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What Makes a Good Panel?

This was the question that Leon Neyfakh from the New York Observer asked a few people at the recent PEN Foundation annual gala. The answers aren’t all that provocative or surprising: Edmund White points out how most panels are “an exercise of competing egos rather than an effort to communicate or focus on the topic” and Daniel Menaker (whose Titlepage.tv project seems to have gone into permanent hibernation) offers up the excuse that most authors aren’t good at interacting with the public.

The one comment that I completely agree with is from Rhonda Sherman (organizer of the New Yorker Festival): ““In general, it’s not a party unless there’s blood on the floor. There needs to be tension on a panel. You need to have some disagreement. If everyone agrees on the panel, it’s a total snooze-a-thon.”

Every panel needs a contrarian to really foster a discussion. Otherwise it’s easy for these events to devolve into a series of disconnected, individual presentation.



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