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Youthful energy infuses 11th edition of Brattleboro Literary Festival

BRATTLEBORO—The 11th annual Brattleboro Literary Festival is a three-day celebration of those who read books, those who write books, and of the books themselves.

This year’s festival, which begins on Friday, Oct. 12, includes readings, panel discussions, and special events, featuring emerging and established authors. All events are free and open to the public.

Although the festival has been phenomenally successful in past years, festival director Sandy Rouse this time wanted specifically to plan events for a younger audience.

“I do not mean children,” she says, because the festival has a long tradition of planning events for them. “But the twenty-something crowd. This group of people is very busy with their lives, raising children and, even those without kids, establishing careers.”

Rouse says she recently asked a younger friend who loved the festival why people her age rarely attended the readings.

“She then laughed and said she never saw that crowd at any of the events she supported in Brattleboro, such as the Women’s Film Festival,” says Rouse, who suspects that these other local events aren’t drawing this demographic for similar reasons.

“Also, they may fear sitting still for a reading doesn’t quite suit their active lifestyles,” she says.

“But I think it is possible to tempt them out to come,” Rouse says. “The dynamics for readings are different elsewhere — say, Brooklyn. There, readings are lively affairs where young people like to hang out with friends and drink exotic coffee drinks.”

The Brattleboro Literary Festival will generate excitement this year targeting a younger crowd than usually attends the festival through a number of special events.

Literary Death Match

On Friday, Oct. 12, at 8:30 p.m. in the Robert H. Gibson River Garden, Literary Death Match will be presented by Todd Zuniga, who co-founded the reading series in 2006 and has hosted performances all over the world. This year alone, events are scheduled in London, Oslo, New York, San Francisco, Berlin, Montreal, and Brattleboro.

KQED Arts has described the Literary Death Match as “four readers who read their own writing for seven minutes or less, and are then lovingly critiqued by three judges (oftentimes actors, comedians, authors, musicians, ballerinas) in the categories of literary merit, performance, and intangibles. The winner is then decided by a literary-skewed, game show-type finale to decide who wins the Literary Death Match crown.”

Deni Béchard, Matthew Dicks, Tayari Jones, and Victor Lavalle will perform their most electric writing in seven minutes or less before an audience and a panel of three all-star judges: Major Jackson, Stewart O’Nan, and Jane Yolen.

Rouse explains that after each pair of readings, the judges —focusing on literary merit, performance, and intangibles — take turns “spouting hilarious, off-the-wall commentary about each story, then select their favorite to advance to the finals.”

The two finalists then compete in the Literary Death Match finale, which trades in the show’s literary sensibility for an absurd and comical climax to determine who takes home the Literary Death Match crown.

“The final round could be any number of adventures — pin the cigar on Ernest Hemingway, a spelling bee with famous author names, paint by numbers, karaoke, or musical chairs,” says Rouse.

Flash fiction

On Saturday, Oct. 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the Hooker-Dunham Theater, the second new event, Flashing Lights, will showcase flash fiction.

Rouse says that flash fiction — a very short form of storytelling — is ideal for those who love to read or love to write but might not have time for either, and for those who love books and writing but hate long readings.

“Although the length may vary from writer to writer, editor to editor, some purists insist that it is a complete story told in [fewer] than 75 words [and] others claim 100 should be the maximum; yet for less-rigid flashers, anything under 1,000 words can be considered appropriate,” says Rouse.

Flashing Lights will feature a master of the form, Steve Almond, reading work, along with established and emerging flashers Randall Brown, Sarah Rose Etter, Kathy Fish, and Jacob White.

Both Literary Death Match and Flash Fiction will have a cash bar.

Rouse says that quite a few events other than traditional readings — still the backbone of the festival — will take place this year.

On Friday night, the Dianich Gallery, in the Hooker-Dunham alley, will host an opening reception for New England Broadside Exhibition.

The exhibit shows a number of poems that have been designed and hand-printed with letterpress type, creating “quite striking works,” says Rouse.

On Saturday at noon, Circus Smirkus will perform in the River Garden in honor of a new book celebrating its history, Circus Smirkus: 25 Years of Running Home to the Circus.

Later in that day, at 1:15 p.m. in the Hooker-Dunham Theater, Vermont Public Radio will present “Millennial Writers on Stage,” a co-presentation of the Young Writer’s Project. At 3:30 p.m., the Brooks Memorial Library will host a Do-It-Yourself publishing seminar with Steve Almond and Courtney Maum.

“A Community of Readers: Sharing Books through Blogs, Podcasts and Social Media,” will take place in the River Garden on Sunday at 12:15 p.m. and feature lunch with Robert Gray, Ann Kingman, and Courtney Maum.

“This will be a discussion to explore new and alternative ways readers are connecting to literature and each other through blogs, podcasts, and electronic literature,” Rouse says, noting that the theme “should especially appeal to the younger hip crowd.”

On Sunday, Oct. 14 at 4 p.m., also in the River Garden, an unusual marriage of jazz and verse will occur with The Blue Cat, featuring Don Davis, Joe Deleault and F.D. Reeve.

“Several jazz musicians play while poets read their work,” says Rouse. “They have beendoing this since 1972. Their work is sort of political, and kind of reminds me of what went on in the beat coffee houses of the fifties and early sixties.”

This year’s Brattleboro Literary Festival will include 45 writers, with another eight participating in the Write Action Local Author Showcase (1:15 to 2:45 p.m. Saturday).

Authors for 2012 will include winners of the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the Nebula Award and the New England Book Award, a multiple-award-winning National Geographic author, an iconic award-winning author who has written more than 300 books, a Newberry award-winning author, and a Caldecott honor winner.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #172 (Wednesday, October 3, 2012).

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