January 13, 2015 § 5 Comments
A guest blog post (and nifty sketches) from Rebecca Fish Ewan reviewing the recent Poets & Writers ((LIVE)) event in San Francisco:
Why go to a writer’s conference? Isn’t writing an occupation of isolation? Of loneliness? David Shields often quotes David Foster Wallace’s wisdom on loneliness. He did so in Melbourne in 2012 (see Is Writing Better Than Sex?) and again this past weekend in San Francisco at Poets & Writers ((LIVE)), while his friend Caleb Powell joined him on stage looking agitated (This is their collaborative art form … arguing in public).
Wallace had said: “We’re existentially alone on the planet. I can’t know what you’re thinking and feeling and you can’t know what I’m thinking and feeling. And the very best works construct a bridge across that abyss of human loneliness.”
Right. The work constructs a bridge, not the actual writer, so why fly from Phoenix to listen to people talk about writing? Isn’t my job to sit alone, diddling my mind, until an orgasm of words spews onto the page? If so, than why go?
To network. To shmooze…oh, who am I kidding…I’m too introverted to even know how to spell schmooze. But I’ve created a book that tells a story that needs to be told…by me…in a hybrid genre: free verse cartoon memoir. It’s sure to sell like hot cakes, if it ever gets published. So, when I spied the announcement in an issue of Poets & Writers, I signed up to go sell my book. To be a book whore. With that in mind, I arrived at the Brava Theater Center early, registered, clipped on my name tag and bee-lined for the darkest corner of the lobby to hide until the event started. Awesome book whore strategy.
Then a stranger asked me to watch her bags while she went to the restroom. From that moment on, I spent the day learning how wrong my reason for being there was. This conference wasn’t about networking. It was about community.
The stranger came back and by the time we took our seats in the theater, my poems and cartoons had made her cry and she had adopted me like a pet. (Good thing, since Vijaya turned out to be way better at telling people what my book is about than I am.) The entire event from start to finish reinforced the expansive quality of human exchange and how crucial it is for being a writer. Or, more importantly, being in a writing community.
The poet Kay Ryan opened with the notion that writing allows her to enter “a larger mind than my own.” Despite admitting “I would never come to this” as an attendee, Ryan acknowledged that even if writers can’t or won’t come to a gathering like Poets & Writers ((LIVE)), they need to know it exists. She read poems that conjured a communal hum, like the resonance of a tuning fork, from the audience. She also made us laugh. With the lyric brevity of a great poet, she set a tone that situated the conference in that sweet spot between levity and seriousness.
The first panel focused on local resources, with Stacey Lewis (City Lights Books), Laura Moriarty (Small Press Distribution), Joyce Jenkins (Poetry Flash), Janis Cooke Newman (The Grotto), and Jason Bayani (Kearney Street Workshop). As a relocated Berkeleyan, I was reminded of the region’s rich resources for writers (and all artists). Growing up in the East Bay, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to go see poets like Ryan read, which is why I never bothered to do it back then. So, anyone in the Bay Area who wants to be a writer, what are you waiting for? As Moriarty noted, this region has “one of the most active literary communities on the planet.” While talking about the specific resources and services their organizations provide, each panelist embodied the conference’s intent. “Our mission is building community through literature,” said Jenkins. “Writing is isolating,” said Cooke Newman, but the panel made clear that in the Bay Area, the life of a writer need not be.
The Savvy Self-Publisher session seemed appealing, until I figured out I probably would never be one. I teach design, so layout doesn’t scare me, but listening to the panel talk about marketing made me hyperventilate. The panelists, Debra Englander (publisher), Ted Weinstein (agent) and Amy Packard Ferro (publicist), made clear that self-publishing is a misnomer. It involves a whole lot more than just uploading a PDF to Lulu. “You need to do your homework,” noted Englander. And you need “good self-awareness,” added Weinstein. You may also need to have multiple personalities, those suited for these occupations: writer, editor, publicist, book designer, event planner, and social media Diva.
Okay, my brain and bladder are full. Time for a pee break.
More tomorrow from Rebecca Fish Ewan.
Rebecca Fish Ewan, author of A Land Between and graduate of the creative writing MFA program in poetry at Arizona State University where she teaches landscape history and design, is trying to learn to market her free verse cartoon memoir of her life’s deepest wound. She lives in Tempe, Arizona, with her family, and makes pilgrimages to the Pacific Ocean whenever life permits.