Prairie Center: How to Introduce an Author

In just two short weeks, I’ll be introducing several authors at the Interlochen College of Creative Arts annual Writers’ Retreat (still time to sign up, with $50 off for poets and journal/sketchbook-ers!). I’ve introduced fellow writing friends before and spoken in front of audiences without too many palpitations. But introducing authors whose work has been recognized nationally through awards such as a Pushcart Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, or National Book Award is another matter. Likewise, introducing authors who I have never met in person, but whose published works I idolize seems to elevate this task to another level–let’s call it the nervous breakdown level.

Perhaps that’s taking it too far, though. After all, most writers I know (“famous” or otherwise) prefer to be known as real people–people with interesting backgrounds, a cool backlist of day jobs, a friendly reputation, and once in a while a particular knack for writing some kind of knock-the-socks-off-the-world story or poem. In other words, people who are approachable even though they may have superhero creative writing faculties. My upcoming challenge, I believe, will be to strike a balance between the personable and the professional, a bit of flattery and a bunch of honesty.
Four years and 20 pounds heavier ago (grad school will do that to you), my friend Kyle gave me the best short ‘n’ sweet introduction I’ve ever been blessed with. We shared our graduate readings together at Pacific University.

Plenty of people have their opinions about how to introduce an author, including The Millions contributor Janet Potter, who says that “author introduction crimes are rampant.” Her use of the word “crime” is no joke. It can be humiliating to sit in the audience and listen to someone mispronounce your name, stumble over awards credits, or get your home town wrong–humiliating for you and for the introducer and for whoever is picking up the tab. But more than her criticism, Potter’s advice rings true: “A good author introduction shows the author that you’re excited to be a
partner in promoting their work and that you value the role their career
plays on the literary stage, all while being informative and–lord
have mercy–brief.”

Since I write fiction, my first approach to introducing an author is often to tell the story of how I experienced reading his or her work–something delightful, surprising even, that I felt while reading and that the author will enjoy hearing about. If it’s a writer I know personally, I can add anecdotal bits that make an introduction fun and personal. For writers I don’t know personally, weaving in humor and uniqueness can be trickier, but it’s still possible. Either way, I know my introductions for the Writers’ Retreat are going to be short (300 words), genuine, and hopefully memorable in just the right way–by which I mean, they’ll ring that perfect bell in the Kingdom of Introductions before each Famous Writer delivers their reading, then my words will fade into the background as the real reason for everyone’s attendance takes center stage.

  • Molly Gloss

    I was once introduced at a bookstore as "Molly Giles." Oops. Embarrassing for the bookstore owner. And for me, an exercise in humility.

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