Newtown Literary is looking for an Assistant Blog Editor

Do you enjoy this blog? Do you want to be part of it?

Come join a nonprofit literary organization dedicated to writing and community.

Newtown Literary Alliance is seeking an Assistant Blog Editor to work with our Blog Editor and Executive Director to increase content on the organization’s blog. We publish posts about our journal and events, including interviews with our contributors, spotlights on local writers, and highlights of major events. The Newtown Literary blog is an important element of the work Newtown Literary Alliance does and serves as an important gateway to the work we do. Possible contributors, readers, supporters, and funders read our blog, so we take what is published there seriously and strive to have high-quality content.

Duties of the Assistant Blog Editor include:
–Soliciting, and following up with, Newtown Literary contributors for blog posts.
–Obtaining photographs and links from blog contributors.
–Compiling information on local literary events.
–Providing editorial review of completed posts before posts go live.
–Occasional writing and editorial duties.

This person will report primarily to the Blog Editor, but may also work with the Executive Director, Editor, Social Media Coordinator, Intern, and others. Work can be done at home from personal computer; most communication will be electronic. Blog posts will be completed approximately weekly, with possible increases surrounding major events (e.g., Queens Writes Weekend, Trivia Night, etc.).

Candidates should have proficiency/experience with communicating with others via email, editing using Chicago Manual of Style, proofreading, writing, using blog platforms such as WordPress, photo editing, and posting/scheduling on social media—or at least be willing to learn. The abilities to meet a deadline and communicate well are paramount, though.

This is primarily an unpaid position, but when funding is available (usually around the publication of the journal), the Assistant Blog Editor will receive a small stipend. There are opportunities to get involved in the organization in other ways (e.g., proofread the journal, help out at events, meet up socially).

Please send a cover letter, resume, and writing sample to blog@newtownliterary.org.

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Queens Literary Community Gears Up for Book Trivia Night

RichardQUEENS, NY—Queens literature lovers are gearing up for the second annual Book Trivia Night in Astoria. Scheduled for November 2 at Break Bar and Billiards, the event will test teams’ knowledge of categories such as “Books You Should Have Read in High School,” film adaptations, translations, and mysteries. Proceeds will benefit Newtown Literary, the nonprofit journal that publishes Queens writers and poets.

Newtown Literary Event Organizer Valerie Keane sees the event as an opportunity for readers and writers across the borough to come together for a night of fun.

“The unique thing about our event is that most Queens literary groups will be participating,” Keane said. “This is not only a fundraiser to keep their own Queens literary journal going, but also
an opportunity to show their community what unique, literary riches each group has to offer and attract people to their own events.”

First Tuesdays Reading Series host Richard Jeffrey Newman will return to emcee the five rounds of trivia. Prizes will be awarded to trivia champions and raffle winners, including a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne; gift certificates for Restaurants.comYoga Agora, “PR in a Pinch for Writers”, and Good Fortune Design Studio; two tickets to a show by the First String Players theater company; and a tote bag full of books from Astoria Bookshop.

bookshop“Newtown Literary’s mission to support literary culture here in Queens aligns perfectly with my goals for the Astoria Bookshop,” store owner Lexi Beach said. “I’m proud to carry the journal on my shelves, and delighted to participate in the Book Trivia Night by offering some prizes.”

Jackson Heights-based creative writing workshop leader Nancy Agabian formed her own Heightening Stories trivia team for last year’s event.

“The trivia night gives us a chance to step into the literary scene in Queens in a slightly different way,” Agabian said. “Instead of workshopping or reading to each other, we can have a beer with our peers and feel a part of the open community of writers that is Newtown.”

Funds raised from admissions, raffle tickets, and mulligans will go directly toward printing the seventh issue of Newtown Literary, slated for release this December. Last year’s event exceeded the organizers’ expectations and, as the top fundraiser in the nonprofit’s history, enabled the journal to publish its fifth edition: the Speculative Poetry and Prose issue.

