Amp Lit Fest Today in NYC
Co-produced by Lamprophonic and Summer on the Hudson, AmpLit Fest is a free, daylong festival that brings authors of all backgrounds, styles, and levels of recognition to center stage. With readings, workshops, panels, and acommunity market, AmpLit Fest makes one of life’s most solitary acts — writing — a public celebration.
Below you will find an interview with Lamprophonic Founder & Director Claire Smith Marash.
How did you first develop the idea for Amp Lit Fest?
I met Zhen Heinemann, Director of Public Programming for Summer on the Hudson, last year, and we collaborated to put on a monthly reading and discussion series in Riverside Park called Literary Lounge. That was a ton of fun and allowed us to test the waters of doing literary-oriented programming as part of Summer on the Hudson, which they hadn’t done in the past. At the end of the summer, Zhen asked if I’d like to go bigger – she thought a full day of literary programming could work, and I had to agree! So I said, heck yeah!, and began quietly reaching out to a group of people who essentially made up my dream team, people who I wanted in this with me and who I believed would be essential to making it great. Thankfully, they all agreed!
Who are your principal collaborators, and what were everyone’s roles?
Well, Summer on the Hudson is our co-producer, so they’re our primary collaborator, fiscally and functionally. Within Lamprophonic, we have the begged-for producing team mentioned above: Katie Longofono, Laura Esther Wolfson, Caty Gordon, Drew Seeger, Abi Inman, and Lampro’s Poetry Curator Sarah Sala. They’ve made this a reality. We’re a small, motivated team with an all-hands-on-deck approach, so the only “role” I can ascribe to any of them is jack-of-all-trades.
Why is it important to share literature with the public?
Well, it’s important to me because I love books. I love words and the subtly it takes to craft a powerful story. I want to talk writing all day. But I am hoping we’re reaching people who don’t necessarily love books at AmpLit Fest, too (or don’t, yet.). I think the literary world can be off-putting – uninclusive, highfalutin, too locked in certain perspectives. It can feel unwelcoming and I think getting out into the world a bit, having fun with literature, inviting newer voices to share alongside the rockstars, trying to shine a brighter light on writers who perhaps haven’t gotten the attention they deserve, that widens the spotlight – it brings things back to reality and we are reminded not only that there are a plethora of voices and styles out there, but that literature is just one way we tell stories, and telling stories is the human experience.
What is the role of literature in our culture as our media becomes increasingly digital?
Again, I think digital outlets – meaning both writing shared digitally and multimedia platforms just widen that spotlight, allow more perspectives and voices and such to be heard. Perhaps it’s naive, but I don’t think literature is going anywhere just because the formats have expanded and adapted. I think my biggest concern with digital culture is how it’s made us more comfortable with the idea “free” content. It changes the financial reality of the creative class, which changes the make-up of the creative class, which chances the output. It can be challenging cycle, but it doesn’t take away from the the creativity and artistry required to put words to a page/screen.
Is it hard for new voices to find audiences? Is helping writers find audiences–and vice versa–part of your ambition with Amp Lit?
Yes and yes. It’s a challenge for any writer to build an audience outside of his/her network – and skill is only one small factor in being discovered. Countless other factors are at play, too. Through AmpLit, we’re certainly hoping to address some of those other factors, or at least provide an opportunity for new writers and readers to find one another.
What does an outdoor festival offer that other reading series and modes of presentation cannot?
Scale. Lamprophonic runs a (semi-)monthly reading series for emerging writers and every month my co-curator and I lament only having six slots to offer writers to present when we get so many more worthy submissions. I feel passionate about protecting a reading space just for emerging voices, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want the chance to invite veteran writers or present a variety of performances. AmpLit will have 14 events in the day – a mix of performances, workshops, readings, and panels. We get to present all the kinds of events we’ve dreamed up in one place. That allows us to invite people who might be interested in one element of that and expose them to another, while also fully sating someone who’s just dying for a day of awesome literary fun. It expands our footprint and allows us to offer exposure across the field.
Is there something intrinsically difficult about transitioning something from the page into a public performance?
I think it’s an element that’s overlooked. I personally don’t consider myself a natural performer and didn’t consider the performance of a reading until I was hosting my own series. We writers tend to get so granular in the craft, we can forget that the ear, particularly without the support of the eye (or touch) doesn’t process things the same way. I think there are certain pieces that are less apt to do well in a performance – that ask more of a listener than others. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be performed; it’s just something to think about. We were particularly excited to explore the idea of literature as performance at AmpLit and even have a workshop about performing the written word so writers can practice those skills themselves!
What do you love most about Riverside Park?
The beauty. You look one way and you’ve got the Hudson. You look the other way, you’ve got this magnificent city. And in between is life; Riverside Park is filled with people enjoying life – out for a run, playing what their kids, walking the dog, having a drink at the cafe. It’s an immensely joyful and relaxing place.
What were some of the biggest difficulties in developing this festival?
I have to say, thanks in great part to Lamprophonic’s incredible producing team – Katie Longofono, Laura Esther Wolfson, Caty Gordon, Drew Seeger, and Abi Inman – the support of Summer on the Hudson, and the excitement of our participants that developing this festival has been remarkably smooth. Say what you will about literary culture, it’s filled with passionate people. People who will sacrifice their time and energy just to talk about what they love for an afternoon, and that’s the most comforting and humbling part of this all. Whenever I got stressed about my own time and energies going into it – and finding the time and funding (and overcoming the fear of taking on such a project) were probably the biggest challenges for me – I’d talk to someone else involved and remember that we were all in it for the same reason, because we wanted to be, and then it was easy to dive back in.
Is there anyone in particular that you are most excited to hear this weekend?
I’m utterly thrilled by our line-up, and by the variety of events we’re able to offer. I love that in this one day someone can come and catch a improv group and theater performance, can hear a pre-release snippet of an upcoming book or hear a favorite author discuss his/her craft, that he/she can explore the behind-the-scenes literary landscape through our panels and, creativity sparked, try out some new ideas workshops. That’s what’s most thrilling to me and I hope people will come out and partake in it all! They will not be disappointed!