Recommendation for Next Year's PEN World Voices
Looking back on World Voices, I realized that there are two things that I would’ve liked more of: opportunities to talk informally with the authors and a better system for being able to buy their books.
I don’t think I’m alone in this either. The authors are the reason so many people attend the festival, and being rushed out of the auditorium immediately after each event is a bit of a damper of the “festive” nature of World Voices. And ever since PEN got away from having a local independent store (like McNally Jackson or 192 Books) in charge of selling titles at the events, the whole book buying side of things has gone to shit. (Sorry Mobile Libris. I’m a fan of what you do, but the book selection was spotty at best and pretty damn disorganized.)
So, I have a proposal to Caro and PEN for next year: the creation of an Authors’ Salon that can serve as a central hub for this increasingly decentralized festival and serve as a place where the public can mingle with the talent and buy their books.
What I envision is a restaurant or hotel lobby that would be accessible basically all day and night, where authors could come and go as they please, and readers would have an opportunity to ask a follow-up question to a particular discussion, or simply get their book signed. And since this would be a central meeting point, a bookstore could have all of the works of all of the authors on display at all times, providing a real opportunity for readers to browse what’s available and actually buy books. (That’s sort of the point, right? Getting readers interested in these authors?)
Additionally, organizations and publishers participating/sponsoring the festival could display brochures, catalogs, and other info in this same space, something that could help further cultivate an audience for international literature and the authors participating in the festival.
I’m willing to guarantee that this would be an extremely popular space, and would generate a lot of commerce through sales of booze and books. And these international authors, who travel all the way here just to speak on an hour-and-a-half long panel would have the opportunity (if they want) to meet with readers and expand their American following. And publishers (well, the smart ones) would be all over the chance to further promote their books and programs, both to the writers who are visiting and to a public interested in these sorts of books. It’s a win-win-win.
It’s not that I think PEN World Voices is doing anything wrong, but I think something like this would really take the festival to the next level and truly serve the audience of readers, writers, and publishers, who look to this as an opportunity to come together and truly celebrate the diversity of writers from around the world.
Well, that’s my two cents . . .