Doors open at 7:00 p.m., with trivia beginning at 7:30. Advance tickets are available on Eventbrite for $8, and teams of 4‐6 players that register in advance are eligible for a free mulligan. Individuals orgroups smaller than four will be placed with additional teammates when they check in at the event. Tickets will also be sold at the door for $10.

Attendees are encouraged to Tweet about the event using the Twitter hashtag #NewtownTrivia.

For more information, visit newtownliterary.org/trivia-night/ or contact Event Organizer Valerie Keane at events@newtownliterary.org.

Book Trivia Night a Smash Success

Last Monday night at Break Billiards & Bar in Astoria, the Newtown Literary staff pulled off its first trivia night fundraiser. With 60 trivia participants in teams of four to six, it was an even greater turnout than we had imagined possible.

When we began brainstorming how to “Save Newtown” a couple months ago, the journal’s coffers were nearly empty. We needed to come up with a fundraiser that would enable us to print the upcoming Speculative Poetry & Prose issue—or else resign ourselves to publishing Issue #5 as an eBook only. Our hope was to raise at least $500, with the limitation that we could not pay anything up front to book space.

The idea for a trivia night was brought up as an opportunity to allow us to raise much-needed funds and to engage the community with a fun event. Melanie Sooter (now the journal’s official Events Coordinator) offered to take the reigns in organizing, with assistance from nonprofit board members Karyn Slutsky and Aida Zilelian, Blog Editor Laura Grow-Nyberg, Editorial Review Board member Linda Fisher, Prose Editor Jeff Brandt (hey, that’s me!), and of course Tim Fredrick, the journal’s founder and Editor.

We packed Break Billiards & Bar.

Fast-forward to November 10. Trivia participants began filling the room even before the posted 7 p.m. time, and by the 7:30 p.m. start time, with tables packed from front to back, it was clear we had a great night ahead of us. After playing four rounds of trivia on the topics of Classics, Young Adult Fiction, Film Adaptations, and Sci-Fi/Fantasy, we had a four-way tie. It took the fifth round on Banned Books to narrow the field to two teams.

mulligans
“Mulligans” and raffle tickets

After the winner of the raffle prize (two tickets to any show at the Secret Theatre in LIC) was announced, we proceeded to the Lightning Round between the two final teams, with no mulligans (i.e., stickers teams could buy to undo incorrect answers) allowed. The theme was “After Dark,” and host Richard Jeffrey Newman entertained a full house in reading questions with an erotic bent, including one where participants had to guess whether a line of dialogue had come from Christian Grey or Pepe Le Pew.

Host Richard Jeffrey Newman.

When the dust cleared, the Boundless Tales team was the last standing. While splitting up the assorted prizes valued at more than $350, the team graciously offered the $100 AMEX gift card back to the journal.

All said and done, the event was a huge success. With roughly $750 raised, we ended up making 50 percent more than our goal, officially making trivia night Newtown Literary’s top fundraising event in its history. But more than that, it was a chance for dozens of people to get together, drink brews, and talk books on a Monday night.

Don’t be too surprised if we organize more of these in the years to come!

Astoria Bookshop, one of our generous sponsors.

In addition to thanking Break Bar & Billiards for giving us the space, and Richard Jeffrey Newman for being an entertaining host, we’d like to once again thank our sponsors: The Astoria Bookshop, Astoria Coffee, Lockwood, Enigma Bookstore, Wine Stop NYC, Karyn Slutsky, and Queens Paideia School.

Many thanks to Jeff Brandt for writing this excellent recap.

Newtown Literary Contributor: John Gorman

Writer John Gorman’s story “A Private Language” was featured in Issue #4 of Newtown Literary]. We interviewed him about his writing, and his answers are below. Check out his blog and GoodReads page for more great writing, and follow him on Twitter!

Thanks for taking a moment to share your inspiration behind your piece “A Private Language.” Is this a story about your childhood?

