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What is literary Louisville?

On Saturday, October 2 I participated as a panel member leading a wide-ranging discussion in response to the question, “What is Literary Louisville?”  A diverse group of writers, publishers, students, readers, and arts programmers filled the Mary Anderson Room at the Kentucky Center for the Arts to speculate about what is and what might be “Literary Louisville.” 

It should come as no suprise that we didn’t definitively answer that question. (And would any right-thinking person trust an easy answer to such a question anyway?)  Two further provocative questions opened the session: Is Louisville a great city for writers? Is it a great city for readers?  The panel’s responses were various, reflecting our different vantage points.  But some consensus emerged around several points:

1. There is a real desire for more and better coordinated, local communication about literary events and opportunities for readers and writers.  Whether it takes the form of an e-newsletter or a blog or defined use of some social networking media, participants were enough suprised by the diversity of experiences and activities in the room to realize that no one had the whole picture.  And we all wanted to be better connected to one another.

2.  There are not sufficient opportunities for writers to hone their craft, in structured ways, outside of university settings.  Though it was clear from the conversation that Louisville is rich with informal writing groups that have nurtured writers at all stages, there are few places to take a single “master class” or workshop; to enroll or register in a multiple day (retreat/festival or conference style event); or ongoing, weekly class.  Models in similarly-sized cities — the Loft in Minneapolis/St.Paul; the Carnegie Center in Lexington, and The Writer’s Center in Washington D.C.  all provide these kinds of experiences and derive their energy from the local character of the literary community while also bringing in writers nationally.

3.  Is there interest in continuing the Festival of the Written Word as an add-on event of the Idea Festival (which sponsored this panel) as a signature literary event for Louisville?  To this end, the organizing committee will be meeting soon to plan for next year’s event and to begin a process for creating and disseminating information.

At the very least, Literary Louisville is readers and writers, the written word and the spoken word, the university and the civic community.  If you’re part of any of these groups, and want to see a more dynamic and diverse community at work changing the world through literature, then the first step is to claim your membership as a literary citizen and support local literature. Go to a reading. Buy a book from a local publisher or a local bookstore. Ask for more information from your media about literary arts.  Invite a writer to your classroom, your Sunday school, your book club, your Mom’s Day Out.  Support the library. Start a book reviewing blog.  Start your own writers group.  Look for ways to bring national initiatives like Poetry in Motion or Favorite Poem Project or The Big Read to Louisville.  Offer to host an open mic night at your favorite coffee shop or watering hole.  And….

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