BY LISA MARIE BASILE
I spoke with Clare Smith Marash, the Founder and Director of Amp Lit Fest, which is co-produced by Lamprophonic and Summer on the Hudson. If you're free June 11, it's worth heading to the festival, which has a really great lineup, with panels. (See bottom of the post for more).
AmpLit Fest is, as their site says, "a free, daylong festival that brings authors of all backgrounds, styles, and levels of recognition to center stage. With readings, workshops, panels, and a community market, AmpLit Fest makes one of life’s most solitary acts — writing — a public celebration."
1. I love the idea of this festival – promoting new, fresh voices and emerging writers. So necessary. Literary scenes can, at times, feel repetitive and cliquey, so was it important to start from a place of celebrating other voices, new voices, diverse voices?
Definitely. The mission of Lamprophonic is to encourage a robust, diverse, and supportive literary community, so those objectives were always in our minds.
2. Is the focus on emerging writers answering to a larger issue in the NYC literary arena?
Lamprophonic’s flagship program is a reading series for emerging writers. I won’t claim it started anywhere too lofty - I was in graduate school when I started the series, getting my MFA while working as a bartender. The bar wanted to drum up business during a slow summer, so I suggested I bring some friends in for a reading, those friends being my classmates, who were emerging writers. Pretty quickly, though, I saw real value in protecting that space. There are many reading series in the city, but most - to my knowledge - have a hierarchical structure.
There’s an established headliner. I thought about how hard it was to get up there and read your work in front of strangers, but also how important it was. I wanted to encourage that impulse to share at every stage of a writer’s career.
By keeping the series wholly emerging writers, we can celebrate the artist-in-process and not make any kind of judgment on what it means to be successful or known, what that line is between emerging and emerged. We can avoid the hierarchy and create a space for newer writers to make connections outside of institutions, which I think also fosters a more inclusive community.
Anyway, that’s a really long way of saying that the emerging writer community is kind of Lamprophonic’s home base and we felt no reason to disregard that in AmpLit, though the festival has afforded us the opportunity to present people who we adore but would not necessarily consider themselves “emerging” and get those two parties side-by-side in a way that feels less tiered, to me, than wide-reaching. We’ll also be holding writing workshops, so we’ll be encouraging soon-to-be emerging writers to join the fun, too!
(See a list of performers here).
3. I love the idea of having a community market. What's that about?
For all we were able to do in this first run of the festival, there was so much more we wanted to do. There are so many literary-driven organizations in New York who do great work and if we had the time and resources, we’d be partnering with all of them. That’s rather unrealistic, though, so the community market was our way of extending our reach, offering a space for these great entities to share their efforts with our audiences, even if we couldn’t present them or formally partner with them at the festival.
4. You are also offering a panel on diversity. This is such a necessary area of focus, and one that has been neglected for some time by many bigger institutions. Can you talk a little more about that – as well as prepping for and choosing what panels you are offering?
Again, if only we could do more! From the start, I felt it was really important to have a discussion about diversity in the literary field — because how could you not? It’s real, serious problem in the industry and, particularly if we were going to set out to amplify new and fresh voices in the field, we must acknowledge how many voices have been systemically muted and the work being done to change that.
As for our other panel, YA Grows Up: A Genre For All, that came out of my desire to reach audiences who maybe don’t consider themselves “literary.” Because what does that mean, really, to be literary? YA seems to be this across-the-divide genre that engages people who don't consider themselves big readers as well as the passionate literati. It’s a fantastically popular genre and has now churned out repeated blockbusters, too. It got me thinking about how categories so often end up having all these additional implicit messages. 'Young Adult’ signals a lot for people, but not necessary does it signal an intended audience. So then I wanted to talk about the categorization’s use and usefulness in the market, and therefore talk about the business of books. Because it is a business, as well as an art.
5. You have so many major literary sponsors! What do you think this says about the state of literary arts in NY?
Enthusiasm! I was totally stoked to put this festival together and yet, for whatever reason, remained completely surprised that other people were just as jazzed. Anyone who supported the festival in anyway - from donating books to being represented by an author or staff member, we asked if they wanted to be acknowledged on the website and almost everyone said yes. Not to promote themselves, but to say this was something they were behind, to say they were happy to be there. Which I think is amazing.
Throughout this whole process, we’ve gotten so few ‘no’s; it’s rather incredible. Or biggest hurdle was competing with wedding season (we had several people who wanted to participate but were out to town for a wedding on the 11th). It just shows you how much this community is built on passion. We all just want to talk about this stuff all the time and are so happy when a forum appears in which to do it!
6. What do you want the community – writers and listeners alike – to take away from the fest?
Many things big and small. I want people to have fun. I want them to learn something. I want them to feel inspired. But if I had to choose one overarching thing, I think I want, at the end of the day, for literature to feeling more inviting to everyone. Everyone has a story to tell, and maybe we’ll get a few more people encouraged to try, or get a few more people to spend a bit more time with a book in their very busy lives, or get people to think about what influences their reading choices and change it up. We’re here to remind everyone just how much a good story can offer us.
Clare Smith Marash is the winner of the Avery Hopwood Award in Short Fiction and numerous fellowships, Clare received her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Columbia University. Clare currently freelances as a writer and editor. She has written about topics ranging from particle physics to political music, and has taught at the high school and university level. You can learn more about her writing and work by perusing claresmithmarash.com