This summer I had the opportunity to participate in the Sewanee Writers Conference, and to do something I rarely have the chance to do: hang out with other writers. Looking back on the experience–the people, the conversations, the glut of industry knowledge and craft wisdom that was imparted–it’s hard to believe that I was ever hesitant about attending. Yet just a few months before, almost immediately after the acceptance email had been opened, I was sure I’d let the opportunity pass. I worried about unforeseen costs, the social awkwardness of hanging around so many relentlessly introverted strangers, the frustration of workshops, and the possibility of meeting some my favorite writers and discovering that they weren’t half as smart or captivating as their writing. But mostly I dreaded the competitive interaction, the inevitable publication pissing contest and name-dropping ping-pong that I figured would attend all my conversations. I had no desire to spend my days learning my place in a hierarchy, reciting my CV at wine socials, or testifying as to why I belonged at the conference and why I’d been given funding to show up. In short, I was nervous.

But there was something different about Sewanee. It’s a difference that’s best articulated by the hundred-plus 2013 conference attendees that have formed an alumni group on Facebook, and who have so far been quite serious about staying in touch with one another and posting shout-outs whenever a fellow alum appears in print. Yes, hierarchies and egos are part of the experience. Yes, people are going to care about where you’ve published, who you know, and where you went to school. Absolutely they are going to judge your talent when they see your writing or hear you read. And no, none of this is easy to deal with, especially for thirteen consecutive days. What makes it worthwhile is the miracle of new relationships. These aren’t formed in the professional, insecure, tense settings of workshops. They blossom over communal meals, on late-night porches with live music; they develop on random nature hikes, during pick-up basketball games and impromptu confessionals around patio tables outside the dorm. More than the big-time agents, the famous editors or even the visiting writers, this is the special opportunity that Sewanee provides.

And then the unexpected pleasures. The truly pleasant thrill of meeting a likable talent on the verge of discovery, of hearing the excitement in their voice as they talk about a workshop that went well or an agent that has flown back to New York with a sample of their manuscript. The competitiveness and tension you arrived with eases up (it never absolutely goes away) and gradually you befriend the people that are fighting for the same recognition as you, and strangely enough you begin to hope for their success.

There are a dozen writers who made my time at Sewanee something meaningful to look back on, but these two must be singled out: Adam Latham, who in the middle of a hundred responsibilities took the time to settle some of my anxieties and confusion; and Steve Yarbrough, who at the far corner of the dining hall one afternoon offered some fortifying encouragement in a moment of doubt and direction-seeking. To them and to all the other friends I made at Sewanee, a very sincere thank you.

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Aside  —  Posted: September 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

imagesSpring is here, which means summer is getting closer. If you’ve been living in the UK like myself, then you probably can’t thank God loud enough for that. For writers who support themselves through teaching, summer means some uninterrupted time to create. But it also potentially means filling out job apps and pouncing on one or two preciously scarce creative writing positions around the US (or anywhere for that matter). Below are some recent openings for creative writing faculty at the higher education level. I’m posting this fairly late in the deadline game, so be sure to note application closing dates before you begin collecting references and tidying up your CV.

 
1) Geneva College invites applications for an English/Writing faculty member. The current position is a one-year term contract position in the Department of English, Professional Writing Program, with an emphasis on informational and creative writing and is contingent on budgetary approval. Publication experience and either M.F.A. or Ph.D. required. Appointment begins August 2013 (and, subject to funding and approval, the position might include renewal and possible movement to tenure-track). Minority and female applicants are strongly encouraged to apply. http://www.higheredjobs.com/search/details.cfm?Jobcode=175744200&aID=&print=yes

2) Kansas Wesleyan University seeks a tenure-track, Assistant Professor of English to begin August 2013. Candidates must hold a Ph.D. in American literature by date of hire, with experience teaching creative writing highly preferable. Candidates with a terminal degree in creative writing with experience teaching American literature will also be considered. All applicants must possess enthusiasm for teaching undergraduates in a wide range of courses, including composition. Candidate review will begin on May 15, 2013, and applications received by that date will receive priority consideration.  http://chronicle.com/jobs/0000777828-01

3) The Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia is seeking applicants for a non-tenure track faculty position at the rank of Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education in the area of English Education. The incumbent teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in the secondary English teacher education program alongside field-based practica and serves as co-Director of the UVA Young Writers Workshop. Duties include a range of administrative functions including maintaining program database, managing revenues, writing grants, facilitating program hires, arranging for contractual services, and communicating with the public and program stakeholders. The incumbent works collaboratively with colleagues in the Young Writers program, the English Education program, and the Curry School of Education. http://chronicle.com/jobs/0000776546-01/

