Jamaica Kincaid is quoted as saying, “One of the things that young people need to know when they go into writing is that they ought to stop writing these stupid books that please people.”
And I am all over this. I was just having a conversation yesterday, about the MFA Industrial Complex, and the Book Award Industrial Complex. (Is that a term? If not, it should be.) Again, with the book award machine, operated at the slush pile level by the unpaid interns, the least experienced and the least qualified. Why would you want your hard work, your work of art, in the hands of these folks. You still have to pay to play in this model. I see people on social media disclosing how much they spend on contest fees per year. These are the same people who are getting paid very little as adjuncts in their institutions, and oftentimes, this is their only source of income. And then they pay to go to AWP. And then they’re paying off student loans.
I do not know how this is sustainable. Math tells me it’s not.
I am not accusing anyone who may fit the above demographic. I am questioning why it is acceptable, why it is the norm, why it is expected that folks live like this.
Back to Jamaica Kincaid’s quote. I want to know who is to be pleased with/by our work. And how will they be pleased. What kind of work fits the bill as pleasing to these bodies — whether it’s MFA application committees in the over-bloated MFA system, or if it’s these unpaid, inexperienced interns at one of several million book prizes. “Several million” is exaggeration, of course, but this kind of saturation I feel is diminishing the value of work — talking to a lot writers and aspiring authors, especially the ones who bum rush my space with their industry demands, I can’t tell anymore, why they write, why they want to publish in the first place. And the thing about this saturation is that folks are still instructed to operate in a scarcity model that makes folks act so cruel to one another.
All of the above is predatory.
Maybe I am idealistic or nostalgic, but what I appreciate and prefer is the corner of the industry — and yes, I am acknowledging this is an industry; Carlos Bulosan wrote, “the writer is also a worker.” — where there a lot less noise, where there still exists the editors and presses whose value systems resonate with our own. Where the possibility of human conversation about the work still exists. The most recent editors of my books are people I have been able to have a drink or share a meal with. Having space to talk.
There is so much now in this industry that prevents these human conversations from happening. I am feeling, as I get “older” in this industry, this is something that’s climbing my list of priorities. Human interaction with folks who want to know and come to know my value systems, why I write, why I must write what and how I write.
I used to think doing this my way would mean retreating into a tiny corner and never being heard from again. I am sometimes surprised this has not been the case. So then, there has to be something to be said about longevity in this industry — building up, improving the work over time. Sticking to your guns, and persisting!
My dos centavos for today. Maybe I’m just an old grump.