lovely literary lady: get to know beth harrison!

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nook: can you give us an overview of your experience in the non-profit arts sector?

beth: during my last summer of college, i worked for gordon lish at The Quarterly. to say that this internship was a transformative experience in my life is an ünderstatement [umlaut mine]. after graduation, i returned to new york to work in book publishing—at Oxford University Press, Princeton Architectural Press, and elsewhere. eventually i landed at the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses as the development specialist for literary publishing. after that, i worked at the Academy of American Poets for 11 years, first as associate development director, then associate director, and finally interim executive editor. somewhere along the way i started the lit mag Spinning Jenny, and i also serve on the board of directors at Four Way Books. i’m currently the managing director of a new nonprofit organization, the Discover Outdoors Foundation.

nook: what do you see as the benefits and challenges of working in this sector?

beth: for me, the main benefit is working in a creative environment. at staff meetings at the Academy, for example, i’d often think, “i’m at a legit business meeting where we’re talking at length and very passionately about poetry—and it’s not off-topic. also, i have dental insurance. therefore, i am truly the luckiest person alive.” other benefits include making the future happen and being part of an alternate parallel economy. outlandish, perhaps, and believing in these ideals takes more courage than i actually possess, but i do believe in them, which in turn creates the courage i need to try to live according to these ideals. as for the challenges, i think the biggest ones are not specific to our sector: staleness, atrophy, boredom, fear.

nook: how do you understand the idea of “community” in the non-profit arts world?

beth: on an organizational level, using the word “community” is sometimes a way of smiling through one’s teeth. an interviewer once asked me how I felt about Spinning Jenny’s “competition,” for example, a term i found rather mystifying and not a little hilarious. if by competitors, i said, you mean the multifarious/various collaborative artworks made by constellations of editors, writers, and designers working for the love of and need for art, then i feel humbled and grateful to be anywhere near the party. a little competition is certainly healthy and exciting, but empathy and the genuine desire to be part of a just, interesting world seem to me to be at least as important. i guess i have always understood the idea of community in the arts and nonprofit world in terms of making a habitable planet with my fellow aliens.

on an individual level, i’m grateful that new york city always gives me at least two options: enter the almost overwhelming current of collective, creative energy that fuels the city, or step out of the current and be alone/relatively invisible. i crave solitude (in reading, editing, writing, traveling, hiking), but none of those experiences makes total sense to me until i share them with others, perhaps raucously and preferably over beers, to find out what i’ve missed and where my understanding was incomplete or my reasoning was flawed. i make it a point to hang out with people who are smarter, more creative, and have different backgrounds than i because they help me fill in holes in my experience and they expand my worldview.

nook: to the outside observer, it does seem that there is more gender parity in the non-profit sector, in terms of individuals with power and authority (executive directors, etc.) what are your thoughts on women in the non-profit sector right now?

beth: in the nonprofit sector—as in certain other fields such as publishing, librarianship, and nursing—there is no dearth of female employees, i agree. and while the proportion of female nonprofit CEOs is rising, their pay is still lagging behind their male counterparts by a wide margin. The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently published an opinion piece on the subject, and i think the title says it all: “It’s Time for Charities to Hire Women CEOs and Pay Them Fairly.” i’m inspired by large-scale movements like the upcoming S.H.E. Summit.

while i was at the Academy of American Poets, i was very proud that the organization was founded by a woman and that its first executive director was a woman. for most of the time i was there, there were women in the top management positions and our board of directors was heavily populated (and led) by a woman. so while some things might be seen as improving, you might be surprised at how many submissions i receive for Spinning Jenny that are addressed to “mr. harrison.” the assumption, and often the reality, is that it’s all dudes at the top. parts of the nonprofit world still have a lot of serious work to do on diversity in its other forms as well.

nook: what advice would you give to a young woman pursuing a career in the non-profit arts sector? what should she know before embarking on a career in this sector?

beth: i have a hard time believing any young woman starting out today could possibly be as clueless as i was, and i’m generally very wary of advice-givers myself. but here are a few things to throw against the wall, though i don’t think they’re particularly nonprofit- or gender-specific:

don’t feel bad about not having “connections” (i didn’t) or not having gone to a fancy school (i didn’t). there are people who will try to make you feel that if you didn’t attend Pencey Prep and you don’t know the so-and-so’s then you are pretty much hosed at age twenty-whatever. those people are not worth your time, and i guarantee you they are no fun whatsoever (i.e., can’t shoot pool). i’m saying it’s not who you know, it’s who you become, so get busy being the kind of person you could stomach being around.

