By Jenny Neyman
Want to read a book? Go to a library.
Want to write a book? Turns out you can go to the library for that, too.
Libraries throughout the state are participating in a “Pitchapalooza” program this week, giving aspiring authors in Alaska an opportunity to pitch their book idea to two experts in the field. Not only will Alaska writers get the experience and feedback of putting together and delivering a book pitch, but the event is a contest with an intriguing prize. Sort of the “American Idol” of authors, as it’s billed. Three up-and-coming Alaska writers will be chosen as the winners of Pitchapalooza and will get an introduction to an agent and/or a publisher for the opportunity to see their book idea in print. Perhaps one day it will be on a shelf in the very same library that hosted the launch to their publishing career.
“Alaska’s got some great writers. Alaska’s got some great writers that no one’s heard of, yet. Libraries and authors are a perfect match. I’ve always loved the idea that libraries can be cradles of that creativity,” stated Amy Marshall, director of the Craig Public Library, which is hosting the Pitchapalooza event.
Any armchair writing critics out there might be sensing a plot hole in wondering how this will work. Surely a literary team isn’t going to each and every participating library in the state to meet with prospective authors? Well, no, not in person, but the event will still have a personal touch as its being delivered through the next best thing to in-person communication: videoconferencing.
The Kenai Community Library is part of the statewide Online With Libraries network, which equips libraries across Alaska with the technology and bandwidth to connect via videoconferencing with any other participating library in the state (the Joyce K. Carver Memorial Library in Soldotna, being under construction, is not yet set up with the OWL program).
Pitchapalooza is being hosted at the Craig Public Library and sent out to any OWL-connected library in the state wanting to participate. Kenai was happy to make the most of the opportunity.
“It’s a really good opportunity for writers to bounce their ides off of published authors and literary agents and get constructive criticism,” said Reilly Conway, with the Kenai library. “It is really nice for, especially isolated communities, to get a chance to participate in something like this. The Alaska OWL software is very cool for communities that otherwise wouldn’t have opportunities to be able to experience all this.”
Pitchapalooza sessions will be offered at the Kenai library, in the front meeting rooms equipped with the OWL videoconferencing equipment, at 3 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday. To participate, preregistration is required through the Craig library website, http://www.craigpubliclibrary.org. There is no fee and all types of book pitches are welcome — from fiction to memoir, children’s to self-help.
Come to the library at the specified time and be ready to explain — possibly in as little as a minute — why your book is the one that should be published. The sessions will be conducted by “The Book Doctors” — Arielle Eckstut, an agent-at-large at the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency of New York City, and David Henry Sterry, author of 12 books, a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, and published writer in the San Francisco Chronicle and the London Times.
Along with Pitchapalooza, the Craig library is hosting a weeklong series of writing workshops, which also are available at OWL sites throughout the state. Presenters will be Chris Baty, founder and emeritus executive director of The Office of Letters and Light, the parent nonprofit of National Novel Writing Month; Grant Faulkner, executive director of The Office of Letters and Light; and Chris Angotti, director of The Young Writers Program at The Office of Letters and Light. These informal workshops are free, open to the public and preregistration is not required. At the Kenai library, the workshops will be held through OWL at 10 a.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Marshall stated that she is happy to have representatives from The Office of Letters and Light, based in Berkeley, Calif., participating in the event.
“The organization’s mission to encourage creativity and the written word dovetails nicely into libraries’ overall mission — and the advent of their ‘Come Write in Libraries’ programs codifies this partnership,” Marshall wrote in information about the event. “The purpose of this project is to provide professional workshops to Alaskan writers locally and statewide with a goal of demonstrating how libraries are not only storehouses of information, but cradles of creativity.”
Mary Jo Joiner, director of the Kenai library, said she was happy to have her site get onboard with the OWL program. The equipment — two giant TV screens so participants can see the presenters, and a computer, mic and camera so the presenters can see and hear the participants in Kenai — was set up in the spring and the program kicked off May 23 with Sen. Lisa Murkowski reading a book from Washington, D.C., to kids at OWL libraries across Alaska.
“She read ‘Ten Rowdy Ravens,’ which was hysterical,” Joiner said. “The city manager said, ‘It’s not often you get to hear a United States senator say ‘caw caw caw.’”
Kenai also has participated in an OWL book reading by Sen. Mark Begich on June 12 — “Blueberry Shoe,” written by Ann Dixon, a librarian in Homer. Kenai also hosted an OWL videoconference May 24 where students could explore Mars with Dr. Stephen Lee of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
OWL has been somewhat perched for the summer, with libraries being especially busy with extra visitors and summer reading programs, but Joiner expects opportunities to only expand, especially as more libraries come online with the program.
“The idea is that all the libraries will be theoretically connected in the state. So, for instance, Anchorage might have an author in who is willing to give a talk and be on videoconferencing so people here could attend the same thing,” Joiner said. “As more people come on, more people are creating programs and then we get an email that says, ‘Hey, I’m doing this videoconference. Do you want to be in on it?’”
The conferencing link goes both ways, too, so Kenai could be the site producing programs, or at least participating in conjunction with other libraries in the area. Currently, the libraries in Anchor Point, Cooper Landing, Homer, Moose Pass and Ninilchik are listed as being OWL sites.
“We can take outside content and we can produce content. So if someone wants to do something peninsulawide we could have somebody here or somebody in Homer or Seward or Soldotna,” Joiner said. “We’re pretty excited down the line about the things we can do.”
For more information on Pitchapalooza and to register to participate, visit www.craigpubliclibrary.org.
For more information on The Book Doctors, Eckstut and Sterry, visit www.thebookdoctors.com.
To keep up with happenings at the Kenai library, visit www.kenailibrary.org.