Reading and writing, riverside

The Uni Project's pop-up library at the AmpLit festival in Riverside Park. Photo: Elissa Sanci
Authors, readers come together at AmpLit Fest


AmpLit Fest, a day-long literary festival, returned to Riverside Park’s Pier I for a second year on Saturday, June 10. Hosted by a partnership of the park’s annual Summer on the Hudson series and Lamprophonic, an Upper West Side writers group, the free festival featured an afternoon of writing workshops, panel discussions with local authors and readings.

Moosiki Kids, a music program for children led by Laura Nupponen, opened the event, and families who arrived at noon filed into seats, strollers packing the audience. A few toddlers bounced to the tune of the acoustic guitar as a breeze cut through the late spring heat. Afterwards, in the Emerging Writers Showcase, six new writers were invited to the stage to share their work. The showcase featured writers of all ages, and high schooler Dylan Manning’s father jumped in to share her short story when an obligatory class trip kept her from attending.

Author Katie Kitamura then read several passages from “A Separation,” her latest novel, which explores one woman’s journey to find her missing husband. Clare Smith Marash, Lamprophonic’s founder, then engaged Kitamura in conversation. The women discussed the literary elements at play in Kitamura’s novel as well as her life as an author.

Marash founded Lamprophonic as a reading series for emerging writers in 2012 while pursuing an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University.

“There seemed to be a need on the Upper West Side at that time for a series, so over time, I formalized it, got more people involved and curated the series,” Marash said. “We intended to create a space for emerging writers with no kind of hierarchy in the lineup and reach beyond the MFA community.”

The organization “encourages a robust, diverse and supportive literary community in New York City,” according to their mission statement.

As Lamprophonic’s readings grew in popularity, Marash came in contact with Zhen Heinemann, the director of public programs for Summer on the Hudson. The series is the city Parks Department’s annual outdoor arts and culture festival. Heinemann asked Marash if Lamprophonic would be interested in holding readings in the park.

Lamprophonic, in 2015, initially hosted monthly readings and discussions with local authors in the park through this collaboration with Heinemann and Summer on the Hudson. Last year, these readings evolved. Instead of monthly events, Marash said she and Heinemann decided to invest more deeply by hosting a full-fledged festival that still incorporated readings while introducing workshops and panel discussions.

“It was far more successful than I would have dreamed,” Marash said. “It was a very inviting space. Riverside Park is full of families and people wandering about, so we got to bring in a lot of people who maybe had no intention of going to a literary festival, which was kind of our hope.”

While last year’s AmpLit Fest lasted seven hours and featured more events, this year’s festival was condensed. Marash explained that she wanted to concentrate her efforts and fewer events meant fine-tuning the ones they did have. She wanted to stick to what Lamprophonic does best, she said, which is “bringing literature to the park;” to achieve that, they focused on readings.

In the day’s last panel, Summer Reads, authors shared excerpts of their recently published and soon-to-be released works. Among the readers was poet Nathan McClain, who recited from his debut poetry collection “Scale”; writer Jeannie Vanasco with an excerpt from her upcoming memoir, “Glass Eye”; and author Emily Holleman, who closed out AmpLit Fest with a reading from her novel “The Drowning King.”

Those who took a break from what was happening on the main stage could explore other pop-ups, which included a portable reading room courtesy of The Uni Project. Founded by Sam Davol and his wife, Leslie, The Uni Project provides a place for learning to happen outside the walls of a classroom or library by popping up in public spaces and providing books that span across reading levels to attract multiple generations of readers.

All of Summer on the Hudson’s events are free to the public, and AmpLit Fest was no different.

“We’ve never done an event that we charge for because New York City is a creative hive, but it’s very expensive and I don’t think we should perpetuate that by putting a price tag on things,” Marash said.

Both Summer on the Hudson and Lamprophonic funded the small literary festival that drew humble crowds to Pier I on that sweltering Saturday. The majority of Lamprophonic’s events are low-cost, so Marash said she was able to reserve their resources (which they’ve acquired through fundraisers) for the AmpLit Fest.

“All the best art, allegedly, is in New York, but none of the artists can go see it,” Marash added.

Lamprophonic and Summer on the Hudson aim to change that.