The New Yorker article “The Tennessee Solution to Disappearing Book Reviews” spotlights Tennessee’s nonprofit media outlet, Chapter 16, which is one of the few in the country that is dedicated to coverage of the arts while most news outlets, papers and magazines across the country have stopped covering books and publishing book reviews. Chapter 16 is “a community of Tennessee writers, readers and passersby” that garners as many as half a million people reading something every week. Associate Professor of Religion and the Arts Dr. David Dark is quoted in the article as he is a frequent writer for Chapter 16.
According to The New Yorker, Tennesseans noticed this national crisis of rarely published book reviews a decade ago, and Humanities Tennessee, the state’s affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, stepped in. They created Chapter 16, a part-digital, part-print publication that “covers literature and literary life in the state by doing what almost any other outlet would—running reviews, profiles, interviews and essays—but also by doing what almost no other outlet could afford to do: giving away its content for free, not only to readers but to any publication of any kind that wants to reproduce it.”
The founders of Chapter 16 made it the publication’s mission to try to cover every book by a Tennessee author, every book about Tennessee and every book by any author coming to Tennessee for an event at one of the state’s more than two dozen independent bookstores and nearly one hundred colleges. It turned out that there were too many Tennessee-related books and events to write about them all, and so their editorial choices reflect the books they feel are of greatest interest to their audience.
Hundreds of thousands of people who read reviews or interviews syndicated from Chapter 16 in its regular partner publications—the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Nashville Scene, and the Chattanooga Times Free Press—may never notice the tagline indicating where it originated.
Dark, a lifelong Nashvillian, first learned of Chapter 16 when it reviewed one of his books, “The Sacredness of Questioning Everything.” Two years ago, Dark wrote his first piece for the site about the philosopher James P. Carse, in advance of Carse’s planned visit to Belmont’s campus. It was one of many pieces about religion and politics that Dark would write for Chapter 16.
Dark told The New Yorker about his experience attending a cocktail party last year celebrating the publication’s tenth anniversary where he looked around the room and realized how eclectic and creative a crew it was. He is quoted in the article saying, “I always tell my students to amplify the oracle, to amplify whatever thoughtfulness you find, to sponsor the culture you want to see more of. And that’s what Chapter 16 does.”