The Bushwick Book Club isn’t your typical book club: there’s no quiet semi-circle sitting in someone’s living room pouring over guided reading questions. Instead, members of the Bushwick Book Club perform interpretations of narratives, “employing the talents of local songwriters, artists and chefs who plumb the depths of a chosen literary gem to create that rare and beautiful thing – a new song (or visual art, dance, film or snack)” on a monthly basis.
The Bushwick Book Club (BBC) started in 2009 when founder, Susan Hwang dared owner of the late Goodbye Blue Monday, Steven Trimboli, to have her perform songs based on books at the restaurant. Ten years later, BBC now has 10 chapters worldwide, a podcast, and a continuously growing community of artists coming together to create music based on literature.
“Bushwick Book Club has always been a sheer hedonistic pleasure—something that should probably be done alone, naked in a closet,” Hwang says of BBC on the website. BBC is largely based on the element of surprise; given that each performance comes from one’s interpretation of a book, the possible outcomes are endless. “All the songs were quite different. We had a epic love song, a political folk song, and even a really pretty acoustic piece with the chorus ‘fuck optimists,’” T.C. Costello, organizer of BBC’s Greenville chapter says of the concept. The Greenville chapter started this February with a show inspired by Voltaire’s Candide, and is rapidly growing.
Other chapters, like the Malmo chapter which is based in Sweden, have been around for much longer. Jumping on the BBC train in 2012, Malmo works with not just English classics, but also Swedish literature. They’re performances can be seen and heard via their Facebook page, where they post every performance.
Geoff Larson, director of the Seattle chapter, also took BBC in to his own hands by creating a podcast where he interviews local musicians and artists who’ve participated in Book Club performances. In an interview for Seattle Met, Larson mentioned how great of reception his chapter has gotten. Larson took his chapter one step further by starting a program called S.T.Y.L.E.
S.T.Y.L.E, Songwriting Through Youth Literature Education, is a program integrating the club’s core concept into a school’s curriculum, and “use books that are already in the curriculum and create a unit and lessons for the teachers to use [music writing] inspired by the books.”
Hwang continues to curate, organize, and host BBC performances, as well as perform in her own literature inspired musical duo, Lusterlit, with songwriter and producer, Charlie Nieland. Nieland is also based in Bushwick, and has a history of producing and songwriting with artists like Debbie Harry, Rufus Wainwright, Rachelle Garniez, and Jessie Kilguss. Together, Hwang and Nieland record and tour around the country, playing music inspired by literature.
The most recent BBC show was based on Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in honor of the famed poet’s 200th birthday.
The performance included song, performance art, and food. Their next show is on June 2 at Sid Gold’s Request room, celebrating Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar with music, karaoke, and cocktails. The BBC Brooklyn chapter hosts a show once a month, all posted on their Facebook page.
They’re also always open to communicating: anyone interested in starting their own chapter, requesting a book, or even performing with BBC can contact them on their website.
All photos courtesy Bushwick Bookclub Facebook page.
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