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Making Rent in Bed-Stuy: A Memoir of Class Warfare in America's Most Expensive City

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A young African American millennial filmmaker’s funny, sometimes painful, true-life coming-of-age story of trying to make it in New York City—a chronicle of poverty and wealth, creativity and commerce, struggle and insecurity, and the economic and cultural forces intertwined with "the serious, life-threatening process" of gentrification. Making Rent in Bed-Stuy explores the A young African American millennial filmmaker’s funny, sometimes painful, true-life coming-of-age story of trying to make it in New York City—a chronicle of poverty and wealth, creativity and commerce, struggle and insecurity, and the economic and cultural forces intertwined with "the serious, life-threatening process" of gentrification. Making Rent in Bed-Stuy explores the history and sociocultural importance of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn’s largest historically black community, through the lens of a coming-of-age young American negro artist living at the dawn of an era in which urban class warfare is politely referred to as gentrification. Bookended by accounts of two different breakups, from a roommate and a lover, both who come from the white American elite, the book oscillates between chapters of urban bildungsroman and a historical examination of some of Bed-Stuy’s most salient aesthetic and political legacies. Filled with personal stories and a vibrant cast of iconoclastic characters— friends and acquaintances such as Spike Lee; Lena Dunham; and Paul MacCleod, who made a living charging $5 for a tour of his extensive Elvis collection—Making Rent in Bed-Stuy poignantly captures what happens when youthful idealism clashes head-on with adult reality. Melding in-depth reportage and personal narrative that investigates the disappointments and ironies of the Obama era, the book describes Brandon Harris’s radicalization, and the things he lost, and gained, along the way.


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A young African American millennial filmmaker’s funny, sometimes painful, true-life coming-of-age story of trying to make it in New York City—a chronicle of poverty and wealth, creativity and commerce, struggle and insecurity, and the economic and cultural forces intertwined with "the serious, life-threatening process" of gentrification. Making Rent in Bed-Stuy explores the A young African American millennial filmmaker’s funny, sometimes painful, true-life coming-of-age story of trying to make it in New York City—a chronicle of poverty and wealth, creativity and commerce, struggle and insecurity, and the economic and cultural forces intertwined with "the serious, life-threatening process" of gentrification. Making Rent in Bed-Stuy explores the history and sociocultural importance of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn’s largest historically black community, through the lens of a coming-of-age young American negro artist living at the dawn of an era in which urban class warfare is politely referred to as gentrification. Bookended by accounts of two different breakups, from a roommate and a lover, both who come from the white American elite, the book oscillates between chapters of urban bildungsroman and a historical examination of some of Bed-Stuy’s most salient aesthetic and political legacies. Filled with personal stories and a vibrant cast of iconoclastic characters— friends and acquaintances such as Spike Lee; Lena Dunham; and Paul MacCleod, who made a living charging $5 for a tour of his extensive Elvis collection—Making Rent in Bed-Stuy poignantly captures what happens when youthful idealism clashes head-on with adult reality. Melding in-depth reportage and personal narrative that investigates the disappointments and ironies of the Obama era, the book describes Brandon Harris’s radicalization, and the things he lost, and gained, along the way.

30 review for Making Rent in Bed-Stuy: A Memoir of Class Warfare in America's Most Expensive City

