A nighttime ‘lit crawl’ lures book lovers out to play
In the tweedy, book-loving metropolis that is Boston, there are plenty of venues where literature plays a starring role. Avid readers don’t have to go far to find readings and book clubs in bookstores, coffeeshops, and lecture halls.
But if Boston really is the Athens of America, why not extend that literary life beyond the libraries and ivory towers? Why not bring it into boxing gyms, hat stores, or hair salons?
On the eve of the Boston Book Festival, the organizers of a new event are looking to do just that. They’re calling it the Lit Crawl, and in its inaugural outing next week, it will summon bookworms out of their armchairs and into the city, to experience interactive literary events in unconventional settings.
The crawl is a short one, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 13 at various locations around Newbury Street. Local businesses of all varieties will be opening their doors after hours for word-centric games and multimedia presentations. There’s no charge to attend, and many venues will be providing complementary beer, wine, and snacks.
The crawl is part of a larger national effort started in San Francisco by the nonprofit Litquake, a literary festival hosting similar events in California since 1999. Litquake has acted as a supporting organization for events in cities all over the country, from Austin, Texas, to New York City. This year, the authors Alysia Abbott, who is the director of Boston’s Literary Cultural District, and James Sullivan, a former staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, decided to bring the event to Boston. (Both writers have contributed as freelancers to the Globe.)
Abbott said she hopes the crawl moves away from the standard model of book readings in a cafe or panel discussions in a library and gets readers and writers commingling in interesting spaces.
“What we’re trying to do is have this ‘moveable feast’ that’s very free and accessible for people to pop in and share this experience,” she said.
Events on the schedule include a virtual tour of Boston through the lens of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” an entirely improvised show in the style of Jane Austen at the Frye store, an Edgar Allen Poe reading in a cemetery, and a James Joyce dramatization in a hat shop.
Cahal Stephens, an actor and cofounder of the theater group Here Comes Everybody Players, said this is his first time participating in such an event. He hopes the setting makes James Joyce a little less daunting for the uninitiated. “We’re going to play some games with hats,” he said, “and we use music and audience participation, so it should be a bit of fun.”
“I feel like Boston in general is too uptight,” he said. “[Having an event in a hair salon] was one of the things that attracted me to it. I love the idea of getting the literary world out of the library and the bookstores and the classrooms and getting it into the city where it belongs.”
Abbott said pulling the whole thing together and getting local businesses involved was a natural progression, because the commercial spaces would otherwise sit idle after closing. Most of the venues, like Title Boxing Club, don’t have to do much to accommodate the incoming hordes of readers.
“I’ve got 55 bags at 100 pounds each, so I’m not dropping those,” said Cam Andrews, chief operating officer at Title, which will play host to a sports writing panel.
Andrews said he wasn’t interested in hosting just any event. It had to be one that respected his gym’s history and the sport of boxing as a whole. He said he benefits from the crawl by getting people from the community into the building who might not otherwise consider taking a class.
Abbott said the response to the crawl has been above and beyond what the organizers expected. They plan to make the event an annual celebration of Boston’s literary cultural presence.
“I do think that there’s a hunger for this,” Abbott said. “Maybe Boston is historically more of a culturally conservative place, and so [in other Lit Crawl cities like] Austin it makes sense because people want to keep Austin weird. But Boston doesn’t have weirdness as currency so much. . . . Boston is a city of incredible civic pride, though. So there is a lot of excitement, like ‘Hell yeah, we should do this.’ ”