The BBF Unbound series of community-curated sessions annually offers a bounty of creative sessions and workshops proposed by members of our community. Over the past ten years, BBF Unbound sessions have focused on self-publishing, political storytelling, writing about animals, writing about homelands and their complicated histories, and writings by veterans. We love hearing your ideas for sessions and working with you to develop successful BBF presentations and workshops—and putting BBF Unbound on hiatus was one of the hardest decisions we made when planning 2020’s virtual BBF.
In 2021, however, we are back in person and eager to re-launch the BBF Unbound program, too! We’re now accepting proposals for 2021 BBF Unbound sessions, to be presented at the Boston Book Festival on October 16 (in Copley Square) and October 23 (in Nubian Square/Roxbury), or in various other locations Boston-wide during the intervening weekdays.
We are looking for outside groups/individuals who can introduce fresh voices and new ideas to the BBF. Be creative! The session can involve a debate, demo, workshop, literary improv, dramatic readings, panel discussion, literary games, etc. We are not looking for product promotions, plugs for businesses, or sessions featuring a single author publicizing his or her book. We are especially interested in program proposals from organizations and individuals based in Roxbury, as well as by curators who represent communities historically underrepresented in publishing and literary programming.
Note that in 2021, due to venue limitations, we are particularly interested in proposals that move outdoors or outside of the traditional classroom or lecture hall setting. Have an idea for a literary themed walking tour, scavenger hunt, traveling performance, immersive workshop, or dance party that engages with the cityscapes of Back Bay, Roxbury, or beyond? Get inspired, and pitch it to us! Not sure if your session is what we’re looking for? Try us! We are always willing to work with BBF Unbound producers to fine-tune their proposals so they’ll work within the larger literary landscape of the Boston Book Festival.
You will be responsible for running your session, i.e., gathering participants, beginning and ending on time, and covering any expenses (beyond room rental and basic A/V). We will publicize your session on our website and in our Program Guide, and we will expect you to publicize it via your networks as well. Presenters who come to us via BBF Unbound receive all the same benefits as any invited presenters: a presenter badge, a headshot and bio on the BBF website, and invitations to the kickoff cocktail reception and afterparty.
We will evaluate proposals based on: 1. Will the content appeal to the BBF audience? 2. Does the content offer something different from standard BBF fare? 3. Is the individual/group offering a plausible plan for implementing the session?
As Lit Crawl 2021 draws nearer, literary and media enthusiasts across the Boston area are surely getting excited for any of this year’s sessions. One session, “Brave New Whirl” hosted by the Charitable Organization of Very Enthusiastic Nerds (COVEN), offers a particularly exciting opportunity for pop-culture experts, with a literary trivia wheel and prizes for attendees. In anticipation, we spoke to Marisa, a member of COVEN, about Lit Crawl, what it means to be a “nerd,” and more. Remember to register for Lit Crawl 2021 here!
BBF: What can audiences unfamiliar with COVEN expect or look forward to from your Lit Crawl session and Literary Trivia Wheel?
Marisa: As our name suggests, from us you can always expect enthusiasm! Enthusiasm for books, enthusiasm for Lit Crawl, and enthusiasm for testing the knowledge of fellow book lovers through an obsessively detailed activity—in this case, a custom, handmade prize wheel! You’ll stop by, answer a trivia question, and then (if you answer correctly) spin the wheel to determine your prize, which could range from a literary-themed button to your choice of a book. And while you’re there, we’ll also give you a chance to vote on what our next trivia event will be.
BBF: How do you define “nerd?” Clearly it’s a positive, but what do you think really embodies the spirit of the title?
Marisa: Great question. We consider ourselves nerds because of our heightened affinity for specific topics, which tends to always result in deep dives verging on obsession. Whether it’s evangelizing the perfection of Schitt’s Creek to anyone who will listen, meeting weekly over Zoom in the middle of a pandemic to watch Doctor Who together (because a couple of us had not seen it and that can not be allowed to stand), or attending every Lit Crawl and literary trivia together, we are constantly channeling our aforementioned enthusiasm into some form of pop culture/art.
BBF: What has been your favorite part of working with and fundraising for the Boston community? Do any specific events stand out in your memory?
Marisa: It’s been incredible just to see how many people come out and support the organizations we’ve raised money for. We only charge $5 at the door, but we’ve always raised significantly more than $5 per person thanks to the generosity of the people who show up at our events. We had only been doing this for about a year before the pandemic hit, but the first event we ever did is definitely a highlight. We hosted Schitt’s Creek trivia to raise money for Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. We just thought it would be a fun way to raise money for them leading up to their annual walk, and we were at peak Schitt’s Creek obsession at the time. We had no idea how many people would actually show up. But in the end we filled the restaurant with 50 attendees, many of whom dressed in costume, and we raised $1,200. The energy at that event and the elation we felt afterward was magical and motivated us to do more.
