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Pages & Places: Stimulating Local Conversation
Thursday, 25 August 2011 15:25
Learning about the structure of classic music or having a conversation about the latest update in neuroscience, all while enjoying a glass of wine or a cup of coffee in downtown Scranton, is the “brain child” of Elizabeth Randol, policy director for Pennsylvania Treasury. With the help of William Black, a professor at Misericordia University, the city of Scranton was introduced to the Pages and Places Book Festival in 2009.

Pages and Places (P&P) is more than a book festival. It also features monthly programs that bring a variety of topics and panelists together in order to start a conversation, in the hopes of inspiring and stimulating local community members to learn more about art,     literature, history, and their community as a whole.

Randol was inspired by other cities’  book festivals around the country, as well as local events such as the Scranton Jazz Festival, La Festa, and Scranton’s First Friday events. Black jumped on board with this idea, bringing with him a background in creative writing and literature.

“I saw in what Liz was planning an opportunity to leverage the book festival and cultural activity toward something that was consistent with the idea that cities that are good places to live also have thriving economies,” Black said.

The Pages and Places Book Festival began in Scranton with 1,200-1,400 people at its opening reception. Its inaugural year focused on introducing the area to contemporary literary fiction through young adult novels, and, in 2010, it focused on the nature of identity.

“Two parts to the Pages and Places mission is to leverage cultural events toward livability and to foster coordination, cooperation, and culture among the other cultural institutions in the area,” Black explained.”From the beginning it hasn’t been easy because it’s all volunteer-based. I work in Baltimore and Liz works in Harrisburg. We hatched this idea based on models of things that were happening elsewhere across the UK and United States, of doing these types of programs. And rather than organize them ourselves, we decided to reach out to other institutions and invite them to take part.”

Pages and Places consists of five volunteers who help throughout the year and more than 20 volunteers assisting with the annual book festival in October. Topics for this year’s event– to be held on Saturday, October 1st– include “Coal Region Writers”, “Justice and the Civil War”, and “50 Years of Jane Jacobs and Great American Cities.” Historian and Pulitzer Prize-winner Eric Foner, author of  The Fiery Trial, will join the panelists at this year’s festival. In addition, Equality Pennsylvania has signed on as a community partner, as well as The Veterans Writer’s project. Fundraisers will be held for both organizations in the hopes of raising awareness.

Pages and Places also holds events at The Vintage Theater & Café, located at 119 Penn Avenue, in Scranton. Co-founder Conor O’Brien shares the same core mission as P&P, to enhance and educate the community through arts and culture. He opened The Vintage Theater & Cafe in 2008 and continues to hold events geared toward music, theater, poetry, and art.

“Pages and Places is an incredible organization that has made amazing strides in the past three years,” said O’Brien. “I feel we are going to be able to learn so much from them and in turn have a viable venue that fits their needs aesthetically as well as administratively. The partnership is so beneficial for both organizations and ultimately what really matters is the benefit of the community.”

The vibe at P&P events is casual, and meant to be, in order for people to feel comfortable learning something new and participating in a conversation about the topics presented at each program. There are plenty of regulars who attend the programs each month, but there has been a wide variety of different attendees at past events, according to Black.

“It’s been really fun. Our attendance has been between 30-60 people at our monthly events,” he said. “People leave very happy; they feel like they’ve gotten some stimulation they haven’t gotten on a daily basis yet.”

This July, P&P joined with The Institute for Learning Innovation, based in Annapolis, Maryland. A series of programs, including topics such as “The Language of Conservation” and “Could Scranton Be the Nation’s First ‘Learning City’?”, were presented at Alley Café Kitchen and Coffeehouse, located in downtown Scranton.

For more information about Pages and Places and the book festival, please visit www.pagesandplaces.org.