Literary Critics Unite to Discuss Work in the Digital Age

Written By Josie Gulliksen
November 30, 2014 at 1:47 PM

Literary Critics Unite to Discuss Work in the Digital Age

On a blustery, gray afternoon at the Miami Book Fair International at Miami-Dade College Wolfson Campus, a panel consisting of nine literary critics and two moderators enlightened a packed room about their role as journalists in their field in the age of the Internet.

A journalist’s world is no longer just about print publications, and those represented on the panel all write for online sites. Kicking off the talk was moderator Doree Shafrir, culture editor of BuzzFeed, who discussed the social Web and mediums like Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, the latter which she said “is huge for the literary community.”

She then turned to her panel for their input on how their specific sites function and their role as literary critics and book reviewers.

Jenn Risko from Shelf Awareness, a site created to help booksellers sell books quickly, dispelled the myth about independent bookstores, saying “contrary to popular belief the independent bookstore is not dying.”

Writing strictly for the GLBT market, William Johnson from Lambda Literary says the site’s main focus is to allow reviews by authors who may not otherwise get interviewed elsewhere. — in essence, allowing readers to learn about these lesser known writers.

Also discussed was the large volume of what is out on the market today, the the importance of reviewers putting their names to their opinions. “I worry about anonymous critics, it makes me very nervous,” said Risko. To which moderator Shafrir from BuzzFeed added, “there was a situation where a reader on Goodreads tracked down a critic who didn’t exist, which raises the question of accountability.”

All the panelists agreed the Internet age has made it a very exciting time for literary criticism, especially for a particular segment of the population.

“The Internet has opened things up for females as well as black and science fiction writers,” said Sarah Weinman of Publisher’s Lunch.

At Harriet, a poetry exclusive Website of The Poetry Foundation, they take a very broad approach, said Michael Slosek.

The freedom that writing online allows writers is something Jessa Crispin from Book Slut loves because “online you can take a personal approach and you can write about film and a book in one review, unlike traditional media which has a formulaic style.”

One of the panelists with the most traditional outlets was Alan Cheuse of National Public Radio; he has been their book reviewer for more than two decades and realizes needs have changed over the years, but what they do is a constant.

“A book Web page is a new way for people to get what they’re looking for and so our audience I would like to think is growing,” he said.

And while Crispin embraces the online freedom, Katie Freeman of Riverhead took a moment to give a shout out to reviewers of traditional print pubs. “Traditional outlet book editors are doing an amazing job handling all the reviews as well as doing the social media. They’re doing an essential job exceptionally well.”

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