I was a guest on Interviewing Authors, a new podcast hosted by Tim Knox. We had an interesting discussion about author discovery by location and how authors use place in fiction.
I’ve been forced to think about place much more than usual recently. The Economic Development Office of Connecticut (EDC) asked me to join the state’s committee on placemaking, and last week, the group of 80 citizens gathered in the Old Statehouse Building in Hartford to talk about how Connecticut could create places where people would want to live, work and visit. Governor Dannel Malloy was there as well, giving the opening remarks before we broke into smaller groups for more intimate discussions.
As people talked about the places that made them and why those places were so instrumental, you got the sense that placemaking meant different things to different people. The crowd was arts centric, consisting mainly of people on the board at arts and cultural organizations from around the state. Funding for the arts, access to the arts, education about the arts came up a lot. But there were also a fair amount of entrepreneurs and educators sprinkled around the room, and my group talked a lot about investing in infrastructure–public transit, high speed internet, job development–which I guess is what you’d expect. Then the conversation drifted to efforts to give people ownership over their community. Give people a stake in their neighborhoods and they will step up to help make it a wonderful and unique place to live, work and visit.
This got me thinking about SeeClilckFix, a government engagement app that lets citizens report non-emergency issues to their local government that then responds to each individual issue until it is resolved. Things like potholes, broken street lights and garbage dumping are commonly reported issues, but people also make requests for park and bus benches, make beautification requests and even suggest policing policy changes. Some users have been taking it one step further by organizing neighborhood cleanup days and snow shoveling patrols on the site and on third-party apps that use the SeeClickFix API. (disclaimer: I’m currently participating in a paid fellowship at SeeClickFix where I am learning how to run a tech startup from the company’s senior management team).
The idea behind SeeClickFix is that citizens are more likely to care about their neighborhoods if they are an active participant in the community, interacting with their neighbors, business owners and local government. Giving people an opportunity to stake a claim, take responsibility and engage with each other makes a place an attractive place to live, work and visit. Government works better, people want to live in interesting places, entrepreneurs are attracted to the area and local jobs are created.
How can we combine this community engagement with an interest in the arts?
It’s easy to see how placingmaking through art can be a great way to get people to enjoy a place, but getting citizens to participate in art can lead to even better engagement. Bussing inner-city kids to see the Yale Symphony is a start, but a more powerful placemaking strategy would be to get the state’s poet laureate to come to New Haven to lead writing courses for young, aspiring writers, poets and rap artists. Other cities have used this concept by encouraging local graffiti artists to create murals on buildings in urban centers, getting people from the community to beautify the places they live while discouraging tagging. Youth are exposed to art and culture, but in a way that makes sense in the world in which they live and encourages a stake in the community.
So how can Placing Literature help? I don’t know. We’ve talked about making outreach to teachers and school librarians to show them how to use our site to build curriculum around literature and place. Maybe we step up those efforts. How cool would it be for a high school english class to read literature that takes place in their neighborhood, map the locations where they take place and then go visit those places so they can compare the fictional place to the real place? In addition to giving students an enhanced understanding of the book and setting, the lesson would give them a better appreciation for these places and encourage them to participate in the community. The effect would be a citizenry that wants to preserve local culture and make their neighborhoods a wonderful place to live, work and visit.
I thinks it’s time to make it happen. If you are an educator and would like to help, please contact us at info (at) placingliterature.com.
It’s no secret that social media is the promotion tool of choice for authors today. The ability to connect directly with readers takes the middle men (publishers, promoters, booksellers) out of the equation, allowing authors to interact with their fans on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. Indie authors have become masters at creating these reader engagements, allowing them to control their own marketing, promotions and sales strategy without interference from Madison Avenue.
Our IndieReader Author Spotlight in April, J. S. Cooper is a great example of this shift. A contemporary romance author with several titles on the USA Today bestsellers list, Cooper interacts with her fans by giving them daily updates on her writing schedule, appearances and media hits, but more importantly, she shares vignettes from her personal life and vents online just like everyone else. In a way, Cooper is giving her fans the same insight into her personality as the characters in her books. And that can be powerful for both the author and the reader. As a result, Cooper has 10,000 followers on Facebook, 3,000 followers on Twitter and 30,000 ratings on Goodreads.
