Lost Angels

I’m driving to Los Angeles today to meet up with my colleagues on the Emerging Leader Council of Americans for the Arts for our annual Winter Meeting and planning session.  We’ll spend two days working out how we want to spend our year together, what we can do for Emerging Leader networks nationally, and what we think Americans for the Arts should be more aware of in regards to emerging leaders.

I’m really happy that Americans for the Arts revised its definition of “emerging leader.”  Since the ELC started, it has been defined as an arts professional under age 35 with fewer than 5 years of experience in the arts nonprofit field.  Now we embrace anyone with fewer than 10 years of experience, which I think is a good option since the Great Recession has changed a lot of people’s lives and careers, particularly in the nonprofit world.

For the last few months I’ve been working to reboot the Tucson Emerging Arts & Culture Leaders group, which is just a local network of arts professionals, culture workers, and artists who work both in the nonprofit and for profit worlds.  It’s been slow going but I’m hopeful that 2012 will bring new members and more energy to the group, which has been off to a good start thanks to some highly motivated and committed folks.

Expect photos.  I love Los Angeles.

Consider life without the NEA

Here’s roughly half of the literary organizations receiving support from the NEA in 2010.

Consider the number of presses, publications, and author support organizations here, and then consider how your involvement in advocacy will make a difference this year.

A Public Space Literary Projects, Inc.
Brooklyn, NY
To support the publication of the quarterly literary magazine A Public Space. The journal will pair emerging writers with mentors to develop new pieces of fiction for publication.

Academy of American Poets, Inc.
New York, NY
To support the publication and promotion of American Poet magazine. The Academy also will expand its online publishing initiative, poets.org, which serves nearly one million visitors each month.

Alice James Poetry Cooperative, Inc. (aka Alice James Books)
Farmington, ME
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of books of poetry. The selected poets will also read from their works at venues around the country.

American Poetry Review
Philadelphia, PA
To support the publication and distribution of American Poetry Review. The journal will expand its reading audience through direct mail campaigns, Web promotion, and advertising.

Antioch University (on behalf of The Antioch Review)
Yellow Springs, OH
To support the publication and promotion of The Antioch Review. The journal will hire a part-time staff member to carry out a Web-based marketing campaign, and increase support for artists.

Archipelago Books, Inc.
Brooklyn, NY
To support the publication and promotion of works of fiction in translation. Proposed titles will be translated into English from German, Swedish, Russian, Arabic, Dutch, Polish, and Croatian.

Aspect, Inc. (aka Zephyr Press)
Brookline, MA
To support the publication and promotion of new bilingual books of poetry by Zephyr Press. Proposed works will be translated into English from Chinese, Polish, and Hebrew.

Badgerdog Literary Publishing, Inc. (on behalf of American Short Fiction)
Austin, TX
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of the quarterly journal American Short Fiction. The journal also will publish short stories exclusively on its website, updated monthly.

Bard College (on behalf of Words Without Borders)
Annandale-Hudson, NY
To support publication of Words Without Borders, an interactive website devoted to international literature. The free-of-charge website features audio recordings, nonfiction, short stories, poems, and novel excerpts drawn from more than 66 languages in 86 countries.

Bard College (on behalf of Conjunctions)
Annandale-Hudson, NY
To support the publication and promotion of the journal Conjunctions. Published twice a year, each issue of the journal has a unifying theme and averages more than 400 pages.

Big River Association (aka River Styx)
Saint Louis, MO
To support the publication and distribution of River Styx, St. Louis’s oldest literary magazine. Contributors are selected from an annual pool of 6,000 submissions.

BOA Editions, Ltd.
Rochester, NY
To support the production, promotion, and related expenses for new volumes of poetry and fiction. Scheduled authors include Peter Makuck, Wyn Cooper, Craig Morgan Teicher, Anne Germanacos, Barbara Jane Reyes, Jeanne Marie Beaumont, and Sean Thomas Dougherty.

Boston Critic, Inc. (aka Boston Review)
Somerville, MA
To support the inclusion of fiction and poetry in the general interest magazine Boston Review. Fiction selections will be chosen by novelist and editor Junot Díaz.

Boston University (on behalf of AGNI Magazine)
Boston, MA
To support the publication and promotion of the literary journal, AGNI. The journal will automate its website, continue a direct-mail campaign, and place advertisements in a national publication.

Bowery Arts and Science, Ltd.
New York, NY
To support the publication and promotion of books of poetry. Authors include Cynthia Kraman, Fay Chiang, Celena Glenn, Rachel McKibbens, and Ishle Yi Park.

