Buffalo, Books & Beer

There was, not terribly long ago, something called the “Buffalo Trail.”  In a way it had everything to do with pioneers, but not of the Laura Ingalls Wilder variety.  The Buffalo Trail was a lecture circuit that grew out of the New England “lyceum” debate scene of the first half of the 1800s, and its regulars included people like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.  The circuit was named after Buffalo because Buffalo was a big deal – it was on the literary map.

Perhaps this is a coincidence, but the “Buffalo Trail” earned its name only a short time before the Queen City of New York State became one of the nation’s largest beer producers.  (See Forgotten Buffalo, Buffalo Spree, and Artvoice for more on that fascinating subject.)  I don’t know if the founders of B3 had this in mind when they set out to bring Buffalo’s beer renascence together with “untapped” elements in Buffalo’s writing-and-reading scene, but it makes their literary endeavor even more poetic.

Two Buffalo writers – Matt Higgins, author of Bird Dream, a book about parachute-less wingsuit pilots, and Brian Castner, author of the Long Walk, a memoir about his time as a bomb technician in Iraq – realized not long ago that the Buffalo literary scene is too much geared toward the “bowtie crowd,” with stuffy atmospheres and intimidating authors, while event organizers struggle to get writers to the Nickel City – despite our supportive arts community, literary history, and charms of food, drink, people, and architecture – because Buffalo is too far off the modern-day circuits.  Or there’s a stigma or something.  Or a curse.  Whatever.

Like the greatest writers, all of whom set out to write the books the wanted to write, Matt and Brian want to bring Buffalo the sort of literary event they’d want to attend (and: spoiler alert: you’ll want to attend this too).  “We just get together, drink some beers, talk about the last book we read,” says Brian.  See the video below for more about their project:

If that convinced you, you can stop reading and donate here:


Meanwhile, I’ll keep droning on for the folks still riding the fence, clicker fingers frozen over “Contribute.”

We all know about Mark Twain (and often act like he spent much more time in Buffalo than he really did); fewer know that William Wells Brown, the first African American novelist, lived on Buffalo’s North Division Street; and very few Buffalonians know about the Buffalo Trail.  By my measure, too few of us know just how many authors live and work in Buffalo today.

And how many do we regularly sit down and share a pint with?

B3 promises to put Buffalo back in touch with the wider literary world, and Buffalonians in closer communion with their own hometown writers – all while celebrating books and beer.

Now, this isn’t a Buffalo-bashing post.  (Twenty-fourteen would be a poor time for that, wouldn’t it?)  Our literary scene is noble and well-supported; it’s a strong branch of the always-interesting always-evolving Buffalo arts scene.  But as Matt and Brian note, our literary events sometimes lack, ah, yeast.

Just Buffalo does great work bringing big-name authors to town, and novelist and Canisius College Creative Writing Director Mick Cochrane, with the help of the Hassett family and other contributors, continues to bring authors who seem to always come shortly before winning an award (like recent visitor Phil Klay) or shortly after (like last year’s guest Tracy K. Smith).  These authors, from Colm Tóibín and Seamus Heaney to Dean Bakopoulos and Joyce Carol Oates, came to define my career at Canisius – their visits were the highlights of the year.  But Just Buffalo woos its authors with huge audiences and huge paychecks (at least from a Buffalo perspective, people), while Dr. Cochrane combines his charm, skills at the genre of “author introduction,” and some rare voodoo which remains an object of mystery to his admirers and, I assume, competitors alike.  But with B3, Buffalo’s literary scene could offer authors a Rust Belt-style opportunity they wouldn’t find in San Fran or New York – a new “let’s talk about books and life and stuff while drinking beer” way of putting on literary events – bowties permitted but not required.  The new Resurgence Brewing Company, which has since its debut this summer kept solid and surprising beers flowing into (and out of) its spacious West Side beer garden, offers the perfect venue.

But if a Buffalo-style lit-readin’ and beer-drinkin’ tradition like this is going to get from beer mat sketch to reality, it will need leadership, an influx of cash, and major recognition in the community.

Luckily, Matt and Brian have the leadership thing figured out.  We can help with the rest.

So, again, click to donate, chip in, get your ticket, whatever.  $5 buys entrance to one of the “spring semester” events; $20, a ticket and a B3 pint glass; and so on until $500 to nab entrance to a session, a pint glass, a t-shirt, signed copies off all three spring semester books, and a dinner in Buffalo with Matt, Brian, and a visiting author before heading to Resurgence for beer and conversation with the rest of the community (who will be jealous, in a neighborly way).

See you on the Buffalo Trail.

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