August 21, 2015
Dear Intrepid Readers,
Any large convention of writers—whether it’s NPS, AWP, BEA, NYC Poetry Festival, low-res MFA program residencies, or any type of the smaller conference or regional writer’s event—is marked by late nights drinking and catching up, celebration of our craft, and overextending ourselves trying to cram in as many panels, readings, workshops, open mics and parties as we can. For the days we’re all together, it’s a non-stop lovefest that leaves us exhausted, dehydrated, full of ideas, and usually a sprawling list of reading material. But we forget that every silver lining also has a dark cloud, and over the months in between these conventions, those dark clouds gather and distract us authors, editors, publishers, mentors, and educators from our reason for doing this weird thing we all do, this calling that makes us different from so many of the people in our lives, that can so often make us feel isolated and alone in our day-to-day life.
It’s a fine line.
By and large, all large associations of writers that organize conventions of their members are susceptible to this push/pull dynamic of trying to maintain order within the association and changing to meet the needs of their members. An association which is—as it should be—comprised of an ever-changing group of people, each of whom comes with a different set of needs and concerns than the group preceding it. The problem is this: how should a large association adapt to a rapidly-diversifying demographic, and how should the association respond to its members requesting changes geared to meet these new needs?
At every convention, members encounter others of the community who display bad behavior and poor citizenship. Though this is nothing new, it is something we, as literary citizens, cannot afford. At large literary assemblies, we all, at some point, bear witness to inflated egos, “competition-before-craft” behavior, negative criticism, and unhealthy competitiveness. We see the leadership of the associations glossing over or refusing to engage in dialogue about serious issues that should concern all writers, not just the authors to which these issues pertain: there is an urgent need for transparency and statistical data on representation of racial diversity, LGBTQ voices, gender diversity and authors with disabilities in convention workshops, panels, readings, and most importantly, planning committees. When one hides behind the thought that “It’s about the reading and writing, not the identity politics,” one is saying, “I don’t care about creating safe spaces where all writers feel welcome, because I’m already in a safe space where I feel welcome.” That is privilege rearing its ugly head. And with literary communities banding into factions within factions, we are creating a perfect storm for conservative politicians to swoop in and cut funding for the arts, trim creative writing from school curricula, and continue to narrow the list of books which may be taught in classrooms.
Don’t you agree?
When we look into our communities—at the local/regional level as well as our national associations—and we see ourselves drawing into “Us vs. Them” camps, it should be no wonder why the arts are disappearing from schools and funding for the arts is drying up. We’re too busy concerning ourselves with our own factions to realize that the political agenda wants all of us—poets, academic writers, storytellers, essayists, genre writers, dramatists—to stop making art. We make assumptions about other literary communities: They have no understanding or appreciation for the nuance of poetics. They don’t have mastery of craft. They think they’re better writers because they have an MFA. They’re too wrapped up in their own privilege to care about social justice. Why bother submitting to magazines, since they don’t ever publish the voices like mine?
When writers don’t engage with each other, all types of writing become subject to a watered-down inbreeding of sorts; without adding new material to our gene pools, we start spitting out copies of each other that suffer from information degradation. Not only do we become overly involved in the conventions of the “kind of” writers we are, but we leave a wide-open gap of vulnerability that deepens and becomes more dangerous as we divide into battling camps within our communities instead of keeping lines of communication open and evolving to meet the needs of the group as a whole. I say dangerous because when we start flame wars on social media, point fingers at each other instead of sitting down to have difficult but necessary conversations, and go on the offensive against the people who are supposed to be our peers, we are forgetting a very, very important point that there is a political agenda at work in our country. There are those who would very much like to eradicate all writers—all of us. Because the arts are our bridges to each other, spanning injustice and social inequality. Art reminds us of how similar we all are as humans, across the languages, geographies, cultures, religions and cultures. When we split into squabbling factions within our own larger community of Artists and Writers, we make it harder to put down our sticks and stones to come together and defend The Arts.
Writers, poets, essayists, artists, mentors, educators: we need to get our shit together, or there’s going to be a generation coming up that will only know the language of oppression. Art—whether it’s poetry, pedagogy, painting, fiction, memoirs, or any of the myriad of ways we express ourselves creatively—art is the language of HOPE. If we spend our time infighting instead of fighting for the arts, that language—hope—will become extinct. Which is exactly what the patriarchy and those who enjoy power and positionality want. As long as we are afraid and have no way to express it, tyrants and oppressors have a means of controlling us. We will have no way to speak our truths and the whole world will fall silent.
And we will have no one but ourselves to blame for it. Let’s not let that happen. In the words of one of the group pieces I watched take the stage during last week’s National Poetry Slam, “Make a new friend. You might find a reason to care.”
In the coming week, we’ll be updating you on the projected publication of the next issue of NBR and the full-length offerings Zoetic Press is bringing you this fall, as well as new blog posts and fresh book reviews. We also have the next installment of Unbound Octavo winging its way toward you, so be sure to keep tabs on our social media for that update. But before the new issue launches, make sure you’re all caught up on the five issues that we’ve brought you over the past year and a half— download our app for iPhone or iPad and enjoy each issue of NonBinary Review, completely free. Want to keep up with what’s happening on the blog? Follow us on Facebook (Zoetic Press, Lithomobilus), and use our daily links to read new blogs, book reviews and Alphanumeric features! We’re also on Twitter (@ZoeticPress and Litho) and Pinterest, and you can even see some of our authors reading their work on our YouTube channel. If you’re interested in hearing more from us, sign up for our monthly newsletter. We’re serious about your privacy, and promise not to flood your inbox. Want to be a guest writer for Rhizomatic Ideas, or to profile one of our contributors? Send us a pitch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a book you’d like to tell the world about, or know a writer that everyone should know? Send us your reviews and author interviews!
Until next week,