Host a Modern-Day Literary Salon

by BUST Magazine

Originating in the 17th century, literary salons were once the perfect training ground for aspiring authors, helping them improve their writing by getting feedback and criticism from the greats. (If you made it into Gertrude Stein’s super-elite salon in 1920s Paris, you were definitely hot shit.) Now, many lit lovers are organizing readings to connect with their communities. These salons, which are often free, erase the gap between audience and artist—they’re all about stimulating conversations in which everyone’s voice is heard. We talked to some experts to figure out how to make your modern-day salon a success.

  • DO choose a location that’s right for you. The founders of the monthly Brooklyn-based salon The Shed open up their own homes for their events. “There’s almost no separation between audience and storyteller,” says co-founder Jason Fried, “and that creates an intimate, supportive environment.” However, you might prefer the atmosphere of a gallery, the backdrop of a bookstore, or a boisterous bar.
  • DO limit your presenters. Keeping each reading time to around eight minutes allows readers enough time to share without tiring the listeners. Adding a Q&A session at the end of each presentation also helps participants feel their voices are being heard. “A Q&A allows everybody to really dive into the material,” says Vica Miller, founder of N.Y.C.’S Vica Miller Literary Salons, which take place several times a year.
  • DO pick a theme for the evening. Whether you organize the presentations by genre (drama, comedy), form (poetry, short story, memoir), or topic (food, fashion, sports), giving your guests a theme will help them prepare, says Fried.
  • DON’T skimp on the wine! Most salonnières like to serve alcohol, and sometimes food. If a venue is kind enough to host you, Miller suggests sticking to white wine to minimize spill- related damage and excessive rowdiness. If you invite guests into your home, you could follow The Shed’s example by providing a keg and cooking some homemade dishes.
  • DO get your name out there. Start a mailing list and send out a newsletter announcing upcoming gatherings—building an online presence is key. Not only does it bring out more friendly faces, but it gives you a chance to network. Chiwoniso Kaitano-Price, co-founder of Brooklyn’s The Salon, gained great connections after promoting her events. “I made an effort to network with other writers, salonnières, editors, and publicists, so I can get the scoop on new stuff coming out, and get my hands on [new books] before other people,” she says. Afterward, show off your hard work by posting photos or recordings from events on your blog or Facebook page.

By Tess Duncan

Photos from a Vica Miller Literary Salon held at 287 Spring Art Gallery & Performance Space

This review appears in the Aug/Sept 2013 issue of BUST Magazine with Janelle Monáe. Subscribe now.

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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