Literary goals for 2017

I’m starting off January strong! This month, I’ll be participating in two online writing workshops. I’m so grateful I was included in each, and can’t wait to begin what’s going to be a challenging, writing- and reading-filled month.

The first workshop is Lit Mag Love, taught by Rachel Thompson, an online course on how to research, find, and submit to literary magazines. There’s about 50 writers across the world beta testing this course. I love extending my writing community in person and online, and these writers range in age and come from many backgrounds. I’m excited to gain more insight into the publishing world and to offer feedback on the course.

The second is Hollows Shout the Mountain Down, hosted by Monstering and Winter Tangerine magazines, which explores the spectrum of disability. Every participant identifies as disabled. There will be guest seminars from Jillian Weise and Joanna Valente. I can’t wait to delve deep into this workshop and improve my voice and craft in my disability-themed writing, and in general. It will be great to meet other disabled writers, as well, and learn from their experiences and strong writing.

Next month, I’m on a panel at AWP 2017. I’ll be discussing how to build inclusive literary communities with Sheila McMullin, Jill Khoury, Mike Northen, and Sheryl Rivett. The panel is titled “Not Invisible: Editors of Literary Journals Speak Out on Disability and Building Inclusive Writing Communities.” I’m looking forward to our discussion and to continuing this important conversation with others.

I’m hoping to keep this momentum going through the year. I’m working on another collection of poetry. So far it’s chapbook sized, and I’ve sent it out to several small presses. We’ll see what happens with it in several months.

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My book is on sale for the holiday weekend 📚🦃

Bottlecapsule 2015-2016 Anthology
Bottlecapsule 2015-2016 Anthology

Bottlecap Press, the publisher of my book “On that one-way trip to Mars,” has a 2015-2016 anthology available for a limited time only (through Monday)!

The anthology features new and old work from several Bottlecap Press authors, plus letters from all of us to the readers. It’s a great way to sample tons of Bottlecap Press authors at once!

I’m honored to be included with these great writers. Make sure to get your copy this weekend before this amazing anthology goes away.

Bottlecap Press is also having a holiday sale through Monday. All books are 20% offincluding mine for $9.60! Books make a great gift, so consider buying some for the readers in your life.

What is #OwnYourOwn?

The #OwnYourOwn hashtag has taken off this week. It’s a space on Twitter to encourage and inspire marginalized writers. It’s a call to #OwnYourOwn voice, #OwnYourOwn dreams, #OwnYourOwn story.

This community is rallying around the #ownvoices hashtag as well, which encourages the telling of stories from diverse groups and members of that group.

The hashtag was started by Kaye M., a Muslim American college student who is very involved in the writing and literary world.

Here’s a selection from her #OwnYourOwn announcement post:

I used to judge my own people, my own perspective, and find it wanting. Muslim girls couldn’t have adventures. Muslim girls didn’t have adventures worth writing about. Muslim girls just weren’t worthy of the gilded spines I used to trail my hand over in the local library. We just weren’t.

It makes it seem as though we are the problem. I’ve been asked recently how to stop feeling like we are the problem. We aren’t, dear readers. We are not, we are not, we are not. The push for #ownvoices in literature – the subtle acknowledgement that we make our stories, we make them the thirst-quenching, beautifully mouth watering works of art that they are – proves that.

We are not the problem. We are our own. And we need to be able to own our own, without accepting the manufactured shame from those who would rather us continue to uncomfortably digest co-opted narratives and unhappy stereotypes. Your #ownvoices matter, all of you.

Join the discussions happening on Twitter, blogs, and other areas of the web. The writing community on Twitter is a great space to meet other writers, make friends, find agents, have deep conversations, and more.

The dreaded reading — and how not to suck at it

D.C. science fiction writer Tara Campbell recently wrote an article in the Washington Independent Review of Books encouraging silent writers to go out and read their work! One great way to test if your latest piece is submission-ready, Tara said, is to attend a local reading and actually read your work to others. Audiences at all of the readings I’ve been to have been very welcoming, especially if it’s an open-mic. Tara listed several local readings in the D.C. area.