4) One-year appointment at Oklahoma State University, beginning August 2013. MFA or PhD in Creative Writing, or related area. 3-2 teaching load. Appropriate terminal degree, appropriate credentials, significant national publication, and demonstrated teaching excellence required. Additional publication and teaching expertise in creative non-fiction desirable. Salary competitive and commensurate with experience. For further information on the department see our webpage at http://english.okstate.edu. To ensure full consideration, applications should be received by May 1, 2013. We will continue, however, to accept and consider applications until the position has been filled.

When I first started writing, my impetus was clear and simple: write what I love, find a publisher, write more of what I love, and repeat. Today, much to my surprise, I find myself pursuing a career in higher education, plodding through a creative writing doctoral program and participating in yet another level of academia–though I was never that keen to participate in the levels that came before it. Of course nobody can do what they love to do all the time, and as we age our lives, our bodies and aspirations get more complicated. Still and yet, I often wonder whether the road we take isn’t a total unintentional mutation of the road we initially set out upon. Like everyone else, at some point on my own path I got lost, confused, turned around and bewildered. And like everyone else I stopped and asked for directions from some sagely approachable soul that I suspected to be more familiar with the terrain of life. I can hardly remember most of the advice I was given, but I do remember a reoccurring surprise at typically being told to take a step back before I went forward, or to go left if I wanted to go right. As I find myself more and more in the role of advice-giver, I also find myself reflecting more on the advice I’ve been given. The following career article comes from the blog of writer George Monbiot, and is re-posted here with the hope that it will be as fortifying to you as it was to me. Monbiot is best known for his work at the BBC, and his blog can be found at http://www.monbiot.com.

[Career Advice]Image

Every week, sometimes every day, someone writes to me asking for advice about the career they should take. I can’t, unfortunately, respond to them all, so I thought I should try to formulate some general guidelines, which I hope people will be able to adapt to their own circumstances. This advice applies only to those who have a genuine choice of careers, which means, regrettably, that it does not apply to the majority of the world’s workforce. But if the people writing to me did not have choice, they wouldn’t be asking.

While this guidance may be applicable to some people working in other areas, the examples I will use all come from journalism, as most of those writing to me want to be journalists, and this is the field in which I have mostly worked. Before you take it, I should warn you not to rely on my word alone. I can’t guarantee that this approach will work for you. You should take advice from as many people as you can. Ultimately, you must make your own decisions: don’t allow me or anyone else to make them for you.

The first advice I would offer is this: be wary of following the careers advice your college gives you. In journalism school, for example, students are routinely instructed that, though they may wish to write about development issues in Latin America, in order to achieve the necessary qualifications and experience they must first spend at least three years working for a local newspaper, before seeking work for a national newspaper, before attempting to find a niche which brings them somewhere near the field they want to enter. You are told to travel, in other words, in the opposite direction to the one you want to take. You want to go to Latin America? Then first you must go to Nuneaton. You want to write about the Zapatistas? Then first you must learn how to turn corporate press releases into “news”. You want to be free? Then first you must learn to be captive.

The advisers say that a career path like this is essential if you don’t want to fall into the “trap” of specialisation: that is to say, if you want to be flexible enough to respond to the changing demands of the employment market. But the truth is that by following the path they suggest, you are becoming a specialist: a specialist in the moronic recycling of what the rich and powerful deem to be news. And after a few years of that, you are good for little else.

This career path, in other words, is counter-educational. It teaches you to do what you don’t want to do, to be what you don’t want to be. It is an exceptional person who emerges from this process with her aims and ideals intact. Indeed it is an exceptional person who emerges from this process at all. What the corporate or institutional world wants you to do is the opposite of what you want to do. It wants a reliable tool, someone who can think, but not for herself: who can think instead for the institution. You can do what you believe only if that belief happens to coincide with the aims of the corporation, not just once, but consistently, across the years (it is a source of wonder to me how many people’s beliefs just happen to match the demands of institutional power, however those demands may twist and turn, after they’ve been in the company for a year or two).

