Thursday, April 24, 2008
A movement is underway to have Vancouver named a UNESCO City of Literature, like the City of Edinburgh, which received the first-ever UN designation in 2004. To be recognized by UNESCO (a designation comparable to the World Heritage Sites), a literary city must demonstrate that it has a broad-based publishing industry, a tradition of hosting literary events and festivals, and a wide range of public spaces dedicated to the preservation and promotion of literature.
Kiley and I have been working on the project over the past year, and I joined Alma Lee, the founding artistic director of the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival, and Margaret Reynolds, executive director of the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia, yesterday for a public consultation at the Vancouver Public Library. The session was well attended, and I had a chance to present some of the background from our working proposal for UNESCO along with Hal Wake from the Writer’s Festival, CBC’s Joan Anderson, and Rick Antonson from Tourism Vancouver.
Posted by Craig Riggs on 04/24 at 12:44 PM
Thursday, April 03, 2008
How refreshing! In his Globe and Mail column last Saturday, “How to fix the world? Make aid work for the ‘bottom billion,’” Doug Saunders quotes Paul Collier, professor and author of The Bottom Billion, as saying:
I think that economists have a responsibility to write in such a way as to be read by ordinary people and by political leaders. So I wrote a book that’s very readable.
It sounds so logical, so ... “duh!” But it’s actually a bold and confident move for someone who is normally an academic (Collier is an Oxford professor). For anyone, for that matter. If you want to be read, make your writing readable.
His book’s title alone—The Bottom Billion—is serving Collier very well. The title neatly and plainly sums up Collier’s argument: that foreign aid needs to target not the poor, but the poorest of the poor—numbering one billion people, overwhelmingly in Africa—to reverse a tide of social, political, and economic catastrophe that will reverberate across the whole world unless checked.
Collier could have called his book Alleviating Extreme Poverty: An Argument for Targeted Geographic Reallocation of Aid—or some such jargony mouthful, but he refrained. He went for a simple, memorable, concrete title: The Bottom Billion.
As a result of this and strong, plain-language writing, “the bottom billion” is becoming a catchphrase. As Saunders reports, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Kimoon declared 2008 “the year of the bottom billion.” Collier is arguing his case—and promoting his book—across the world, and he has just won the $60,000 Lionel Gelber Award for non-fiction writing. Would Alleviating Extreme Poverty: An Argument for Targeted Geographic Reallocation of Aid have fared so well? It’s highly doubtful.
The Bottom Billion lesson is one that so many companies and organizations could profit from. It can be difficult to trade in the comfort—yes, the comfort—of industry jargon, since it masquerades as refined or “in-the-know” vocabulary. But “masquerades” is the key term: rest on the laurels of jargon, and you won’t be making meaning at all—you won’t be saying anything.
And guess what? People won’t be interested. They won’t be able to be, because there’s nothing to hang onto.
Summoning up the courage to eschew jargon—even when all your competitors use it—and wrestle to say what you mean, in plain language, is a worthwhile challenge. Just ask Paul Collier.
Posted by Kiley Turner on 04/03 at 09:18 PM