  1. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    Very disappointing. This non-fiction work is about a penniless, newly graduated film student trying to start his career in NYC. He can only afford the traditionally African-American neighborhood; Bed-Stuy. I live in Bed-Stuy and am very familiar with the places he mentions. I even know some of the people he mentioned. I came to really dislike the author. He represents to me my new neighbors who want to live the "hood experience". Well, real people live here who want to see improvements and a saf Very disappointing. This non-fiction work is about a penniless, newly graduated film student trying to start his career in NYC. He can only afford the traditionally African-American neighborhood; Bed-Stuy. I live in Bed-Stuy and am very familiar with the places he mentions. I even know some of the people he mentioned. I came to really dislike the author. He represents to me my new neighbors who want to live the "hood experience". Well, real people live here who want to see improvements and a safe place for their kids. They don't want to see hordes of drunk and high newcomers living 20 to a brownstone. Mr. Harris has to own his illegal drug use and what that means to a community. He discusses his adolescent drug dealer. This is called contributing to the delinquency of a minor. It's not cute. Every black woman he mentions is obese and poor. (Buying them fried chicken doesn't get you into heaven. ) Self-hatred. The book is just disjointed; a mish-mash of experiences. The chapters really have no connection to each other. One long chapter is about a killing in Mississippi. I didn't get the connection to making rent in Bed-Stuy. Plus, the book is riddled with run-on sentences that just go on and on. By the time you get to the end of the sentence, you've forgotten the subject. I am not interested in reading anything else he may or any movie he may make.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Terrazas

    Not really about gentrification (I found this book in a New York Times recommended reading list on gentrification); more about film and the author's personal journey/interests -- which feels simultaneously indulgent and narcissistic... Not really about gentrification (I found this book in a New York Times recommended reading list on gentrification); more about film and the author's personal journey/interests -- which feels simultaneously indulgent and narcissistic...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Shelley Diamond

    I liked large chunks of this book. The author is a good writer and vividly evokes the scenes he describes. I could imagine a screenplay made of this book. He has a good concept, with each chapter focused on each of the different apartments he had in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of NYC. The book is a serious sociological study of race and class mixed with a memoir of his personal conflicts. It's not a comedy, it's the reality of hard knocks in getting by when you don't have much money and I liked large chunks of this book. The author is a good writer and vividly evokes the scenes he describes. I could imagine a screenplay made of this book. He has a good concept, with each chapter focused on each of the different apartments he had in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of NYC. The book is a serious sociological study of race and class mixed with a memoir of his personal conflicts. It's not a comedy, it's the reality of hard knocks in getting by when you don't have much money and you have big ambitions. Unfortunately, the book needed more editing. There are too many other topics thrown in, making the flow feel disjointed and rambling. For example, he should have cut out the chapter on Cincinnati, the chapter on Graceland, and the chapter giving overly extensive criticism of Spike Lee films. I understand how he felt all that was relevant, but a good editor should have helped him accept that he had to let it go for the sake of the overall narrative.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ana

    I had high expectations for this book based on critic reviews (e.g., NYTimes). I found the narrator to be an unlikeable and narcissistic misogynist (is it really necessary to refer to Lena Dunham as a "a pudgy college girl" or reference the various "portly" and "obese" women walking around?). I felt the author tried to tell a story that he didn't understand --- how do you tell the story of Bed-Stuy when you don't even KNOW you live in Bed-Stuy? And how do you tell said story when your top priori I had high expectations for this book based on critic reviews (e.g., NYTimes). I found the narrator to be an unlikeable and narcissistic misogynist (is it really necessary to refer to Lena Dunham as a "a pudgy college girl" or reference the various "portly" and "obese" women walking around?). I felt the author tried to tell a story that he didn't understand --- how do you tell the story of Bed-Stuy when you don't even KNOW you live in Bed-Stuy? And how do you tell said story when your top priority is getting high and throwing parties with guests that are NOT from Bed-Stuy? I'm upset at his editor for allowing an unrelated chapter on Graceland Too and for not taking away Brandon's thesaurus (many an "ebony night"?). His best chapters were on Spike Lee and Cincinnati; two topics that he knows well and it came through in the writing. Wish he would have focused more on that ...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Abram Guerra

    Great book, a deeply personal, thoroughly researched, and profoundly compelling look at the recolonization of our urban centers with somewhat long diversions into familiar and deep cuts of independent film. The diversion about the founder of Graceland 2 was kind of long, but I'll still give it five stars because it does such an impressive job of demonstrating the burdens and blessings of being able to code switch in 21st Century America, and the journey of self-discovery that many of us living o Great book, a deeply personal, thoroughly researched, and profoundly compelling look at the recolonization of our urban centers with somewhat long diversions into familiar and deep cuts of independent film. The diversion about the founder of Graceland 2 was kind of long, but I'll still give it five stars because it does such an impressive job of demonstrating the burdens and blessings of being able to code switch in 21st Century America, and the journey of self-discovery that many of us living out the intersection of melanation and privilege are still going through.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Gina