if you are working at a nonprofit organization, don’t be all “i’m a creative person, the budget is not my problem.” if you like getting that paycheck every two weeks, then the budget is your problem. even if you don’t have “development” in your title, learn where funding comes from, learn how to build and be responsible for a simple budget, learn to understand the basics of 990s and financial statements, learn what a 501(c)(3) nonprofit designation actually means. maybe that doesn’t sound particularly sexy, but you know what? i meet people in the for-profit sector all the time who assume that because i work in the arts and am a female, i couldn’t possibly know anything about finances (or politics, or world affairs, or sports)—and that’s pretty damn unsexy. proving those people wrong usually feels pretty good. (okay, that bit of advice was maybe a tad nonprofit- and gender-specific.)

don’t work late and on weekends all the time to get your boss’s attention. she will not necessarily think you are hardworking or ultra-dedicated or raise-worthy, but rather that you may be an inefficient worker and/or need to get a life outside work. save as many of those hours for yourself and your own personal projects and creative work as you can, and defend that time fiercely. if you just graduated from a writing or other creative program and want to keep making while working, listen to the wise words of Ian Stansel and Kenya (Robinson). just don’t become this, which is funny because it’s true.

Get out of the office. talk to people both within and outside your chosen field to see how they are solving problems and looking at old problems in new ways. find people who interest, motivate, inspire, and elicit respect within you, then model yourself after the best parts of those people until you are comfortable enough make a career (which to me means an artful way of living and working) that is completely your own. you will be amazed at how willing complete strangers are to talk to you about professional matters—if you ask them politely, respect their time, and ask good questions (hint: “can you hire me?” is not a good question). what i’m saying is, people will help you; some are very kind. sometimes they will  insist on paying for the coffee even though the meeting was your idea. soon enough younger people will be asking you for these meetings, so return the favor—and spring for the coffee.

‘the nook’ chats with poet leah umansky

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photo by edward brydon

leah umansky’s first book, Domestic Uncertainties, is available from BlazeVOX Books. she is currently working on her second collection of poems focusing our 21st century technological world, science fiction, social media, and amc’s mad men. she has been a contributing writer for BOMB Magazine’s BOMBLOG, a poetry reviewer for The Rumpus and a live twit for The Best American Poetry Blog.  she is also the host/curator of COUPLET. Read more at: http://iammyownheroine.com. Follow her on twitter at: @Lady_Bronte

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Q & A with leah:

nook: can you tell us a bit about your experience working with BlazeVOX Books and the ways you were able to collaborate with this excellent small press on your first book?

leah: i’ve really enjoyed working with BlazeVOX. editor and publisher geoffrey gatza gave me an abundance of creative freedom. that was so important to me as a writer and as an artist, and i’m so grateful to him. i make collages and when we started discussing the cover, i asked geoffrey if i could have a go at making one for the book. i’d saved a few images in a folder for years and one day i played around with some ideas about emily bronte’s Wuthering Heights. the resulting piece is titled Behind the Curtain and it’s based on penistone crag—a favorite spot of cathy and heathcliff’s. geoffrey loved it and it became the cover! the book is a large square and the collage is also square and bold. the format was ideal because most of my poems use the whole page—both margins.  when we started discussing the format of the book, the first thing geoffrey said was, “i see this book as a large square,” and i completely agreed. he read my mind. i couldn’t be happier with the end result. i didn’t appreciate how well the image and format suited the book until i received my copy in the mail.

nook: you are a very active, engaged member of the poetry community. you’ve worked with some of our most interesting poetry outlets; you’ve been involved in presenting events. how did you become invested in this community?

leah: i constantly work at it. it’s exhausting, but i enjoy it all. otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. live tweeting for The Best American Poetry, reviewing poetry for The Rumpus, writing interviews and reviews for BOMBlog, and writing for TheThePoetry all help connect me with the community. little by little, i am finding my way in the poetry world. i started my reading series, COUPLET, because i wanted an outlet for poets who weren’t “connected” and poets who didn’t have a first book yet.

i did my MFA in 2004 at sarah lawrence college and at that time it was easy to get readings, but after i graduated, i went right into a MA in english education at hunter college. i was working at the UJA and trying to send out poems to earn more substantial publication credits. it was nearly impossible. i’d try to arrange readings and the first question was always: “do you have a book?” years passed and i stopped caring about it. in time, i met my friend carlos, who became my DJ for COUPLET. we like a lot of the same music: britpop, new wave, indie, glam-rock… a few summers ago, i put together a reading with some friends and it was really successful. someone suggested i start my own reading series and i realized i should, but i knew it needed to be unique. i thought about a DJ afterparty and carlos agreed. soon, COUPLET was born.