BBF: How has the past year shaped your approach to events, outreach, and/or community building, both virtually and as we return to in-person?
Marisa: We have managed to pivot to virtual events during the pandemic and have held four of them so far. A silver lining is that we have been able to reach people outside of the Boston area for these events. The downside is that Zoom fatigue is real, for us and our audience. But as we’ve continued to witness the horrific results of systemic racism over the past year, we’ve felt more motivated than ever to make a difference. We’re trying to put our enthusiasm toward raising money and awareness for the people and organizations who most need allies right now. And now we have both in-person and virtual approaches in our arsenal!
COVEN’s Lit Crawl drop-in activity, “Brave New Whirl,” will take place on June 10 at Cambridge’s Starlight Square, from 7-9pm. For more information and to register, visit the Lit Crawl schedule.
The Boston Book Festival team was excited to sit down with Alexis Ivy, one of many presenters on this year’s exciting Lit Crawl lineup. Alexis’s session, entitled “Conversations with Art: Ekphrastic Writing in Graffiti Alley,” will be an opportunity for audiences to converse with their immediate surroundings through ekphrasis, a writing style focused on descriptions of art. Below, see some of Alexis’s thoughts on the creative process and how Boston as a community influences work across mediums. And snag one of just a few spots left for this free workshop on June 10th by signing up here.
BBF: What can audiences look forward to from your session at Lit Crawl?
Alexis Ivy: Writers will have the chance to be playful with language and selfhood.
BBF: How is writing poetry specifically inspired by art different from other writing endeavors?
AI: Ekphrastic poetry lets writers go to places they hadn’t thought of. Whether a translation or inspiration, art allows a writer to work in the form of persona. The exercise of ekphrasis brings unfamiliar and surprising language to the page by its ever-changing perspectives of looking at a piece of art. Art adds a creative complication to the writing making your words wondrously more dynamic and unique.
BBF: How has the past year influenced or informed your writing style or your artistic focus?
AI: I have learned I need to be away from home in order to focus on my manuscript. Since life has been all homelife, home has taken on a different definition for me as a writer. It has stopped being a refuge for me as a writer. My focus hasn’t changed as much as my artistic space.
BBF: Being Boston-born, what is your favorite aspect of the Boston-area community?
AI: Writers celebrate the literary history of our streets. The art of words is a wonderful call to action. Whether it’s poetry on the T, sidewalk poetry, public readings, library branch workshops—this city’s collaboration of writers make sure everyone’s words are seen, spoken, heard.
Boston Book Festival is excited to have Mass Poetry presenting at Lit Crawl 2021! The organization supports the poets of Massachusetts by both providing resources to poets and educating the public. You can learn more about Mass Poetry’s “Poems To Go” session here and by reading our Q&A with Erica Charis-Molling, Mass Poetry’s education director.
BBF: Could you tell us a little about your presenters for “Poems To Go”?
Erica: Cassandra de Alba is a poet living in Massachusetts. Her chapbooks are habitats (Horse Less Press, 2016), Ugly/Sad (Glass Poetry Press, 2020) and Cryptids (Ginger Bug Press, 2020). Her work has appeared in The Shallow Ends, Big Lucks, and Wax Nine, among other publications. She is a poetry reader for Underblong and an instructor at the Redbud Writing Project.
Julia Story is the author of Post Moxie (Sarabande Books) and the chapbooks The Trapdoor (dancing girl press) and Julie the Astonishing (Sixth Finch Books). She is a 2016 recipient of a Pushcart Prize and her recent work can be read in Sixth Finch, Tinderbox, and Tupelo Quarterly. She is a Midwesterner who now lives in Massachusetts.
Together they form two-thirds of the Traveling Poetry Emporium. [The Traveling Poetry Emporium types original poems on the spot at museums, festivals, and parties on any subject the guests have in mind.] What do you hope attendees and viewers at Lit Crawl Boston 2021 will take away from your “Poems To Go” session?
Erica: A personalized, one-of-a-kind poem written on a topic of their choice! I hope they’ll also come away with a sense of the living, breathing, every-day-ness of poetry—that it’s not just something tucked away in some dusty book on the top shelf, but rather something you might encounter anywhere and can intersect your life at any moment if you’re open to it.
Could you suggest chapbooks for our BBF readers by Boston poets?
