How to Host Your Own Literary Salon
Want to discuss big ideas with your friends? Or expand the discussion topics from your book club meet-ups? Consider adding a literary salon to your events calendar. Literary salons are simply gatherings where people can discuss literature together and sometimes share their work. This semi-informal setting is a great place to foster dynamic discussions and make people feel at home. They’re also a great way to meet new people with common interests.
Named after the room in which the event is normally held, salons have been held to stimulate our literary and philosophical interests since the 16th century. From Emperor Charlemagne to First Lady Martha Washington, salons have taken many shapes throughout history. If you’re feeling inspired to host your own literary salon, consider it an opportunity to get creative and curate an evening you and your guests will enjoy. To help you craft a fantastic event, we’ve outlined seven steps to planning your own literary salon.
Define a topic.
While literary salons are open forums for discussion, it usually helps to have a topic or theme to explore that night. Broad yet concise topics like the purpose of poetry in political movements, the history of the haiku, or the role of magical realism in poetry can help guide the night and help people prepare discussion points or plan what work to bring.
Choose a venue.
Of course, you’ll need a place where your friends’ interesting ideas can flow. Choose a setting that is both comfortable and inspiring, where people can feel at ease but not sleepy. A cozy cafe, bar, or bookstore can be a lovely setting. Just be sure to call in advance to reserve a space and check their restrictions. What days are they available? Is there a limit to the party size? Can you purchase food and drinks there or will you be allowed to bring your own? These are all important questions to answer, but they can be simplified a bit if you decide to host the salon in your home. Just ensure you have a tidy space with enough chairs and maybe a few side tables for your guests.
Everyone will eventually have their chance to speak, but planning a few presentations or speakers to help start the conversation will make things much easier. Think of people whose work or thoughts on the selected topic inspire you. Friends, colleagues, former teachers, and acquaintances from readings are all great places to start. You only need two or three speakers to keep things moving.
Select your guests.
Aside from your designated speakers, you’ll want to consider your guests. It’s important that the guests you invite have an interest in the topic as well as a willingness to listen and share. Aside from this, the only other guest-related item to consider may be the capacity of the venue (your home or the space you’ve booked).
Whether you want to create an ornate e-vite on Canva or send a simple text, people are going to need the details for your event. Be sure to include the following items:
- Title of the event (including your topic for the evening)
- The speakers you’ve chosen
- Time and place
- What to bring (work to read, snacks/drinks, an open mind, etc.)
- Dress code (if applicable—it doesn’t have to be fancy, but some guests may enjoy a theme!)
- RSVP requirements (we recommend having people RSVP by a certain date to help with your planning)
Plan snacks and refreshments.
Most salons will provide light snacks and refreshments for attendees. If you’re hosting at home, finger foods like cheese and crackers, cut fruit, and nuts are great options. A simple dessert like cookies or a modest cake can be lovely to serve a bit later in the evening. Of course, be sure to keep the dietary restrictions and allergies of your guests in mind. For drinks, beer and wine are common options, as are tea and fresh punches for those who prefer to keep it booze-free. Water is a must. And be sure to have plenty of ice. Now, this part doesn’t have to be all on you. You can note in your invitation if you’d like to encourage guests to bring a drink or snack of their choice.
If you’re hosting in a public space, be sure to ask if you can bring your own food and drinks. If you plan to purchase drinks and snacks from the establishment, consider how much you and your guests might be willing to spend. Guests can always order their own drinks from the staff at a bar or restaurant as well.
Make a timeline.
Once you’ve got the details ironed out, it’s time to select the order or events. There’s no need to stick to a strict schedule, but having a bit of structure will help move the conversation along and ensure everyone gets a chance to speak.
A basic timeline is as follows:
- 6:00 p.m. – Arrivals. Guests can chat, grab snacks, and get settled.
- 6:45 p.m. – Introductions. Introduce the theme of your event and your speakers.
- 7:00 p.m. – Speaker 1.
- 7:10 p.m. – Q&A/open discussion.
- 7:30 p.m. – Speaker 2.
- 7:40 p.m. – Q&A/open discussion.
- 8:00 p.m. – Dessert. Wrap up and invite people to continue mingling.
This timeline sets you up for a two-hour event. Depending on the number of speakers and guests you invite, this can be longer or shorter. And of course, if the discussion is going well, no need to end it! Let it ride and move on to the next discussion point at the next natural opportunity. And plan for more time than you need. If you and/or the venue don’t have a strict end time, you’ll have more flexibility when managing the flow of conversation.
So go forth and enjoy your first DIY literary salon!