« 5 Simple Ways to Save the World | Main | This Day to Remember. »

September 10, 2011

Volunteering: Causes, Passions and the Salem Lit Fest

Volunteering: Causes, Passions and the Salem Lit Fest

By Brunonia Barry

  SLF logo

I don’t know about you, but these days, I seem to be volunteering for more than ever before. This is something I’m happy to do, but I’m finding myself spread far too thin. As a novelist who only made her last deadline by forty-five minutes, I’m now hesitating to take on any new projects.

I am already involved in a variety of passionate causes, one of my favorites being The Women’s Lunch Place in Boston, a daytime shelter that provides refuge and services for Boston’s homeless and poor women and children.

Then there is teaching. I do some writing workshops, and visit local high school English classes to talk to students about writing and literature.  

I have joined boards to preserve historic landmarks, committees that provide scholarships, fund raising efforts to end domestic violence. The list goes on. 

But sometimes (alright many times, if I’m being honest here) I’m just exhausted. I can’t take on one more thing. There aren’t enough hours in the day. It’s a good thing I sleep a lot less than I used to, but, frankly, there aren’t enough hours in the night, either.

So it was a surprise even to me when I said yes to yet another project, one that has required more time from me than all the others combined. This year I agreed to co-chair the planning committee of the Salem Literary Festival.

“Are you insane?” was my husband’s question. “Probably,” I answered. If I had known what would be involved, I might not have continued. But the Salem Literary Festival is one of my all time passions, and I wasn’t about to let it die. And that’s just what would have happened, if it weren’t for a group of dedicated volunteers (one of whom turned out to be my husband).

When Salem’s independent bookstore, Cornerstone, closed last year, one of the less obvious casualties was the three-year-old Salem Literary Festival, which was started and anchored by the bookstore. It was a great festival for both readers and writers.

Salem is the ideal city for a lit fest. It’s small, walk-able, beautiful, and it has some of the best historic architecture in the country. Touted as the birthplace of the great American novel (a legacy left by Nathaniel Hawthorne, our native son), Salem has a rich and enduring literary tradition. Add to that Salem’s other American firsts: first millionaire, first candy store, first brick house, first elephant. (The elephant evidently had a drinking problem, but that’s a story for another day.) Salem’s full of quirky places and creative people, the perfect combination. We were determined to see the festival continue.

First we recruited more volunteers. The Spirit of ’76 bookstore in Marblehead offered to stand in for Cornerstone. We held committee meetings at my dining room table. We secured historic venues including The House of the Seven Gables, the Salem Athenaeum, the Phillips House. Even the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) made room for us.

We were a bit less lucky with hotel rooms. The Lit Fest runs from September 23-25, but we found ourselves blocked by Halloween visitors who seem to come to town earlier every year. There wasn’t a hotel room to be had. Well, actually, there was exactly one. We grabbed it.

When I tell you that our committee meetings have been stormy, I am being literal. Our second meeting was spent huddled around a television set in our kitchen watching the news. A tornado was ripping across Massachusetts. Our founder’s husband and daughter were stuck at home in their basement, waiting out the storm.

We wrote the festival brochure during hurricane Irene with a copywriter who lived near New Hampshire’s Mount Washington and kept losing power and a collaborator who had no electricity for three days. Somehow we managed. We picked up the printed brochures last Wednesday amid renewed rains and flooding.

Besides working on the brochure, my assignment was securing writers and creating events. Erin Morgenstern, writer of The Night Circus (written while she lived in Salem), and Lipstick’s own Joshilyn Jackson will be our keynote speakers. And speaking of The Lipstick Chronicles, we are hosting a panel on Sunday September 25th featuring Hank, Cornelia, Heather, Sarah, Joshilyn and me.  Believe it or not, it will be the first time some of us have met.

All in all, we have over fifty authors and many great events. Check it out at http://www.salemlitfest.com/schedule.

If you’re anywhere near Salem the weekend of September 23rd, please come. We’d love to see you. And for any of you writers out there, we have an open mic session at Gulu Gulu café on Sunday at 4PM. We welcome your participation.

This is one volunteer job that will soon come to an end. I’m sure I will feel simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated. And even though I swore I would never do it again, I will undoubtedly volunteer again next year.  After a short break, we’re planning to have a meeting to discuss next year’s lineup. Knowing New England and our stormy history, I figure it will probably snow.

So what kind of things are you passionate about? What inspires you to volunteer?


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Volunteering: Causes, Passions and the Salem Lit Fest:


I am SO JEALOUS that you're all getting together! We've always had a BLAST when the Tarts join forces, so I wish you the very best with the event, Brunonia. It sounds just terrific.

