New York City is full of two things: Transplants and artists. Often, they (we), overlap, and many transplant-artists can be found in Greenpoint, practicing their craft in public (at least, pre-Covid) and engaging creatively in our North Brooklyn community.
Melissa Faliveno, whose first essay collection, Tomboyland, debuted on August 1, chatted with Greenpointers about her new book, living as a working artist in the neighborhood, and how working on edits to her manuscript made her fall in love with Greenpoint all over again.
What inspired you to write a book of essays?
I’ve been working on this book for a really long time, it’s ten years in the making. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, I grew up writing, and studied english and creative writing in college. I always knew this was something I wanted, this is a longtime dream.
How did moving to New York shape your writing?
I left Wisconsin when I was 26 to study at Sarah Lawrence and earn an MFA in nonfiction creative writing. I was living in Yonkers and always knew that I wanted to move to the city after grad school. I ended up getting a job at Poets & Writers magazine when I finished the degree and Greenpoint was on my radar because the person I started dating at that time had lived in the neighborhood for a few years. We moved in together and Greenpoint felt like home. I’ve never lived anywhere else in Brooklyn.
What about Greenpoint appealed to you then?
Greenpoint to me had a really cool vibe I didn’t experience in other parts of Brooklyn ten years ago. It wasn’t quite gentrified yet, like it is now, and felt alternative and gritty. A lot of writers and musicians were here, artists doing really cool stuff. I started playing music and was in bands, and we had local rehearsal space. I launched Black Rabbit Review, which is a little zine based out of Black Rabbit and was also part of a music collective that formed across the neighborhood and performed a music series.
I had a creative life based around this neighborhood.
How has that changed over the decade that you’ve lived here?
It’s changed a lot, sadly. A lot of my music family had kids and left the city, that was pretty devastating. The creative core has left, but I still know a lot of writers in the area. Last summer, I had a renaissance with the neighborhood, fell back in love with it. I quit my job, and was working on Tomboyland all summer to finish it. I started going to Sweetleaf every day and set up camp there, working for like eight hours. I was one of those obnoxious people who never left, but the staff was so kind and generous, keeping me hydrated and caffeinated and telling me they were so jazzed about the book. They made it into the acknowledgements.
That’s very neighborly of you!
I met a ton of people, creatives working through the neighborhood, through Sweetleaf. There’s a big communal table in the back where I’d sit with increasingly familiar faces, and inevitably we’d be there for hours and eventually look up and say hi. It’s weird to occupy a space for so long next to a stranger, [connections] happen organically. Some of those folks I’d become really tight with, and we’d see each other weekly. It makes writing less isolating.
I’m inspired to take out my headphones next time we’re allowed in coffee shops.
Our general default is don’t bother me, don’t look at me, but when I was working on edits last summer, I was grateful for interactions that [allowed me to] get to know people in my neighborhood. I experienced a community vibe that I hadn’t felt in the neighborhood for a few years, especially since all the development started. We’re losing neighbors left and right, and this was a great way to feel reconnected.
Is there anywhere else you like to go read or write?
There used to be, man, before Covid. I like Odd Fox. Milk & Roses was my first love in terms of writing cafes in Greenpoint, I spent so many hours inside and outside there, working on my thesis. I’ll also go to Champion, once in a while, or a bar once in a while. I journal at Black Rabbit. Now, I go to a park to read and journal a little, or work from inside my apartment and fire escape. I didn’t realize how much I relied on public spaces to do my work. I joked that Sweetleaf became my office, but it was also my human connection. It’s been so devastating to lose that.
I feel you, my bed has also become my desk. I miss all those places. What have you been working on lately?
I did a lot of writing in the spring, as well as promotion for Tomboyland. I have a couple new essays in the works, and just wrote one published in LitHub, about the process of writing this book, and leaving New York City to finish it before coming back home to work on edits. I lived by myself in a cabin in the woods for six weeks and finished my manuscript. I’m also working on a novel related to the experience of living alone in the woods. If you’re a fan of women living alone in the woods, this next book may be for you.
Signed copies of Tomboyland are available at Word.