Issue #127 — May 1, 2012
Poets & Writers
We’re really excited about this week’s feature. Let’s be honest, we’re always excited about our features, but this conversation with Melissa Faliveno, the current Diana & Simon Raab Editorial Fellow at Poets & Writers Magazine, is in a league of its own. We’re talking an inside look at Grandaddy of Literary Nonprofits! Without further ado…
Interview conducted by Kit Frick
Sapling: Poets & Writers has been around since the early 1970’s, and it’s now regarded as one of (if not the) largest literary nonprofits in the country. You’re the current P&W Raab Editorial Fellow, which I understand is a relatively new temporary fellowship position offered through the organization, on the editorial staff of Poets & Writers Magazine. Can you tell us a little about your position with the organization this year?
Melissa Faliveno: Happily! Poets & Writers introduced the Galen Williams Fellowship Program in 2010, in honor of the organization’s founder. There are three positions as part of the program: one who works on the editorial staff of the magazine, one who works on the website, and one who works with the Readings & Workshops program. As the Editorial Fellow, I’m primarily responsible for maintaining the Grants & Awards and Conferences & Residencies sections of the magazine. Most of what I do involves getting in touch with all of the presses, journals, colleges, and organizations that offer prizes, grants, fellowships, residencies, retreats, and conferences for creative writers. I collect information about upcoming deadlines and recent winners, and then write the listings that appear in both the print magazine and our online database. I also get to help plan future issues, write stories and content for the magazine and website, and generally geek out about the fact that I get to help create the best darn resource for writers on the planet.
S: As the point person for the Grants & Awards section of Poets & Writers Magazine, what would you say is the hardest part of your job? The best part?
MF: The hardest part is keeping track of the hundreds of contests, grants, conferences, and residencies that are being offered at any given time. The number is pretty vast—which is great news for writers, but often means bad news for my desk.
The best part of the job is twofold: First, I’m working on a magazine whose mission I believe in. Poets & Writers was incredibly helpful to me when I was starting out, so getting to be on the other end of things now is sort of like a dream. Second, to be able to work with so many amazing literary journals, small presses, and organizations whose mission it is to foster good writing and support new writers, and to see firsthand the many successes that they bring, is truly incredible. I can’t tell you how great it is to see writers, particularly emerging ones, get published and find some success because of these awards, many of which they’ve discovered in the pages of our magazine. Working in an environment where I see this on a daily basis makes me ridiculously happy—and constantly inspired.
S: What role do you see literary nonprofits like P&W playing in the current literary landscape, specifically in terms of small press publishing?
MF: I think the role that literary nonprofits play is a crucial one, and it’s all about providing information and resources. As the foundations of the larger publishing world threaten to falter, there continue to be some absolutely amazing independent presses out there who are doing unique and inventive things, who are publishing beautiful and important writing that might be overlooked by larger presses, and who work tirelessly to support the work of great writers. Literary nonprofits like P&W help spread the word about those presses, and help put writers in touch with them. While it’s thankfully still an option for some new writers to find an agent and get a book deal with a large publisher, it’s nice to know that there are other options for getting your work out into the world—and a large part of what many literary nonprofits do is help make that information known.
Aside from publication, literary nonprofits like P&W also offer other great resources to writers, many who might not otherwise have access. They offer workshops, classes, and financial support to individuals, help fund events and readings, provide literacy programs, the list goes on an on. In a landscape where the future of the arts is continually being threatened, literary nonprofits, like other nonprofits in the arts, are helping people create and access art.
S: Drawing from your experiences at P&W thus far, is there any advice you can share with writers who are just starting out, perhaps hoping to get published for the first time or just starting to launch their literary lives?
MF: As a writer myself, I know how difficult it can be to attempt to wade through the mire when first starting out. It can be overwhelming, intimidating, and so often disheartening. My advice to emerging writers trying to get published would be to first do your research, and then submit. You can write every day, and form the most supportive community (which you should also totally do), but the only way to launch your writing career is to get yourself out into the world. Don’t limit yourself to the big commercial magazines or presses; there are so many fantastic literary journals and small presses out there who are always looking for good work from new writers. Use resources like Grants & Awards or our literary journal and small press databases to find outlets that may be well suited to your work. Read a few issues or books from those places, and then, if it seems like they might be up your alley, submit your work. And then submit again. And keep submitting. Create a spreadsheet for yourself of all the places you’d like to submit; keep close track, and stay on top of deadlines. And finally: cast the net wide, keep going, and don’t give up. It’s a horrible cliché, I know, but it’s true: we all get rejected—all of us, all the time—but we have to use those rejections as fuel for the fire, rather than allow them to smother the flames.
S: What’s going on in the literary nonprofit arena that you’re excited about right now? Either within the scope of P&W or further afield.
MF: There are always so many great things happening! It’s awards season at P&W, and we just announced the winners of both the 2012 Jackson Prize and the Maureen Egan Writers Exchange Award, which is very exciting. The winners of the Writers Exchange Award, which is given annually to two emerging writers (one in fiction in one in poetry) from a selected state, get flown to New York to meet with agents, editors, and established writers, and give a public reading. I had the opportunity to be one of the fiction readers this year, which was really fun, and made the announcement of the winners particularly exciting.
In the wider literary nonprofit world, there are always fantastic programs, workshops, and events going on. The PEN World Voices Festival is quickly approaching, which, as always, is going to be incredible. If you’re in New York City during the festival [April 30-May 6, 2012], I would highly recommend heading out.
S: It’s an oft-voiced concern that there’s a crisis on the horizon (or already underway) in literary publishing (fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction). As a participant in the literary nonprofit world, what’s your take on the state of publishing crisis, or lack thereof?
MF: I’ve been working in the publishing world for about seven years now, and they’ve been saying that the industry is in a crisis since long before I began. As I mentioned before, the foundations of the industry may be shaky, but then things are constantly shaky everywhere. And while it’s certainly true that literature, and the arts in general, are continually facing serious adversity, what I see in the publishing world is actually quite the opposite of crisis: people who publish writing—may they be small or large presses, well-established literary magazines, or brand-new online journals—are still putting out great writing, all the time. And people are still writing. I think (or at least I’m hopeful) that as long as people keep writing, and as long as there are still people in the world who believe in the importance of great literature, we’re going to be okay. That being said, in an effort to avoid a post-apocalyptic scenario where Amazon really has taken over the world and the only thing available is Twilight for Kindle, let’s keep supporting the work of great presses, both large and small, and buy our books at independent bookstores. It’s our civic duty, dear writers.
S: Just for fun (because we like fun), if Poets & Writers Magazine was a type of animal (wild or domestic), what would it be?
MF: I’m a total Midwestern birder at heart, and as a kid I had a certain affinity for the Redwinged Blackbird, which is one of a few species of birds that are referred to as “helpers”—that is, those who help rear the fledglings of others in their community. So that’s what I’d say Poets & Writers would be: the Redwinged Blackbird, helper of the literary community, who supports and nurtures writers as they build their literary wings.
To find out more about Poets & Writers, visit: http://www.pw.org/.
Originally from Madison, Wisconsin, Melissa Faliveno received her MFA in creative nonfiction from Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has appeared in DIAGRAM, Isthmus,Lumina, and Poets & Writers Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she is currently at work on a collection of essays.