Dear Neighbor,

We take a moment to hold space in memory of George Floyd. Today marks one year since his death by Minneapolis police. As we have told you, the idea for Epicenter-NYC was conceived of before his death.

Raquib Abdal Khabir, Youth, 24×36″, 2021. Photo courtesy of the artist.

That we launched after the global protests pervades our mission. Others might debate the place of perspective in a news outlet; we are clear on ours: Black Lives Matter. We do not have a view from nowhere. We live here. We love it here. We stick up for our neighbors.

You might already be in Memorial Day weekend mode and welcoming summer (not just any summer, but “the summer of New York City,” according to Mayor Bill de Blasio). It’s the perfect time to introduce you to Radha Vatsal, a critically acclaimed author who will keep your book shelves stocked with recommended reads, the popcorn bucket full with streaming service and movie picks and help that will help you travel and expand your horizons, even if you’re not quite ready to jump on a flight.

At your leisure … 
As summer rolls around the corner, it’s time, or so we’re told, to escape into some light reading.  There’s nothing I’d like to do more, but the past 15 months have been so challenging and unprecedented that I can’t completely turn off my brain and lose myself in the types of breezy novels I might have previously picked to while away the season. I find it hard to read escapist literature in the same way as I did in the past because I can’t look at life or the world in the same way after what we’ve all been through.  And yet, I do need a break from all the heaviness. So, to kick off the summer of 2021, I’m recommending three books and a film that do more than just entertain—they’re easy to read and will transport you to different times and places, and are also thoughtful and beautifully crafted.

Go ahead and make yourself your favorite drink, put your feet up, and consider getting swept away in a book like:

Golden Gate by Vikram Seth is a classic novel in verse from the 1980s. It follows a group of yuppies (remember that term?) and their adventures in San Francisco. And don’t worry about the verse bit, once you slip into the novel’s hypnotic cadence, it’s difficult to put down. Here’s an excerpt:

To make a start more swift than weighty, 

Hail Muse.  Once upon 

A Time, say, circa 1980,

There lived a man.  His name was John.

One evening as he walked across 

Golden Gate Park, the ill-judged toss

Of a red frisbee almost brained him.

Or Garden by the Sea by my new favorite author, the Catalan writer Mercè Rodoreda. Told from the perspective of a laconic gardener who takes care of a seaside villa, the novel chronicles the visits of the villa’s owners and their friends over six idyllic summers. It’s hard not to be drawn in by Rodoreda’s spare and inimitable use of language, and what feels like the gardener’s equal interest in people, flowers and plants.


If you want something you can digest in bites, try Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by graphic novelist Pénélope Bagieu. Each of the beautifully illustrated mini biographies presents the life and accomplishments of women from different parts of the world and from different eras.  My favorites include The Mirabal sisters who opposed the dictator Rafael Trujillo; Wu Zetian—empress of China; Sonita Alizadeh—Afghan rapper; Katia Krafft—a volcanologist, and Frances Glessner Lee—who designed intricate crime scenes in miniature. Added bonus: the book is so visually enticing, if you leave your copy lying around, you just might find your teens and tweens picking it up and reading a few of the biographies for fun.

And after a hard day of relaxation, how about easing into the evening and watching Gosford Park? Written by Julian Fellowes (yes, the creator of Downton Abbey), and directed by Robert Altman, this old-style murder mystery set in a grand house in the 1930s, features much of the upstairs-downstairs drama that fans of Downton love. In fact, I think of it as a precursor to Downton, in which Fellowes works out many of the themes that he puts to use in the series—including a feisty aristocrat played by Maggie Smith.

We need more arms for shots so we’re throwing a summer-long party called VaxFest

By Elena Tate

For months, Epicenter-NYC faced the challenge of demand for Covid-19 vaccines far exceeding supply. Hundreds of people per day were signing up for help and volunteers scrambled to find them appointments.

Seemingly overnight, things changed; appointments are plenty. Now the challenge is reaching the people who are still in need, and bringing the vaccines to them, or bringing them to the vaccines, or even simply providing information on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.

Most recently, Epicenter-NYC has begun collaborating with other communities around the country to overcome obstacles in getting people vaccinated. One idea that emerged (thanks to Las Caza Vacunas/Vaccine Hunters of Maryland) is VaxFest2021, a nationwide effort to make the vaccines more accessible and fun (think lotteries, giveaways, balloons and pupusas!).

Upcoming VaxFest2021 events in NYC:

  • The Circle Basketball Court, Ravenswood Houses, Astoria Queens: May 29 at 12 p.m.
  • St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Jackson Heights, Queens, with music for healing by Percussia: June 12 at 9 a.m.
  • Keur Djembe drum shop in Gowanus, Brooklyn, at the Community Drum Circle: June 21 at 5 p.m.
  • Ascend Charter Schools in Brooklyn, helping to vaccinate thousands of students and staff before school ends: Date TBD

To get involved or to organize your own VaxFest2021 event, drop us an email or

And while we are at it, please allow us to plug our podcast! You can listen here. Make sure you’re subscribed on your favorite platform and stay tuned for episode three, which premiers tomorrow and asks how and why Covid-19 hit Queens so hard.

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