So I braved the wind and the rain on Saturday to go to the first annual Boston Book Festival. It was an all-day event held at and around Copley Square, with exhibits, lectures, readings, free food, and interactive events for people who write or enjoy poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Oh, and there were plenty for kids to do, too.
So below is a report of my “field trip,” complete with photos. Pardon my photography – I’m not the best, but I try!
I was originally planning to go with a friend, but she had to cancel due to a family emergency. But I still wanted to go, so I took the train into Boston’s Back Bay station despite the icky weather. The train came 30 minutes late (go figure!), so I didn’t make it into Boston till 1:00pm. At least it had stopped raining.
Copley Square was packed when I got there – and you could tell that there weren’t many passersby. Clearly this event had gotten lots of promotion in the city, and people were to see what it was all about. There were two (or three?) rows of exhibits and vendors at the square, all in small white tents because of the weather. Some tents were for the event sponsors, like State Street, E-Ink, and Green Mountain Coffee; or local media like Mix 104.1, Boston Globe, and NECN. Most of the tents were for literary-related exhibits: local literary journals selling discounted subscriptions, small booksellers with selected books for sale, city colleges/universities with information on their writing programs, etc. And if you were hungry, you could get some Legal Seafood Clam Chowder or Brigham’s ice cream – for free. 😉
The festival had close to 30 events planned that afternoon, each housed in one of four buildings bordering Copley Square: Trinity Church, Old South Church, Boston Public Library, and the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel. Here’s a list of some of the events, just to give you an idea:
- Spoken Word Showcase
- StoryPlace (kids’ event)
- Matters of Faith
- Book Worms and Net Crawlers
- The Power of Place: Struggles in a Strange Land
- The Examined Life: Memoir
- Thrillers and Killers
- Eat Your Words
- Jumpstart Your Writing (limited seating workshops)
I didn’t have a lot of time, since I wanted to be back home before it was too dark. So I went right away to one event I had my heart set on: The Guided Open Mic, held at the Library. It was hosted by Hank Phillipi Ryan, Channel 7 investigative reporter by day and mystery author by night. (She actually has three mystery novels published – I never knew that!)
Here’s how it went: Attendees who wanted to read signed up before the event. When it began, Ms. Ryan introduced herself and her books briefly, then gave her top 10 tips for reading at open mic events. Then, she called the readers up in the order they signed the sheet. (I was #26, so I had no chance. Oh well!) Each reader had 3 minutes tops to read original work: poetry, short story, excerpt from a longer story of any kind, etc. When they finished, Ms. Ryan critiqued their performances, telling them what she liked and what could be improved.
Also, just before the event, I saw someone I knew… My local writers group had talked about the festival briefly at our previous meeting, but no one had mentioned anything about going at the time. Well, just before the open mic began, one of the group members walked in! So that was a pleasant surprise, and it felt more comfortable sitting next to someone I knew.
After the Open Mic, I walked around Copley Square a little more, took some pictures, and visited some of the exhibits. (Oh, and got some ice cream. *lol*) The weather had improved drastically by then: It was warmer and clearing up, and very windy! I also spent a few minutes by the Festival Stage near Trinity Church. Musical performers were scheduled throughout the day at this stage, and the band I got to see was Johnny Duke and the Aces. A local blues band with some jazz, rock, and funk influences. Pretty good stuff. Of course, they had the wind to contend with at that point. I was afraid the tent was going to fall down on them at one point!
3:30 came around – time for Writer Idol at Old South Church. To describe the event: Attendees could submit the first page of their working manuscript, and during Idol pages were selected at random to be read out loud by a professional actor to a panel of judges. Not Simon, Randy, and Paula, obviously; here, the judges were local literary agents and editors. The judges would listen to each reading either until the end or, if they really didn’t like it, until two of the judges raised their hands – meaning they would have rejected the story! Then the judges would explain what they didn’t like and offer suggestions on how to improve that first page.
This event must have been hotly anticipated – I arrived just a minute or two before it started and took the last empty seat. My friend from the writers group had submitted the first page of her novel-in-progress, so I didn’t want to miss it. And Writer Idol did not disappoint. It was extremely entertaining, and very informative. One of the agents was hilarious, and between his comments and some of the readings people were laughing to the point of tears. I think we all imagine literary agents to be tough cookies, but this event really proves how difficult it is to grab their attention and never let go. Unfortunately I had to catch my train back home before Writer Idol finished. But if the BBF organization had Writer Idol next year, I’d definitely see it again.
All in all, I had a great time at the Boston Book Festival. I’m sure it’ll be held next year; the turnout was great, and there was something for everyone. If I were to go next year (which I’m already planning on it), I’d plan on spending the whole day there and get as much out of it as I can.
Here’s a link to the festival, in case you’re interested: http://www.bostonbookfest.org/index.php.
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