    There's no way to make gentrification AND black class anxiety not a touchy subject. Despite Obama's presidency, the black middle class rarely enters popular consciousness as a cohesive entity in the same way the white middle class does every election cycle. But because he's a (light-skinned) starving artist, Harris lets himself off more easily than he might first-wave gentrifiers moving east across Brooklyn. He has plenty of film friends but never directly addresses his choice to not seek a diff There's no way to make gentrification AND black class anxiety not a touchy subject. Despite Obama's presidency, the black middle class rarely enters popular consciousness as a cohesive entity in the same way the white middle class does every election cycle. But because he's a (light-skinned) starving artist, Harris lets himself off more easily than he might first-wave gentrifiers moving east across Brooklyn. He has plenty of film friends but never directly addresses his choice to not seek a different industry. In a book that's so personal that it can get grating (I really don't care about his white girlfriends), the tip-toeing between self-effacing honest and studied naiveté was sometimes enough for me to roll my eyes. The book also didn't seem to be edited as a whole - parts of some chapters were repeated almost verbatim in others. Still, as I read White Trash and walk around changing neighborhoods from Queens to Brooklyn, this book felt like a more true portrait of class than I've read in a while.

  7. 4 out of 5

    rebecca

    Editor: how could you have let this book happen? Author: you’ve done a great disservice to a grave topic that can’t break through your ego.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Justlesa Hall

    I tried to get into this. I really enjoyed reading about the different neighborhoods because I love NYC history but this book dragged on. The chapter about the Elvis house in Mississippi was random and the author constantly adding in things to make him seem more "black" were annoying. I tried to get into this. I really enjoyed reading about the different neighborhoods because I love NYC history but this book dragged on. The chapter about the Elvis house in Mississippi was random and the author constantly adding in things to make him seem more "black" were annoying.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gracie Bialecki

    Wonderful, interesting memoir combining the gentrification of Brooklyn with experiences as a POC in the film industry.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ari

    I truly appreciate what the author was trying to do here but it just doesn't work in this format. I think it could have been stronger if he had focused solely on Bed-Stuy and his time there instead of making it a memoir. Or perhaps if he had just cut out this random chapter about his time at Graceland 2 which felt like the insertion of an essay he'd written in the past that he thought should be included in the book (which it sort of is). Or maybe he should have abandoned the gentrification focus I truly appreciate what the author was trying to do here but it just doesn't work in this format. I think it could have been stronger if he had focused solely on Bed-Stuy and his time there instead of making it a memoir. Or perhaps if he had just cut out this random chapter about his time at Graceland 2 which felt like the insertion of an essay he'd written in the past that he thought should be included in the book (which it sort of is). Or maybe he should have abandoned the gentrification focus and instead wrote more generally about struggling in New York City as an artist interspersed with his thoughts on film (because we are subject to plenty of those and I'd never heard of half the movies he mentioned). I also have to echo other reviews that it's strange Harris decided to tackle this topic when he has few interactions with the people OF Bed-Stuy. Most of his comments are simply based on observations which are not without merit but the book would have been stronger if he had talked to non gentrifiers as well. And on a personal note this was an incredibly stressful read because I wanted to pull him aside and give him a serious talking to about getting a real job to make ends meet in between films. But I don't hold that life choice against him. The writing is not bad though which actually makes it even more frustrating because it's clear that there's potential within its pages. Harris is a talented writer, he makes keen observations of the people around him and fills the book with a great deal of wit. His gentrification observations just seem to fall to the wayside in order for him to reflect on his own life outside of NYC/filmmaking in general which is really not what I expected or how the book sells itself. The best insights are when he's musing on middle class Black life, being a Black millennial and what it's like to be a Black gentrifier. A passage in particular struck a cord with me as he talks about his middle class family falling victim to the Great Recession as so many Black families did. Or when he reflects on his relationship with his first white roommate, Tony, and how class issues and racial tension drove them apart. Reflections such as those allow the book to resonate, albeit briefly, before the author takes us off on another tangent. In short this memoir is extremely disjointed with random chapters but it is at its strongest when Harris is describing the history of Bed-Stuy with a compelling style or reflecting on his experiences as a Black millennial gentrifier. The book falls apart when it bounces away from its New York setting either in Cincinnati or Mississippi. Which is not to say his observations in those chapters aren't interesting, but they don't fit the rest of the book and it seriously disrupts the flow. This memoir is trying to be about Brandon Harris, gentrification and film criticism all at once and its attempt to juggle all three topics fell flat for me. But I'd be willing to read Harris on any of those topics individually.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ray Sinclair

