Since the 2016 presidential election, a number of publishers have, in their own ways, stepped into the ring of civic participation. At Penguin Books and Penguin Classics, that participation takes the form of a salon.
Earlier this year, Penguin launched a new series of events intended, according to the imprints’ director of publicity, Louise Braverman, “to bring people together for dialogue” and raise funds for a cause relevant to each event’s theme. But the series is not explicitly political—or a recent idea. “Long before the current administration we had talked about the idea of having some sort of salon series,” said Penguin Books v-p and marketing director John Fagan. “When you think of the breadth of the Penguin list, there’s so many books, there’s such a deep backlist, and there’s so much to talk about.”
The first event, on March 20, was held at the Kate Werble Gallery, an art gallery around the corner from Penguin’s offices in lower Manhattan. In spite of the series’ stated apolitical nature, the evening was organized around the theme “#RememberResistRediscover”—a theme that, Braverman said, Penguin Classics has been stressing in its publicity all year—with donations benefiting the New York Immigration Coalition and featured titles telling immigrant stories, including books by such authors as Saul Bellow, Chang-rae Lee, and Anzia Yezierska.
A second event, on June 8, was also held at the Werble Gallery. Its theme was “memoir,” and all donations benefited Immigration Equality, an LGBTQ-focused immigrant rights organization. (Donations at these events are optional: “We’ve made a small donation to get the ball rolling,” Fagan said, “and on every invitation there’s a link to a CrowdRise [fundraising] page.”)
Since the salons are, Fagan said, rooted in the idea that “people like to get together and talk and exchange ideas,” the hope is to engender conversation while benefitting nonprofits doing important work. “You’re being entertained, you’re talking about books, perhaps you’ll meet an author—and you’ll learn about, well, here’s a group doing this,” Fagan said. “It seemed like the perfect end to the whole package.”
The relationship between Penguin and the Werble Gallery is not a financial one, and Penguin doesn’t offer books for sale at the salons. There’s no official contract or intention to expand beyond the location; the union came about simply because Fagan strolled into the gallery one day to say hello. “We’re partnering with Kate with the idea that the gallery gets attention,” he said.
For Werble, the relationship feels mutually beneficial. “I think hosting these events with my neighbor, Penguin Books, is a really wonderful opportunity for my gallery artists and our exhibitions,” she said. “My hope is that we can continue to host these casual after-work parties for quite some time and continue to introduce groups of people that will enjoy learning about one another.” Fagan confirmed that, though the event series would go on hiatus for the summer, Penguin planned to pick it back up in the fall, with themes that might include banned books, book covers, and poetry.