Yahdon Israel

The Fashionable Bookworm
Yahdon Israel

Like many fascinating things, Literary Swag started on the subway, when Yahdon Israel spotted a stylish teen captivated by To Kill a Mockingbird. He snapped a photo, posted it to Instagram, and #LiterarySwag was born. The intersection between fashion and literature, Literary Swag has gone from one moment to a movement, gaining thousands of followers and evolving into a series of interviews with authors, a book club, and a web series called LIT. His goal? To make reading cool. Israel, who’s also editor-in-chief of Brooklyn Magazine, recalls asking 200 high school students if they talk to their friends about music and movies. They all raised their hands. When he asked about books, he saw maybe one hand. A book is not where a lot of people find community, he says, but often where they lose it. “So I thought ‘how do you use a book as a gateway to community?’ That’s what Literary Swag really is.”

Israel wasn’t always fashion-forward. When he was just 14 years old, he came to the realization that save for one yearbook photo, it was as though he wasn’t even a part of his school. “There was really no proof that I went there besides the class picture,” he explains. “I just felt like it was enough to show up. I had a sense of entitlement without being willing to work on things.”

In need of a change, Israel promised to himself that by the time he graduated high school, he would earn the oft-sought yearbook superlative: “Most Popular.” And he did it. Not just most popular, but also “Most Likely to Be President,” “Class Clown,” and “Most Likely to Be in the Guidance Counselor’s Office.” 

“For me, that showed me the power of intentionality,” says Israel. “Of what happens when not only you say you're going to do something, but you apply yourself to doing it.” 

Despite his less-than-stellar SAT scores, Israel applied the follow-through he learned in high school to scoring an in-person interview with an admission counselor at Pace. He was accepted to the University as part of the Challenge to Achievement at Pace (CAP) program and after a rocky first year, he began to excel both academically and socially.

“I had professors who were not giving answers, but asking questions,” he remembers. “Which was like, ‘Oh, this is dope. I get to learn, and I'm being trusted with my own capacity to learn. I'm being trusted with the capacity to teach myself.’"

In his second year at Pace, Israel became the president of Black Student Union on the New York City Campus. It was around the same time that he joined Pace’s Greek life as the president of Pace’s Greek Council and as a brother in Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT). Through his experiences in those organizations, Israel was determined to create and further develop inclusive communities in those organizations. 

He started working more closely with his professors at Pace; the dynamics of their relationships changing from that of student-teacher to colleague-to-colleague. Just as he had gone to his professors for letters of recommendation to grad school, they were coming to him for letters of recommendation for tenure. 

“It was definitely a full-circle kind of thing,” Israel says. 

Speaking of graduate school, after Pace, Israel went on to earn his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the New School. It was during that period, in his pursuit of making reading cool that he spotted the teen on the subway, book in hand and looking cool as hell. 

“What you don't do is profess that ‘we're gonna make it cool.’ You just start doing cool shit. And to me, that [teenager on the subway] was just the one image of cool,” proclaims Israel.

“I just had to document him being in his own world. And I hashtagged it. And it wasn't like, ‘Oh, this is going to be the beginning of a movement,’ it was just like, ‘Yo, this is dope. How can we replicate that?’"

And things just sort of took off from there.

“I recently was included in this Adidas exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum,” he says. “But my proudest accomplishment isn’t being in the museum, it’s being able to take my mom to the museum.” 

Israel’s mother was born in 1958, five years before the Civil Rights Act was signed, seven years before the Voting Act was signed—during the height of the Civil Rights movement. 

“Compared to when she was growing up—when black people were sort of still in a lot of ways ‘illegal’—that your son is in a museum as part of black history, and that she as my mother, she wouldn't have been in...Just that whole thing is wow!” 

His dedication to all things lit have paid off in spades. #LiterarySwag, which started as a single hashtag, has become a movement in the New York area, spinning off into book clubs, community, and forward-thinking cultural coolness. 

In addition to being the editorial director of Northside Media, Israel was recently named editor-in-chief of Brooklyn Magazine, which focuses on the art and culture and charm of Brooklyn and its people. Last fall, he was profiled by The New York Times as part of their Sunday Routine column.

Stay connected with Israel and all things #LiterarySwag by visiting www.yahdonisrael.com.

