The Deal: The Official Magazine of The London Book Fair, Autumn 2007
After too many readings in drafty bookshops with audiences more interested in how to get published than his novel, Patrick Neate decided to do something radical: he launched Book Slam, a “night club for grown ups” with DJs and bands performing alongside writers.
Three years on, Book Slam had to move to a larger venue – Neighbourhood in London’s trendy Notting Hill – to pack in the 300 plus punters who come to party and listen. “I wanted to reconnect readers with writers,” Neate explains. “Books are part of popular culture as opposed to high culture, and I wanted an event that reflected that.”
As well as live bands and DJs, the cool crowd drawn to Book Slam on teh last Thursday of every month have this year enjoyed readings from Irvine Welsh, Gautam Malkani and Helen Oyeyemi.
But what is really revolutionary about Neate’s night out is not the venue. It is the sense that each event is curated, its components carefully planned to appeal to a crowd publishers have difficulty reaching: young, hip urbanites.
Melanie Abrahams of Renaissance One, which runs the popular Limings, says curating events rather than merely scheduling readings is vital to reach new audiences for authors. “I’m interested in the idea of glamorous but at the same time responsive events that really engage people,” she explains.
Limings do just that. Based on a Trinidadian cultural institution, they mash up Caribbean carnival sensibilities with dance music and poetry readings. Between sets by famous names like John Agard and not so famous names like Aoife Mannix, the audience is invited to chat, meet the artists or dance over a beer supplied by sponsors Guinness. It creates a sense of involvement lacking at many literary events and explains why Renaissance One has been able to pack in up to 1,000 people at its gatherings.
The hip lit nightclub movement is now spreading overseas – Book Slam has run events in Australia and the Liming, which also started in London, has spread to Miami and toured seven other countries with great success.
The idea of books being a natural fit with music and film is why the Mean Fiddler organisation, one of the biggest live events companies in Europe, has pioneered a new kind of music festival, Latitude. Launched last year, the festival in July brings books to audiences more usually found wading through the mud of Glastonbury.
“It’s like the whole arts section of your Sunday newspaper brought to life,” enthuses Latitude arts co-ordinator Tania Harrison.
A firm believer in the idea of curating events to give the festival a distinctive atmosphere, she adds: “I think there is a real cultural expansion going on and it’s exciting for people to go to the festival and find culture outside its normal arena.”
It is a sentiment Neate relates to, and another reason he rebelled against those drafty readings. “If books only exist in the landscape of the review pages and Radio 4 that is really sad,” he says.
* Book Slam an be contacted through its website http://www.bookslam.com/ Renaissance one through http://www.renaissanceone.com/ and Latitude through the Mean Fiddler Organisation, http://www.meanfiddler.com