nook: at this point, it’s almost a necessity for emerging poets to engage with social media in order to connect with readers. can you tell us a bit about your experience in this arena?

leah: if you asked me a few years ago, could I imagine running two blogs, three facebook pages and two twitter accounts, i’d have rolled my eyes and laughed. i still don’t know how i manage to juggle it all, and teach full-time, but i’m not complaining. i’m grateful because i’m happy. i enjoy it.  it’s all about whether you enjoy the things you do. i love social media. i think i love it because i’m open to it and because i delight in new friendships. i’m social. i like people, and i’m interested in what they have to say.

nook: what’s next?

leah: i’m currently at work on my second book, which is deeply rooted in our 21st century and very much commenting on technology, science-fiction, dating, social media and nostalgia. it also addresses advertising and marketing—things i’ve always been fascinated by, but never thought i’d actually write about. this year, i finally gave in and started watching Mad Men. i became obsessed with it. i was worried that it would be really masochistic and i’d be disgusted with the gender stereotypes, but i actually think it has a lot of feministic qualities. i find it mesmerizing and it’s not just because don draper is so powerful, interesting and sexy, but because it’s a smart show. i love the ideas. i started ordering the DVDs on netflix and found myself watching in bed with a pencil and pad, because i was constantly struck with ideas.

nook: poetry, and art in general, is always susceptible to the accusation that it has become totally self-referential, that there are no new ideas, that there are no new movements, that there can never be another avant garde. i’m always devastated but this argument, and it’s my feeling that poetry and art, inasmuch as they are self-referential, are also the only real, real-time reflection of the world we have in our culture. as long as the world keeps moving forward, it seems there is endless potential for innovation. what are your thoughts?

leah: i love this question. on one hand, yes, all art is creating something new and allows for representation and reflection of our ever-changing world, but it is always simultaneously built on something that came before. i think it probably boils down to ego. i steal all the time. i admit it. everyone does. i don’t think there are that many original ideas out there. every story is a version of another story. the first epigraph in my book comes from one of my favorite writers, jeanette winterson. in her book of essays, Art Objects, she writes, “we mostly understand ourselves through an endless series of stories told to ourselves by ourselves and others.” she’s right. we all learn through stories that are built upon each other.  when you tell a story (or in my case write a poem) you’re somehow writing a version of another story. you may not know the story, but someone out there wrote a similar story. for example, Domestic Uncertainties,  is a memoir of marriage and divorce told through poetry. it’s a classic story of love lost, but it’s my story and it’s filled with my references and my lived experiences. most writing is self-referential on some level but my form, tone, wordplay, and style makes my story unique.

i recently read sharon olds’ new book,  Stag’s Leap, and i really enjoyed it. i don’t want to compare my book to hers, but they both tell stories of divorce.  when reading her story, i recognized parts of my own: my divorce. i identified with her narrative not only as a woman, but as a poet. i felt our poems were connected.  maybe this is because there is no original story.  here is an example from my poem,  How We Make Ourselves,

I want to ‘top’ this story. /

It always begins this way./

It’s in the beginnings of the new /

that we become who we want./

all stories begin the same way. you can try to “top” it or go at it from a different angle, but if you’re telling a story about love, you’re telling a story that’s been told since the beginning of time.

memory and memoir from under the shadows of heroin: patrick o’neil gets personal with ‘the nook’

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author patrick o’neil is currently in the process of writing his second book, chronicling his former career as roadie/road manager for several major punk bands during the ’80′s.

patrick: i’m writing the book i never thought i’d write. as a matter of fact, i shied from it for years, instead writing my memoir, which focuses on the end of almost two decades of heroin addiction. there was an urgency to that book, a need to tell the story, and a cathartic relief when it was done. yet, unlike that part of my life, which haunts me, the years i spent on the road, first as a roadie, then a road/tour manager for Dead Kennedys, Flipper, Subhumans, and TSOL, were years when the drugs were actually working. heroin quieted my internal negative voices, smoothed social anxiety, and solved the mystery of dealing with life (or not dealing with it). plus i got to be comatose for many of my waking hours, an endless dream of warmth and comfort (damn, when i describe it like that it almost sounds inviting enough to go back—only these days I know the reality of that desire).

now therein lies the dilemma: highly inebriated for most of that time, i remember the sensational and unusual events (there were many), yet for the most part the tour was endless road and hours of driving, so it all blended into one long, extended, dream-like landscape. unfortunately, as a result, there are huge gaps of time i can’t recall. i wrote this portion of my opening note regarding memory for my first book: “so take it from me, the adrenalin rush of an armed robbery, your best friend being murdered, a narcaine injection bringing you back from the dead for the seventh time, the click of handcuffs, or the slam of a cell door—these are moments i’ll never forget, no matter how hard I try.”