    I was looking forward to digging into Brandon Harris’ genre-bending memoir about living in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn right after getting out of a film program at SUNY Purchase. Young adults are one of the things that most excite me about NYC, as they help me remember the brief visits of my own youth when I pretended I was a part of the place rather than a naïve kid from Ohio. But the point of this book is that a white guy like me would have a lot of trouble understanding th I was looking forward to digging into Brandon Harris’ genre-bending memoir about living in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn right after getting out of a film program at SUNY Purchase. Young adults are one of the things that most excite me about NYC, as they help me remember the brief visits of my own youth when I pretended I was a part of the place rather than a naïve kid from Ohio. But the point of this book is that a white guy like me would have a lot of trouble understanding the Bed-Stuy neighborhood as a black guy does, and Harris showed me why in stark terms. Frequently the decade (if not longer) after the degree is one of meager circumstances for artists. They aren’t well known; their works don’t sell; the entry level stopgap jobs they’re forced into pay little or nothing; and they have the spirit and strength to put up with it which only lets them in for more misery. Harris suffers through terrible housing, roommates, jobs, food, and fraught relationships in Bed-Stuy, and the reader feels his pain. But the greatest pain comes from the racial discrimination he experiences throughout his young life -- from the only somewhat progressive white peers he first goes to school and then lives with, to the notoriously white-focused movie industry, to the black-but-changing neighborhood. In Bed-Stuy he is an outsider – to the less-educated, poor blacks who live there and to the gentrifying landlords who love his membership in the creative class – but not his color. It’s a powerful message, and Harris’ stories about the string of apartments he inhabited (all the chapter titles are street addresses – most are places where he lived) wonderfully mix the struggle artists feel adjusting to adult life and starting a career with the struggle African-Americans feel with discrimination at every turn. Rarely angry, the quietness of his disappointment and disillusionment eloquently conveys the strength of this young filmmaker and writer. But a memoir can be a challenge for someone in their thirties with less material than us older folks. Harris provides long, engaging sidebars on the history of blacks in Bed-Stuy, black American filmmakers, the oeuvre of Spike Lee, the death of a racist Elvis Presley fan who called his Mississippi home "Graceland Too" (and gave tours), a couple of Stephen Soderbergh productions, and police-on-black violence in Cincinnati. While they all have connections to his life, their length took me too far from what Harris was doing and feeling in Bed-Stuy. The book begins and ends with good stories of personal relationships there – relationships that tie beautifully into the themes of the book. And many other Bed-Stuy characters convey the vibrancy, drama, and heartbreaking hurt of a mixed neighborhood. I wished he’d have given them more space with fewer trips afield.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lucile Barker

