Tag Archives: Joyce Carol Oates

Accessibility no guarantee of diversity, Book Festival proves

17 Oct

The second annual Boston Book Festival, held yesterday in Copley Square, attracted an impressive crowd even in spite of Obama’s appearance at the nearby Hynes Convention Center. My initial reaction to the bustling square and long queues for author talks was one of pride and enthusiasm — Boston may be a tiny city, but the turnout proved that it is a fiercely literary one nonetheless.

Yet looking around as I waited for Tom Perrotta (author of Election, Little Children) and Dennis Lehane (author of Shutter Island, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone) to discuss the experience of having one’s novels turned into films, I began to feel uneasy. The crowd packing the enormous John Hancock Hall was remarkably homogenous, most akin, I would say, to that at a broadway show. But in contrast to such middle-to-high-brow events, all of the festival’s programs were free. Why was such a small (and sadly predictable) pocket of Greater Boston the only one present?

I certainly don’t blame the Boston Book Festival for the make-up of its attendees. Their ability to put together such an impressive and extensive day of events and activities at no charge whatsoever should be applauded. Presenting Joyce Carol Oates and other eminent writers to an audience for free is no small feat, and my thanks extends to all those who donated their time and money to make it possible. But most of those in attendance looked as though they could have pulled together the money for a ticket, anyway. Clearly, offering an arts event for free isn’t enough to draw the diverse crowd it should.

What, if anything, can be done to change this reality? How can we make reading, something accessible to all via not only public libraries, but events such as these (not to mention the plethora of free author talks held regularly throughout the area), something that everyone actually accesses?

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