I couldn’t be happier to see so much discussion of late on the topic of literary citizenship. This is a topic near and dear to me and one I’ve had the pleasure of discussing at a number of MFA programs and community writing events over the years. We can never discuss this topic too much. Our involvement in the community—as writers, as readers—only nets good, as far as I’m concerned. Whether helping a small press get off the ground through volunteer hours, or sharing a recommended read with a booklover at work, a little good goes a long way in fostering not only our literary and cultural communities, but our regular old day-to-day life as people.
One of my earliest exposures to the notion of literary citizenship came by way of Carolyn See’s resourceful book, Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers (Ballantine, 2002). Not long after that, I discovered Kate Gale (publisher and editor of Red Hen Press) discussing the topic at conferences and writing residencies. (By the way, do have a look at this lovely Q&A with Kate Gale over at Poets & Writers.) While the concept of being community-minded certainly wasn’t new, the topicality and significance stuck with me. I took the lessons from others to heart, being mindful of my own community involvement, and since 2009 I’ve been offering sessions at grad programs, conferences, and elsewhere—anywhere—where others share an interest in fostering our arts, encouraging fellow writers, and giving something tangible back to the community.
Over the years, dozens of folks have shared their thoughts, experiences, and tips on literary citizenship. Every time I see an article or blog post about how we can authentically engage with others and help sustain a thriving community of writers, my heart sings. There has been so many active and thoughtful writers discussing this topic, and I hope this discussion continues. More is more. It’s through others that I learned the value of literary citizenship. It’s through others that I have felt valued in my own communities. We should all feel that, to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves, to feel that our efforts as writers, artists, and human beings matter—and it matters most when we impact others’ lives. That’s what literary citizenship is all about.
While I’m happy to share my own resources from over the years, I’ll save those to the end of the blog post (because this is not about me). What I really want to do is share some great resources and discussions from others that I’ve seen in print and online. Have a look, share these with your peers, and feel free to post additional resources you’ve come across. I’m not sharing an exhaustive list by any means and I welcome seeing what else you’ve come across on the topic!
Recent and Wonderful Pieces about Literary Citizenship
- “5 Ways To Be A Good Literary Citizen,” by Allison Amend, in Writer’s Digest link
- “How to Be a Good Literary Citizen,” by Joey Franklin, in the Nov/Dec ’13 print issue of Poets & Writers (pg 97-100)
- “The Eight Questions Writers Should Ask Themselves,” by Roxane Gay, at AWPwriter.org link
- Author Stephanie Vanderslice discusses the topic with Ploughshares this month in “Writing in a Changing World: Craft, Readership, and Social Media” link
Additional Discussions & Resources (in no particular order)
- Renegade Writers’ Collective in Burlington VT shares this post, “What is a literary citizen?” link
- Author Dinty W. Moore has shared a number of posts on the subject over at the Brevity blog, including this one from August 2008:“Be an Open Node: Blake Butler on Literary Citizenship” link
- Author Kelly Davio shares her thoughts in “The Most Obnoxious Squeak” (Feb 2010), “Kelly’s Rules for AWP” (Jan 2011), and elsewhere on her website
- In Oct 2011, editor Shannon Cain wrote “The Power of Literary Citizenship” for the Kore Press newsletter. Author Leslie Pietrzyk re-posted it here on her blog.
- In Jan 2013, Stephanie Vanderslice wrote “The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life: Literary Citizenship and Finding Your Tribe or, 6 Degrees of Anna Leahy” for Huffington Post link
- Author Cathy Day developed and teaches a class on literary citizenship at Ball State University link; you’ll also find more resources on Cathy Day’s author website link
- In Sept 2011, Fiction Writers Review shared author Anna Leahy’s “The Future of Literary Citizenship: A Review Essay” link
- On her blog, writer Ashia H. Lane contemplates the value of community and literary citizenship after graduating with an MFA link
And, finally, from the ‘Lori A. May archives’
- "Get involved: Play an active part in the writing community," online link from the May 2010 of The Writer (pg 8-9), in which I interview author Matt Bell, agent Andrea Hurst, editor Leah Maines, and author/editor Kate Gale
- “Out with the Old, in with the Do,” a blog post from December 2009 on resolving to be a more active literary citizen link
- “AWP: A First Report for the Snowbound Conference,” in Brevity, from March 2013, in which I recap the Boston AWP panel, “Being a Good Literary Citizen” link
- In Nov 2009, I offered a seminar for English MA students at Eastern Michigan University: “Literary Citizenship, Then & Now: A Reflection of 19th C American Poetry”
- I’ve also offered contemporary discussions and workshops on the topic at a number of MFA and undergrad programs, including Arcadia University, Converse College, Macomb College, Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, Oklahoma City University, Owens College, University of King’s College-Halifax, Wilkes University, and University of Western Ontario. Note: If you’re interested in knowing a bit more about these sessions, feel free to contact me—or the directors of these programs!
What does it all mean? It means, largely, we’re invested in our community. It means writers and readers have an abundance of ideas for putting positive energy into our communities. And, it certainly means there’s room for even more discussion.