Yes, and no. There is a short story by Jack Driscoll called “Wanting Only to be Heard” that I really love, wished, in fact, that I’d written. I was blown away by the urgency of his characters, how on the surface they are these awkward pre-teen boys, but beneath the surface, a dangerous curiosity is lurking. I wanted to try and emulate that.

What kind of danger did the boys in that story encounter?

The young Michiganders are ice-fishing at a shanty and they are telling stories. One of the stories really gets their juices going. It’s about an Irish Terrier that was said to have dove twelve feet down the spearing hole in the freezing water and swam another fifty yards and rose up into another shanty. The boys share their various views as to the accuracy of this and Ashelby Judge (the Rebel without a Cause) decides he can do it himself.

So “A Private Language” appears to be more of an homage to Driscoll’s story than an account of your youth?

As far as the impetus behind writing this story, yes, but there are many seeds from my childhood that I peppered into the story. For example, The Amazing Spider-man #11. A couple of my buddies were itching to get that very issue. It was the oldest comic we’d seen, that we had an outside chance of getting, if we scrounged up enough nickels and dimes. We did a lemonade stand, recycled cans, and begged for advances on our allowance. We didn’t, however, shake down folks by pretending to collect for the poor kids in Africa. That’s just my evil imagination at work. Really.

Part of our Journal’s mission statement is to have stories that reflect the accent of Queens.  Do you believe your story is an accurate reflection of the borough?

I believe so. Specifically, it’s an accurate reflection of the surrounding neighborhoods where I grew up, in the 1980s. I call my neighborhood Rego Park, which technically is a couple of R-train stops away from where I used to live in Forest Hills. I describe the middle school yard, Russell Sage, the way I recalled it, which was behind the 112th precinct. Also, where the meat of the story takes place, Deepdene, is in Forest Hills Gardens. We used to sleigh ride there in the winter and skateboard down those hills in the summer. I remember taking some pretty wicked spills coming down those slopes, skinned my knees really badly a bunch of times, but nobody ever ended up in a hospital.

The scene where Steven’s mom has the narrator dressing in her dead son’s clothes is really freaky, and yet he seems to go out of his way to indulge her.

It’s so tragic what has happened to Steven and my storyteller has witnessed it, but Steven’s mom obviously hasn’t accepted her son’s death. I wanted to go beyond the closing of the coffin because death doesn’t end at death. Survivors have to come to terms with the loss of a loved one the way that works for them. If I ended the story with the funeral there’d be a few awkward hugs, kisses, and whatnot, but it would’ve been stilted. Steven’s dad could’ve wobbled in drunkenly, but that would’ve been clichéd. I wanted to come up with something fresh and really weird. I come from a hand-me-down household. My mom always gave my clothes (when I grew out of them) away to cousins, and sometimes I got hand-me-downs in return. We had a neighbor who was once a nanny and she used to give my mom these laundry bags full of freshly-laundered hand-me-downs from the boys she used to take care of.

There seems to be an underlying spiritual leitmotif in this piece.

I’d like to blame my Catholic School upbringing on that. Fortunately, I went to public university. My awakening. Anyway, there is a kind of spirituality to the piece that goes beyond the usually corny Hail Mary stuff. I did pigeon-toe Steven into a philosopher for that very reason. I tend to equate philosophy with spirituality, I’m thinking more like Unitarian, which I’ve actually, as a so-called adult, attended a few “masses”. They discuss Plato, Seneca, Einstein, and Bart Simpson. I can get into a “religion” like that. As a theme, I considered Leibniz’s desire to create a universal language as parallel to the desire for my young characters to connect with each other, but also the bigger pond they are about to inhabit. Steven is not a ringleader; he just wants find deeper meaning for himself. He’s smart and the boys respect him, but really, my narrator is the only one who gets him or thinks he does.

I feel as if I’m right in the heart of the story, as it is unfolding, but there’s this tinge distance as if the narrator is looking back.

