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.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Through the Heart

This Valentine's Day started and ended with a massacre.

At my temporary freelance job, a jolt ran though the halls after a dozen people were fired on Monday the 14th. I imagine them at their pre-paid romantic dinners handing over gifts of dark chocolate accompanied by the unromantic conversation (and often held these days) about how the middle class can survive on lost income...

I spent my lunch hour wandering through the church-like splendor of the Wall Street Borders, enjoying the feeling of books all around me, new books, with their inviting covers and sexy flap copy. The carved and gilded wooden ceiling an appropriate dome, a bookish cerebral cortex above all the thoughts captured in page. But they are going into Chapter 11... I said to the man behind the help counter, "I don't want you to go," and with deep feeling he replied "we don't want to go." But soon, they will. And with the unfolding huge shift in technology, paper books will become high end gift and art objects and the reference books, textbooks, and quick reads will be electronic. 

I came home to face death. Our cat, who has gradually been getting sicker, got to the place where there was not much good about being alive. Barely moving, she slept on my heart, her weight barely more than a blanket, her purr a dim throttle. I thanked her for the good times and petted her until the vet came to our place and with a final shot to her heart she died with eyes wide open.
Loss always echos with other losses. I miss my cat and our sixteen years together (yes, I know, I am a trope myself, middle aged writer with a cat, I know) I miss my mother and our 18 years together, and I miss Scribners, the plethora of used bookstores on 4th, the specialty Mystery bookstores, the recently closed Barnes & Noble on 67th, and all the other bookstores I have known and loved.

But books will still be read and written. I cannot be a paper Luddite. I am learning all the new web technology as fast as I can. It is like dating a fast talking mystery man...maybe at some point I'll understand what he is saying and even fall in love. My friend Flash Rosenberg has invited me to come and learn more about the possibilities of electronic books. I'd like to help her turn her cartoon art into inviting experiences on any kind of page, wood pulp or pixels. And do the same for myself with my art and words... It kills me that it is all changing. I'm sure they said the same thing when Gutenberg's presses replaced the scribes. The Book is dead, long live the Book! This is my world, goodbye and hello.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

To the bookfair

I'm in a Bolt bus heading to Washington. The view is snow on ice on snow but in a break from all the storms, bright skies are giving my retinas more sun than I've seen in a month. Sharp shadows and very long smokestack plumes are pointing my way and that small high from sunlight, feels happy, yes.

I just launched a redesign of my website and have a stack of new business cards to hand out to anyone considering my design/writing/drawing services. My last site was looking horribly dated. It was 10 years old, in web years that is like using papyrus to advertise. People would say things like, "nice covers buried in there." Right. Huge thanks to my husband Jim who made epic trek to Brooklyn to pick up the cards from the printer on a day of slush and wind while I worked in an office for a client.

It was a week of little sleep, in my quest to finish an illustrated map for a Mary Gordon novel, being published by Knopf, I had two nights I worked until 5am, the other 3 nights until 2am and had to go into freelance job on Wall St.

Cool. Bus is pulling into a weighing station. Do light thoughts help?
Good news, I've been Invited to read with Jeannie Beaumont at the Perfect Sense reading series in June at the Cornelia St. Cafe. More details to come.

I look forward to helping at the Marsh Hawk Press table, finally meeting some of the authors and publishers of Benu Press and running into thousands of my fellow poets of whom I know quite a few from workshops, readings and the life in and around books.