October 26th, 2012
I’m in Seattle
for AWP 2014 planning. The next AWP is
March 6-9, 2013. I am always telling
young poets that they should go to AWP.
You meet lots of writers there and there’s nothing like being in a bar and looking across at Yusef Komunyakaa or C.D. Wright to know you are in the center of greatness.
The panels range from great poets and writers reading to how literature is made to the network on which literature is built. As a young writer, you want to understand the world in which you live. You want to understand what literary magazines publish the work you publish, you want to understand what presses publish the kind of work you write and you want to understand what is going on in your own community.
But what is much more important is knowing what you can do to be part of keeping that afloat. The world of poetry and literature requires many players, and there is no reason you can’t be one of them. Maybe you can help a literary magazine or a reading series, maybe you can start your own press, but find out a way to become part of the solution, not part of the problem. And the problem is very simple and has three parts.
- There are way more good manuscripts that want to be published than there are writers to publish them.
- There are far more people writing and sending their words out into the world than there are reading good work and buying books.
- In general, we need more intellectuals and readers. That might require writing more poetry that people can actually understand. Poetry that isn’t just written for other academics. Or not. Just know your audience.
These are the problems. If you come to AWP with your poems, your stories, your stuff that you want someone to help you out with, good luck. Here is the story the gatekeepers want to hear. I like what you’re doing in the literary world. I would love to be part of it. What can I do to help? Once you figure out where you fit in, what you can do to be part of the solution, then you can start asking for something.
If what you want is a champion, then champion somebody yourself. And when you do get a book accepted, create a marketing/publicity plan that includes going to AWP and selling books and making sure you get the word out there.
Remember that it is not about you. Or at least not just you. Writers needs to have a community to sustain them. Writers should work on being givers instead of takers, should work at being less needy. Editors are not waiting around to find writers that we can do stuff for. We are trying to live.
So when I see you at AWP in Boston, tell me what you are doing for the literary community. Tell me what you’re doing to make magic happen.