This semester, I decided to take an Introduction to Book Publishing course. As a final assignment, I had to dedicate my time as a volunteer at the Succeed2gether organization’s Montclair Literary Festival. When I received the assignment of “shuttle bus assistant,” I guess you can say that I was less than thrilled, especially since the date of this event falls into the reign of “final week” fire. But then, I took a step back and realized that if I don’t take this opportunity to network my life away, what kind of aspiring author would I be?
So even though I was given a seemingly boring assignment, I knew that I would have the rest of the day to check out the countless events hosted both on campus and off. With my website’s QR codes on hand, I boarded the shuttle bus with the original assumption that this event would be dull. I happened to be completely wrong, as the people I met opened my eyes to the true beauty behind the event.
After speaking with a few fellow volunteers during my first assignment, I noticed that every volunteer had different reasons for attending the festival.
Alyssa Roberts, an English major graduate student, explained why she came to the event.
“I thought it would be interesting to work behind the scenes, meet the authors and contribute to the literary community,” Roberts said.
Roberts raved about the Memoir and Poetry event hosted by award-winning storytellers, Deborah Mouton, José Olivarez and Rio Cortez.
“As a poet, I’ve always been interested in writing,” Roberts said. “And as someone who comes from a diverse background and struggles with the concept of identity, I enjoyed seeing artists and writers express themselves through their work.”
After checking out Toni’s Grill food truck, who donated both their time and food to the event, I managed to run into the Executive Director of the Montclair Literary Festival, Marcia Marley. She preached the importance of supporting the literary world while trying to strengthen the bond between authors and their readers. After asking how she and her team managed to get all of these authors and vendors to collaborate for this event, she said that the key to success is their “amazing track record and persistence.”
While saying that the festival revolves around promoting the written word, she raved about her excitement for all the hosted events, specifically one featuring her good friend and award-winning author, Kate Zernike, author of the novel “The Exceptions.”
In general, events such as the Montclair Literary Festival keep the excitement of the literary world alive. Especially now that a large portion of books is being read digitally, it’s important to continue to host book signings, meet and greets, and informal sit-downs with storytellers who have successfully pushed their novels from the confinement of their Google Docs onto the bookshelves for all to read and experience.
Watchung Booksellers’ booth was easily the most visited, as authors were signing their novels adjacent to the stacks of colorful debut novels. As was the Pitchapalooza event, where aspiring authors were given one minute to pitch their novels for a chance to be chosen and published.
My day as a volunteer was almost over before a woman writing against a tree on the grass caught my eye. Mary Kate Schmermund, a visitor at the event, shared that she, too, is a writer in the process of querying or pitching her first novel.
“It’s a great opportunity to meet authors and to build a camaraderie within the literary community,” Schmermund said.
If I learned anything last weekend during the Montclair Literary Festival, it’s the concept of hard work. At one time in their lives, every author, publisher, editor, and coordinator at this event started in the exact place we are now. They were once anxious college students taking a chance and attending an event in hopes of making future career connections.
They didn’t have a crystal clear plan, or even know where to begin. They didn’t have business cards or Linkedin accounts on hand, only the determination to be memorable based solely on word of mouth. I guess what I’m trying to say is that college is shorter than people think. Take a chance. Go to that event. Get your name out there. Rome was not built in a day, and neither is your career path.