Erica: Our Traveling Poetry Emporium poets have several books and chapbooks that I would recommend! In particular, Cassandra de Alba’s Ugly/Sad and Julia Story’s The Trapdoor would be great chapbooks to check out. Folks wanting further reading recommendations are welcome to check out our series here. Lastly, what is it about Massachusetts that makes the state such fertile ground for poetry?
Erica: Man, this question is a doozy! I think Massachusetts is a place with a lot of poetic history, which in many ways has primed the soil. I also think it’s a place with a whole web of supports and opportunities for new and experienced poets—through institutions like the Mass Cultural Council [also a funder for Lit Crawl Boston], local cultural councils and governments (many of whom have expanded or started poet programs across the state), academic institutions, really vibrant grass-roots open mic communities, and literary nonprofits like Mass Poetry. There’s been a well-documented rise in poetry readership in the United States and all of that helps Massachusetts capitalize on that climbing desire for poetry. (There may also be something in the water. I haven’t tested it recently to be sure.)
We hope Lit Crawl Boston 2021 attendees appreciate the wealth of poetry in the state of Massachusetts, and take the opportunity to acquire new poems at Lit Crawl Boston 2021! More information on dates, time slots, and presenters can be found here. We can’t wait to see you June 10!
This year, the Boston Book Festival’s annual Lit Crawl will mark an exciting return to in-person events for the Boston literary community. We had the opportunity to sit down with author Kim Adrian. Kim will be hosting her session, “The Art of (Writing About) Reading,” as a way to introduce audiences to the art of the bibliomemoir. Register here for this session on June 10 at Lit Crawl 2021!
BBF: What can audiences unfamiliar with bibliomemoir look forward to from your session at Lit Crawl?
Kim: The audience will hear from four practitioners of the genre—four writers with four different approaches to combining literary analysis with memoir. One of the readers, Adam Colman (New Uses for Failure) has described bibliomemoir as “a genre that eats other genres.” This is usually the thing that people get most excited about when they learn about this type of writing. For example, Kim McLarin’s bibliomemoir about James Baldwin’s novel Another Country combines a critical examination of the work with personal reflections on how Baldwin (and many other Black American writers) helped turn her into the woman and the writer she is today. At the same time, there’s a hefty strand of cultural criticism running throughout the whole thing, so the text feels very densely woven: personal, political-cultural, and literary all at once. Bibliomemoir encourages multifaceted or multivalent writing like this because you’ve always got at least two things going on: the writer writing reflectively on a personal experience (reading a book), and, at the same time, the writer examining why that book is (or perhaps is not) successful. For those comfortable working in this way it’s very tempting to add a third and perhaps even a fourth element into the mix.
BBF: How does “removing the glaze of pretension” influence the process of interpreting works of literature, either in general or in your specific experience?
Kim: With the phrase “removing the glaze of pretension” I mean getting out of the kind of faux-objective critical mode of passing judgement, speaking from on high, from a position of authority, which is the attitude most people associate with literary criticism, art criticism, criticism in general. That attitude implies that a work of art exists as an objective thing in the world, and that, as an objective thing, it requires a special kind of sensibility, a specially trained intellect, to be correctly perceived and interpreted. But a work of art does not exist in a vacuum. It is not a stable, immutable entity. In fact, there are as many ways to experience, for example, a great novel as there are readers of that novel, which is another way of saying that the novel itself changes for each reader. This is the premise on which bibliomemoir is based. The genre embraces the messiness of literature, the dynamism involved in the act of reading. That said, a good bibliomemoir will always take the act of criticism very seriously. But by its very nature bibliomemoir rejects the idea of critic-as-authortative-taste-maker, or critic-as-judge, and embraces, instead, criticism as a kind of creative, generative activity.
BBF: How do you think Boston, as a community or location, can contribute to the tradition of bibliomemoir? What aspects of the city do you think enrich literary criticism?
Kim: Bibliomemoir seems to be a growing genre right now. Much like microhistory, bibliomemoir upends a specific, traditional cultural structure—in this case the kind of authoritative perspective (rooted in entrenched power structures) that conventional criticism upholds. In this sense, it is an inherently political genre—a liberal or democratic genre. Boston is a left-leaning city that just so happens to be packed with great readers. If bibliomemor, as a genre, has a shot at finding a solid foothold with a hungry audience, Boston readers could well be the ones to make that happen.
BBF: How has the past year influenced your work, if at all?