The voice of the narrative is accessible, youthful enough to still be connected to the white fleshy orange skin of their boyhood past, yet wizened up. This is my attempt again to emulate Driscoll’s chill in “Wanting Only to Be Heard”, before his boys get to the spearing hole. In my earlier drafts, it was a breezy kind of anecdotal story. Actually, an editor from another journal really liked the story and wanted me to revise it. That editor said the story was good, but came off a little too anecdotal. I worked really hard to push the boundaries, less about trying to buy a comic book and more about the pain of youth. I guess I took this a little over the edge by killing off Steven, but I also wanted his beautiful mind to not have to suffer the pain of adulthood. Is that macabre? Maybe this is my “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” story more so than “Wanting Only to be Heard”.

Thanks for contributing to issue 4.

It’s been my absolute pleasure. I am honored to have been chosen by a journal in my hometown.

Thanks, John! 

We have a lot of events coming up! Mark your calendars for REZ Readings on October 9 and November 6; Boundless Tales Readings on October 9, November 13, December 11, and January 8; and of course the First Tuesday and Third Friday series have started up again for the season.

Also, if you’d like to support Newtown Literary and enjoy a night out in the process, tickets are now on sale for Trivia Night on November 10. Show off your knowledge, win some prizes, and support the writers of Queens!

Newtown Literary Contributor: Tony Gloeggler

Writer Tony Gloeggler’s poem “Renal Sonogram” was featured in Issue #1 of Newtown Literary, and his poem “Quiet” is featured in Issue #3. You can check out more of his work at NYQ Poets. We interviewed him about his writing, and his answers are below. 

What is your relationship to Queens?
I moved to Flushing with my family from Brooklyn as part of a “white flight” in 1962 and my parents wanted to own a home in a safer area. I now live in Richmond Hill/Kew Gardens.

How would you describe the writing you do?
I’m a narrative poet. I try to tell stories about everyday people using everyday language and give it a bit of music and rhythm to make it as readable as possible. I’d like readers to see familiar situations, maybe even themselves in a different way or force readers to see and feel, think about things they never bothered to examine.

How did you come to writing?
I think I came to writing because I didn’t talk much growing up, and the people around me didn’t talk much about what I was thinking and feeling, and it helped me try to figure myself out and where I fit in the world. At the same time, I was a big music fan, and lyricists like Dylan and Joni Mitchell were getting to me with their words, and I started to try and figure out how they did it. I also read a decent amount, and I was knocked out by Grapes Of Wrath. 1975 was a big year when Blood on the Tracks, Born To Run, and Late for the Sky came out, and I realized I wanted to write like some combination of Jackson, Springsteen, and Dylan. Later, I found a few poets who got to me: Anne Sexton, Richard Hugo, and Adrienne Rich’s Diving Into the Wreck.

What inspires you?
Inspiration is mostly just something that captures my thoughts and won’t go away until I write about it. It’s usually a situation I’m going through or I encounter. It’s the story or character that resonates.  I don’t write every day just to write and say I’m a writer, and I don’t try to find things to write about through exercises–which is fine for others. I want it to have an urgency, an importance that compelled me to try to turn something into a poem. It’s not work or my occupation or some kind of calling or a gift from god so I can walk around thinking I’m a poet because it’s a cool thing to be, although my writing is very important to me and says a lot about who I am, and I do work hard to make it as good as I can.

What does it mean to be a writer in Queens?
I’m not sure it means anything to be a writer in Queens. I think I’d be the same if I lived in say Brooklyn or The Bronx, most any urban area. I’d still be a white middle-aged NYC kind of guy with a working class non-academic sensibility who runs group homes for developmentally disabled people and just wants to write good poems and have as many people as possible read them.

Thanks, Tony! 

Mark your calendars, readers and writers! On May 22 at 7 PM, the Boundless Tales reading series will have a reading entitled “Things I Never Said” at the Astoria Bookshop; simultaneously, The Shops at Atlas Park will be kicking off a reading series of their own. Be sure to check out one of these great events!