Center for Religious Humanism (on behalf of Image: A Journal of the Arts & Religion)
Seattle, WA
To support the production and promotion of, as well as increased writers’ fees for, Image: A Journal of the Arts & Religion. The journal will increase its national reach through a direct-mail campaign.

Center for the Art of Translation (on behalf of Two Lines)
San Francisco, CA
To support the publication and promotion of anthologies of literature in translation. The center will publish one book of Francophone literature and one of Arabic literature.

Children’s Book Press
San Francisco, CA
To support the publication and promotion of multicultural and bilingual board books for early readers. The press will continue a five-year program to encourage reading among bilingual children.

Coffee House Press
Minneapolis, MN
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of volumes of poetry and fiction. Scheduled writers include Karen Tei Yamashita, Travis Nichols, Andrew Ervin, Aaron Morales, Ange Mlinko, Greg Hewett, and Lightsey Darst.

College of Charleston (on behalf of Crazyhorse Literary Journal)
Charleston, SC
To support the publication and promotion of the literary journal Crazyhorse. The journal will undertake a direct-mail campaign as well as increase its print runs, author payments, and advertisements.

Colorado State University (on behalf of Colorado Review)
Fort Collins, CO
To support publication and promotion of the Colorado Review. The journal will offer free subscriptions to 150 rural public libraries.

Copper Canyon Press
Port Townsend, WA
To support the publication, promotion, and national distribution of books of poetry. Proposed authors include Richard Jones, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Jean Valentine, Ruth Stone, Stephen Dobyns, Juan Ramon Jiménez, and Chase Twichell.

Creative Nonfiction Foundation
Pittsburgh, PA
To support the publication and promotion of the literary journal Creative Nonfiction. The journal will launch a redesign of its issues, featuring long-form essays, as well as columns about books, writers, and the craft and business of writing.

Curators of the University of Missouri at Columbia (on behalf of The Missouri Review)
Columbia, MO
To support the publication, promotion, and related expenses for The Missouri Review. Audiobook versions of the journal also will be produced.

Dalkey Archive Press
Champaign, IL
To support the publication and promotion of works of translation of fiction and nonfiction. The press will publish titles from Albania, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Finland, Japan, Norway, Portugal, and Slovenia.

Emerson College (on behalf of Ploughshares)
Boston, MA
To support the publication and national distribution of Ploughshares. The editorial policy of Ploughshares stipulates that each issue be guest-edited by a writer who is given editorial autonomy to apply his or her aesthetic vision.

Fence Magazine, Inc.
Albany, NY
To support the publication and promotion of Fence magazine, titles by Fence Books, and a catalogue. Scheduled poetry titles include Ben Doller’s Dead Ahead, Aaron Kunin’s The Sore Throat, and Martin Corless-Smith’s English Fragments/A Brief History of the Soul.

Four Way Books, Inc.
New York, NY
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of books of poetry. Scheduled authors include Priscilla Becker, David Dodd Lee, Jamie Ross, Daniel Tobin, Monica Youn, and Megan Staffel.

Graywolf Press
St. Paul, MN
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of volumes of poetry and creative nonfiction, with an emphasis on international fiction and emerging and mid-career writers. Scheduled authors include Alyson Hagy, Jeffrey Allen, Robert Boswell, Per Petterson, Bernardo Atxaga, Nathacha Appanah, Tiphanie Yanique, and Maile Chapman.

Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts
Houston, TX
To support printing expenses, website development, and artist fees for the journal Gulf Coast. The project also will include a free reading series, a literary contest, and a small press journal and book fair.

Heyday Institute (aka Heyday Books)
Berkeley, CA
To support the publication of an anthology of African American writers in California. Contemporary emerging writers will be featured alongside established authors such as Walter Mosley, Alice Walker, Octavia Butler, James Madison Bell, and Maya Angelou.

Kenyon Review
Gambier, OH
To support publication and costs and related expenses for the Kenyon Review and KR Online. The publication will integrate its print and online content and will launch a marketing campaign to promote both the journal and the website.

Les Figues Press
Los Angeles, CA
To support the production, distribution, and promotion of new works of poetry and prose as part of the press’s TrenchArt series. The series specializes in innovative literary work that may not fit into a specific genre.

Milkweed Editions, Inc.
Minneapolis, MN
To support the publication and promotion of works of poetry, fiction, and an anthology. Scheduled authors include Eric Gansworth, Kira Henehan, Éireann Lorsung, and Arra Lynn Ross.

