Monday, September 26, 2016

Culture Corner 9.26.16

Culture for the Masses: An Inside Look at the Brooklyn Book Festival

There is an enduring idea in our society that Literature, Culture, and the Arts are only accessible to those in the highest income and class brackets. In many ways, this is true--Museum access fees are generally hefty, higher education often requires tens of thousands of dollars, and even the time necessary for enjoying such things is a luxury. Even in a diverse and culturally dense city like New York, access to the arts is difficult. We may be closer to many of the cultural happenings, but the price tag is still completely out of reach for many. The Slice Literary Conference in Downtown Brooklyn, for example, charged upwards of 200 dollars for entry to its offerings. The New Yorker charges separate fees, usually around 50 dollars, for each of its dozens of events at the magazine's October festival.  

There are, however, spots of brightness--The Met and the Museum of Natural History have "suggested" entry fees that really amount to 'pay what you can;' Shakespeare in the Park has free (though often difficult to get) tickets; and of course, the Brooklyn Book Festival. 

For anyone who doesn't know, the Brooklyn Book Festival is an annual event taking place over the third weekend in September in Downtown Brooklyn. The festival has grown over the years and now offers dozens of panels featuring over 300 authors, as well as a dedicated Children's Day, a YA stage, and a comics stage. This past year, the Festival welcomed National Book Award nominee Adam Haslet, 2016 MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Lauren Redniss, National Book Award Winner for Young People's Literature Jacqueline Woodson, as well as living greats Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, and Salmon Rushdie. 

Source: @bkbookfest on instagram

This year, the Festival's co-producers were kind enough to choose me as one of their summer interns. As an intern, I was given the title of "Author Coordinator," and I was essentially in charge of handling all author, publicist, and publisher communications which was a surprisingly large undertaking. I also got to do some copywriting, and I worked a handful of events including both festival days. I learned a lot during my stay: where my skills are, where my interests lay, how incredibly stressful event planning can be--but perhaps most importantly I learned that there are at least a few truly dedicated people working towards providing free and diverse cultural content to wide audiences. 

The Book Festival provides a wide breadth of content each year, from comics to criticism to romance writing to wartime storytelling, cultivating its author list to include international writers from many ethnicities, racial backgrounds, and sexual orientations. I witnessed the staff struggle many times to find the perfect mix of voices for a panel--in fact, the Festival might be the only place in the US where you would be hard-pressed to find a single panel of only straight white men. (Interestingly, the staff is constantly harassed by some members of the alt-right for this commitment to diversity). In addition to the small staff, the Festival relies on several boards--Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, etc.--to find authors and plan panels. These boards consist entirely of writers and publishers who volunteer their time. To me, at least, it is very heartwarming to know that there are in fact people who care, and who want to provide free, entertaining cultural content to the masses, ranging from high literature to genre fiction to comics. 

Where else are you going to meet the kindly Pigeon Man? (x) 

There shouldn't be class barriers to enjoy cultural content. Not everything can be free, of course, but is it absurd to ask that at least some fun stuff should be affordable? The best way to push against the class barrier is to show up to affordable cultural events, and prove that there is a demand. No matter your interests, or your budget, you can find something fun, educational, and enlightening at the Brooklyn Book Festival from famous award winning authors to new up-and-comers you may have not found otherwise. I highly recommend everyone check it out next year, and if you can volunteer for the day--you might even meet your favorite author! (Also, students should watch out for their internship posting this spring. I have from a very good source that they're partial to Brooklyn College students). 

Thanks for reading,

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