Even intelligent, purposeful people almost immediately lose their way in such worlds. They become so busy meeting the needs of their employers and surviving in the hostile world into which they have been thrust that they have no time or energy left to develop the career path they really wanted to follow. And you have to develop it: it will not happen by itself. The idea, so often voiced by new recruits who are uncomfortable with the choice they have made, that they can reform the institution they join from within, so that it reflects their own beliefs and moral codes, is simply laughable. For all the recent guff about corporate social responsibility, corporations respond to the market and to the demands of their shareholders, not to the consciences of their employees. Even the chief executive can make a difference only at the margins: the moment her conscience interferes with the non-negotiable purpose of her company – turning a profit and boosting the value of its shares – she’s out.

This is not to say that there are no opportunities to follow your beliefs within the institutional world. There are a few, though generally out of the mainstream: specialist programmes and magazines, some sections of particular newspapers, small production companies whose bosses have retained their standards. Jobs in places like this are rare, but if you find one, pursue it with energy and persistence. If, having secured it, you find that it is not what it seemed, or if you find you are being consistently pulled away from what you want to do, have no hesitation in bailing out.

Nor does this mean that you shouldn’t take work experience in the institutions whose worldview you do not accept if it’s available, and where there are essential skills you feel you can learn at their expense. But you must retain absolute clarity about the limits of this exercise, and you must leave the moment you’ve learnt what you need to learn (usually after just a few months) and the firm starts taking more from you than you are taking from it. How many times have I heard students about to start work for a corporation claim that they will spend just two or three years earning the money they need, then leave and pursue the career of their choice? How many times have I caught up with those people several years later, to discover that they have acquired a lifestyle, a car and a mortgage to match their salary, and that their initial ideals have faded to the haziest of memories, which they now dismiss as a post-adolescent fantasy? How many times have I watched free people give up their freedom?

So my second piece of career advice echoes the political advice offered by Benjamin Franklin: whenever you are faced with a choice between liberty and security, choose liberty. Otherwise you will end up with neither. People who sell their souls for the promise of a secure job and a secure salary are spat out as soon as they become dispensable. The more loyal to an institution you are, the more exploitable, and ultimately expendable, you become.

None of this, of course, means that you can start doing precisely what you want to do straight away, and be remunerated as you might wish. But there are three possible approaches I would recommend.

The first is to start how you mean to go on. This is unlikely, for a while, to be self-financing, so you may need to supplement it with work which raises sufficient money to keep you alive but doesn’t demand too much mental energy. If you want to write about the Zapatistas in Mexico, earn the money required to get you out there and start covering them. If you want to make it pay, you must be enterprising. You should investigate all the potential outlets for the stories you hope to come across: magazines, newspapers, radio and TV stations, websites and publishers.

You should have a clear view of what you want to cover before you go, plan it carefully and find as many contacts as you can from among people with some knowledge of the issue. But at the same time you should be ready for stories you don’t anticipate, which might find a home somewhere unexpected. You might for instance come across a wildlife story while you’re there, with which you could help finance your trip by writing it up for a wildlife magazine. You might supplement your earnings with a travel piece, or something for an architectural magazine or a food programme. Editors are sometimes delighted to receive material from outside the box (though more often they simply won’t understand it). Work in as many media as you can, and be persistent.

Be prepared to live and travel as cheaply as possible: for my first four years as a freelancer I lived on an average of five thousand pounds a year. In seven years working in the poor world, I managed to keep my expenses down to three thousand pounds a year. This is a good discipline for any freelancer, however well you’re doing. If you can live on five thousand pounds a year, you are six times as secure as someone who needs thirty thousand to get by. In Britain, however, the possibilities of thrifty living have now been clouded somewhat by student loans: many people looking for work are already burdened by debt.

Work hard, but don’t rush. Build up your reputation slowly and steadily. And specialisation, for all they tell you at journalism school, is, if you use it intelligently, not the trap but the key to escaping from the trap. You can become the person editors think of when they need someone to cover a particular issue from a particular angle (that is to say, your angle). They then respond to your worldview, rather than you having to respond to theirs. It’s surprising how quickly you can become an “expert” in a particular field: simply because so few other journalists know anything about it. You will find opportunities, and opportunities will find you.

The second possible approach is this: if the market for the kind of work you want to do looks, at first, impenetrable, then engage in the issue by different means. If you want to write about homelessness, for example (one of the great undercovered issues of developed societies), it might be easier to find work with a group trying to assist the homeless. Learn the trade by learning the issues, and gradually branch into journalism. Though this takes you a step or two away from your ideal, at least you will be working with the people experiencing the issues which interest you, rather than with the detached men and women in the corporate newsrooms who have themselves lost their dreams, and who know as little about the real world as the careers advisors who helped land them in those jobs in the first place.

