Ask the Curator: How Do You Choose?

Have you ever wondered how or why a particular writer is chosen to speak at a SAL event? Rebecca Hoogs is answering curation questions on Sonder! Send questions to Alison Stagner at astagner@lectures.org with “Ask the Curator” in the subject line, and we’ll pick our favorites to respond to.


By Rebecca Hoogs, SAL’s Associate Director

How do you choose?

The most common question I get is also, in some sense, the hardest. How on earth do I choose, from all the possibilities, the authors, poets, and thinkers that Seattle Arts & Lectures presents each year? It’s a complicated jigsaw puzzle involving much gnashing of teeth, calendar juggling, number crunching, crystal ball gazing, survey reading, gentle interrogation of the reading habits of everyone we meet, and reading, reading, reading.

What are the criteria?

1. They have to be doing current, vital, well-regarded work. They do not have to have a new book out, but they have to have published work recently.

2. They have to be good speakers. Lots of people become writers because they like to be alone, to not talk to people. And then they get famous and society asks them to talk to people! And most of them buck up and learn to do a great job, but some are steadfast introverts and those writers we salute and kindly leave alone.

3. Diversity and equity is important to us. We want our stages to represent the make-up of Seattle, of our country. We want our stages to be more diverse. We want our young people to have meaningful role models. We want to be challenged, to challenge our audiences. We want change and making sure our series are featuring diverse authors is one of the most significant ways we can do our part.

4. They have not appeared in our series before. Asterisk: now that we’re entering our 29th season, we have started to bend this rule and invite people back (like Ann Patchett, like Siddhartha Mukherjee). Maybe you missed them the first time around. Maybe you saw them and loved them and would love to hear what they are up to now. We feel it’s ok to invite folks back as long as they meet Rule #1. That said, we also recognize that there are a huge number of amazing authors who have not yet been in one of our series, and so we’re always aiming for a balance.

5. The nitty-gritty: Can we afford the author’s speaking fee? Can they come on the date that we have open? Is the hall we hold this series in open on that night?

6. Oh, and the authors have to be alive. Yes, we do get requests to bring authors back from the dead, but the technology just hasn’t been invented yet.

We keep lists. Lots and lots of lists. We read the book reviews. We talk to our book store partners. We talk to the publishers. And most importantly, we talk to you. At events, via email, through our social media, and through our year-end survey. we want to know: what are you reading? Who would you like to see?

Let me know. Truly. I do like making dreams come true.

yours til next time,
Rebecca

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