Kim: It’s been a freaky year for me, of course. I’m no exception to that rule. COVID affected the launch of my bibliomemoir, Dear Knausgaard, pushing off the launch date by several months and putting events online. But it also nudged me into a new direction in my writing. For one thing, it got me thinking about magical thinking, simply because there was so much of that going on, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. Thinking about magical thinking got me thinking about imagination in general, so that I now find myself doing a lot of research on that topic. Beyond that, the further growth of the Black Lives Matter movement has affected everything—the whole way I see history, power, beauty, truth, language, perspective, my country, and my own existence within my own white skin, in ways I’m still trying to process and will continue to process, I’m sure, for years to come. Ditto the recent and ongoing challenges to our democracy (which have circled me back around to the concept of magical thinking and imagination). Long story short, I’m still very much trying to process the past year. My hope is to be able to write about some of the strangeness and change that we’ve been going through in my current project—which happens to be another bibliomemoir, this time about the life and work of the German Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann.
We’re looking forward to hearing more from Kim and all of our other Lit Crawl presenters on June 10 in Cambridge! “The Art of (Writing About) Reading” will take place at 7:00 PM at Dial Restaurant in Cambridge. For more information about Lit Crawl and to register, see the BBF website.
Storytelling has proven to be a great device for the immigrant experience. Off Kendrick is a theater group in which South Asian immigrants share their realities as minority groups in the United States. In between humorous adventures and retellings of harsh circumstances, Off Kendrick emphasizes the importance of storytelling for the immigrant experience. To elaborate more on this event, we have asked Chandreyee Lahiri, one of the presenters, some questions to learn more about what to expect from Off Kendrick’s presentation titled “Voices” and register now for this event on June 10!
BBF: As there will probably be an invitation for the audience to participate in your presentation, how important do you think it is for immigrants to exchange stories between each other?
Chandreyee: Our show “Voices” is intended for a broad audience of non-immigrants so we can start to break through the social barriers that divide us and stride towards inclusiveness. People tend to fear the unknown and succumb to reductive stereotypes. For non-immigrants to walk in the shoes of immigrants, if only for the duration of their stories, may bridge this chasm. But there is also great value of sharing stories WITHIN the immigrant community. When you arrive in a foreign country, leaving behind your support systems, grappling with new traditions and customs—social and emotional isolation is as common as it is harmful. Finding a community of like people through storytelling can make a big difference to this process of settling in. For immigrants who have “assimilated” over time, sharing stories about their journey of adjustment and struggle can also enrich both the teller and the community. For example, one of the stories in the Lit Crawl event is about a father’s confusing encounter with their Indian-American child’s mis-interpretation of his career, the career required so much effort and sacrifice. Many immigrants related to this story and hopefully, some felt less alone after hearing it.
BBF: Are there any specific audience receptions that you remember fondly from previous performances?
Chandreyee: The 2018 “Voices” mainstage show was staged in Waltham and among the sold-out audience (on both nights) was the Mayor. For the mainstage shows, our Director allows a few stories to be in a native language and we provide live captions for the audience to follow along. Mayor McCarthy told me that she turned away from it on purpose at times to savor the full experience of Bengali, a new and foreign language to her. She was delighted that by referring to the captions just occasionally, she got the gist of the story but also thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the mannerisms, cadences, and sounds of the teller performing in his own tongue. I was thrilled at this huge step she took, preemptively, to immerse herself into this world. This was a heartening and unexpected example of community.
BBF: Do you think theater is the best expression platform for the immigrant experience?
Chandreyee: The group that produces “Voices”—the mainstage show as well as the Story Slam series—isin fact a theater group, though Storytelling is not true theater. But yes, having a platform like a live, staged event is very effective in communicating immigrant experiences because of the personal connection it offers. To see the teller’s face, experience their body language, and be in front of a stage primes the audience to truly listen and connect. The Pandemic showed us that virtual shows can also work. Our Mainstage show is usually held in Greater Boston at a theater every other year but the 2020 show, scheduled to occur at the Cambridge Center for Arts, had to be cancelled due to COVID-19. We switched to an online event via Zoom and YouTube to a wonderful reception. We missed the energy and connection of a live event and can’t wait to return to a stage but it showed us that we can reach and touch people’s hearts and minds in many ways.
BBF: Humorous events as well as hardships are definitely present in your work. Do you consider this balance to be essential in your performances?
Chandreyee: Absolutely. Every curated “Voices” show attempts to present the many facets of immigrant experience, from comic misadventures through poignant struggles. Hidden in the diverse stories are nuggets of truth that can speak volumes, and appealing to a range of emotions helps reach a wide audience. In our “Story Slams,” which are impromptu contests judged by the audience, tellers sign up with 5 minute true stories and we draw names from a hat at random. Since we don’t know what stories will be told, we have less opportunity to ensure that all tones of stories are covered, but interestingly, it works out. The story that won the March “Voices” story slam was pretty funny and the two stories that were in close running were powerful and emotional.
Be sure to mark your calendar for June 10 and check out “Voices”! You can find out more about Off Kendrick here.