A Self-Made Man



Outside the main branch of the New York Public Library, Garrett Buhl Robinson sells copies of his self-published books. Photo: Morgan M. Davis.

Wrapped in a blue coat, his nose whipped red by the cold wind, Garrett Buhl Robinson sits outside the main branch of the New York Public Library almost every day.  Behind a fold-out TV tray table that serves as his makeshift office, bookstand, and check-out counter, Robinson sells his two self-published novels and a book length poem.  “I’m 41 … and just hitting my stride in literature,” he said.

The Alabama transplant began writing his first novel at age 12, and picked up poetry at age 16.  After literally reading the poems of William Shakespeare forwards and backwards, Robinson said, he discovered a method of artistic expression he would pursue for the rest of his life.  A tall, unassuming man with a southern twang, Robinson made his way around the U.S. working odd jobs, most recently in a salmon cannery, before moving to New York City 18 months ago.  “All literary lines I’ve read throughout my whole life led me here,” he said.  “It’s like I’m rediscovering the city after reading about it for so long.”

Almost immediately, Robinson was inspired.  A lover of dance, he was enamored by the beauty of the New York City Ballet.  The experience inspired his poem “Martha,” a melodic story of famed dancer Martha Graham.  Robinson’s enthusiasm for dance is evident as he rapidly explains the poem’s premise to passersby who stop at his table. He’ll happily read a stanza of the poem upon request, removing his glasses, holding the book high, and with a half an octave drop of his voice, reading his written words with great purpose.

Attempting to sell $10 copies of his writing outside a free public library is “kind of like selling wood chips to a saw mill,” Robinson admitted.  But as a full-time writer living in a Brooklyn basement and budgeting to live in the “dance capital of the world,” Robinson finds that the couple of copies he sells each day, of “Martha” and his novels, fiction influenced by his life experiences, add up.   Some days he sells ten copies or more, personalizing the title page of each one for the purchaser.

While Robinson pursued contracts with big name publishers for years, he found self-publishing the perfect method for sharing his work.  “People are always going to rely on big publishers,” he said.  But self-publishing, he said, “is allowing others to directly reach the public.”

Robinson dreams the American dream.  “Within 10 years,” he said, “I am going to be extended an invitation to read ‘Martha’ on the stage of Carnegie Hall.”