Pass it on: Independent publishing and Brooklyn’s Underground Library

Online publishers offer one platform for emerging writers and artists, but print remains a beguiling alternative to many readers. I think this is what appeals to me most about the Brooklyn Underground Library, an alternative publishing house created by two anonymous Williamsburg, Brooklyn artists who have struggled to find an outlet for their underground books.

Based in a studio on Frost Street, Brooklyn, the library has quickly become a vibrant hub of 150 readers, yet remains shrouded in mystery. The premise is simple: these enigmatic librarians craft a handmade book containing art, prose, or poetry, and send their creation to a library member. From here, the book must be passed to a further twelve members, before being returned to the original recipient using the enclosed addressed and stamped envelope. The library’s first ever release was an illustrated short story, ‘The Gotham Carnival’, the second an alternative account of John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Throughout each book’s travels, a shared experience is created. Readers are actively encouraged to make notes or leave messages on the pages. Each book has its own library card, to track who has already received it. Thus, a community is born. The seductive scent of intrigue hangs heavy in this process, and as Peter Karinen, the library’s first member, tells amNY, “It’s an empowering feeling to pass it on to someone, knowing they’re about to experience something special.”

There is a serious point to this original method of distribution. The artists themselves (who have remained anonymous) freely admit they aim to catch the roving eye of an adventurous publisher: “Ideally, these books would end up in the hands of a major publishing house. But if they don’t, we believe the experience we are creating is just as compelling to an audience.”

As independent publishers continue to uncertainly tread the waters between print and online, two artists from a small studio in New York have concocted a genuinely new and charming way of spreading their work.

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