NYC Mayoral Candidates on Literary Arts: Eric Adams
This spring, the NYC Literary Action Coalition has been meeting with mayoral candidates, asking them how they plan to support and uplift writers and the city’s storied culture of literary arts. The following is a transcript of the Coalition’s conversation with Brooklyn borough president and Democratic candidate for mayor Eric Adams. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
If you are a candidate and want to chat with the Literary Action Coalition, please reach out to Alejandro Heredia at [email protected].
What steps are you going to take to support writers and literary organizations?
I think that the first thing we must do is to have a paradigm shift. We look at the literary community as a luxury and not a necessity. And as long as you do that, there’s a level of reluctance during difficult times to say, “Where are we going to place our tax dollars? Where are we going to put the limited resources we have of taxpayers’ dollars?” And I have a different view of what our primary needs are in comparison to my colleagues. I think it was a great symbol that was done during the Great Depression, when the federal government invested $27 million in art. It would be the equivalent of $400 million today. I strongly believe that we need our literary community now more than ever, particularly around COVID-19.
If I was elected, I would look at three specific areas right off the bat. Our stimulus dollars that are coming that will be coming from the federal government, to start. There needs to be a clear allocation to the literary and the arts community. As I moved throughout communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t go to the Hamptons. I went to public housing and went to hospitals, homeless shelters, and I saw the trauma that people are experiencing. And I know that it is clear that if you allow people to live through their trauma through the arts, there’s a better recovery.
I remember a report—I can’t remember exactly who did it, but I think it was the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. One of the outcomes of the report stated that processing traumatic moments through art allows patients to put painful memories into context and find meaning in it, which leads to faster recovery. And as people are going to have to recover from COVID-19, it is going to be through reading about these experiences, reading other literature that shows how people have overcome difficult times.
“One of the number one things I’m going to do as mayor is clearly put in place a strong level of stability for the literary community, so in return, that community will help us navigate emotional trauma that came from COVID-19. . . We need the literary arts now more than ever and dollars from the federal government, but also the proceeds that are coming from the city, particularly to the Department of Education. We need to institutionalize the support of our literary community.”
One of the number one things I’m going to do as mayor is clearly put in place a strong level of stability for the literary community, so in return, that community will help us navigate emotional trauma that came from COVID-19. Just look at the attempted suicide rates, the suicide rates, the amount of attempted suicides from young people. We need the literary arts now more than ever and dollars from the federal government, but also the proceeds that are coming from the city, particularly to the Department of Education. We need to institutionalize the support of our literary community.
We have found that often the literary arts get lumped into the other arts in New York City, which creates a paradigm where other art forms, like theater or museums, might get more access to resources. Can you speak about how you would support the literary arts specifically?
That’s understandable, because when you think of art, you think of CIG [Cultural Institutions Group], the larger museums, and other other areas. Rarely do you hear people break it down to the level of the literary groups. I will still consider you to be part of the arts, but I would be specific about the areas of art, because what we’re having a problem with is missing out on the smaller guys. We need to change that. The larger institutions—the Whitneys, the Guggenheims, and the big museums—they have great dollars in endowments already. I’m going to recycle those dollars. I’m going to target the smaller organizations. And then I’m going to have particular funding that is going to just be targeting the literary community. There is more than enough money that is going through our cultural allocations, but we have been sending it to the guys with the biggest lobbyists, the largest institutions, which has caused us to miss the literary community and other smaller entities like the James Davis Museum.
I’m going to specifically reroute those dollars to a clear allocation of funds to the literary community, and a clear allocation of funds to those smaller museums and cultural institutions. But there will be a clear earmark: not lumping the literary community into a group but a separate entity, a separate group. I’m also going to look into that $27 billion Department of Education budget and fit the literary community into that budget. Going into schools, opening a door for new writers that will look like the cultural diversity that we’re missing in our schools, and making sure that we encourage young people to be introduced to the diverse literary community in our city.
“Why is it that in Sunset Park, with such a large Asian population, young people don’t have access to books that reflect their culture, their understanding of people that look like them? Up in Washington Heights with a large Dominican community, why is that community not reflected in the textbooks, in books, in stories? I think there has been a lack of intentionality, to introduce where we are spending money already, to include the literary community in it.”
Why is it that in Sunset Park, with such a large Asian population, young people don’t have access to books that reflect their culture, their understanding of people that look like them? Up in Washington Heights with a large Dominican community, why is that community not reflected in the textbooks, in books, in stories? I think there has been a lack of intentionality, to introduce where we are spending money already, to include the literary community in it. And the dollars are there. We just need to re-fund what we are doing, not continue to do the things we’ve always done. You have to be willing to do so. And I’m willing to push the envelope and change things that are just not right and just not fair.
You mentioned a few specific things about young writers and cultural institutions that you love and support. Have you ever attended literary events or gone to poetry readings? What’s your personal involvement or experience with the New York literary scene?
Well, yes, I have. I am a big lover of poetry. Number one, there is the amazing Brownsville Poetry Cafe. I’ve done several events with Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo—who used to run a museum—where we’ve had a series of readings. Some of my dear friends are writers, and I’ve sponsored many events here at Borough Hall, where we allow new writers to come. We’ve participated in and sponsored every year a Black literary event at Medgar Evers College. This is a space I’m extremely familiar with, and I’m extremely comfortable in being in.
Who is your favorite New York City author, and why?
I just finished my first book, which is going to be one of many, called Healthy at Last. I love the book because health is wealth. It was the story of my transformation of being diagnosed with type two diabetes at an advanced stage, which led to my vision loss, permanent nerve damage, as well as other health issues. And by going to a whole food plant-based diet, I was able to reverse my vision loss, my diabetes. This journey did the same for my 82-year-old mom. In that book, I am showing that just because you are in a dark place, it does not mean you are buried, but you are merely planted. And you need to do something with the fruits of your harvest. I am extremely proud of that book. Outside of Malcolm Gladwell and others, at this time I’m at the top of my list of favorite writers.
Visit Eric Adams for Mayor (ericadams2021.com) to learn more about Adams’s campaign.