Deb: About those events

I’m not a big shopper, so while others are braving the stores at this time of year, I shift into a less glamorous mode: assessment and planning. As always, I’ll reflect on my writing – where it’s been, where it’s going – but this year I’ll also ponder our programs here at the 49 Alaska Writing Center.

Since the end of April, we’ve launched two instructional terms, hosted a hugely successful retreat, and sponsored author events featuring Heather Lende, David Vann, and Joe McGinniss. We’ve engaged readers in a Book and Tea Talk, and with the masterful orchestration of volunteer Paula Bryner, we’ve hosted regular First Friday book signings. In addition, librarians in Southeast Alaska helped us organize three writer gatherings. And to pay for it all, Andromeda and her fundraising team have devised fabulous ways to generate support.

Not bad for a newly-born center. But of course we’d love to do more. In the coming months, we’ll ponder options for program expansion: mentoring, distance education, youth programs, community outreach. Mindful of not doing too much too fast, we’ll weigh resources of time, money, and energy against various needs. As always, we welcome your input.

Since we’ve already got a track record in the program area of events, we’re turning our attention there first. While nothing is firm yet, I thought you might like a sneak peek of some of our planning – and we’d love to have you weigh in with your thoughts.

We began with these questions:

• What’s strong in the literary events scene?
• What’s missing in the literary events scene?
• Which models from other places do we like?
• How do we ensure that every event is successful and meaningful?
• How can we help Alaskan authors to become better presenters?
• Which venues are best for which types of events?

Agreeing that typical readings work from outdated models that often do little to engage readers with writers and books, we envisioned four broad categories of events, labeled here with working titles:

• CROSSCURRENTS: Because books aren’t just for reading, the Crosscurrents onstage conversations would unite authors and audiences through lively, moderated discussions on questions pertaining to art, culture, and science as illuminated by writers and their work.

• SYNERGIES: Following the Still North model of reading and performance, these would be uniquely experiential, literary-centric events that bring together sometimes disparate communities of artists and writers.

• GATHERINGS: Hosted in homes or cafes, these are informal opportunities to chat with visiting writers about craft.

• CELEBRATIONS: These may include occasional “open mic” readings by our students as well as collective book launch events. We’re also pondering a week-long “Alaska Book Celebration” that encourages libraries, schools, and bookstores to feature Alaska authors and books.

That’s our rough thinking so far. Now we’d love to hear yours. Are we close to the mark with events that support creative writers from throughout Alaska at all stages of their development while building an audience for Alaska literature? To what extent would you be excited about attending events like these? Any that you’d love to help out with? Any important event types we’ve missed?

8 thoughts on “Deb: About those events”

  1. Deb and Andromeda,
    Once again, your enthusiasm never ceases to amaze me. These ideas sound great and I fully support them. I still think, however, that readings or other author appearances need to involve the public more. Most of us—especially poets—rely on other writers for support. But this is such a small circle. So the big question for me remains: how do we locate potential readers from the community and get them to attend readings or other literary events? Since 49 Writers now has a number of dedicated volunteers, I wonder if you would consider the following approaches:
    A) Work with Rotary, Elks, or other organizations to arrange author presentations
    B) Conduct a telephone survey that would include but not be limited to questions such as: 1. Do you read, and if so, what is your favorite genre? 2. Who are some of your favorite Alaska authors? 3. Would you be interested in receiving a list of established Alaska writers and their books? 4. Would you consider joining a book club whose focus is a. poetry b. fiction c. creative nonfiction 5. Would you like to be notified of upcoming author events? 6. Are there restrictions that would keep you from attending author events and if so, would you consider hosting one in your home?
    I hope these ideas are helpful. Good luck, you two! Cheers, Anne Coray

  2. These are terrific ideas! I am particularly excited about the Crosscurrents onstage discussions. It makes me think of San Francisco City Arts & Lectures, which I love. The only thing I find frustrating about that series is that I can't get it online if I miss the broadcast. I wonder if it would be possible to record the Crosscurrents discussions and then make them available as podcasts on 49Writers. Even if you only got a small audience at the actual event, I think there are a lot of people (like me) who would like to listen later from their homes around the state, and hopefully even outside of Alaska. I am also really interested in the Synergies. I know there are examples of art shows paired with poetry readings, and people like Fireside Books owner David Cheezem who are experimenting with combining literary and visual art in their own work. Drama, music, sculpture, photography, performance art, fiction, poetry, essay — bringing all that together could be tremendously stimulating for the artists, and could also provide a larger resource of audience members for all the artists. Very exciting!

  3. Wonderful, specific suggestions, Eowyn and Anne. Thank you so much! I'll be checking comments all week and then compiling them all for consideration and planning. So do keep them coming.

  4. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    I second the praise for "City Arts and Lectures" and have always wanted to see an on-stage literary/culture conversation series in Anchorage. I, too (guilty! guilty!) often can't make evening events, but when they are on the radio, or better yet available also by podcast, I enjoy and appreciate. My own opinion is that every event should have more than one way to reach our geographically extensive AK population.

  5. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    P.S. to Anne — good thoughts about involving other organizations. We need to find a way to reach local book clubs, Rotary, any other means to find readers.

  6. Interesting ideas, and the variety is good so we can plan different events for different locations and authors/genres/audiences. One thing that stood out for me was the Crosscurrents, because it sounds like some of the UAA Bookstore events I've attended. That may be an area where 49 Writers and the UAA Bookstore could collaborate.

  7. Love the idea of podcasting Andromeda!

    I've also heard of several city-wide "book clubs" where the libraries would sponsor a book either written by a local author or set in or near the city. The newspapers and book stores would get on board, and I would see posters all over the place (I remember seeing a whole entire cart of the same book right out front in one of the libraries encouraging everyone to read it). It was powerful to have the shared book for the community, and would be a HUGE boost to whichever author was chosen! In Denver the Mayor actually started it. This only happened once a year, which I think helped it become a success. here's some info:

    Alaska's such a "small" community maybe we could even do it state-wide!

  8. Great ideas, Lynn and Jen. We're mulling over an Alaska Book Celebration which would be a great partner event with the book store and could even grow to include a state-read…thanks especially for the link, Jen. Stay tuned!

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