When Kristina Newman-Scott took over as director of programs for the Boston Center for the Arts in January, she was surprised at its lack of literary offerings.
SOCIAL NETWORK The Boston Center for the Arts’ new literary series will be less about stodgy readings and more about conversations with smart people. Its first installment features author Ann Hood and a panel discussion about cheating.
"I think of music and art and film and literature as parts of a whole," she told me Tuesday. "I thought the community would respond to a literary series."
Newman-Scott didn't want to overlap with Boston's legion of existing literary events. "Let's kick this off in a way that's not heavy-handed, that's not trying to be academic, that's not trying to be too cool," she said. "Let's get smart people together — writers, spoken-word artists — to talk about stuff that's going on in their lives. Let's make it really casual and social and fun."
So on Thursday, writer/activist/chef Catherine Blinder — Newman-Scott's former boss at the Real Art Ways nonprofit arts center in Hartford — will guest-curate the BCA's first literary event: a panel and Q&A about cheating.
Ann Hood, bestselling author of The Knitting Circle (soon to be a movie starring Katherine Heigl) will talk about romantic infidelity. Paul Hochman, a journalist and the Today Show's technology editor, will talk about cutting-edge cheating in sports. Poet and Golden Handcuffs Review editor Ravi Shankar — not to be confused with the 91-year-old sitar player — will read a poem he wrote especially for the panel, and discuss the root causes of cheating as they relate to ethnic America.
Just don't expect too much reading. Panels are "just more entertaining," Blinder told me.
"In my life, I have been to thousands of readings, and 80 percent of the time, I'm trying to sit there and listen," she said. "Any audience that comes to a literary event is looking for a conversation. The old kind of reading is really a concept that doesn't hope to hold folks anymore, and it certainly doesn't hold the interest of young people."
Blinder hopes that people of all ages will relate to a topic she feels has invaded the culture through our increased reliance upon technology. "I really think there's a certain amount of civil discourse and civil behavior that's been breached, in a way, by technology — in international, political ways and in small, personal ways," she said.
She believes that constant access to the smallest minutia has dealt a mortal blow to our culture's sense of shame.
"There was a time not that long ago where people wouldn't want to talk about cheating in a public place," she said. "There used to be that shame involved. Now nobody's ashamed to tweet what they had for lunch. They should be."