I find myself volunteering to teach a lot of workshops lately. Which is a huge drain of time. But.......well, I enjoy it.

I ride for LiveStrong in memory of my grandmother. I'm convinced a cure for cancer will be found in my lifetime. Riding my bike for LiveStrong allows me to help make that day come a little sooner. I also volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. The current build is for a little guy who was my student last year. Today I get to go and write on the walls before they are covered and painted. I've been thinking all week of what blessings I want to inscribe on my student's very first house. I can't seem to come up with anything. What a terrible time for writers block. Any suggestions out there TLC friends?

There seems to be running through my life a sort of sine wave of volunteerism. In my freshman year of high school I was involved in what I think was the very first year of Head Start. As a member of Sodality (Catholic girls' school club), we did all sorts of crafty projects to raise money for the "starving children of X", and I was a Volunteen at the local hospital, aka a candy striper. I still have my cute little blue and white striped pinafore, but the little hat got lost a long time ago.

When I was in my 20's and 30's I volunteered a lot for both professional groups and local organizations. In my 40's and early 50's I volunteered for professional groups and for my kids' school activities.

I just realized the last few years have been the least volunteer-y of my life, since I retired. Too busy! Weird.

Great volunteers always seem to find time for the "one more thing." It is what makes them great volunteers.

I was thinking of my volunteer work this week. The TLC post about flooding reminded me of my time as head of the Moonlight Ramble. The Ramble is the midnight bicycle ride, or as I used to call it, "a night of riding with 10,000 of my closest bicycling buddies." From 1989 until 2000, Molly and I were in charge. I rode in the Ramble from the early '70's when there were 200 or so riders until it reached more than 20,000. I became a committee member and started planning it in 1984.

Planning a parade (as the permits call it) for 10,000 to 12,000 bicycles, 30 miles of roads and all of the things they need was pretty much a year round job. The route changes get mapped out in March and presented to the police. The ride is in mid-August. In the summer of 1993 it rained, a lot. The Mississippi River flooded. If you lived in St. Louis in the summer of 93 you started conversations with your out of town relatives with, "No the Arch is not underwater." I saw a film crew from Tokyo one day on the riverfront.

We had a periodic meeting in mid July with the police. The police had just come from another meeting. Part of our route went through the part of south St. Louis that is now River City Casino. It was under 20 feet of water. The meeting the police brass had just come from was with the Army Corps of Engineers. The Army wanted to give the police a heads up. The flood wall protecting St. Louis is 52 feet high. In mid July, the river was at 49.5 feet and climbing. The Army felt the police should have an evacuation plan should the water reach 52.5. Now it was time to talk about a bike ride.

We moved the Ramble to mid October. Squeezed between a possible World Series (might need a few extra officers) and the Jewish Holidays (I only plan one thing for Rosh Hashanah, praying.) The Army felt the river might be low enough by mid October to see the road.

By the original August date the roads we would have used were dry but badly damaged. On the October date it was 54 degrees at the start. Rode anyway.


Tradition states that you only remove a Mezuzah if you know that the next occupant is not Jewish. Since many people move before knowing who the next person in an apartment will be, the Mezuzah stays. Where I live used to be about 70% Jewish. Many apartments have a Mezuzahs attached to the doorframes. There is a blessing inside the case. Some Christians keep the blessing on their new home. I have also seen brass plaques with an English translation of the same Bible passage.

Mezuzah http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mezuzah
The blessing for hanging a Mezuzah http://www.jewfaq.org/prayer/mezuzah.htm
Hebrew 4 Christians http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Blessings/Special_Events/Affixing_Mezuzah/affixing_mezuzah.html

Hi Brunonia,

You are amazing to do all of that. The Women's Lunch Place on Newbury(?) does wonderful work.

My heart is in Salem, and I hope to move back someday. Not sure why i ever left the North Shore. How was I supposed to know they don't have maple walnut fudge or even peanut butter and molasses salt water taffy in California? Step says he's never seen it outside of that candy shop! Can you imagine our ancestors walking there to buy Gibraltars or black jacks?

People will love the festival. I am so pleased the Spirit of '76 is carrying on with it. Great work, Brunonia!

Best of luck with the Festival, Brunonia. It sounds fabulous. Having done several professional conferences, in the planning, the brochure design, and the speaker inviting/wrangling, I know you will be ready to just sit with the results once it's over and done with. Be sure to take copious notes, so that the next person can have a plan with shortcuts learned the hard way!

Oh, I forgot my volunteer passion. I used to volunteer my services as a psychotherapist in Boston at the North American Indian Center and as a family therapist in Cambridge. I also maintained a small private practice in order to see people who could not pay and saw students who didn't want to see anyone at the health center and couldn't afford to go elsewhere. I let my regular job support this effort, and the school was generous with my time.. After hours I talked with street people and bought them coffee or soup at ABP.