    79. Making Rent in Bed-Stuy: A memoir of trying to make it in New York City by Brandon Harris. Harris, a young black recent graduate of film school, goes off to New York City from his home in Cincinnati to make his fortune and find love and happiness. I had expected this book to be more like the mid-1980s book about New Jersey gentrification, Yuppies invade My House at Dinnertime but it is a mournful catalogue of all the places Harris lived in Bed-Stuy and moved out of, between going to festivals 79. Making Rent in Bed-Stuy: A memoir of trying to make it in New York City by Brandon Harris. Harris, a young black recent graduate of film school, goes off to New York City from his home in Cincinnati to make his fortune and find love and happiness. I had expected this book to be more like the mid-1980s book about New Jersey gentrification, Yuppies invade My House at Dinnertime but it is a mournful catalogue of all the places Harris lived in Bed-Stuy and moved out of, between going to festivals and working on getting a film. Having watched other areas of New York fall to gentrification as well as watching my “slum” neighborhood circa 1970 become an area of million dollar homes. I found the visit to the alternative Graceland in Memphis the most engaging chapter. I can watch my own friends’ couch-surfing; it is much more cinematic

  13. 4 out of 5

    Frieda

    A mixture of personal memoir, NYC and social history. I felt that the author spent too much time on the history and experiences of others while living in Bed-Stuy rather than his own personal experiences. I can understand providing a backdrop to the situations that he found himself in and how history may have influenced his life, but the author overdid it. I also do not recommend listening to the audio version of this book. The narrator's voice and lack of emotion while reading the passages put A mixture of personal memoir, NYC and social history. I felt that the author spent too much time on the history and experiences of others while living in Bed-Stuy rather than his own personal experiences. I can understand providing a backdrop to the situations that he found himself in and how history may have influenced his life, but the author overdid it. I also do not recommend listening to the audio version of this book. The narrator's voice and lack of emotion while reading the passages put me to sleep at times (literally).

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lillian

    One of many who survived the Big Apple Say what you will about the Bohemian New York of yesteryear but those days are gone. As Mr Harris says in his book, it's beyond hard trying to make rent in the formerly predominant African American neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant when you are Black. He gives highly detailed accounts of his life and the changes to that neighborhood. P.S., try to watch his films. I certainly will. One of many who survived the Big Apple Say what you will about the Bohemian New York of yesteryear but those days are gone. As Mr Harris says in his book, it's beyond hard trying to make rent in the formerly predominant African American neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant when you are Black. He gives highly detailed accounts of his life and the changes to that neighborhood. P.S., try to watch his films. I certainly will.

  15. 5 out of 5

    DeJuan Encarnacion

    Best Book I've read in along time. This is a must read book. it brings you through all of Brandon Harris's ups and downs. He is still fighting to become successful in the film business. Best Book I've read in along time. This is a must read book. it brings you through all of Brandon Harris's ups and downs. He is still fighting to become successful in the film business.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Guthrie

    I found this to be interesting to say the least.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    What a thoroughly agitating, incoherent book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Raven123

    Antisemetic.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kyle

    A really honest and well-written memoir about race, gentrification, class, the film industry, and so much more

  20. 4 out of 5

    Black Bibliophile

    I struggled to get through this book. I am also not sure what I was expecting.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Fredrik deBoer

    When it's about making rent in Bed-Stuy, it's good. When it isn't, it's... less. When it's about making rent in Bed-Stuy, it's good. When it isn't, it's... less.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Through a haze of pot smoke and not-enough jobs, Harris recounts a decade of change in Bed-Stuy and shows us a millenial's New York far different than the one of Lena Dunham's Girls. Through a haze of pot smoke and not-enough jobs, Harris recounts a decade of change in Bed-Stuy and shows us a millenial's New York far different than the one of Lena Dunham's Girls.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    Like a freshman sociology paper combined with a freshman film paper combined with several bad high school book reports wrapped up in a "memoir" by a very annoying and unlikable nareator Like a freshman sociology paper combined with a freshman film paper combined with several bad high school book reports wrapped up in a "memoir" by a very annoying and unlikable nareator

  24. 5 out of 5

    Greenlight Moms Book Club

    Ugh.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gayle

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rob Lambeth

  27. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  30. 4 out of 5

    Drew Powell

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