The third approach is tougher, but just as valid. It is followed by people who have recognised the limitations of any form of engagement with mainstream employers, and who have created their own outlets for their work. Most countries have a number of small alternative papers and broadcasters, run voluntarily by people making their living by other means: part time jobs, grants or social security. These are, on the whole, people of tremendous courage and determination, who have placed their beliefs ahead of their comforts. To work with them can be a privilege and inspiration, for the simple reason that they – and, by implication, you – are free while others are not. All the money, all the prestige in the world will never make up for the loss of your freedom.

So my final piece of advice is this: when faced with the choice between engaging with reality or engaging with what Erich Fromm calls the “necrophiliac” world of wealth and power, choose life, whatever the apparent costs may be. Your peers might at first look down on you: poor Nina, she’s twenty-six and she still doesn’t own a car. But those who have put wealth and power above life are living in the world of death, in which the living put their tombstones – their framed certificates signifying acceptance to that world – on their walls. Remember that even the editor of the Times, for all his income and prestige, is still a functionary, who must still take orders from his boss. He has less freedom than we do, and being the editor of the Times is as good as it gets.

You know you have only one life. You know it is a precious, extraordinary, unrepeatable thing: the product of billions of years of serendipity and evolution. So why waste it by handing it over to the living dead?

Next Stop, AWP…

Posted: February 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

The time has come for the annual madhouse and inevitable peacocking that is AWP, which will take place March 6th-9th in Boston. Over the last year that I’ve been running this blog, I’ve come into digital contact with a lot of cool people and writing professionals. Unfortunately, because of my travels, I’ve rarely had the chance to make any real human contact with folks. Next week I’ll be attending AWP from March 6th to March 8th. Please contact me if you will be in attendance or just in the area, passing through, as I would love to meet up. Of course this includes anyone–artists or old friends alike–who isn’t involved with the conference.

Much peace and safe travels…

Early Calls for 2013 Submissions

Posted: January 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

The North American literary scene teems with journals and magazines, some old, a lot new. While not yet as reputable or awarded as some of their heavyweight brethren like The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner or Ploughshares, many publications that have come into existence within the last ten years are strutting their relevance via innovative issues that integrate visual and dramatic arts with traditional literary work. Below is a listing of several under-the-radar magazines worthy of, and ready for, a wider recognition. Each one is currently eager for submissions, but not for long. Submission information, as well as upcoming deadlines, can be found by following the links provided.

1) Penduline Press (online literary journal out of Portland, Oregon): http://www.pendulinepress.com
Accepting submissions for its eighth issue, themed Bound. Looking for fiction, flash fiction, sudden fiction, prose poetry, poetry, short stories and artwork through the deadline date of February 15th, 2013. All writing should be previously unpublished; submissions longer than 5000 words will neither be read nor considered. Bound as in literally, bound as in destiny, bound as in tied to somewhere, something, or someone. Experimental works are welcome, ones that excite, disturb, distress, titillate, or invoke empathy or pity. Above all we want strong writing, compelling images, and fresh perspectives.
2) Fiction Fix (University of North Florida): fictionfix.net/submit.html
Seeks novellas and graphic novellas for first annual Novella Novella issue. One novella and one graphic novella will be separately published online as stand-alone works in Summer 2013. Fiction Fix publishes “accessibly experimental” and “soulful” literature from new and established voices.
3) Union Station Magazine (quarterly online magazine): http://unionstationmag.com/submit
Seeks diverse and emerging voices in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, as well as the freshest talent in photography. Issue 8 is scheduled for release in March 2013. Submissions will close for this issue on February 15, 2013.
4) Composite {Arts Magazine}: http://compositearts.com/submit
Accepting submissions of fiction and creative nonfiction for its Spring and Summer 2013 issues, themed The Wild and Pattern respectively. The deadline for Spring 2013, The Wild is February 18, 2013. The deadline for Summer 2013, Pattern is May 20, 2013.
5) Vermillion Literary Project (University of South Dakota): http://orgs.usd.edu/projlit/submityourwork.html
Submit original, previously unpublished poetry, short stories, and creative nonfiction for consideration. Email submissions are preferred. The deadline has been extended to January 15, 2013.

Writing Residencies Continued…

Posted: December 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

For the last few months I’ve been compiling information here and there about a handful of writing residencies around the US and abroad. Below you’ll find a small description, including contact information, on several programs. Some I’ve attended, others I’ve heard about from other artists who are currently in attendance or have attended in the past. More complete information can be found by following the links to each residency’s official website.

