TALES OF OUR CITY: Jersey City becomes the Main Character at Upcoming Book Fair

By Sally Deering

Alina  Oswald's Infinite Lights
Alina Oswald's Infinite Lights

 Like a femme fatale in a “dime novel” Jersey City has had its share of bumpy roads, raw deals and men that done her wrong. But the past is the past and take a look at her now, bustling with new construction and waterfront with a skyline of skyscrapers that have given the old girl a much-needed facelift and a shot at the brass ring.  

At the 4th annual Book Fair hosted by Jersey City’s Free Public Library on Sat, Sept. 10th in Jersey City’s beautiful Van Vorst Park, twenty local and no-so-local writers will exhibit their newly published books – all with some connection to Jersey City.  Many of these writers have taken their experiences and/or fascination with Jersey City’s past and placed them on the pages of their new books, not just as a backdrop to the action, but as one of the characters that grabs your attention like a cold-blooded blonde with a pearl-handled Derringer.

The event is free and run by Jersey City’s hard-working library staff hip to fostering new and established writers.

When you stroll over to the park that day, you’ll meet Eunie Guyre, author of  “Happy Victory: Celebrating a Jersey City Childhood,” (publisher: Xlibris, 2011) the story of a little girl who revisits the Polish household she shared with her father, grandmother and aunt in Jersey City when her mother was hospitalized in a sanitarium. And although it seems like a sad story, Guyre emphasizes that hers was a happy childhood nurtured by a loving Jersey City family.

“The book is a tribute to my father,” Guyre says from her New Hampshire home. “I was 14 months-old when my mother went into a sanitarium for tuberculosis and she died there when I was 7. The book is a collection of short stories from birth to eighth grade. We lived on 3rd Street in Jersey City, that was our first house, and then we moved to Greenville. I attended Sacred Heart and the book has a lot of funny Catholic and Polish stories. My Polish grandmother would read the obits. If the dead person had a Polish name, off we went to the funeral parlor.”

Fascinated by Heavyweight Champion Jack Demsey, a colorful boxing figure and World Heavyweight Champ from 1919-1926, writer Jim Waltzer’s book “The Battle of the Century: Dempsey, Carpentier, and the Birth of the Modern Promotion” (Praeger Publishing) tells the story of the infamous bout that took place in Jersey City on Montgomery and Cornelison Streets and promoter Tex Rickard, described as one of the best fight promoters of the 20th century. Rickard erected a special stadium for the heavyweight champ and his opponent, Georges Carpentier, and 90,000 spectators came to Jersey City to see them fight.  

“The focus of the book is how the promotion came to be in the first place,” Waltzer says. “It was promotion that went beyond sports and entertainment. This was the one that set the standard for those that followed in the 20th century. This was the first event in a big way to bring together celebrities, prominent people from all different fields – bankers, Hollywood stars, roughnecks, you name it. They were at ringside. This took the whole promotional arts to another level for a single event.”

Waltzer, a Philadelphia resident, has written more than 600+ features, mostly for regional magazines. In 2001, Rutgers University Press published his nonfiction book “Tales of South Jersey,” and in 2007, Five Star Mysteries published his first novel, “Sound of Mind.” He’s now working on a new book, a crime novel based in Atlantic City.

Maureen K. Wlodarczyk, who lived in Jersey City until she was five and whose family has been a part of Jersey City’s fabric since the 1840s will be at the fair promoting her second book, “Young & Wicked: The Death of a Wayward Girl (Publisher: Ultra Media Publications, 2011) The story is about the doomed relationship between two petty criminals, William Flannelly and Polly Sexton. They were criminals in love, who lived in the fast lane of the 1890s in Lower Manhattan.

 Wlodarczyk was researching her Irish ancestors when she came upon her distant relative, Flannelly, and accounts of his relationship with Sexton who lived like “Bonnie and Clyde” outlaws.

“A few months later, down in the Bowery, they had a falling out and she wound up dead by his hands,” Wlodarczyk says. “He goes to trial on the Lower East Side for murder. He’s sitting in the Tombs and crosses paths with people who are famous and infamous of the 1890s, the Tammany Hall people like William Devery who was to become New York City’s Chief of Police. I wondered how a little punk from Jersey City jailed in the Tombs could cross paths with Devery and top Tammany Hall commissioners.”

Also at the Book Fair, photographer and writer Alina Oswald of Jersey City will present her three books: “Vampire Fantasies”  a collection of vampire-inspired photographs; Journeys Through Darkness (a biography of  a blind photographer), and “Infinite Lights: A Decade of 9/11 Tribute Lights,” which is a collection of 9/11-related photography.

“Although I wasn’t in New York on 9/11, I made it a point when I moved here in 2003 to photograph all the ceremonies, the lights in the night,” Oswald says. “I made it a point to take pictures.”

The Book Fair will also feature Thomas Belton and his book, “Protecting New Jersey’s Environment: From Cancer Alley to the New Garden State,” Cherese Bracey and her mystery “The Case of the Withering Books,” Elijah M. Brown and his book, “Missing Pages, Out of My Life,” “Taco” by John E. DeJesus, “Those Sweet Nothings” by Cynthia Fabian, Jacqueline Hallenbeck’s “Poem-atic,” Sandra Guzmán’s “The New Latina’s Bible: The Modern Latina’s Guide to Love, Spirituality, Family, and La Vida,” Judith Natelli McLaughlin’s “Poems on Fruits & Odes to Veggies,” Clarence Matthews’ “Jacob’s Rite of Passage & Teen Jacob,” Valerie A. Mitchell’s “Emotional Rollercoaster: A Depicted Mind,” Peter O’Reilly’s “Oh Really, O’Reilly,” Jane Pedler’s “Wisteria Rose,” Alyssa Pierce’s “Caroline & Rebecca’s Day at the Beach,”  Keith Smith’s “Men in My Town,” JoAnne Williams “Escaping from the Victim or Volunteer Role in Your Relationship,” and Edna C. Zalenski’s “Los Cuentos de mi Abuelito,” (“Stories of My Grandfather”.)

Many of the fair’s featured writers praise the Jersey City Library, especially the New Jersey Room and the help they received during their research. “They allowed me to use images from their collection,” Wlodarczyk says. “They’re wonderful people and a valuable resource.”

The annual book fair is co-sponsored by the City of Jersey City’s Cultural Affairs Division, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy and the Municipal Council. Chairwoman of the Book Fair is Assistant Library Director Sonia Araujo.

“We are so happy it’s the fourth annual,” Araujo says. “When we see all the people who come to the book festivals, we know we’re on the right path.” 

 A Tale of Our City

Jersey City Free Public Library’s

4th annual Book Festival

Sat, Sept. 10, 2011, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Van Vorst Park

Opposite Main Library

472 Jersey Avenue

(Corner of Montgomery Street)

Jersey City

For more info: (201) 547-4500