The Skinny on Boston's New Literary District: An Interview with Coordinator Larry Lindner
by Jacquelyn Malone
For all you locals who think they’ve seen it all when it comes to Boston and Massachusetts, there is a new attraction in town, one readers of this site will definitely want to see. Boston’s Literary District is not only a tourist attraction but a local resource and delight. To get a sense of what it is and how it began, we asked Larry Lindner, the Lit District Coordinator, some questions.
Where did the idea for the Literary District come from?
Eve Bridburg, the executive director of GrubStreet, was talking with Anita Walker, the executive Director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, lamenting the fact that Boston is in the midst of a literary renaissance but that everyone is working in their own separate silos and thus, the whole literary vibrancy is too underground, not something that enough people are aware of. Anita suggested the idea of a Literary Cultural District. The Commonwealth had been allowing cities and towns to apply for cultural district status for a couple of years, but this would be the first cultural district devoted to a single discipline. Together, the two discussed, the whole could be much greater than the sum of the parts. Different writers and literary organizations could cross-pollinate ideas and strengthen Boston's Literary presence, make the literary more visible here in the city. Soon City Council Ayanna Pressley came on board to generate enthusiasm for the idea at City Hall, and things began moving forward. Eve brought other partners in to get the project off the ground: the Boston Public Library, the Boston Athenaum, the Boston Book Festival, Emerson College, Suffolk University, and the audio literary magazine The Drum.
Who or what group is responsible for putting together the map of the District?
The map was a citywide effort. We had input from all quarters, all literary types and groups. For instance, some people interested in women as a literary force in Boston made sure the Boston Women's Memorial made it into the District's borders, which is why the Lit District has a tail on its west end. That's all to the good. If everyone is involved, the buy-in is greater and the interest becomes greater. This is truly the City's District.
How do you foresee visitors touring the Literary District? Walking? A bus tour?
I imagine people will mostly walk. And they probably won't take in the entire District all at once. Some will want to come to tour a piece of the District to see historic literary sites, like where Louisa May Alcott once lived. Others will come to see a particular literary event, so they'll go right to that venue. We will be developing a mobile app in 2015 to make navigating the Lit District easier in real time.
What is the range of events associated with the District?
I will copy and paste here something I wrote up for the Massachusetts Cultural Council:
Shakespeare on the Common. A speakers’ forum featuring Alice Walker, or a book festival with Doris Kearns Goodwin. Walking tours that take you past Sylvia Plath’s apartment, just around the corner from Robert Frost’s residence, and Khalil Gibran’s….
All that, and more – poetry slams, writing workshops, readings, signings – can be found in Boston’s Literary Cultural District, the first such district in the country. From Washington Street to Exeter, from Beacon Hill to Boylston, Boston is crammed with literary happenings and history – probably more so than any other city in the country. Where else would you find an annual conference where aspiring novelists can meet literary agents who might be willing to peddle their work? Literary giants like David McCullough to Dennis Lehane? A vibrant community of writers and readers who partake of Boston’s rich literary life via readings, discussions groups, and other programs and events? An unparalleled literary heritage with a broad and diverse set of writers ranging from enslaved poet Phillis Wheatley to Henry David Thoreau, Anne Sexton, and Eugene O’Neill?
Restaurants like Carrie Nation offer themed literary menus. And institutions from the Boston Public Library to the Boston Athenaeum, Emerson College, Suffolk University, and GrubStreet have ongoing programs and events that cater to those who enjoy their relationship with the written word – or will develop one now that all things literary in Boston have been made more visible.
What organizations are working with the District?
The organizations named above, including Grub Street, are executive partners to the project. There are about three dozen associate partners so far. They are listed on the Lit District's website: www.bostonlitdistrict.org. I should note that you don't have to be within the District's borders to be an associate partner. We are happy to join forces with literary organizations outside of the District, sending people to those locales for literary programs and events and helping them to set up programs in venues within the District to draw more attention to them. That will help literary artists in more economically marginalized areas of Boston to benefit from the District's renown.
How do you expect the District to affect the Boston literary scene?
The District is going to lift the lives of writers and others involved with Boston's literary scene. It will attract people who are already readers as well as those who are readers and enjoyers of literature but don't yet know it. I think a lot of people feel about reading the way some people feel about math. There's a certain phobia. They feel they "can't" do it. But by making literary artists accessible, tangible, and by making literature a literally tactile experience -- people will kind of be able to reach out and touch it -- they'll see that literature is something that could interest them, that they can be a part of, that will hold their interest and not make them anxious about reading.
Is the District designed primarily for locals or for tourists?
BOTH!!! Obviously, people in and around Boston will partake, but we expect it will go national as well as international. The in-flight magazine for Air Lingus has already indicated that it will be running a piece about the Lit District. My hope is that the Lit District website becomes for Boston what Time Out is for people who go to London -- a kind of what's-going-on-in-the world-of-literature in Boston. The events calendar on the site, constantly updated, will be a way for people to plan their trip here.
Are all the places on the map open for public interaction?
Put on your see-into-the–future glasses and talk about how the District will affect downtown Boston in years to come.
Boston is seen as silk blouses and bow ties. People think of it as stodgy, buttoned-down. They don't think of it as a city of artists. The Literary District will change people's perception. Both Herbie Hancock and Doris Kearns Goodwin will be speaking at this year's Boston Book Festival, a literary event if ever there was one. And that certainly puts Boston on the map in a new way that the lit District is very, very happy to publicize.