Sisterhood Blog

Penina Roth: The Brains Behind NYC's Most Diverse Reading Series

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

  • Print
  • Share Share
Ferentz Lafargue
Penina Roth founded the Franklin Park Reading Series.

Penina Roth is an atypical Lubavitcher; she once worked as a wardrobe stylist for music videos and was a literary groupie before launching the popular Franklin Park Reading Series last year. Located at a bar of the same name in the steadily gentrifying neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn the series boasts an impressive collection of readers and performers, from bestsellers to unknowns. Some of her readers previously featured in the Forward include Dani Shapiro, Amy Sohn, and Teddy Wayne.

Allison Gaudet Yarrow spoke recently with Roth about the changing face of Crown Heights — a neighborhood that Hasidic and Caribbean families have long called home — and what it means to bring an infusion of literary arts to the area.

What does it mean to you personally and to the neighborhood to bring a literary reading series to this section of Brooklyn?

I’ve lived in Crown Heights for many years, [working] as a journalist, aspiring novelist and avid reader, but I felt frustrated and isolated due to a lack of fellow artists and literary enthusiasts — until 2008, when we had an influx of new transplants. I’m especially interested in highlighting the diversity of voices —ethnic and cultural — in our transitioning neighborhood.

How did you come up with the idea for a reading series?

Most writers, even bestselling writers, are accessible and down to earth. I’ve been going to readings for 10 years. I discovered there was this phenomenon of readings at bars. I researched it. There was a dearth of literary activities, nothing in Crown Heights.

So you decided to make something?

I became very interested in Franklin Avenue gentrification. The new transplants are very well educated. Many of them are very literary. I felt there was an audience, seeing the cooperation between the different communities — the African-Americans, the new transplants, Caribbean-Americans, and the Hasidim who are hanging out at Franklin Park Bar.

How would you describe the event?

The readings are programmed to be entertaining and enlightening, appealing to serious readers and writers as well as less literary types seeking a fun night out with friends and neighbors — really a community event.

Do Hasidim come to your readings?

People argue about this. This is complicated. My intention at the beginning wasn’t necessarily to attract the Hasidim because I didn’t know there would be that interest.

So you never intended to bridge the Hasidic community with these other communities?

I think I was fascinated by it. I’m trying to do outreach in the community. I was thirsting for [a reading series]. I was here for years and I always felt kind of alienated because I’m not a traditional Lubavitcher.

What kinds of authors do you book to read?

People aren’t necessarily going to want to schlep out to Crown Heights. So I had to build interest. I’m hearing from locals that they don’t even know who the writers are. I could bring the most famous writer in and they wouldn’t know, they would just be like, I had a good time.

The next Franklin Park Reading event will be held tonight, September 13, at 8 p.m. For more information visit

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Franklin Park, Lubavitcher, Penina Roth, Crown Heights

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.