These are excellent questions: What are some books that you needed and didn’t know about? What are some books that you had that helped you figure things out? And how are you making sure that other people know how great they are?
When we talk about Literary Citizenship, it seems like we say a lot about making the world a better place for writers, and getting people interested in books. Which they definitely should be. But maybe we should start talking about how to make the world a better place for readers too. Let me explain. As a kid, reading was such an important part of my life. I read on the toilet, at recess, when I should have been sleeping, during church.
One series that I loved with all of my heart was A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. What made it so great was that Violet Baudelaire, the oldest, was a girl like me and she was the one who was generally in charge, saving the day, fixing everything. As a kid who was also, incidentally, a girl, and someone not very in control of the events in her life…
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On her blog, Journeys and Destinations, Lori May offers a roundup of links about Lit Cit.
In print. Online. Everything. Hooray!
That itself is literary citizenship!
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.
Over at the AWP site, Roxane Gay offers eight questions writers should ask themselves.
One of them is: Are you a good literary citizen?
Good literary citizenship can also extend to how you comport yourself when participating in social networks. Are you relentless in promoting your own writing, sharing the same link more than two or three times? Do you send direct messages or private Facebook messages to strangers, promoting your latest project? Of course you should promote your work but take care in how you promote your work and consider sharing the good news about the writing of others, if you are so moved.
Mostly, literary citizenship is the importance of remembering that no one is alone in the writing world. Conduct yourself as such.
Read the whole essay here. It’s awesome.
Over at the Ploughshares blog, Stephanie Vanderslice talks to Tasha Golden about teaching Literary Citizenship and other “professionalization” topics in MFA programs. Good stuff!
The two central myths are one, that literary citizenship is all about self-promotion, and two, that it’s connected deeply to the “marketplace.” For example, a lot of students (and a lot of authors who clutter my Twitter feed with tweets about their own publications and nothing else) think that literary citizenship and platform-building means nothing more than promoting their own work.
In reality, it’s about completely saturating yourself in the literary culture—and then curating and promoting the work that interests you, so that other people will find it and care about it as much as you do.
I really like this post. I think it speaks to what I’ll call “Literary Citizenship Burnout.” And how important it is to find your own way of feeling “connected,” or why you might need to disconnect as well. Very honest description of what creative writing students face once they’re out of school.
Being a literary citizen means you’re always thinking about how you can “do some magic” for other writers.
This video appeared on my subscription feed this morning, and it reminded me of Carolyn See’s step to making a literary life, “Do Some Magic.”
For those of you out there that haven’t read her wonderful book, Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers, “Do Some Magic” is all about self-affirmation and creating a positive place in the world to exist.
As writers, or people who spend too much time in our own heads, I think it’s too easy to get down on ourselves. I’ve found myself many times saying inwardly, “Nope, this essay is no good. You just will never be as good a writer as your peers.” This kind of self-created negativity does no one any good, and creates nothing but frustration toward the writing process.
To break that cycle, it’s necessary to take the time to say, “Yes. I can do this. I…
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It’s important to say this: I didn’t invent the term “literary citizenship.”
I first came across it in 2008 when Dinty Moore posted this link from the Brevity blog to Facebook, which linked back to Blake Butler’s blog.
Blake Butler, fictionist, blogged in a most excellent fashion recently about the need to be a positive karmic force in the world of literary citizenship. What comes around, goes around, he reminds us. Here’s an excerpt and a link to the full (albeit, oddly titled) post:
Here are some ways you can do more, outside of spending $$$.
(1) When you read something you like, in any form, write the author and tell them. You don’t have to gush or take forever. Just tell them you saw it, you read it, you liked it. It’s a supportive feeling. It’s better than not saying anything.
(2) Write reviews of books you like. Short review/long review, whatever. It’s not that hard. It takes a little work to think about it clearly, but what goes around comes around. You can’t expect to be recognized for your work if you aren’t recognizing others for…
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