Muae Publishing, Inc. (aka Kaya Press)
New York, NY
To support the publication and printing of Asian American literature. The press plans to promote its titles with reading tours, conference appearances, on the Internet, and through direct mail.

Narrative Magazine, Inc.
San Francisco, CA
To support the artists fees for Narrative Magazine, a free online journal of new literature. Recent contributors have included Joyce Carol Oates, E.L. Doctorow, Amy Tan, and T. C. Boyle.

One Story, Inc. (aka One Story)
Brooklyn, NY
To support the publication and promotion of the literary journal One Story. Each issue features one short story by one writer.

Orion Society
Great Barrington, MA
To support feature-length pieces of literary prose in Orion magazine. A bi-monthly literary and visual arts journal devoted to exploring the relationship between people and the natural world, the magazine currently has 20,000 subscribers.

Oxford American Literary Project
Little Rock, AR
To support the publication and promotion of the literary magazine The Oxford American. The magazine continues to highlight the work of emerging and established Southern writers and Southern culture.

Poetry Flash
Berkeley, CA
To support the publication and distribution of Poetry Flash, a free tabloid of event listings, readings, workshops, and literary news. Divided into geographical sections, Poetry Flash lists programs throughout California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southwest.

Provincetown Arts Press, Inc.
Provincetown, MA
To support publication of the 25th anniversary issue of Provincetown Arts. The press will improve its website, increase artist fees, and publish a companion anthology of previously published work.

Rain Taxi, Inc.
Minneapolis, MN
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of the Rain Taxi Review of Books. The quarterly magazine has a national circulation of 18,000 copies.

Rose Metal Press, Inc.
Boston, MA
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of works in hybrid genres. Scheduled books include a book of essays and poems exploring the craft of writing prose poetry, a chapbook of short short stories, and a book of prose poetry.

Sarabande Books, Inc.
Louisville, KY
To support the publication and promotion of collections of creative nonfiction and poetry. The press will promote its authors online to rural and urban schools and libraries.

Small Press Distribution, Inc.
Berkeley, CA
To support the development and dissemination of print and online outreach materials to market small press titles and journals to bookstores, libraries, educators, and other readers. Approximately 450 small and independent presses are represented.

Sun Publishing Company, Inc. (aka The Sun)
Chapel Hill, NC
To support printing extra copies of The Sun to distribute free to community college libraries across the country. The Sun is a monthly magazine with 65,000 subscribers featuring prose, poetry, interviews, creative nonfiction, and photography.

Teachers and Writers Collaborative
New York, NY
To support the development and dissemination of materials related to the teaching of creative writing and the literary arts. The collaborative will publish Rouse Our Rhyme, a book on teaching poetry in the K-12 classroom, issues of the quarterly magazine Teachers & Writers, and issues of an e-newsletter.

Threepenny Review
Berkeley, CA
To support authors’ fees and promotion costs for The Threepenny Review. The proposed issues will be promoted through a direct-mail campaign, collaborative literary events with other organizations, advertising, appearances at local book fairs, and the journal’s website.

Tupelo Press, Inc.
North Adams, MA
To support the publication and promotion of new collections of poetry and international literature. Proposed authors include Gary Soto, Ellen Doré Watson, Michael Chitwood, Megan Snyder-Camp, Rebecca Dunham, and Stacey Waite.

Ugly Duckling Presse, Ltd.
Brooklyn, NY
To support the publication and promotion of books of poetry and a book of prose, poetry, photography, and essays. Proposed authors include Demosthenes Agrafiotis, Clark Coolidge, Marosa Di Giorgio, Eugène Guillevic, Christian Hawkey, Cole Swensen, and Ivan Yauri.

University of Central Missouri State University (on behalf of Pleiades & Pleiades Press)
Warrensburg, MO
To support the publication of Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing and books of poetry. As part of its Unsung Masters Series, the press will publish a book of essays and a sampling of poems by an under-appreciated poet.

University of Chicago (on behalf of Chicago Review)
Chicago, IL
To support publication and promotion of a special issue of the Chicago Review focusing on new writing from Italy. The journal will bring featured writers to Chicago for readings.

University of Hawaii at Manoa (on behalf of Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing)
Honolulu, HI
To support the publication, distribution, and design of the literary journal Manoa. The journal features literary poetry, prose, and translations as well as photography and visual art.