but, though i was assaulted, stabbed, involved in numerous altercations, engaged in an obscene glut of meaningless sex, OD’ed twice, arrested once, angry, depressed, dejected, and at times supremely happy—there were still great swaths of time and events i just couldn’t remember, and i was leery of trying. so as i said, at first this project was very daunting. i really didn’t want to be another unreliable narrator like david carr, in his addiction-fueled memoir The Night of the Gun. carr was able to exploit his inability to remember, and he did it well. it felt to me like this had already been done. but then, every time i told tour war stories, the usual questions was: when are you going to write the book?

luckily i was able to contact friends, family, and members of the bands and road crews (those who are still alive) and they were able to fill in the gaps. i began taking notes: my ex told me of a visit to the ER in a texas hospital, a show promoter provided the timeline of our van breaking down and getting stuck for three days in the backwoods of arkansas, and a lot of important details that were lost to me, i could research on the internet. as i slowly started writing down the details, i realized it wasn’t going to be that difficult.

memory and the mind are a densely convoluted warren of wormholes, and when i actually sat down and started writing, it all came rushing back—well, to be honest, it didn’t really rush; i’ve been working on it now for over two years. instead of fighting it, i realized that the endless sequence of events, one blurring into the next, was actually the essence of being on tour. there were mornings on the road when i’d wake up, light a cigarette, and chug the flat beer sitting next to me, wondering what city i was in and how long before the next show. this left me with the question, how can I convey to the reader this sense of freedom, monotony, confusion, and insanity?

“i was a strung out drug addict let loose on america, traveling the highways, ODing in motels. causing mayhem and disorder in every city and club that crossed my path—it was a beautiful thing to behold.”

eventually, i just went with the first memories that came. i wrote them as chapters, different tours, different years, different crews and bands.  somewhere around a hundred pages in, i remembered anne lamott’s Bird by Bird, (a book that inspired me to be a better writer many years ago). her dad’s instructions to her brother, who was having trouble writing a report for school on birds was to “just take it bird by bird.” so i started writing from the beginning, in chronological order: first show, first tour… and when i wrote of an event, i remembered details that lead to the next, and slowly it began to materialize. once my mind agreed to remember, i was slammed at odd times, recalling a moment or two. i always carry a notebook and pen. show by show, tour by tour, this book is coming together, one memory at a time.

patrick o’neil is the author of the memoir Hold Up, forthcoming from 13E Note Editions, Paris, France. his nonfiction essays have appeared in numerous literary journals, most notably: Fourteen Hills, New Plains Review, Weave Magazine, The Whistling Fire, Word Riot, and Blood Orange Review. patrick resides in hollywood, holds an MFA from antioch university los angeles, and teaches at a local community college. for more information please see his website: patrick-oneil.com

‘the nook’ chooses her top three books written by women in america

#1: My Antonía, by willa cather

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willa sibert cather (december 7, 1873 – april 24, 1947) was an american author who achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the great plains, in works such as O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and The Song of the Lark. in 1923 she was awarded the pulitzer prize for One of Ours (1922), a novel set during world war I. cather grew up in nebraska and graduated from the university of nebraska. she lived and worked in pittsburgh for ten years, then at the age of 33 she moved to new york, where she lived for the rest of her life. visit the Willa Cather Foundation to learn more!

#2 House of Mirth, by edith wharton

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edith wharton (born edith newbold jones, january 24, 1862 – August 11, 1937) was a pulitzer prize-winning american novelist, short story writer, and designer. in 1885, she married teddy robbins wharton, 12 years her senior. from a well-established boston family, he was a sportsman and gentleman of the same social class and shared her love of travel. from the late 1880s until 1902, he suffered acute depression, and the couple ceased their extensive travel. at that time his depression manifested as a more serious disorder, after which they lived almost exclusively at The Mount, their estate designed by edith wharton. they divorced in 1913. later she began an affair with morton fullerton, a journalist for The Times.

