regarding back issues of A Public Space, I happened to walk right past the magazine’s offices in Boerum Hill:

1. A Public Space

So read the placard on the stately carriage house just off 3rd Avenue. Such is the beauty of living in a place where possibility is as plentiful as pigeons.

In the frenzy of delight that carried me through the rest of that day, I sent an email to the magazine’s general inquiries account and inquired after an internship, which I was granted for the autumn of 2011. After four months of happily, passionately performing my intern duties, I was invited to join the magazine’s staff as the Events & Outreach Coordinator. I know I was officially hired on January 11, 2012, because I have it marked on my calendar: APS: best day of my life. And although I am prone to exaggeration, to a great extent that is the whole truth: it was the day I recognized myself as a little tugboat that had found a worthy river, a path through the wild of an uncertain and young life, which I had chosen to spend (at least for as long as I can manage) in an unforgiving yet magnetic and invigorating place. And yes, I am biased, but you will be, too, once you read it.

This is not a case of mistaken identity. It really is as good as it looks. It is as weighty and textured as it feels. It is as vast and as intimate as it sounds. And it is courageous and elemental, as are the people who sustain it, and the people who put their words and pictures in it, and the people who subscribe and buy and pore over it in the aisles of independent bookstores. Go now, with purpose, and find it.

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