Again, a great approach toward residencies is to query past residents (several of them, if you can) and ask specific questions about what you can expect to encounter. Quite often a residency’s website will have a list of past artists–most of whom have personal websites with contact info. Committing to a three/four week stay among strangers in a strange location is no small deal, especially if you are self-funded. Be sure to get the lowdown before doling out an application fee.

Residencies

1) Vermont Studio Center

Website: http://www.vermontstudiocenter.org/

Location: Johnson, Vermont

Application Deadline: http://www.vermontstudiocenter.org/apply/

Application Fee: $25

Comments:  A large, active, community-based residency program that hosts anywhere from 40-50 artists at one time. The town of Johnson is a tiny, wooded hamlet just off the Gihon River. For writers, the river runs just outside the studio building. Excellent vistas and nearby walking trails. Accommodations are nothing to write home about, unless you write home to complain, but residents are VERY well fed (three meals a day and bread that’s out of this world). Accepts artists of all genres. Financial assistance and work exchange grants available. Weekly slide shows and readings (voluntary). A small library and social room. Yoga studio. Always something going on in the evenings.

2) Artsmith Residency Fellowship

Website: http://www.orcasartsmith.org/residencies.html

Location: Orcas Island, Washington

Application Deadline: Residencies take place during the last week of February. Application deadlines are loosely set for Fall, 2011.

Application Fee: $15

Comments: Week-long residency program situated on Orcas Island, largest of the San Juan Islands. Accessible only by ferry. Short on residency length, but not on natural beauty. A very inspirational and serene environment for creation. Accepts five artists only, visual or literary. Poets, especially, are encouraged to apply.

3) Jack Kerouac Writer-in-Residence Program

Website: http://kerouacproject.org/

Location: Orlando, Florida

Application Deadline: April 1st of each year.

Application Fee: $20

Comments: Also called the Kerouac Project, this program accepts literary artists only. Residents are housed in the historic cottage where Kerouac wrote Dharma Bums. Only four applicants are chosen per year. Offers a three-month residency to each successful applicant and a monthly support stipend of $800. Each resident is required to give an in-house reading of their work at the end of their term. Four residency slots are available: Sept-Nov; Dec-Feb; Mar-May; June-Aug. Electronic applications only.

4) CAMAC International Residency Program

Website: http://www.camac.org/english/intro.htm

Location: Marnay sur Seine, France

Application Deadline: Rolling Deadline

Application Fee: $0

Comments: A relatively new international residency program for artists of all genres including, scientists, composers and technologists working with new media. Located about 45 minutes southeast of Paris, near the Ardenne. Fairly selective and does not host many artists at one time, but good reviews have come from those who’ve attended. Residences can last from 4 to 12 weeks. Does NOT accept online applications, and their website can be difficult to navigate if you don’t have the right software installed.

5) Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA)

Website: http://www.vcca.com/main/index.php

Location: Lynchburg, Virginia

Application Deadline: January 15th of each year (for summer residencies)

Application Fee: $30

Comments: A simple application process to a selective residency. VCCA is widely-known in literary and visual arts circles, and just about everyone I’ve spoken to has reported positive experiences there. An online application process exists, but only for visual artists. Writers are still required to download their apps and forward them along via post. Besides solitude and a supportive environment, artists can expect a bit of prestige from attending VCCA. Residencies (and this is just from word-of-mouth) seem most competitive during the summer sessions. It seems rare that a writer/artist gains admittance into the program without considerable achievements to boast, but neither does it seem unheard of. A full detailing of facilities and location can be found on their website, which is impressively thorough and user-friendly.

Writing Residencies

Posted: November 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

Winter means several things I don’t like to think about, the cold mainly. But it also means approaching deadlines for summer residencies.  Applications for summer residencies are usually due a few months (if not earlier) in advance of the summer season. With this in mind, I’ve accumulated three of the best resources for sniffing out such opportunities. Do check them out if you’re thinking about spending a few weeks, or months, on your own this summer, perpetuating your art uninterrupted. All three sites have been the genesis for many successful residency experiences, and each provides a generous listing of potential retreats for writers and visual artists alike.  In some cases, though not many, residency programs have special travel stipends or support funds available for artists, so be sure to query each program directly, as these are often dimly mentioned or advertised.

http://www.fundsforwriters.com/

http://www.miraslist.com/

http://www.resartis.org/en/