When you first think of the book publishing industry, you might envision New York City, with nearly every book displaying the name of that famous city on its title page. However, the publishing industry is not based solely in the city that never sleeps. Contrary to popular belief, Boston’s publishing industry is continuing to grow in the city’s literary district as well.
Boston became the first city in the country to host an official literary district, starting back in 2014. The idea was sparked by a conversation between Eve Bridburg, the Executive Director of GrubStreet, and Anita Walker, the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
“Boston is in the midst of a literary renaissance but everyone is working in their own separate silos and thus, the whole literary vibrancy is too underground, not something that enough people are aware of,” stated Larry Lindner, the Literary District Coordinator, in an interview with Mass Poetry.
The goal for the literary district is to have different writers and literary organizations come together in order to bring their ideas and to strengthen Boston’s literary presence, as well as to make the literary culture much more visible within the city.
To some, it may be no surprise that Boston has a rich literary heritage. There have been a broad and diverse array of writers who have called this city home, including Phillis Wheatley, Henry David Thoreau, Khalil Gibran, Sylvia Plath, Eugene O’Neil, and many, many more.
However, for others, “Boston is seen as silk blouses and bow ties. People think of it as stodgy, buttoned-down. They don’t think of it as a city of artists. The Literary District will change people’s perception,” said Lindner.
There, however, is still a strong literary presence in the city, and it has been given the chance to continue to grow with the addition of the literary district. Along with big names like David McCullough, our city also hosts many contemporary writers that are involved in the rich atmosphere that haven’t quite made a name for themselves yet.
“It will attract people who are already readers as well as those who are readers and enjoyers of literature but don’t yet know it,” says Lindner. “I think a lot of people feel about reading the way some people feel about math. There’s a certain phobia.”
Lindner continued, “But by making literary artists accessible, tangible, and by making literature a literally tactile experience — people will be able to reach out and touch it — they’ll see that literature is something that could interest them, that they can be a part of, that will hold their interest and not make them anxious about reading.”
There is so much to the literary life in Boston, which includes conferences, writing and editing courses, lectures, readings, poetry slams, book fairs and signings, performances of literary works, and discussion groups. It’s hard to not get overwhelmed with all of the options.
Boston is the home of several big name publishers, which you may have heard a fair amount about. One of its biggest publishers is Little, Brown and Company, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group (HBG).
Little, Brown and Company was founded in Boston in 1837, and for nearly two centuries they have been printing non-fiction and fiction works from many great Americans as well as international authors, such as Louisa May Alcott, James Patterson, Stephanie Meyer, and Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rolling).
In addition to Little, Brown and Company, Boston serves as the home to over 40 other non-fiction and fiction imprints and book publishing houses, including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Beacon Press, David R. Godine, and Candlewick Press.
Now, some of these book publishing companies in Boston have been around for many years. This includes a non-profit book publishing-related company called Bookbuilders of Boston, which was founded in 1937.
They aim to bring together people from all walks of life within the publishing industry to exchange different ideas, talk about trends in the industry, and promote publishing culture as a whole around New England.
Today, Bookbuilders of Boston hosts networking events, runs a scholarship program for local students, provides training and workshops for entry-level publishing employees, and sponsors the annual New England Book Show. They also post to a job board directed at those in the industry or those looking to become a part of it.
“Bookbuilders is fully committed to education,” Bookbuilders states on their website as part of their philosophy. “All of these [educational opportunities] are accomplished with the cooperation and involvement of our members. We could not continue to do so without your help. Our Education Fund continues to grow daily.”
An exciting event that Boston is able to offer annually to all of those involved in the industry or simply book lovers is Boston Book Festival, which is held every October.
“The Boston Book Festival celebrates the power of words to stimulate, agitate, unite, delight, and inspire by holding year-round events culminating in an annual, free Festival that promotes a culture of reading and ideas and enhances the vibrancy of our city,” as stated on their website.
This industry event has something for everyone to enjoy. There is a street fair which includes tables of booksellers, MFA programs, and nonprofits; this year, Berklee College of Music musicians provided live music during the event in Copley Square.
In addition to the street fair, there are numerous sessions from art to Star Wars to the apocalypse, and even sessions specific to writers in the surrounding area, completely free of charge. For a small fee you can also enjoy the special ticketed events. This year, one ticketed event was Amanda Palmer being interviewed by her husband Neil Gaiman.
The book publishing industry is thriving in Boston, and will continue to grow in the future. There is something for everyone here, even if you think you don’t have any interest in the literary world, you may just change your mind. Boston is a place where you can freely grow in the industry.