Also, Issue #4 of Newtown Literary will be released, and available at the Astoria Bookshop, by the end of this month. Help us celebrate the launch by attending a reading at Odradeks Coffee House on June 5 at 7 PM, hosted by the REZ Reading Series.

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Newtown Literary Contributor: Michael Stahl

Writer Michael Stahl’s essay “Remembering Mixed Tapes” was featured in Issue #3 of Newtown Literary. We interviewed him about his writing, and his answers are below. Check out his site for more great writing!

What is your relationship to Queens?
I was born, raised, am living in and still loving Astoria. This community has changed a little in a lot of ways since I was a kid, and I feel more at home now than ever. I’ve spent some time living abroad, but, if I can help it, I can’t imagine ever leaving.

How would you describe the writing you do?
I tend to write about good people with interesting and unique stories. I haven’t covered very heavy, hard-hitting topics yet. I suppose I’d rather bring pleasant feelings to people’s lives more than anything else, hence my, perhaps excessive, use of alliteration.

How did you come to writing?
I never seriously considered being a writer until a few years ago. I finished my master’s degree and was still a full-time teacher. It felt like I had tons of time on my hands all of a sudden, so I began blogging, just for fun. The writing was well-received and my confidence grew. I began to meet more and more local artists who were, in short, “just making it work.” They inspired me and made me realize that I could–and should–give the freelance life a shot. I blame them…and I tell them as much rather often.

What inspires you?
Good writers inspire me. I feel I’m very steeped in a learning phase right now, which will never end, of course, but I still need to grasp a lot of foundational concepts. So, when I read pieces by others and I feel the choices that they’re making and see their methods of execution, it makes me want to try it out too.

What does it mean to be a writer in Queens?
It’s very important to me to be recognized as an Astoria-based writer. It’s in my byline. When people think “New York,” they think either “Manhattan” or “Brooklyn.” If readers like what I do and see that I’m from Queens, I want to communicate to them that there’s good stuff coming out of my home borough as well.

What gave you the courage to give up a teacher’s tenure for your writing?
I gave up teaching for writing because I thought it would be great to earn money doing something that was a lot of fun. I loved teaching, but there’s a ton of politics involved. Most teachers I know are completely disillusioned with the job, but they carry on because, either they still really want to help the kids they can reach, or they’re just in a situation where they can’t be as completely irresponsible as I was two years ago when I decided to quit. I feel with writing, I can have a positive impact on others, while also garnering personal satisfaction.

What kinds of struggles have there been, and how did you face them? And what have been the rewards?
The biggest struggle I’ve faced, to the surprise of probably no one, is concerns about money. In some ways it’s actually been “easier” than I thought, in that I haven’t really been close to panicking. One just has to have faith in themselves, but it can be unnerving, and I work harder now than I ever have in my life. Over time, going through the times of trepidation, but coming out of it intact, I think I’ve gained confidence that I won’t fall off a financial cliff. That has helped me be a more productive writer of late, which is good because there is nothing more gratifying than getting published.

And, finally, my favorite question: What should I be asking you that I didn’t?
You should be asking how much coffee I have to drink to get through the freelancer’s day.

And exactly how much coffee is that? Or do I not want to know? 🙂
It’s not that you don’t want to know. It’s that I’m too ashamed to admit it. 😉

Thanks, Michael! 

And thank you, good readers, for making this year’s Queens Writes Weekend such a success! 

Also, the “Third Fridays, Queens Writers Series (TFQW)” will read at Enigma Bookstore in Astoria on May 16th at 6:30. The format includes both featured readers and an open mike.  All Queens writers are welcome. Mark your calendars!

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Newtown Literary Contributor: Richard Jef­frey New­man

Poet Richard Jeffrey Newman originally posted this essay at RichardJNewman.com. His poem “Telling Stories” was featured in Issue #1 of Newtown Literary. Check out his site for more great writing!