Yahdon Israel

Like many fascinating things, Literary Swag started on the subway, when Yahdon Israel spotted a stylish teen captivated by To Kill a Mockingbird. He snapped a photo, posted it to Instagram, and #LiterarySwag was born. The intersection between fashion and literature, Literary Swag has gone from one moment to a movement, gaining thousands of followers and evolving into a series of interviews with authors, a book club, and a web series called LIT. His goal? To make reading cool. Israel, who’s also editor-in-chief of Brooklyn Magazine, recalls asking 200 high school students if they talk to their friends about music and movies. They all raised their hands. When he asked about books, he saw maybe one hand. A book is not where a lot of people find community, he says, but often where they lose it. “So I thought ‘how do you use a book as a gateway to community?’ That’s what Literary Swag really is.”

Israel wasn’t always fashion-forward. When he was just 14 years old, he came to the realization that save for one yearbook photo, it was as though he wasn’t even a part of his school. “There was really no proof that I went there besides the class picture,” he explains. “I just felt like it was enough to show up. I had a sense of entitlement without being willing to work on things.”

In need of a change, Israel promised to himself that by the time he graduated high school, he would earn the oft-sought yearbook superlative: “Most Popular.” And he did it. Not just most popular, but also “Most Likely to Be President,” “Class Clown,” and “Most Likely to Be in the Guidance Counselor’s Office.” 

“For me, that showed me the power of intentionality,” says Israel. “Of what happens when not only you say you're going to do something, but you apply yourself to doing it.” 

Despite his less-than-stellar SAT scores, Israel applied the follow-through he learned in high school to scoring an in-person interview with an admission counselor at Pace. He was accepted to the University as part of the Challenge to Achievement at Pace (CAP) program and after a rocky first year, he began to excel both academically and socially.

“I had professors who were not giving answers, but asking questions,” he remembers. “Which was like, ‘Oh, this is dope. I get to learn, and I'm being trusted with my own capacity to learn. I'm being trusted with the capacity to teach myself.’"

In his second year at Pace, Israel became the president of Black Student Union on the New York City Campus. It was around the same time that he joined Pace’s Greek life as the president of Pace’s Greek Council and as a brother in Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT). Through his experiences in those organizations, Israel was determined to create and further develop inclusive communities in those organizations. 

He started working more closely with his professors at Pace; the dynamics of their relationships changing from that of student-teacher to colleague-to-colleague. Just as he had gone to his professors for letters of recommendation to grad school, they were coming to him for letters of recommendation for tenure. 

“It was definitely a full-circle kind of thing,” Israel says. 

Speaking of graduate school, after Pace, Israel went on to earn his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the New School. It was during that period, in his pursuit of making reading cool that he spotted the teen on the subway, book in hand and looking cool as hell. 

“What you don't do is profess that ‘we're gonna make it cool.’ You just start doing cool shit. And to me, that [teenager on the subway] was just the one image of cool,” proclaims Israel.

“I just had to document him being in his own world. And I hashtagged it. And it wasn't like, ‘Oh, this is going to be the beginning of a movement,’ it was just like, ‘Yo, this is dope. How can we replicate that?’"

And things just sort of took off from there.

“I recently was included in this Adidas exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum,” he says. “But my proudest accomplishment isn’t being in the museum, it’s being able to take my mom to the museum.” 

Israel’s mother was born in 1958, five years before the Civil Rights Act was signed, seven years before the Voting Act was signed—during the height of the Civil Rights movement. 

“Compared to when she was growing up—when black people were sort of still in a lot of ways ‘illegal’—that your son is in a museum as part of black history, and that she as my mother, she wouldn't have been in...Just that whole thing is wow!” 

His dedication to all things lit have paid off in spades. #LiterarySwag, which started as a single hashtag, has become a movement in the New York area, spinning off into book clubs, community, and forward-thinking cultural coolness. 

In addition to being the editorial director of Northside Media, Israel was recently named editor-in-chief of Brooklyn Magazine, which focuses on the art and culture and charm of Brooklyn and its people. Last fall, he was profiled by The New York Times as part of their Sunday Routine column.

Stay connected with Israel and all things #LiterarySwag by visiting www.yahdonisrael.com.