Sunday, February 20, 2011

The curious symbiosis of literary presses and writing programs

It is a curious fact that literary presses with reputable writing contests will be supported by MFA students in possession of a manuscript.

But it goes further than that. The non-tenured or would-be teachers of such programs will also want to have their works published to enhance their prospects.

All the students and teachers must pay the entrance fees to the contests which help fund the costs of hiring a judge and producing and publishing the prize winning books.

The AWP (Associated Writing Programs) book fair was filled with hundreds of presses offering contest information. Their tables were covered in books, stickers, small candies and the all important prize entry flyer. And there was this hungry look in so many eyes, the yearning to not be spurned by a contest judge, the desire to be published. On the other side of the table sat representatives of the presses, eager to sell the lottery tickets of publication.

What was curiously lacking was rapture over the poetry and prose itself. Unlike the Dodge or Frost Place Poetry Festival I didn't see as many folks buying books to read for pleasure. I saw tit for tat book exchanges. It was an industry of writers and publishers without the general readers. It was an inside job. Think ouroboros devouring it's own press release.

The writing programs pump out thousands of students a year, each with a manuscript. The presses publish hundreds of prize winning books. But who will read these mountains of books? How do you know where to start?

And I am part of it, I design books for literary presses and I am published by them too. After AWP I decided it was important to get the word out on books I have loved reading. So expect some more book reviews in this blog.

1 comment:

Deborah Atherton said...

I often think we ought to give prizes for great readers - forget the writers. All those wonderful people who read hundreds of books a year--which is a great deal more than some writers I know read--and get no praise for it. Once you're out of grade school, nobody gets a prize for reading, and I think this ought to be remedied immediately!