This cartoon popped up on my Facebook timeline today, but it’s originally from cartoonist Melanie Gillman’s Tum­blr. I identified with it immediately, not because I expect that, as a poet, I should be paid the way people are paid for the work they do to make a living, but because the work I do as a poet is devalued by many of the people for whom I do that work in precisely the ways that the cartoon satirizes. More to the point, just like the cartoon does, those people often put the logic of that devaluation in my own mouth. This way—or at least this is how it appears to me—they do not have to question their own, self-serving assumption that I am happy to give my labor away in exchange for the ego boost of an audience’s applause, or the pleasure of hearing someone tell me that my poem meant something to them, or for the usually small odds that, if I have books with me, I will sell enough of them to recoup my transportation costs, or the cost of the meal I ate while I was waiting to read, or the drinks I had, or, in at least one place that I’ve read, the dollar amount of the minimum I had to pay so that I, a featured reader, would be allowed to sit there while I waited to give my reading in the first place. (I would name that place, except that I don’t want to cause trouble for the reading organizer, who has tried to get the venue to change its policy.)

I hope it is stating the obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway. The labor I am talking about is not the labor that goes into writing my poems; nor am I trying to say anything about the value of any individual poem I might write. Rather I am talking about the work I do when I share my poems with people who have come to hear them. I believe that work has value, though this value may be different in different places, and I believe that anyone who does that kind of work deserves some form of compensation for it. At the college where I teach, for example, we run a reading series for the educational value it brings to our students, and we pay those authors because we value the time and energy they give to make their visits worthwhile. In the case of the cafe that charged me a minimum to wait until it was my time to read, they make money off the people who have come to hear me read. Surely they could have afforded to waive my minimum in exchange for the business I brought them.

It is, however, not only venues like that one that are the problem. I have been to too many readings where the host passes the hat and takes whatever people donate entirely for her or himself, sharing nothing with the featured reader(s)—who, of course, despite my title, are not always poets; and I have been to readings where the organizer not only doesn’t pass the hat, but doesn’t even show the featured reader the courtesy of buying her or him a drink. What makes this phenomenon especially difficult is that the organizers of these reading series are almost always poets and writers themselves, and if they, if we, do not value the time and energy that our featured readers give when they come to read for us—if, in other words, we do not value our own—why should we expect anyone else to?

One of the things that makes me really happy about First Tuesdays, the reading series I run at Ter­raza Cafe in Elmhurst, Queens (click here for the Facebook page), is that, for the 2013–2104 season at least, through the generosity of Poets & Writers, I am able to pay my featured readers $100 plus for the evening. It wasn’t always like this, though. When I first got involved with the series, the woman who was running it didn’t pay her featured readers anything, despite the fact that she collected donations at the door. When I suggested this wasn’t right, that she should at least pay her readers something from that admittedly small pot of money, she agreed and set aside a token amount as payment. When I took the series over in 2012, I changed that policy, splitting what I collected in donations with the feature and then holding the rest of the money till the following month, when I would add it to the donations I collected and, again, split the amount with the featured reader. Depending on how many people showed up, I was able in 2012–2013 to pay readers anywhere between $30 and $70, with the average being about $45 or $50.

When I took over First Tuesdays, I made two decisions that I hoped would make my life as a reading-series organizer easier. First, instead of holding the readings year round, we would go from September through June, and, second, I would book each entire season in advance. The July-August break, I figured, would give me a chance to plan, and booking the entire season in advance would save me the trouble of scrambling for readers month-by-month. Most importantly, however, this strategy allowed me enough time to apply for funding from Poets & Writers. The process is simple enough. You download the application—the full guidelines are in a separate document—get the necessary information from the writer, mail or fax the form, and then wait to find out if the Poets & Writers will give you money. I received funding every time I applied when I was running the reading series at the college where I teach, and Poets & Writers has been very generous in funding First Tuesdays, to the tune of $100 per reader, for a total of $1,000 for the 2013–2014 season. That’s not a lot of money, but it’s more than most featured readers get paid at any of the comparable reading series that I know about, and it has been very fulfilling to watch the look of surprised pleasure on people’s faces when I hand them the check and they see how much it is for.

