Greenpoint Gazette

Bookish in Bushwick: Justin Taylor

BY Juliet Linderman

At the little coffeeshop on the corner of Bushwick Avenue and Montrose, Justin Taylor seems to know everyone. Upon entry, he is greeted warmly by the barista, who gently inquires as to where he’s been these days—he isn’t teaching this semester, so his schedule has changed. A customer walks in the door, the bells jingling, and flashes Taylor a smile; they exchange pleasantries.
“I really like this coffeeshop,” he says. “And I really like this block.” The café is conveniently located right across the street from Taylor’s house. In fact, he’s lived in two different apartments on the same street since moving to New York City in 2005 to earn his MFA in fiction writing from the New School, which has more to do with his affinity for the neighborhood than its affordability, though that has something to do with it, too. But unlike so many struggling Brooklyn-based writers, Taylor is enjoying a great deal of success as of late: His debut short story collection, Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever, is receiving rave reviews from the likes of the New York Times, and hard at work on his first novel, due out next year.
“So many story collections come out every year, and they usually have a harder time than novels,” Taylor said. “So the response has been exciting and surprising.”
Over the years Taylor has worked hard for his success, and is something of a literary renaissance man. He has edited an anthology and a magazine, earned his MFA, taught undergraduate classes at Hunter and Rutgers and frequently contributes work to several magazines, journals and literary websites. He is currently working on two projects simultaneously: a photography book of literature-inspired tattoos and his novel, a first draft of which he turned in to his editor this week.
“I guess I’m on my fourth, fifth, hundredth attempt to write my first novel,” Taylor said. “But I’ve focused all of my creative energy on it for the last year and a half, so it feels good.”
Like the majority of the stories in his debut collection, Taylor’s novel is set in his home state of Florida, at a punk house in a small college town not unlike the one he lived in while attending the University of Florida for his undergraduate studies. Despite the temptation to draw conclusions about the influence Taylor’s real-life experiences may have on his fiction, he emphasizes the differences.
“There seems to be a consensus about the book from reviews coming in that it’s about coming of age, or some sort of generational statement,” Taylor said. “The characters are 100 per cent me or a reflection of me in that I wrote them, but it’s not autobiographical by any means. It’s actually more like writing from a near-missed experience—whether throwing myself full-on into a punk house full of anarchists, or being involved in some of the stranger personal relationships I write about in [Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever]. I’m reimagining it from the outside, as if it really happened.”
Taylor is among a handful of young North Brooklyn writers who are enjoying publishing success, and while he would contest the notion that this qualifies as a “literary scene,” he definitely feels that he is, in fact, part of a community.
“It’s more of a community than a scene here, but it’s indisputable,” Taylor said. “We read together, some of us even have lived together, and we all admire each other, but there’s no aesthetic through-line. Writing is a solitary act, but having a support system to fall back on—it’s about giving us something to do in our free time when we’re not writing. We share the fruits of our labor, and that’s where the value is.”

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