Now I am very limited in what I am able to do, but I've just started offering an alternative service at our church once a month . . . for those who aren't enamored with the regular Sunday worship. And I would be one of those, myself.

God, Brunonia, I so admire you for doing this! When people say innocently to me, "Let's put on a Bouchercon in Kansas City!" I make the vampire cross in front of my face.

But. . .one of the reasons I'm not going to Bcon this weekend is that I'm giving my monthly volunteer writing course this morning for the local chapter of Sisters In Crime. . .a chapter that I founded a few years ago because I felt our local mystery writers really needed the boost that only a community of fellow/sister writers can give.

But I fear for your readers--like ME--Brunonia. Please, please, please don't let your wonderful volunteer work cost you (and us) any books!

Oh, I so wish I could be there -- I've never been to Salem! It's definitely on my list.

As for me, it was Back-to-School night this week and I found my hand raised of its own volition. So I'm going to be doing the art projects in two different 4th grade classrooms -- but not alone, please, God. Let some other insane mothers volunteer too. I wasn't going to do it, but if it's between me volunteering and the 4th graders not having any art . . . and if I'm going to complain (and I do) about the cuts in education, I better be the one to step in and fill the gap.

I volunteer storytelling sessions occasionally, for the Y and my friend's children's classrooms and the story swap at 'my" McClay Library . . and I volunteer in support of storytelling organizations . . . used to do more, but energy and time have limits. Reine, I thought of you the minute I read "Salem." Your wish to return reminded me of a quote I read recently, to the effect that our wish to return to a place is sometimes a desire to again be the person we were when there . . . Once in a while I think of the very social 30-something I was in Minneapolis (then I remember the winters ;-)
** Frog update: I brought in the frog that has been in mailbox for several days now. This morning, he did not look happy, so I carried his little aquarium out to the mailbox, held it there for a couple of minutes, and he hopped back inside. I guess he really is a mailbox frog . . . We'll see how he feels about that when it gets colder outside.

I stepped out this morning to do some lit fest work and came back to your comments. I am amazed by the amount of volunteering I see here. And, at the same time, getting to know you all a bit over the last months, I'm not a bit surprised. You are all so wonderful and dedicated! In a time when we sometimes feel helpless to bring about change, I do believe that volunteering for good causes helps a great deal.

Reine, yes, the WLP is on Newbury Street. It has just undergone a complete renovation. I am doing a panel discussion about homelessness and mental illness this week with two psychiatrists and a social worker who are on their board. As a non professional, I'm a bit intimidated, but I'm also honored to be asked.

I wish you were all going to be at the Lit Fest. We'll do a special toast to the two Nancys and any of the other Tarts who aren't able to join us.

I wish I could be at the Lit Fest.
I've volunteered to head up a committee for the Florida Chapter of the the Mystery Writers of America to locate the Florida bookstores that have signings and stock signings.
Have a good time now that you've done all that work.

I've been a volunteer with the St. Louis Regional Chapter of the ALS Association since 2003. I've mentioned in earlier posting that I lost my 10th family member to ALS in July. In addition to volunteering I'm in the 4th year of a longitudinal pre-fALS study. My hope is the the younger generations will not have to endure the ravages of this nasty disease. It has become my avocation after 30 years as an educator.

10 family members to ALS, Diana! You have a calling. It is a horrible disease, and I commend you on your good work.

I wish you could be at the let fest too, Elaine. Sounds like you're doing good work for the Florida mystery writers who, I think, are some of the best around. I'm planning to really enjoy our festival. Fun times!

Brunonia, I know the feeling of intimidation, but your writing tells me that you have nothing to fear. I am firm in my belief that you were asked because of your clear understanding of the topic and ability to express it well.

And while I am with the Nancys regarding how much the world needs your books, I am certain that your need to keep your understanding alive in your writing will rise above your other very deep commitments.

After all, you do know the only good response to "Down bucket!"


Diana in STL. ALS . . . . Good people like yourself, who participate in pre-familial studies, will make effective treatment possible. xxxxxR

Brunonia, I'm "Up for air," too. You know that.

I want to hear the first elephant story--after you finish the Literary Festival.
The Kerrytown Book Festival in Ann Arbor is tomorrow and I volunteered. It's the first thing like that I've done in years and, except for giving panelists water, I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing, not even where I go for the water. I'm feeling pretty useless.

I am SO excited. Next year--ALL of us!! Thank you you so much, Brunonia.

The comments to this entry are closed.

The Breast Cancer Site