The Loft Literary Center recently hosted an event with author and humanitarian Amanda Lindhout. Lindhout recently co-wrote and published A House in the Sky with Sara Corbett. A House in the Sky is a memoir that begins as a travelogue of an ambitious twenty-something woman who is inspired by the copies of National Geographic she collected as a child to explore the world. She begins working as a freelance journalist, which leads her into Somalia with a fellow journalist where they are both captured, held hostage, and tortured for over a year. Amanda’s story is an incredible tale of survival in the face unimaginable trials, but also one of trying to learn how to live afterwards and work towards forgiveness. The Loft Literary Center partnered with Magers & Quinn and the American Refugee Committee to host highly successful and well-attended event on Tuesday, June 24th. Not only was Lindhout an incredibly engaging and interesting speaker, but the event was also an excellent demonstration of how a book event can be run smoothly and how partnering with multiple organization strengthens programming.
When I arrived for the event, there was a sign directing attendees upstairs. Once I was upstairs, there were a number of people from all the organizations hosting the event who were acting as greeters, fielding question, etc. Several staff members welcomed me as I made my way into the room. When I arrived (about ten minutes to start), the room was already fairly full, and by the time the event started the room was packed. The event organizers allowed for time for everyone to find a seat and started the program a bit late. Because there were several organizations hosting the event, there was quite a round of introductions. The Loft Literary Center introduced Magers & Quinn who introduced the American Refugee Committee who introduced Amanda Lindhout. While it was nice to hear from all the organizers, the introductions did get a bit long. However, all the people doing introductions were well-prepared and well-spoken.
Once Amanda was introduced, she lead the program until its conclusion. It was clear she was well-versed in public speaking. Not only did she give a flawless and inspiring presentation, but she also led and directed the Q&A session afterwards without assistance from any staff, even wrapping up the questions when she saw the end time was near. However, the event organizers did a wonderful job of supporting her presentation. The technology and microphones worked without a glitch, and when she asked for the lights to be turned down further so the audience could better see the photos on the screen, they accommodated her request efficiently. After Amanda was done, she signed books outside of the hall. The Magers & Quinn table was located near the signing line, which was convenient for those who wanted to buy books and then get in line for the signing.
One of the advantages of the fact that three organizations collaborated on this event is that Amanda Lindhout’s event was very well promoted. All three organizations (and Amanda Lindhout) included information about the event using their various social media accounts. Here are a few examples from Twitter:
In addition, all their websites contained more information about the event. Take a look at the Loft Literary Center website as an example. The event was also promoted outside of organization specific information channels including an entry in CityPages, a 40 minutes segment on MPR, and the literary events calendar at Minnesota Reads and Rain Taxi.
Set-Up and Extras
The Loft and other sponsors are lucky to have the Open Book Performance Hall. It is designed for writers and artists to speak. The room was lit a bit like a stage: lights on Amanda and darker in the audience, giving it a more formal feel. The chair were set up evenly and filled the room, although there were not quite enough for this event. The lights and sound were controlled from a sound booth, and the projector was mounted from the ceiling onto a permanent screen. Outside of the performance hall, there were three tables set up. One had a variety of pamphlets and information about Loft classes and events. Magers & Quinn had a table near the side to sell Lindhout’s book. Finally, there was a table farther away from the entrance (allowing a line to form) where Lindhout signed books following the presentation. The only thing missing was information that could be taken home about the American Refugee Committee or Amanda’s non-profit organization, Global Enrichment Fund. The event definitely acted as a call to action, so it would have been nice to have some pieces of information for inspired audience members to take home.
One of the reasons I chose to attend this event was that I knew The Loft Literary Center was very good at putting on events, and I wanted to learn from a strongly executed event. Here are a few things I learned:
- Let your event match your speaker. Lindhout was clearly very used to speaking, leading events, and answering questions. The evening felt like it matched Lindhout’s speaking style: she was clearly very comfortable speaking, directing the event, and fielding questions. However, if I was planning an event for an author who was less comfortable in this position, offering more assistance in guide the Q&A or helping wrap up the presentation would be more appropriate.
- Partnering with other organizations in very powerful. When multiple organizations and/or business collaborate on events, the result is better publicity and more community engagement. When I introduced and hosted author events and performances at a former library I worked at, there were only books for sale if the authors brought them themselves, and we rarely connected with other organizations. I think partnering with a local bookstore (although this would have been hard in my former library’s case) and other organizations would have strengthened our programming.
- If I were to do this event at a public library, bring and displaying library books, movies, and magazines on Somalia along with read alikes (e.g., Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran by Roxana Saberi) and even more light-hearted travelogues would be a good addition to the program. I would also be ready to pull up any information to supplement questions patrons ask. I attended a documentary screening at a public library this spring where the librarian hosting the event immediately printed off a map to pass around in response to a patron’s question about where Islam was practiced.
- Earlier, I mentioned information about the American Refugee Committee or Lindhout’s Global Enrichment Fund might have been useful for attendees who wanted to act on what they learned. Similarly, for this type of event where a patron might want to act after the presentation, having a list of local organizations to get involved with could also be useful, even if we’re not partnering directly with the organizations.
The Amanda Lindhout presentation hosted by The Loft Literary Center, Magers & Quinn, and the American Refugee Committee was a very strong example of how to run a successful program for adults. Thanks to this strong collaboration, a commitment to promoting the event, a room set-up that matched the needs of the presentation, and staff who were welcoming and responsive to Lindhout’s requests, this event went smoothly for both the speaker and the audience.