Literary Communities

Mary Anne Gonzales (University of Waterloo, Canada)

Broadly defined, the term “literary communities” refers to a collective group of individuals with shared knowledge, interests, and values inspired by aspects of the literary work, author, or genre that reflect the shared interests and values of members within the literary community (Kirkpatrick & Dixon, 2012: V). Within this concept of a community, reading, not necessarily at the same time as one another, is a social activity that brings together readers with shared experiences and memories from reading the same literary work or type of literature (Sedo, 2010: 1154). Therefore, the social aspects of reading within literary communities inspire the creation of communities and social relationships (Rubin, 2012: 5-13). As such, literary communities operate within the social and cultural contexts in which they encounter the literature and those created by it.

In connection to literary tourism, members of literary communities come together to visit sites affiliated with the author or literary work that sparked its formation. Although literary communities form independently, their members are brought together by their mutual literary interests, creating moments during which members cross paths.

In literary tourism, literary communities are most evident as formal organisations and groups that travel together to a literary site. Literary communities can be formal (institution-based), semi-formal, or informal, depending on how members prefer to engage with one another. Historically, formal literary communities have been connected to institutions, such as schools, universities, organisations, or religious institutions. For this reason, these literary communities are more defined as they produce documents on matters involving membership requirements, the values and interests of the community, literary interests, meeting places, and meeting records. Moreover, the hierarchical structure of some formal literary communities, such as magazines, mediates the relationships between members and produces records that document the rhetoric and interactions of members (Batchelor, 2012: 256). Consequently, formal administration enhances the visibility of formal literary communities into a well-formed and cohesive group that may partake in activities involving travel to literary sites.

Informal or semi-formal communities also participate in literary tourism. These communities may lack formal members and administrative structures. Members are bound loosely by their mutual interests in a literary work and exist independently of each other. These literary communities were also not bound by geographical location, space, or temporal contexts. For example, semi-formal and informal literary communities can form around national literature that appeals to a readership interested in national culture (Lamond, 2012: 28). However, when these informal members participate in literary tours dedicated to an author or literary work, they unite temporarily to create a cohesive group before coming apart at the end of the tour.

However, such clear distinctions between formal, semi-formal, and informal literary communities do not always exist or are clearly delineated. Literary communities hold nuances in their structures and memberships that do not easily fit within such restrictive categories defined by the terms “formal”, “semi-formal”, or “informal”. The participation of ambiguous literary communities in literary tourism is difficult to determine, mainly when they only exist in virtual spaces.

Ambiguous literary communities online may form by accessing digital copies of books on Google and open-access sources. In some cases, platforms might serve as informal chatrooms or threads where literary community members might interact with one another. Online book reviews on Goodreads.com and Amazon also provide avenues where members of literary communities can review what they have read and share it with others who share their taste in literary works. Facebook group pages are also another means for literary communities to interact. Interactions between members might also be infrequent, raising the question of membership and its concerning engagement. Online subscriptions that curate books and reading experiences to subscribers have also been a product of digital literary communities. Consequently, it is uncertain if individual members of ambiguous literary communities participate in literary tourism.

A potential approach to understanding the participation of ambiguous literary communities in literary tours might depend on marketing strategies. According to Suarez (2004: 64), analysing publishers' marketing strategies can help determine who individual readers are to determine their informal membership to a literary community. From this approach, it might be possible to make inferences between readers' travel habits and destinations by age group and their literary interests.

However, examining publishers' marketing strategies poses several limitations to nuanced understandings of readers and their participation in literary tours. Firstly, marketing strategies can also shape the literary communities around a literary work; therefore, the literary community reflects the marketing strategies more than the literary work itself. Secondly, marketing strategies are limited to what companies know rather than what they don’t know about their targeted readership; the latter information is equally important as the former in providing insights about gaps in what ought to be known about a literary community. Lastly, using marketing strategies to identify a literary community cannot reveal information outside of this community’s reading practice. Unless readers demonstrate that they’ve purchased travel books containing themes or sites associated with a literary work or author, no conclusions can be made about their participation in literary tourism.

An alternative approach to using marketing strategies to determine participation in literary tourism is library data. This approach considers the embeddedness of libraries in local communities as grounding the institution in the social context of a community. As social institutions, libraries promote reading and provide a physical space for people living in their vicinity to gather and participate in acts of reading (Lamond, 2012: 33). In this sense, the library, as an institution, functions as a literary community mediating the social relationships of different visitors with literary works and each other. The records produced by this literary community include library loan records that are useful for observing trends in borrowing practices and reading preferences of visitors at a particular time (Lamond, 2012: 33). These borrowing practices and preferences can be cross-referenced with the travel practices of a community and popular destinations among its members.

How to cite this dictionary entry: Gonzales, M.A. (2023). Literary Communities. In R. Baleiro, G. Capecchi & J. Arcos-Pumarola (Orgs.). E-Dictionary of Literary Tourism. University for Foreigners of Perugia.

References: 
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  • Kirkpatrick, P. & Dixon, R. (Eds.) (2012). Republics of Letters: Literary communities in Australia. Sydney University Press.
  • Lamond, J. (2012). Communities of readers: Australian reading history and literary loan records. In P. Kirkpatrick & R. Dixon (Eds.), Republics of Letters: Literary communities in Australia (27-38). Sydney University Press.
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