New Yorker Covers BHA’s Wolfe-Fest

Ian Crouch, a writer for the New Yorker magazine, attended Monday’s “Evening at Mr. Wolfe’s”, presented by the Brooklyn Heights Association, and wrote an account of the event for the magazine’s blog, The Book Bench. Mr. Crouch misidentified the address of Thomas Wolfe’s one-time home, which is at 5 Montague Terrace, not Montague Street, but this is perhaps understandable as he was too busy hurrying to get inside and escape the cold to notice street signs.

With a nod to the weather, Neil Calet, vice president of the association’s board of directors, began the evening by reading from a letter Wolfe had written to his mother in 1934, in which he notes that his new overcoat is no match for a temperature of three degrees below zero on the Heights, with “the wind going through you like a knife.” True then, presumably, and certainly true on Monday night. We shivered for an instant in agreement, remembering where we’d just been and what awaited us when we were to leave.

Crouch describes actor Chris Eigeman reading from Wolfe’s writing about Brooklyn, which he, a native of the mountains of western North Carolina, viewed with some distaste, once calling it “a great enormous blob”. Eigeman also noted, though, that Wolfe produced some of his greatest writing while living here. Crouch cites a passage, read by the actress Susan Bruce, that Wolfe wrote while living on Montague Terrace, in which he gives a fictionalized account of the first time he saw Aline Bernstein, who was to become his mistress. In Wolfe’s words, “he only knew that from that moment his spirit was impaled upon the knife of love.” (What’s Wolfe’s thing with knife images?)

The mystery guest reader proved not to be Paul Giamatti (your correspondent’s prediction), but Borough President Marty Markowitz, who read Wolfe’s short story in Brooklyn dialect, “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn”. At the close, Markowitz admitted, “My accent’s not far from that, I hate to tell you.”

Crouch pronounced the evening’s entertainment “a fine performance”.

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  • ABC

    I hope Marty was a fill-in. A mystery guest implies someone especially good. I like Marty but it would have been a mystery had he NOT shown up. The guy excels in making an appearance.

  • Heather Quinlan

    I thought Chris Eigeman was the mystery guest. That would’ve been fine with me! Sorry I couldn’t make it.

  • http://GoodJob! MartinLBrooklyn

    It’s been a long centennial but, at last, a bit of genuine city-wide recognition of this neighborhood’s special attributes, especially creative ones. Let us thank Neil Calet and his co-producer Susan Shepard, who, together, did the labor-intensive Wolfe-reading to come up with just the right selections for a memorable evening. . Hail to Neil and Susan for helping to truly celebrate one part of our literary legacy.
    There is so much more to be mined here; who knows, maybe next year.

  • AL

    I wasn’t there but am very disappointed by the identity of the mystery guest. He’s ubiquitous, and there’s nothing mysterious about him. Had I been there, I would have asked for my money back. False advertising, I’d claim. Certainly misleading.

  • Ben

    When 5 Montague Terrace was being gutted and renovated in 2006 Mark and Franchesca Agger had owned the home living amoung the rubble with 3 sweet kids — and then they finished the a house and “flipped” the magnificent newly renovated brownstone.

    Does anyone know if Mark Agger is still in the Heights? Did they go to Wellfleet, Mass to the summer home?

    What happned to this nice family?


  • william

    Did Marty bring the bird?

  • lois

    Marty was the perfect person to read that selection and I think everyone there enjoyed it. As far as actors go, John Donan was there also, but as a guest.

  • AL

    It was the “mystery guest reader” billing that irked me. I think the BHA feared being up front about the part Marty was to play would have turned people away. If he was the perfect person to read the particular selection, why not advertise that fact in advance?

  • sue

    I was very much hoping to attend this, and now that I see who the mystery guest was, am even MORE disappointed that I missed it. I can put eminent domain asides when I consider that Markowitz wants to preserve the aspects of Brooklyn not appreciated by those who summer in Wellfleet or drink PBR. It would have been a treat to hear to him read that most amazing story.