April 1, 2010 When Humanities Tennessee launched Chapter 16 last October, we held our collective breath a bit, wondering whether there were enough book lovers to sustain a literary website even as newspapers around the state were cutting their books coverage or shuttering their book sections altogether. Six months later, we’ve got our answer: readers have racked up thousands and thousands of page views at Chapter 16 and found our reviews and interviews—in print and online—though our media partners, the Nashville Scene and the City Paper. The response has been greater than we ever dared to hope it could be.
“News & Notes” will replace the weekly editor’s note, offering links to Tennessee writers in the news, not in summary but as events actually occur.
For us, it’s been a little startling, too, to discover just how rich and diverse the literary life of Tennessee truly is. Sure, we knew from the beginning about the amazing writers this state has produced. But none of us could have predicted that so many nationally significant writers would visit the state to give readings and lectures and book-signings. In just the six months since Chapter 16 first went live, we’ve had the opportunity to cover events by U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, National Book Award winner Bob Shacochis, food activist Eric Schlosser, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Maraniss, three-time Newbery-winning children’s writer Gary Paulsen, and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey, among many, many others. And we’ve been on hand for novelist Richard Bausch to win the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, for Lorraine Lopez to be named a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction, for Eleanor Ross Taylor to be named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for poetry, and for science writer Rebecca Skloot to publish a book that The New York Times called “publishing’s Cinderella story of the season.” October 2009, it turns out, was a very good time to start a website that celebrates books and writers in Tennessee.
But in at least one way, Chapter 16 has not been able to keep pace with this urgent thrum of literary activity. From the beginning we hoped to attract not only readers but also community members—people who would register for site (even if under an alias) and join the conversation by posting comments about the reviews and interviews they find here. As Humanities Tennessee president Robert Cheatham put it in his introductory note about Chapter 16, we believe that “coming together to talk about books, authors, and ideas are all activities that bind you to your neighbors, that help create a rich local culture and a local community.”
Starting today, we’ll publish at least one new book review, feature, or author interview every work day, Monday through Friday.
So far that hasn’t happened the way we’d hoped. And we’ve begun to wonder if, in publishing half a dozen new reviews and interviews and news stories each week—all at once, only on Thursdays—perhaps we’ve been offering too much even to read, much less to comment upon, at any one sitting. So starting today, we’ll be publishing at least one new book review, feature, or author interview every work day, Monday through Friday. In addition, our new “News & Notes” section will replace the weekly editor’s note, offering links every day to Tennessee writers in the news, not in summary but as events actually occur. We hope you’ll make a habit of checking in daily.
Most of all, we hope you’ll register as a user of the site and share your thoughts about the stories you read. Think our reviewer has gotten a book exactly right? Read the same book and have a different take on it? Either way, we want to know.
To prompt the conversation, we’re leading our new publication schedule with a provocative essay by Serenity Gerbman, director of the literature and languages programs at Humanities Tennessee. Last week, a colleague asked Gerbman if Southern literature is dead. She expresses some strong ideas on the subject, here. We’re betting you have some, too.