Literature Live: The Experience and Cultural Value of Literary Performance Events, from Trade Shows to Festivals
With music, open mics and more, live performances are slowly returning to Chicago. From the Symphony and Lyric Opera Center to the Uptown Poetry Slam and the Schubas Tavern and so many other places, artists and audiences come back and create the unique magic of live performances. Chicago’s own history of live literature, including its status as the birthplace of slam poetry, may cause performers and audiences (and some academics) to reflect on the mechanics of live literary performances. These mechanisms, and the ways in which live literary events can foster community (and more), form the backbone of Ellen Wiles’ work. Literature Live: The Experience and Cultural Value of Literary Performance Events, from Trade Shows to Festivals, for the Palgrave’s Studies in Cultural Anthropology series.
Live Literature is a pretty decisive book, the kind of text that many of us have carried from class to class during our college or graduate days. But, unlike so many of those highlighted and dog-eared books, this one focuses on literature as a spoken form. Wiles here largely focuses on festivals and literary fairs rather than the functions of spoken word or slam poetry, but all are forms of live literary events, and all have at least a small part to play in. Live Literature.
Wiles starts Live Literature with a prologue centered on a reading she gave in an English library. (Wiles is English herself; her work is largely built around the live literary scene in the UK.) The first chapter serves as a sort of extended introduction, letting readers know exactly where Wiles plans to go. take us and how we’ll get there. “The Hay Festival: The Remote Welsh Field that Stages the Global Publishing Industry” is a long ethnographic study of the people attending and attending the Hay Festival, while “Polari Salon: A Literary Cabaret with an Activist Twist” does the same for the Salon LGBTQ + Polari in London.
In “Experiential Literary Ethnography: A Creative Approach to Unveiling Cultural Value,” Wiles explains some of the theories and methods underlying the ethnographic studies we have read throughout Live Literature, giving the book a solid academic foundation and positioning it in the wider world of literary and ethnographic studies. “Summarizing History: Models, Differences, Insights, Ideas” deepens this scholastic inclination, giving Wiles the power to deepen his research.
While Live LiteratureThe chapters are closely related, each could still stand as a stand-alone text. The ethnographic objective of the “Hay Festival” and the “Salon Polari” is an engaging look at how participants in live literary events interact with the texts, the authors (or the performers, as they are called at Polari). and with each other. (These are also, by far, the longest chapters in the book.) “Experiential Literary Ethnography” offers an abridged review of some of the theories and research that preceded Wiles to undertake the work she discusses in Live Literature. Wiles notes that “‘experiential literary ethnography” is a new term that I coined. Despite its relative novelty, however, it places it squarely in the realm of literary research and the humanities, which probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading. Live Literature.
Live Literature is a fascinating book, an exploration of the ways people interact with live literary events and a deep dive into live literature. Despite Wiles’ engaging writing and enthralling subject matter, however, it’s not the easiest read. What looks like random words and phrases are in bold or italics throughout the text. Words in bold and italics are perhaps the most prevalent in ethnographic sections, but they appear throughout the book. My copy is for review, and a later print may include a glossary for words in bold and italics, but I haven’t found anything about them in this edition. (Is it a printing decision? An editorial decision? An author’s edict? A way to emphasize particularly relevant information? I have no idea.) Are neurodivergent, they will probably slow down many readers, at least initially.
It would be interesting, especially in this time of COVID, to see further research exploring the ways in which live literary events translate (or don’t translate) into the digital realm. Does a chat feature enable any of the audience interactions Wiles is investigating here? Does tweeting a performance live lead to additional interactions, or is it still a far cry from the live literary events that Wiles has witnessed in his research? Likewise, as much as Wiles discusses questions of authenticity here, it would be interesting to see a deeper dive into the intersections of race, power, and literary festivals and fairs.
Wiles writes that his “research at Hay suggests that literary authenticity is multi-layered– or, at least, that it means different things to different people ”and does not require the printed word (133). How do interactions with authenticity change when stepping out of a space like the Hay Festival, which Wiles herself describes as “pretty much everything?” White. … And the majority seem to belong to the middle class ”(49)? And how does slam poetry or spoken poetry differ in its audience and interactions from the world Wiles has studied and described here?
Like many scholarly monographs, Live Literature has so much to offer readers that it can be a bit difficult to digest all at once. It is full of little gems and engaging scriptures, a fascinating portrait of a literary scene both old and new. There are also times when Live Literature one has the impression that he does not have enough. As a fan of literary theory, I would have liked a bit more information on how Wiles interacts with theories and how they shaped his research for Live Literature, although this is likely a niche complaint. But the material Wiles presents here is rich and varied, worthy of more than a read, and a great addition to both people who enjoy (and interpret) live literature, and literary studies in general. It’s not often that a book can be both a guide and a scientific assessment, and Wiles’ achievement is bound to be even more monumental than the book itself.
As live-action literature returns to Chicago (and beyond), Wiles’s Live Literature could serve more than one purpose. Some parts, especially the ethnographic sections of Wiles, could themselves be interpreted. (They would certainly make engaging topics for discussion.) The absence of any in-depth study of slam poetry or spoken poetry looks like a glaring omission in our city of slam and spoken word and Louder Than A Bomb, billed as the greatest youth poetry in the world. Festival. Nonetheless, Wiles’ discussions of her ethnographic work, and in particular literary experiential ethnography, the ethnographic concept she named and worked with in this book, could be of great use to Chicagoans interested in the study. study of the literary scene live from our city. Maybe someone could take experiential literary ethnography and turn it to the communities forged at Moulin Vert, for example, or among poets at slam poetry nights or spoken word gatherings. We can hope that Wiles’ work here can create space for further study.
Literature Live: The Experience and Cultural Value of Literary Performances, from Fairs to Festivals is available in bookstores and on the publisher’s website.