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Sunday, October 24, 2010

po-biz chat

I posted this:

michael luis medrano: to think about the last decade of Chicano Literature is really a question about how I came into writing and why I’ve continued on this path. I can say the last ten years has brought many fine writers who could’ve had publishing careers if they would have stuck with learning the craft.

huh? michael, you are telling me if we chicano/a poets “learned” our craft then the publishing houses would beg to publish our work? you got to be kidding. often it’s not a question of craft. it’s about timing, good luck, and connections. look at you, craftmaster, your second ms is still looking for a publisher.

Barbara Jane Reyes responded:

So, I actually agree to some extent with Medrano, not specific to Chicano literature, but to writers of color. Once, a writer I know told me, upon publication of my second book, that I’d broken that “first book curse.” How many perfectly good poets, this writer asked me, have we just never heard from again after their first book. Why is that? What’s happened there? Sometimes writers gradually fall out of the rigor or discipline needed to see a book manuscript to completion. Sometimes it’s just real life that takes writers away from writing.

Now, as for Eduardo’s response back to Medrano, yes I agree it’s about timing, connections, and maybe even “luck,” if “luck,” means being at the right place at the right time with the kind of work that specific editors are looking for, though really, there are so many indie publishing houses representing so many different aesthetic preferences. So rather than luck, I believe in strategy. Mostly, I believe it’s about time well-spent on craft, especially when craft gives rise to good work, solid, interesting, brave, and unique book manuscript projects that we authors can confidently carry through to completion.

But this is I want to say about connections; yes, it is about connections when the connections are made based upon the merits of the previous work we have done and continue to do, rather than simply who you know, or who you brown nose because you believe you can get something from them. In my mind, that’s something for nothing. Thomas Sayer Ellis wrote, “Let the work Network.” I am with this, and I don’t think I am being naive, to continue to believe that good work is rewarded.

And here is the comment I left on her blog:

Barbara, I don’t disagree with what you wrote. In fact, I really like “strategy” instead of “luck.” Though you can’t deny that a lot of times it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time. That’s luck.

Maybe I’m misreading Medrano’s response, but I am objecting to the idea that well-crafted poems, a good collection, will bring publishers running to the poet. Not going to happen. Well, not often. I’ve heard of publishers seeking out a ms based on the work they’ve read in journals. In these cases, the work is doing the networking.

But to tell emerging Chicano/a poets that well-crafted, interesting, brave work will be lead to publication, to a career, is misleading and dangerous. Poets of color need to learn the po-biz ropes. I can’t tell you how often I come across a young Chicano/a poet with no clue about the po-biz. They don’t how and where to submit. They don’t know about fellowships and residencies. They don’t know how to seek out others like them. They need to learn to nativagate the po-biz world with grace, kindness and dignity.

And I must confess: I have failed to show kindess and grace in this instance. The last sentence in my reply is snarky, and mean-hearted. For that, I apologize to Michael Luis Medrano.

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