University of Houston (on behalf of Arte Público Press)
Houston, TX
To support publication and promotion of anthologies celebrating the 30th anniversary of the press. The anthologies will feature previously published poetry, short stories, and creative nonfiction celebrating the best of Arte Público Press.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (on behalf of Ninth Letter Literary Journal)
Champaign, IL
To support the publication of the literary and arts journal Ninth Letter. Issues will feature new literary prose and poetry from new and established writers as well as graphic design produced by students at the University of Illinois School of Art and Design.

University of Massachusetts at Amherst (on behalf of Jubilat)
Amherst, MA
To support the redesign of Jubilat’s website and to print and promote issues.Recent contributors to the journal include Daisy Fried, Terrance Hayes, Cathy Park Hong, Karen Volkman, and Rosemary Waldrop.

University of Nebraska at Lincoln (on behalf of University of Nebraska Press)
Lincoln, NE
To support the publication, promotion, and distribution of translated fiction and literary fiction and creative nonfiction. Featured authors include Isabelle Eberhardt, Édouard Glissant, Olivier Rolin, Ana María Shua, Toni Jensen, Terese Svoboda, Robert Vivian, Fleda Brown, Ellen Cassedy, Sonya Huber, Patrick Madden, David Mogen, Jon Pineda, and Tracy Seeley.

University of North Carolina at Wilmington (on behalf of Ecotone)
Wilmington, NC
To support the publication and promotion of a trade paperback collection of Edith Pearlman’s work. Other planned activities include raising artists’ fees and a cross-promotion of this series with the biannual journal Ecotone, which seeks to bridge the gap between the literary world and the worlds of science and environmentalism.

University of Texas at Austin (on behalf of University of Texas Press)
Austin, TX
To support the acquisition, publication, promotion, and distribution of English-language translations. The University of Texas Press is an international press, dedicated to publishing English-language translations of literature from all over the world with a specific focus on Latin America and the Middle East.

San Francisco, CA
To support the publication, promotion, and related costs of Zyzzyva, a journal featuring the work of West Coast writers. Each issue includes approximately 20 writers, one-third of whom have never been in print.

An Open Letter to My Literary Community

Dear Writers of America,

Why aren’t you more actively engaged in supporting federal, state, and local funding for the arts?

Many of us, myself included, have found personal benefit in this funding. Several years ago, I was one of 11 artists to receive a $5,000 grant for poetry from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. The poems receiving that award ultimately became the centerpieces of my first collection, The First Risk. The funding I received from the Arizona Commission not only provided significant financial support as I balanced my “two full time job life” (one that paid/one (being a writer) that didn’t), it also provided me with the emotional fuel to complete the collection.

In the 90s, Congress decided that artists funded by the National Endowment for the Arts were doing harm to traditional American values. In response, they cut funding to the Endowment, crippling its ability to support individual artists. Today, writers and jazz musicians are the only independent artists eligible to receive project grants from the National Endowment.

Each winter, we as a community celebrate our colleagues, peers, and friends who receive this generous and essential awards. We revel in the knowledge that poetry and fiction matter to our culture, that many of us who work low income jobs or without health insurance can find legitimacy through our art.

Each year, the National Endowment and state arts agencies provide millions of dollars to the organizations that allow us to connect with our audiences and readers: nonprofit presses (now the bread and butter of poetry publishing), literary centers, writing conferences, publishing collectives, book review outlets, and so on.

While federal or state funding should never be considered a crutch or an essential income stream, it is important. To paraphrase Adrienne Rich, federal funding is not “more necessary” than sales revenue, donations, or grants–“but it is necessary.”

In an article published today, The Huffington Post reports that Congress is yet again pilfering the measley arts coffers in an effort to close our budget gap.

And, if we don’t act, they will take that money.

They have already taken the arts out of our schools. Now they will take money away from our presses, meaning fewer books can be published. They will take money away from our literary centers, meaning fewer writers can be remunerated for appearing there, fewer staff can be hired and sustained. They will take money away from our state and local arts agencies, whose goals are to fund smaller projects and organizations, more individual artists in other disciplines.

They will pull the plug on the arts, and many of our organizations–well run or not–will wither and die.

The good news is there is something you can do. (And, if you ask me, there’s something you must do.) Become an advocate for the arts by telling your story. Explain the value arts organizations give to YOU, your family, your community.

Get involved on the state level by locating your state advocacy agency (often called “Alliance for the Arts,” “Citizens for the Arts,” “or “Action for the Arts”) and sign up to be notified when important votes come up in the legislature.

They will prepare your email or print letter for you. All you have to do is click send or print it out.

And it matters.

When 10 people contact a legislator about an issue, it makes a difference. If 100 people contact 10 legislators, it makes a significant difference. When 1,000 people contact 100 legislators, it has a snowball effect. Imagine what we could do if even just 1,000 writers signed up to be arts advocates and made a commitment to be more involved with arts policy in our country.

