I’ve been thinking about literary citizenship the last while. Probably because I recently spent ten days on Whidbey Island, hobnobbing with writer buddies, sitting in on the afternoon Profession of Writing sessions that are so popular during the NILA residency, celebrating with the seven graduates who received their MFA degree on August 10th, and marveling at how willingly some people step up to help bring great writing to the forefront, or to help other writers realize their dreams.
A writer who is a literary citizen participates in the literary world by doing more than writing his or her own works and seeking publication. The participation can be as simple buying a book, subscribing to a literary journal or online magazine, writing a book review, sending a note of appreciation to an author, workshop leader, or colleague, or contributing a few dollars to a colleague’s Kickstarter project so that his excellent book can be published.
I am privileged to know some writers who take literary citizenship further. The things that they do take time and effort. I could never hope to list all the things these literary citizens do, but here are a few:
- Participating as a director of a writing association (be it an alumni association, a conference, or an educational institution), a job which takes gobs of time and more often than not is taken for granted by others;
- Acting as an officer of a writing association and representing the association to the public, a job that demands self-assurance, confidence, tact, professionalism and a genuine desire to guide the future of the association;
- Co-ordinating the alumni association’s first novel contest, a job that takes more gobs of time, and demands superb organizational skills;
- Judging contest entries, which in addition to hastening the time when you’ll need reading glasses, is a job that requires a thick skin;
- Fundraising – a job that requires creativity, stick-to-itness, and the ability to twist arms with charm;
- Providing resources and educational opportunities for writers, a job that – well, if you’ve ever organized a workshop, seminar or panel, you know the work involved;
- Contributing to the welfare of alumni by promoting the association and its members, publicizing member news and events, recruiting and welcoming members;
- Working quietly out of the limelight to help writers in their search for day jobs, agents, editors, publishers, marketing assistance;
- And, of course, offering to read your first draft, or your second, or your fifteenth, and putting aside their own work in order to do so.
Creative writing and the literary world would be in a fix without these literary citizens.
I am one of the many, many writers who have benefited from their contributions, and am extremely grateful that these fine, generous people have taken time (a day, a week, most likely a month) out of their lives to participate in the literary world.