For the past six years I have organized and run an event called "Girl Talk: A Poetry Reading in Celebration of Women’s History Month." Each year since keeping this blog, I’ve posted something about the event after it took place. I’ve then received notes from other women poets saying that they’d love to attend such an event or organize one. I thought that this year I would post details before the event so that others might feel motivated to host such an event and have time to do the planning. So here’s how it goes.
1. Choose a date. Ideally, this should be in March since that’s Women’s History Month, but if March doesn’t work out, a different month is fine. Decide where you want to hold the reading. Mine is held in my local library, a place that has a great reading room and has become a congenial place for poetry. I always choose a Saturday, daytime, but you could choose any day of the week or could hold your event in the evening. Once I have a date in mind, I contact the librarian, and if the date is available, he puts Girl Talk on the calendar. A house reading would also be a lovely option if someone has a space large enough to accommodate the readers and guests.
2. Decide how many poets to include. I begin with two dozen, but somehow the list always grows as each year I get requests from women who want to read the next year. You can, of course, keep your group smaller, but I wouldn’t go much larger than 30. I have 32 on this year’s list, but typically a few readers cancel last minute. Be prepared for that. Make a list of who you want to invite to read. Aim for some diversity. Invite each poet to read one woman-related poem. I stick with poets who live within an easy driving distance. That reduces the chance of last-minute cancellations and seems to bring in more visitors. Send out your invitations. I do this by email. Be sure to give a deadline for response.
3. Once the list is compiled, I ask for a brief bio from each poet—3-5 sentences—and make a page at my website. This is not essential, but it’s a good way to publicize the event. I ask poets to link to the site from their own reading calendars and to use the link when they invite friends to attend. I prepare a list of readers to hand out at the event. If I didn’t have the website, I would include the bios there.
4. I ask for volunteers to bake cookies. I decline any offers for store-bought or bakery cookies. Homemade only! I usually get more volunteers than I need. The cookies are for the reception that follows the reading. The poets and all visitors are invited to join in.
5. I ask poets with books published within the past 5 years to send me title and price, one title only per poet. These books are placed on the book sale table at the reading. Poets may put out 6 books, but replenish if they get lucky and sell out. The library provides two volunteers to handle book sales.
6. Next comes the pr. I post notices of the event in a variety of online sources and local newspapers. I prepare and send a flier to all of the poets and ask them to post it and use it in their email invitations to friends and relatives. If everyone helps a bit with the pr, you can be sure of a good turnout.
|This is just one half of the room. We also fill up the other side.|
That’s it for the planning. At the event you’ll want to arrive a bit early to greet people and get the volunteers set up with the books. Be sure that prices for the books are very visible. I ask my poets to use straight dollar amounts so no one has to mess with silver change. All the cookies get put in the kitchen until the reading is over.
I use alphabetical order for the reading. I begin with a welcome to the audience. Then I introduce each poet by name. She gets up and reads at the podium. The mic is set up there. About halfway through we take a 10-minute break. Caution: Don’t let the break go much over that or you will lose some people. Then we go through the remaining poets. Throughout the reading I remind everyone that books are available for sale and signing.
After the reading, the bakers get their cookies and put them on the table at the back of the reading room. Chairs are moved up to allow poets and visitors to circulate. There’s lots of good conversation during this time and lots of good cookies are eaten. There’s also a table set up at the front of the room where poets and visitors can put out fliers, postcards, notices of workshops, etc. (Nothing for sale there.)
Let me know if you decide to do a similar event. I hope you do.