One of the cultural markers of a city is the visibility and support of its literary scene. Orlando, for a long time, has struggled with such visibility. When I started reading poems in public in 1999, a majority of the open mics were devoted to musicians, with spoken word intruding. In 2001, I started the poetry slam because Orlando didn’t have a dedicated night just for poetry. After a few years that changed. What didn’t change though was how publications devoted to local arts and culture treated poetry in town. I’ve had to raise my voice a couple of times to get the necessary attention. Sometimes, it worked. Sometimes, it didn’t.
I have noticed though that the coverage of literary events in Orlando have improved since There Will Be Words started. Orlando’s literary population (readings, bookstores, writers) is on an upswing that I’ve never seen in all the years I’ve lived here. However, Orlando’s literary scene continues to be left out of the greater local arts and culture landscape.
There is a major event this weekend hosted by the local alternative weekly where the tag line reads “One Day. One Festival. All Art.” This event features theatre, dance, music, and visual art. However, there is no literary programming on the schedule at all. How can an event claim to celebrate all art and yet leave literature out?
When you look at the cultural landscape of cities such as Portland, New York, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, you’ll see how they acknowledge and support all forms of art (theatre, dance, music, visual art, and literature). Orlando will never be at that level if this cultural nearsightedness continues.