Placing Literature will be tapping into Cooper’s vast social network over the course of April, encouraging readers to map the places from Cooper’s 48 novels and short stories. This is a little different from our Author Spotlights in the past. Instead of mapping the novels herself, Cooper will encourage her followers to map her novels for her, giving them greater insight into the reading experience and encouraging them to think about the role of place in romance fiction.
The first two collections highlight literature from Queensland, Australia, and the Catalonia Region of Spain
NEW HAVEN, CONN., April 1, 2014—Placing Literature today launched a series of literary collections that highlight novels that take place in specific locations such as a city, country or region. Enabling author discovery by location, the collections will allow readers from around the world find authors in a completely different way—by place. The first two Placing Literature Collections—Queensland, Australia, and the Catalonia Region of Spain—launched today on PlacingLiterature.com and are curated by the State Library of Queensland and Espais Escrits (Written Spaces: the Catalan Literary Heritage Network). The 500 places mapped by the two organizations have been added to Placing Literature’s existing database of 1,900 literary places around the world.
Location-based author discovery is a new concept that allows readers to find new authors and titles by a particular place. A person who is a fan of crime literature in Detroit can discover other books that take place nearby. Or a tourist traveling to London can investigate novels that take place in the city to get a better sense of the people who live there.
“Knowing where a particular piece of fiction takes place gives people a heightened reading experience where they can empathize with the characters and get a better sense of their culture, history and motivations,” said Anna Raunik, Executive Manager of Discovery, the State Library of Queensland. “Placing Literature takes it one step further by actually allowing readers to walk in the shoes of a character while going to the public spaces where they relax, the restaurants they frequent, and the places they call home.”
The two new literary collections are live on PlacingLiterature.com.
Placing Literature is the global clearinghouse for location-based literary information, collecting crowdsourced information about books and the places where they take place—and displaying them all on an interactive world map. Creating local collections gives libraries, cultural organizations and researchers a platform in which to filter and promote local literature with a global audience. The Queensland Collection includes works of fiction by David Malouf, Banjo Paterson and David Williamson while the Catalonia Collection includes novels, short stories and poems by Catalan authors such as Josep Pla and Maria Angels Anglada.
“It’s extremely important to preserve the literature of a place—especially when that literature is written in a minority language such as Catalan,” said Mireia Munmany Muntal of Espais Escrits. “Including our data on Placing Literature allows readers and researchers from around the world to discover novels written in the Catalan language by Catalan authors.”
Placing Literature is also putting out a request for data for future location-based collections of literary places. Libraries, universities, cultural organizations and researchers should contact firstname.lastname@example.org if they have existing data or would like to work with Placing Literature to create content through local programming.
About Placing Literature
Placing Literature is a crowdsourcing website that maps literary scenes that take place in real locations. Map a scene from your favorite novel or explore the literature of a place at PlacingLiterature.com. Follow us at Facebook.com/PlacingLiterature and on Twitter at @PlacingLit.
I like it when things come full circle. I like the symmetry. I appreciate the natural order of things. I try to live a balanced life. In fact, my nickname is Even Steven. When Katie and I started researching the connection between fictional stories and the real places where they are set, Brian Freeman was one of the first authors we studied. And now a year later we’re introducing Freeman as our R.J. Julia’s Author Spotlight for April. I couldn’t be more excited.
The Twin Ports of Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis., was one of the regions where we focused our initial research–San Francisco and New Haven were the other two–and it became clear that Freeman is a literary legend in the area. Locals are proud that Freeman sets many of his Jonathan Stride novels in places they know–Duluth Central High School, the Kitchi Gammi Club, the Aerial Lift Bridge and the “Stride Cottage” as it is known on Park Point. Katie and I even visited many of these places while conducting our research.
Fast forward a year and Freeman himself is on our site mapping the new Jonathan Stride novel, The Cold Nowhere. He’ll also encourage his fans to map the places from his other novels throughout April, engaging with them over social media as they plot and share.