#3: Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, by grace paley

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grace paley (december 11, 1922 – august 22, 2007) was born in the bronx to isaac and manya ridnyik goodside, who anglicized the family name from gutseit on immigrating from ukraine. her father was a doctor. the family spoke russian and yiddish along with english.

grace was known for pacifism in her political activism. she advocated for what she called “the betterment of life for everyone.” in the 1950s, grace joined friends in protesting nuclear proliferation and american militarization. she also worked with the American Friends Service Committee to establish neighborhood peace groups, through which she met her second husband robert nichols.

with the escalation of the vietnam war, grace joined the War Resisters League. in 1968, she signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the vietnam war, and in 1969 she came to national prominence as an activist when she accompanied a peace mission to hanoi to negotiate the release of prisoners of war. she served as a delegate to the 1974 world peace conference in moscow and, in 1978 (the year “the nook was born”), she was arrested as one of “The White House Eleven” for unfurling an anti-nuclear banner on the white house lawn.

lovely literary lady: get to know anne mcpeak of A Public Space!

we’ve know anne mcpeak for years, as she made her way from one stellar lit mag to the next. currently the managing editor of A Public Space, anne is one of those special, dedicated, behind-the-scenes work-horses that toils everyday for LITERATURE, without looking for personal glory. get to know anne! trust us, she’s spectacular!

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Q & A with anne:

nook: you’ve made the rounds in the lit mag world! first you worked for the Hudson Review, now A Public Space…am i missing anything? you’ve been quite involved in the community beyond your formal positions, as well. what drew you to the field? and what keeps the fire burning, in what can sometimes be a sad-making landscape?

anne: i know! i pinch myself all the time. (i also did a short stint at Words Without Borders.) my mother was a poet and i grew up with a lot of books, but also literary magazines, so i always knew they existed and i was always reading. when the time came to think about a career, publishing was a given, and i was more excited about magazines than books. part of it was that i was writing, myself, so i wanted a career that was constantly involved with new work from a large group of writers. i also just loved the possibilities of magazines. jonathan galassi [head of FSG] put it nicely on a panel i once attended; he called it the “serendipitous pleasure” of reading magazines, turning the page and being introduced to something you didn’t know you were going to love.

as for keeping the fire burning—it is a challenging field, no doubt about that. literary magazines often have a DIY spirit, and that can be frustrating at times when the stakes are high, but it’s also very satisfying to see how much you can accomplish with very little. when i’m really proud, i can put the magazine in someone’s hands and tell her about a writer i think she’ll love. that’s just really exciting. i want people to read the pieces i love in the magazine, but i also want them to go out and find every book that writer has ever written, or, if those books haven’t been written yet, i want people to be standing by. so there’s the sense that i’m playing a part in literary history, and i guess that potential, more than anything else, keeps my chin up.

nook: you are in a unique position, i think, to talk about the drastic changes in the area of lit mag distribution over the past several years, first with the loss of DeBoer and then with the rise of the digital platform. can you give us some impressions?

anne: distribution for literary magazines has always been a catch-22, as you know—necessary exposure at a considerable financial loss (as big box stores destroy unsold copies rather than returning them to publishers). at the Hudson Review, we considered distribution a marketing expense, and that pretty much sums it up. DeBoer closed right around the time i left the Hudson Review, but my memory is that we hadn’t used them for years—they never paid! and that says a lot, too, that magazine distribution isn’t really a sustainable business model. borders’ closing definitely affected the distribution picture, as well…but there’s a lot of opportunity too, and if the focus for indie publishers is increasingly on finding ways to reach readers in a meaningful way, then hand-selling is the obvious answer.

the internet has been incredible for that! at A Public Space, we sell directly to readers across the country and around the world (and the direct communication is important, because we can approach those readers in the future, to offer discounted subscriptions, tell them about events, that sort of thing). on a local level, we make a point of distributing directly, as well. we talk to bookstores when a new issue is coming out, deliver issues ourselves, and pick up unsold issues (or deliver more issues if they sell out). obviously that sort of hands-on approach is only possible on a small scale for a publication like ours, but if you really love the project you’re working on, and you have a way to reach your community directly, that can be incredibly meaningful.

as for digital platforms, A Public Space is in the middle of broadening our presence, and we’ve had many interesting discussions about how best to do that. it’s an especially important question for print publications—how can we make digital products that truly reflect the print counterpart in terms of design, production value, readability? the digital publishing landscape is in flux, so it’s a pioneer moment—no one has the best answer yet. even the big guys are struggling to adapt to the digital marketplace (note the impending Random House/Penguin merger), and there’s an impulse to find strength in numbers. the indie world has already produced some exciting experiments—Electric Literature, Red Lemonade, Open Road Media, etc.—and i imagine we’re going to see a lot more.

nook: we’re both bard girls! i have a special place in my heart for the hudson valley…and i imagine you do, as well. (i think you had a very pretty wedding up there recently, according to facebook evidence.) are you from upstate originally? what brought you to new york and the world of lit mag publishing?