Writing is an isolating art. We are often not at the table when larger discussions of “the arts” occur. But that’s our own fault. We aren’t going to be invited to this party, so we need to crash it. We’ll make our own seat.

Help save federal funding for the arts by signing up for the Arts Action Fund through Americans for the Arts. You’ll get only a few emails each year updating you on the progress of our advocacy, and you’ll only be asked to send a few yourself.

Those twenty minutes you’ll spend this year advocating the arts can have twenty years of impact.

What else will you do this year to make such an incredible difference not only in the future of American art but the future of America?

A culture is remembered through its art. We are the makers of that memory. We are the makers of our future.

What We Mean When We Talk About "The Arts"

Again and again I feel disappointed in and embittered by the national and local dialogues about art these days.

First, the bright side (whic is still pretty dim): when the NEA cut all of its fellowships to individual artists after the “culture wars” of the 1990s, the only two disciplines who continued to receive this prestigious funding were jazz musicians and writers. An interesting choice, when you think about it. The other disciplines were cut after artists like Robert Mapplethorpe photographed African American men in the nude, in various ways, some with fetish gear. The photographs are stunning and unapologetically sexual in nature. Then there was Piss Christ, the sculpture in which a crucifix was placed in a jar of urine, and the performance artist who, while HIV-positive, engaged in acts of cutting on a stage and then floated blood-soaked cloths out over the audience.

The NEA’s decision to retain jazz and literature fellowships in this context seems to imply that the least controversial/most palatable artists work these disciplines.

I will return to this point shortly.

I attended a grant panel discussion involving the disbursement of some tax funds to arts organizations in support of specific projects or performances. I had the good fortune to listen to the panel discuss ballet organizations, a society dedicated to the preservation of barbershop quartet music, and a local cutting-edge theatre group as well as a literary organization.

None of the arts groups were as criticized or reviled as the literary group. “I searched for these poets on the New York Review of Books website,” one panelist said, “and I didn’t get any results. They must not be well known.” The artists in question included a Guggenheim/NEA fellow with 13 books. Another was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Another panelist doubted the choice of venues. “I’ve heard beautiful words spoken in a warehouse,” she noted. “I don’t know why they have to pay for a venue like this for just a reading.” Finally, a panelist concluded, “I got out my calculator and realized that the investment here is $30 per person even though the event itself is free. That just seems really unreasonable for an event that only features a reading and a Q&A session.”

These comments were only the tip of the iceberg. I have a whole slew of zingers tossed out by the panel, but I’ll reserve them because they might reveal the identities of the granting organization and the applicant organization.

Contrast this with their discussion of the ballet, for example, where tickets cost individuals more then $30 and performances consist of—well, they just consist of performances, don’t they? Without context for the art, discussions with the artists, etc. Or the fact that the barbershop quartet group was made up entirely of white senior citizen men—and, by extension, implied the artform was a tradition of white culture—sparked not a single comment at all.

I feel strongly that most Americans perceive literature as something created by dead people. That somehow, these little artifacts pop up in our bookstores and become classics. People don’t believe important literature is still being written in their lifetime because for some reason, the assessment of literary merit, by the wider culture, is posthumous or, at the most optimistic, gray-haired.

That’s why the NEA felt okay continuing to fund artists. Because we don’t rock boats, we don’t push boundaries. Both untrue. And books that do push boundaries? Easily banned by school boards, libraries, etc. We don’t ban other arts as frequently as we ban books. Why is that?

Literature suffers from the same dichotomy that polarizes film audiences—that the majority of publications, like blockbusters, are published based on their ability to sell enormously. Since the most people have the greatest degree of contact with “popular” literature and cinema, it eclipses the rest of the products out there. Art film, like literary fiction and poetry, exists in shadows and alleyways, shunned by masses and harbored like persecuted fugitives by a small contingent of believers. (Please note that something popular can also be literary, although this is exceptional.)

I don’t know how to correct this except by direct advocacy. I know that many writers out there are loathe to discuss their artistic life with strangers (often with good reason!), but isn’t it critical we let the world know that writers are alive and well, publishing books and shaping new generations of writers? We need to get writers out of the office and into the community where people can interact with them, be enriched by them, and understand that literary art isn’t historical by nature—it’s ultimately one of the most contemporary forms of art there is, that it crosses lines between performance and object, that it can be both public and private, that it appeals broadly and narrowly.

Because no one will do it for us.