Grub Street is inaugurating Lit Week, with thirty events and parties happening throughout Greater Boston this week, ahead of The Muse & the Marketplace this weekend. Dead Darlings caught up with Grub Street staff recently to learn more about Lit Week.
Dead Darlings: What’s Lit Week all about, and where did the idea originate?
Whitney Scharer, Development and Communications Director, Grub Street: We’re so excited about Lit Week! The idea originated a year or two ago, when we were trying to find ways to extend all the great literary energy that happens during Muse weekend and open it up to the public. And it’s turned out bigger and better than we ever imagined. We’ve partnered with over thirty organizations and restaurants to offer a full week of fabulous events and parties. In the spirit of Restaurant Week or Fashion Week, Lit Week is a showcase of Boston’s thriving literary community, and events include fun things like writer-themed cocktail nights, a night of Mad Libs, fantastic readings, and more.
DD: Can you profile a favorite event for me?
Lauren Rheaume, Registration and Operations Coordinator, Grub Street: One of my favorite events is the Transition Magazine reading at Harvard Book Store on Wednesday, May 30th from 7-8pm. The magazine is launching issue #113, “What is Africa to me Now?, ” with an evening featuring readings from the issue by novelist David Chariandy and poet Danielle Legros Georges. Born in Africa and bred in the diaspora, Transition is a unique forum for the freshest, most compelling, most curious ideas about race. Since its founding in Uganda in 1961, the magazine has kept apace of the rapid transformation of the black world and has remained a leading forum of intellectual debate. Now, in an age that demands ceaseless improvisation, they aim to be both an anchor of deep reflection on black life and a map charting new routes through the globalized world. We’re so excited to see this now-local mag featured during Lit Week!
DD: Who do you consider the target audience for Lit Week events, and who are you trying to pull in at the edges?
Lauren Rheaume: Not only are we trying to attract lovers of literature in the Boston area, but also those who dabble in writing and reading, and especially those who are hesitant to believe writing and reading is relevant at all. We know how solitary writing and reading can be, but we also know how much fun writers and readers have when they come together. There’s a vibrant writing community in Boston and we not only want to see it come alive during Lit Week, we want to invite those who haven’t yet joined.
DD: Grub Street has been the prime mover behind a new Literary Cultural District in Boston, an effort that recently won a major planning grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Do you see conscious tie-ins between Lit Week and your work defining and developing the Literary Cultural District?
Larry Linder, Coordinator of the Literary Cultural District: I think there’s more than a tie-in. I would say Lit Week and the Literary Cultural District are bound by tissue and blood vessels. So often when people think of the Literary Cultural District, or LCD, they think about literary tours — which famous writers lived at which addresses, which poets got hammered at which bars, and which playwrights got pulled from which hotel rooms in the night because they hadn’t paid their bills. And that definitely is a part of the LCD, but only a part.
The main reason for the LCD will be to enhance the lives of writers and those interested in the literary arts today. That means programs and events that will draw attention to writers and their efforts, both upping their game and, in ways both direct and indirect, their income. When people learn about the works of contemporary writers in interesting venues, they become more inclined to purchase the art.
In every way, Lit Week contributes to that literary vibrancy and so of course will appear on the LCD website, drawing in people not only from all over the city and state but from the rest of the country and even from abroad. The LCD will be the first of its kind, and those with a literary bent who might never have heard of Lit Week before will be able to plug in and plan a trip to Boston at the right time. Starting next year, all Lit Week events will appear on the LCD monthly calendar.
Of course, the synergy of Lit Week and the LCD will help bring those in the writing community together in ways they don’t usually get to — to go to great events, discuss ideas, share their experiences — in short, to get out of the garret for a bit and refuel. That can only be good for the written word.
DD: Looks like you’ve gotten good traction with restaurants, book stores, and other venues in and around Boston for Lit Week. What accounts for this receptivity, beyond an obvious interest in driving traffic?
Lauren Rheaume: We did a lot of outreach after identifying literary locals and bars/restaurants that might be interested in taking part in Lit Week. Admittedly, several of the bars taking part we have personal ties to after working there (or at a sister restaurant), but they were receptive because they knew that many of their employees (and customers) are often writers and artists. They already support the arts in this way, so it is a natural extension to highlight this common interest in the form of an event at their venue. GrubStreet has great relationships with bookstores in the area–we have a shared interest in supporting each other, and any way to get book lovers through their doors is of interest to them. Other venues are already hosting literary events of their own and agreed to take part in the extra push we could do to promote them.
DD: Given that the original catalyst for Lit Week was Muse & the Marketplace, can you provide some perspective on where the Muse is now, and where it may be headed?
Whitney Scharer: The Muse has grown every year since it began 13 years ago—some of us still remember that first small Muse in the Harvard Club. As it grows, we really want to make sure it keeps its “grubby,” communal feel, and we never want it to get so large that attendees feel overwhelmed or at sea. So we’ve thought a lot about ways to make it bigger without increasing capacity at the conference itself. One way we’re doing this is expanding the reach of the conference online. We’re live-streaming the Town Hall debate through a media partnership with Publishing Perspectives, for example, and we’re involving some top-notch social media professionals to write and tweet throughout the weekend (follow it at #muse14). We’ve also reached out to like-minded organizations around the country and created opportunities for their students to attend the conference. Lit Week, too, is an incredible extension of the Muse and a way for us to bring literature to many more people than just the ones who attend the conference. We can’t wait to see how it will all shape up in future years!