anne: oh, the hudson valley! I’m not from new york state originally, but my husband’s mother is from ghent (where her parents were chicken farmers), so he and I both have deep ties to the area, hence the location of our wedding. we actually lived and worked up there for a year after graduating from bard, but it wasn’t a place we could launch careers. i really wanted to give publishing a try, and new york is the most obvious choice for the industry—plus, it’s new york! we’ve been here ten years, and it’s been awesome, but we do secretly (and frequently) scheme about ways to return to the hudson valley …

ON DIASPORA LIT: Habitus and Mosaic weigh in…

joshua ellison, editor of Habitus: A Diaspora Journal, and ron kavanaugh, publisher of Mosaic: Literary Arts of the Diaspora, sat down with the nook to address what diaspora literature means within the contemporary landscape.

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Habitus is an international journal of diaspora literature and culture. each issue focuses on a different city, penetrating deep into the emotional and political substance of the urban environment. while Habitus is rooted in the experience and language of the jewish diaspora, the magazine is not limited by the parochial boundaries of any single group. as josh wrote in the introduction to the first issue: “Habitus is not just about cataloguing distinctions. It’s a way of using the whole world as raw material for creating a more complete picture of ourselves.”

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Mosaic explores the literary arts created by writers of african descent. through articles, essays, book reviews, and interviews Mosaic has increased the literary reach of some of the most important voices affecting change on many artistic fronts. Mosaic has featured such artists lucille clifton, bernice mcfadden, colson whitehead, walter mosley, staceyann chin, major jackson, chimamanda adichie, and sonya sanchez among others.

nook: i’ll start my question with a quote:

“diaspora literature involves an idea of a homeland, a place from where the displacement occurs and narratives of harsh journeys undertaken on account of economic compulsions. basically diaspora is a minority community living in exile. the Oxford English Dictionary 1989 edition traces the etymology of the word ‘diaspora’ back to its greek root and to its appearance in the Old Testament (Deut: 28:25). as such, it references god’s intentions for the people of israel to be dispersed across the world. The OED here commences with the judaic history, mentioning only two types of dispersal: the “jews living dispersed among the gentiles after the captivity” and the jewish christians residing outside the palestine. the dispersal (initially) signifies the location of a fluid human autonomous space involving a complex set of negotiation and exchange between the nostalgia and desire for the ‘homeland’ and the making of a new home, adapting to the power, relationships between the minority and majority, being spokes persons for minority rights and their people back home and significantly transacting the ‘contact zone’—a space changed with the possibility of multiple challenges.”

—from Diaspora Literature: A Testimony of Realism, by shaleen singh

so, I guess my question is this: how does each of your magazines conceive of contemporary diasporic literature and its future, as the actuality of the “displacement” and the “harsh journey’s” that led to its birth are, in certain diasporic communities, clouded by the passage of time?

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josh: you are very right to notice that the passage of time can obscure a visceral sense of diaspora. in fact, i think Habitus has a polemical dimension that we try to deal with subtly, but I hope still comes through: we want to preserve an awareness in jewish culture of our relationship to displacement, cosmopolitanism, and all the cultural impurity that makes diasporic culture really interesting. to me, what is interesting about the jewish diaspora can also hold for many other groups. it’s the way a rich and continuous tradition interacts with each new time and setting. the result is familiar but distinctive.


i think literature and diaspora have an important common function, which is that they are means of building empathy with people who are not standing right in front of you. they both make moral demands on the imagination. jewish children are told at passover that they should feel as if they, themselves, went out of egypt. you can hear the same sentiment from a reggae singer like Burning Spear, when he asks, “do you remember the days of slavery?”

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ron: i believe modern interpretation of diaspora would suggest a somewhat positive, voluntary movement of people—as opposed to forced displacement. i’m more resolute about what the forced disbursement of black people has done to our collective identity, given that we make an overt choice to identify with a place as our place of origin. no one’s ancestry truly begins in jamaica, brazil, or alabama, but these are the places where we, black people, were enslaved, later established roots, and now hone a cultural, literary starting point, connected to but uniquely separated from “africa.” even referring to a continent as a cultural starting point is troubling—it wasn’t as “fluid” as the word suggests. 

when I decided to use the subtitle “literary arts of the diaspora,” it was more of an attempt to use coded language to signal to blacks and people open to reading a variety of literary work that this publication was for them. in Mosaic, because of black people’s history of slavery and jim crow, we accept where people identify as their chapter in a highly disconnected journey.

meet the press! episode one, amy scholder of the Feminist Press

amy scholder is the editorial director of the Feminist Press. during her drool-worthy career, amy has worked with sapphire, kathy acker, barbara hammer, june jordan, joni mitchell, kate mIllett, kate bornstein, justin vivian bond, laurie weeks, and many more writers and artists. 

