When Dallas Athent, fashion and shopping editor of Bushwick Daily, approached editor-in-chief Katarina Hybenova with the idea of putting together a collection of Bushwick short stories, Hybenova didn’t hesitate. “I was totally psyched,” she recalls. “I said yes in like three seconds.” Now that dream of a couple months back has come to fruition, in the form of a slim, attractive volume entitled Bushwick Nightz. Released by Bushwick Daily and Catopolis (Athent’s publishing venture), the book promises to introduce the reader to “the famed neighborhood that everyone’s been talking about.”
As such, it’s a melange of drunken nights(z) out and small intimate moments, clumsy sexual encounters and boring gallery openings, leaking garbage and obscure art installations. The twelve mostly fictional stories, written in tones ranging from sarcastic to sincere, are peppered with classic Bushwickian gems such as: “Like the natives, I hated the newbies even though I sort of was one and actually liked them because at the end of the day, they brought a good time and more money to blow.” We sat down with Katarina to talk about the book and the blog she started four years ago after moving to Bushwick.
How did you put the book together—choose writers and so on?
I think Dallas already had a couple people in mind. She’s a part of this writers’ community—all those guys who hang out at Mellow Pages. But together we were able to make a bigger outreach to the neighborhood and the community, so we were able to cover communities that she didn’t necessarily have access to—because we really wanted also people who were born in the neighborhood, or grew up here. We wanted to have different perspectives. We did an open call to many different people through Bushwick Daily, and were able to get a couple more stories.
That’s great. So who were you reaching? What are the demographics of your readership?
We have about 65,000 readers every month—unique visitors—and most of them are aged 24-35. So my suspicion is, it’s mostly young people who’ve moved to the neighborhood. At the same time I many times meet old people who’ve been in the neighborhood for a long time, and they read us too. They are on the Internet, they are on their devices, and they’re reading it.
Do you have a favorite story in the collection?
Yeah, totally. It’s actually Dallas’s. She has two stories in the book and this one’s called “You Just Don’t Get It.” I think it’s kind of perfect because it really captures the interactions of different people—these archetypes. It’s about the Super of a building who doesn’t get some crazy street-art installation piece on the street and he thinks it’s a device for spying made by a drug-dealer. And at the same time the main characters don’t get how he can think it’s such a thing. And he doesn’t get how it can be art. The interaction is very endearing—and very Bushwick.
This clash of cultures is a main theme in the collection. Do you think there’s an unbridgeable divide in Bushwick?
You know what? I really don’t feel like it. I really don’t think there is any “us versus them.” I think that in the end there’s just “us,” and we’re all one. We’re all humans, and we all deal with the same things. And sometimes I feel like, OK, there’s some elderly Puerto Rican lady who may not—nor will ever—go to the same coffee shop as me. But it’s sort of like interacting with my grandma: the fact that she doesn’t do the same things in her spare time as me, doesn’t mean that she doesn’t “get” me or that there can’t be a loving relationship, you know? So to me, yeah it’s different worlds but in the end we totally are one.
The sense of nostalgia is also palpable in the book. Are the best times of Bushwick past, or in the future? Or are they happening right now?
It’s so funny because I think that everybody says that right now is the best time ever to be in Bushwick. So I tend to think that right now is the best time ever to be in Bushwick. Right now! And it’s going to be true also in a year. [Laughs] New York is a city where I think you can grow super fast as a person, as a professional, and spiritually, and in any way you want. It’s like a boot camp: if you need something fast, come here! But also rent is going to grow just as fast as your personality. And especially Bushwick is really in the center of all this spinning. Even if you moved to the neighborhood six months ago, you can very quickly have your own nostalgic experience—when something changed and it’s not the way it was when you came.
I was born in Slovakia, and went to college in Prague. I studied law, and I worked as a lawyer in an international law firm for two years. And it was horrible! I came to the point where I was like, I really am not supposed to do this. And so I went for a Masters degree at Fordham Law School. I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen, I was just hoping my life was going to change for the better. Then I moved to Bushwick. I was looking for a lawyer’s job, but at the same time I was freaked out that I would have to go back to that lifestyle. And in the meantime I started Bushwick Daily just to keep me happy—and it’s been keeping me happy for four years.
What’s the most challenging aspect of running the blog?
I think marrying the business and the creative side. You start off wanting to do something creative and suddenly you’re selling ads! It’s like you’re sent out to sell cookies, but you end up selling a car, you know? But I’ve come to love both parts—the entrepreneurial and the creative, so it’s been better.
We have five editors—they’re super, super important. Without them it’d be super hard. They each have their own verticle they run. My husband, Ken, is the CFO. He takes care of our accounts and our money and he’s selling ads. And then there’s about 70 contributors. They contribute whenever they want, since they’re volunteers.
What’s your daily schedule? And how do you find stories?
My average day is very nice, actually. I don’t even want to say it because people will be jealous. I wake up and meditate for about two hours. Or I do different spiritually inclined activities, such as meditation and journaling—I write down stuff. And I think about my dreams [laughs]— I actually really interpret my dreams rigorously each day. It’s really interesting what your subconscious is telling you but that you’re not willing to admit. So I do that about two hours and then I start my workday at 11. It’s really nice [laughs].
At this point we get a lot of emails and a lot of tips over Twitter. And the writers—the network is great. We have a Google group: if someone thinks of something they either throw it to the group or send me an email. We discuss so many things like that—it’s really a little think-tank. It’s great to have this network of people who are interested in doing this.
Do you ever get Bushwick fatigue, and think “Maybe I’ll move out”?
Yeah, totally. Actually I do. Also because it’s so industrial. There’s not enough trees and stuff. You need to get out often—that’s the recipe for living. And also it’s such an intense social scene. If you go out a lot you can really burn out. It definitely happens to me, and it’s been my challenge to get out of the city enough to really enjoy everything. And I’m actually now living in Ridgewood—two blocks from Bushwick, just off Myrtle-Wyckoff. There’s more trees, and a really nice backyard.
The book is a new venture for you. Is it the first of many plans to “expand the Bushwick Daily brand”?
Yeah, it’s our first time. I hope so. It’s very exciting and it feels really right for us to do a project like this. It’s kind of a secret but I’m writing my own book—a memoir about coming here and doing everything. We might publish that, or maybe somebody else will. About coming here and trying not to go crazy [laughs]. I’m working on this other cool thing that’s also kind of a secret—or, I just don’t really want to jinx it at this point. But we’ll definitely be growing the website. My desire is really to connect local businesses and local people even more efficiently. So that’s what the new website will be about.
Bushwick Nightz will be out July 15, available at select local bookstores and on Amazon. Keep an eye out for updates here.