Her article also introduced me to a 2015 piece by E.A. Aymar on how not to suck at readings. He warns against shitty delivery and reading for too long. I’d also add practicing reading — sometimes I practice in front of a mirror, or in my head on my long Metro commutes. It helps me feel like once I get up on that stage or in front of people, I’ve done it before. There’s some excellent advice in both of these articles.

Representation in lit mags

There’s a very important discussion of race in America, race and lit mags, diversity in the arts, and editors as gatekeepers going on on Rattle’s Facebook page. The poem they posted about racism by Jon Sands (a white poet) prompted a poet to question representation in the magazine, especially considering the lit mag’s recent New Yorker issue (which only features white poets). The editor responded by personally attacking the poet-commenter’s work. Then others joined in the thread.

The discussion has prompted a policy change from Rattle.

we’ve decided to begin selective solicitation, with an emphasis on poets of color and other groups that have been underrepresented on our pages. We will NOT solicit work from well-established poets – those who already have exposure don’t need our support, though they’re always welcome to submit, like everyone else.

So if you have any suggestions for poets that we should solicit, please let me know, either by email, or, better yet, by tweeting us (‪#‎YouShouldSolicit‬) and commenting here, so that others can see and investigate new writers for themselves.

Giving voice to survivors

As the rain poured in Washington, D.C. Wednesday night, a group of a couple dozen people gathered in Chinatown to share poems, songs and artwork dedicated to surviving.

The second Art as a Voice event, hosted by the Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP) at the Chinatown Community Cultural Center, raised awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault in the Asian/Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.

Photo from aletterforyou.org.

DVRP Interim Executive Director Tuyet Duong shared a painting based on the year her father spent in a Communist concentration camp and his love of gardening — a bonsai tree sprouting from the top ventricles of a heart. He experienced a lot of suffering, she said, but he loved gardening. Bonsai trees grow in unexpected ways, and Duong tried to capture this in her painting.

“I am undocumented, a human with a story.”

“In high school, I found out I was undocumented,” said queer spoken word artist Ken Gonzales. “The usual narrative, I couldn’t get my driver’s license.” Gonzales performed a piece called “9 Numbers of Freedom,” signifying the numbers that allow him to move through this country freely. His poem was littered with incredible figurative language, like native tongues being sliced on an English cutting board. “Despite the win with same-sex marriage, there are still undocumented LGBT folks in detention centers undergoing abuse,” Gonzales said.

A trio sang original songs of love, trials, and triumph and covered India Arie’s “Break the Shell.” Elisha Brown performed a song called “Long Distance Love,” dedicated to her love who lives across the country. “We’re in different time zones, so I sleep by my phone,” she crooned softly, seemingly unaware of the power of her voice. “You’re my long distance love.” Singing is new to Brown, she said, as she focuses more on spoken word poetry.

Photo from aletterforyou.org.

There was also a table featuring A Letter for You project, where people can anonymously write survivors letters to let them know they matter. The project defines survivors as people who have experienced a traumatic event, including violence, abuse, rape, bullying, illness or others. Several audience members wrote notes addressed to survivors before the event began, and were invited to write more after the performances. The letters are archived on the project’s website. You can write and email your own letters to letters@aletterforyou.org or mail them to:

A Letter for You Project
P.O. Box 472
Garrett Park, MD, 20896

Science fiction as hope

Matt Gemmel, a Scottish writer and novelist, wrote a blog post about what science fiction is. It’s inherently hopeful, he said. Despite all of the dystopian and end-of-the-world themes that come up in science fiction, it’s really an optimistic genre.

That’s what science fiction is about, of course: hope. It’s inherently optimistic, even if some of its specific flavours are dystopian. Science fiction says we’ll still be here. We may still be fucking things up completely, but at least we’ll still be around.

—Matt Gemmel