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photo by joe ziolkowski for Bomb Magazine

(couldn’t resist this vintage image of super-woman amy with dashing, dangling ira silverberg, current head of lit at the NEA. the two teamed up in the 90’s to create a forum for free thinkers, libertines, and dangerous expressionists: High Risk Books.)

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about the Feminist Press:

an independent nonprofit literary publisher, the Feminist Press supports authors who share an activist spirit and a belief in choice and equality. founded in 1970, FP began rescuing “lost” works by writers such as zora neale hurston and charlotte perkins gilman, and continued to establish their catalogue with authors of diverse racial and class backgrounds. 

ATTN: NEW YORK LIT-LOVERS: Meet the Feminist Press TONIGHT!

monday, december 3rd @ 7PM
Bluestockings presents cristy c. road (of Sister Spit),
author of new FP title Spit and Passion

at twelve years old, cristy was struggling to balance tradition in a cuban catholic family with her newfound queer identity, and began a chronic obsession with the punk band Green Day. In her graphic biography, Spit and Passion, road renders the clash between her rich inner world of fantasy and the numbing suburban conformity that surrounds her. 

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some thoughts from amy:

on post-feminism: i agree with martha rosler, who does not find the term “post-feminism” useful in any way. Feminist Press is publishing books which promote social justice, gender equality, and choice. these are feminist issues, and i don’t expect we’ll feel like our work is done any time soon.

on indie booksellers: i love indie stores like Bluestockings and St. Marks. i can usually find new books i’m looking for, and i can discover books i didn’t know about. one of the problems with internet shopping is that, with so much to choose from, people tend to buy the same few items. we see this trend especially with books. it used to be that, of the thousands of new titles published each year, a hundred or so would sell briskly. now a million titles are coming out within a short period of time, and only a dozen or so are selling. indie booksellers do hand-selling of a greater diversity of titles to suit their customers, and often support indie presses. indie bookstores and publishers need one other to survive.

tad crawford, new novelist, artists’ advocate, and child of woodstock, gets personal with the nook

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photo: susan mccartney

about tad: author of the novel A Floating Life, as well as The Secret Life of Money and a dozen other nonfiction titles focused chiefly on the business lives of artists and writers; his stories and articles have appeared in such varied mags as Art in America, Confrontation, Glamour, Guernica, and The Nation.

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Q & A with tad:

nook: first things first, i’d love it if you gave us a few impressions from your personal experience of writing and publishing a work of fiction, after so many nonfiction titles. differences and similarities in process? 

tad: the difference in the writing process was enormous. my legal/business guides for artists, or even The Secret Life of Money, allowed for a plan that outlined the entire book before i started to write. when i started my novel, i had no idea what the ending might be. during the process, i wrote sections that risked hitting dead ends, and some of these sections couldn’t be used in the finished novel. as important as ‘knowing’ is to my nonfiction, ‘not knowing’ is to my fiction. i was willing to make mistakes of all sizes and kinds; so, the editing process—the balancing, shaping, and arranging—became ever so important in bringing the novel to completion.

nook: during my time as managing director of clmp, i sometimes found it challenging to advocate for good, diligent organizational practices and development with our members. it’s definitely not the glamorous, sexy part of the art world, or the publishing world, or any creative field! and, of course, so many artists and writers are strapped for time and cash, which makes it even harder for them to address these issues. you have an impressive list of nonfiction titles aimed at helping artists, writers, designers, etc., with the technical side of their careers. can you talk a bit about what drives your passion for the nonfiction writing? 

tad: i grew up in the artist’s colony of woodstock, new york. i wanted to write, but went to columbia law school to be practical. by chance i was offered the opportunity to teach writing at the school of visual arts in new york city. i did this while practicing law, and soon discovered that my students knew little about law or business. this led me to create a course for them. i wrote Legal Guide for the Visual Artist as a textbook for the course. soon i was involved with many organizations that serve artists, and i continued to write books aimed at helping artists approach business issues. my passion for this certainly came, in part, from having grown up with artists and authors in woodstock. but meeting so many sva students, and also faculty, gave me an in-depth awareness of the challenges they face, and a desire to assist them. this finally led me to found Allworth Press in 1989, so i could publish a variety of books by many expert authors, to help creative professionals.

nook: on your website, i read about the recent hearings held by the copyright office on small copyright claims infringement. how’d that go? can you tell us a bit about this issue?

tad: well, the problem is that small claims for copyright infringement can’t be pursued without great expense in the federal courts. this makes it impossible for most artists and authors to sue for copyright infringement. the hearings were an attempt to develop legislation that would deal with this longstanding problem and make the copyright system more available to creators who aren’t wealthy. when i was active as an attorney, especially as general counsel to the Graphic Artists Guild, i focused on educating artists, but also seeking legislative changes to work-for-hire contracts under the copyright law. unfortunately, this remains an important concern for artists and authors.

nook: what was it like growing up on an artists colony in woodstock? i was immediately charmed by this fact in your bio, as the hudson valley holds a special place in my heart. i’ve spent a lot of time at bard in annandale and also in hudson, ny. i’m not sure what the specific question is here; i’m basically fishing for an evocative anecdote!

tad: woodstock in the ’50s and ’60s was a fascinating place. visual artists had discovered the valley’s beauty at the turn of the century, but many famous musicians also made their homes there. my mother was a sculptor who was active in the Woodstock Artist’s Association. the association staged a musical each year as a fundraiser. one year, my mother co-authored the musical with the village anarchist (who, despite coming from a wealthy family, lived without running water or electricity in a cabin in the woods, and hadn’t shaved since before the arrival of beatniks, much less hippies). one song they wrote depicted locals picketing the bus from new york, chanting “tourists go home!” this upset the chamber of commerce so much that, after a huge brouhaha, the lyrics were changed to “tourists come back!” old woodstock’ers (whose families had been there for generations), ibm’ers who came as employees, and artists who loved the rich and sometimes strange culture, all coexisted to make the town colorful even before the counterculture of the ‘60s. and i can’t tell you how often people asked me, “where did they hold the woodstock festival?” 

why is this LIT different than all other LIT? four lovely ladies of literature answer the age-old questions: episode one, christine leahy

some of the most interesting ladies on nyc’s indie lit scene are busy toiling over their answers to our burning questions! first to get her homework done: christine (of course)!

CHRISTINE LEAHY program officer, new york state council on the arts, a state agency

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christine on her career path: at one point in my career, it seemed like i had arts experience, and then i also had non-profit experience, but they were not necessarily related. i had worked in museum education, as an assistant to an artist, i wrote fiction and i did some freelance, arts-related journalism. while freelancing, i began some recurring odd jobs with a couple of non-arts non-profits, just to pay the bills. that’s really how i learned about nonprofit operations.  i later helped my best friend, as she founded a non-profit called Literacy for Incarcerated Teens, by serving as chair of her advisory board.  at nysca i’ve served in the visual arts, literature, museums, architecture & design, facilities, and folk arts programs.

one amazing benefit of my job is daily exposure to all kinds of art – chicken soup for the soul! other perks include the creative and good-hearted colleagues, and the sense that what i do for a paycheck is helping to make the world a better place.  in our world, you also tend to have a better life-work balance than, say, a corporate lawyer.  the challenges include: keeping on top of all the new developments in the field (pretty much impossible), trying not to lose track of your own creative projects, and, if you are not blessed with a wealthy spouse, parents, or perhaps a rent-free apartment, making your paycheck actually cover your expenses can be a puzzle!

christine on community: people of mixed heritage often talk about feeling that they belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  working in more than one arts discipline will create a similar feeling, as will working for a funder, where it can seem that you are one step removed from the actual funded projects.  there are so MANY communities in our field, centered around neighborhoods, sub-genres within a discipline, online activity, etc, and this multitude is what makes the field so vibrant and so exhausting.

in general, i appreciate the broad sense that the nonprofit arts sector is canada, to the u.s.a. of various commercially-oriented arts sectors. a few of the communities that have impressed me recently: ‘grantmakers in the arts,’ a network that’s pooled resources and info about the funding community’s response to superstorm sandy; ‘you’ve cott mail‘ and ‘arts journal,’ two virtual communities that deliver all the latest arts news to my inbox every day; and a relatively new community coming out of the visual arts world called ‘w.a.g.e.,’ working artists and the greater economy, which is engaged with the idea that all artists should be paid for their services by the nonprofits they work with, and that these organizations should be subject to more transparency. i’d love to see a similar effort take root in the literary community.

christine’s advice to the novice non-profit arts administrator: be humble, be patient, and work hard.  you will learn more than you realize, even in an entry-level position or internship. the gratification is definitely not instant, so don’t complain about having to do something you perceive to be grunt work.
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more to come from…

BETH HARRISON editor, spinning jenny

JEN BENKA executive director, academy of american poets

BETH WEINSTEIN world voices festival & public programs manager, pen