There is, of course, no guarantee that Poets & Writers will fund my series at the same level in 2014–2015, 2015–2016, or any other year. It will depend on how much money they get from their founders and how many different events they have to divide it among. What I know is that they are eager to use whatever money they have. Nonetheless, while I would encourage everyone who runs a reading series to apply to Poets & Writers, I have no desire to pass judgment on anyone who does not. Filling out the form is a burden, especially if you host more than one featured writer per reading (though, to me, it still doesn’t seem like that much trouble), as can be dealing with writers who are not responsive when you ask them for the information you need. (I handle that by making it clear that if I don’t get the information on time, I will only be able to pay them from the donations I collect at the door.) More than this, though, dealing with money and handling people’s personal information—you need, for example, to provide P&W with your readers’ social security numbers—is a responsibility which not everyone is willing and/or able to take on. People have their own lives, their own stresses and stres­sors, and it’s not for me to say whether applying for funding, on top of the essentially volunteer time we all give to run our series, should or should not be more than any one person can handle.

What I am comfortable saying, though, is that, if you run a reading series, you should find some way to pay the people who read for you. If they have books to sell, and you a book, good for you! If you collect donations and give the reader a portion of what you collect, good for you! If you buy them a drink, good for you! If you can talk a couple of regulars into chipping in and buying dinner for them, good for you! If you can persuade your venue to buy them a drink, or a free appetizer, or anything else along those lines, even better! One series I know gives its featured readers gifts. I got a book of poetry (or maybe two; it was a while ago and I don’t remember exactly) and two lovely rice bowls that remind me of that evening every time I use them. The point is to demonstrate, in whatever way that you can, that you value their work. I can’t imagine anyone who runs a bar or club asking a musician to play an evening’s entertainment for free, without any hope of compensation, nor can I imagine a musician, except in some very limited circumstances, agreeing to do so. Why should featured readers be treated, or expect to be treated, any differently?

I’m not suggesting that poets and fiction writers—who are most commonly the kinds of readers I am talking about here—should engage in a kind of job action and refuse to read for any series that does not pay. We all, and perhaps especially poets, know that there is little or no money in what we do, and yet we all want, we all need to share our work. So we each have to make our own decisions about when and whether we are willing to do so for free. Nonetheless, I don’t think there is any harm in asking about payment, and I wouldn’t blame anyone who did refuse to work without it. Why shouldn’t we let the people who book us for readings know that, when we read for free, it is our choice, not theirs?

To my fellow reading-series organizers, I offer this post as a challenge. If you do find ways to compensate your featured readers, however you do it, I encourage you to talk it up. Let’s work to make the assumption that readers should be compensated the norm rather than the exception. If you don’t compensate your readers, I encourage you to think about why. I’m sure that you don’t get paid for your labor either, but you choose to do it nonetheless. Why? What value do you get month after month that makes it worth your while? If your experience is anything like mine, that value is tied to the community that has formed around your series and the shared commitment of that community to the value of literary expression. You may be giving your featured readers a stage when they come to read for you, and they may be reading as your guests, but they are guests who, in turn, perform labor for your community, entertaining them, moving them, inspiring them—strengthening, in other words, both the communal feeling that has brought them together and their commitment to the value of literature. Surely that is worth more than a heartfelt thanks and a round of applause.

Thanks, Richard!

Don’t forget, good readers, that Queens Writes Weekend is coming up on April 25-27. We still need site captains! Click here for more information, or to volunteer.

Queens Wrote!

IMG_0380Last weekend was Newtown Literary’s first annual Queens Writes! Weekend.  All over the borough, people sat down and wrote for a couple hours.  It was a simple event—but one that was also very powerful.

I visited all the sites, and at every single one I saw writers exchanging emails and experiences and ideas.  Writing is itself a solitary activity.  Many of us have picked it because it is solitary; some despite it being so. Creativity, though, cannot exist in a vacuum and creative people have to get together, if only for mutual inspiration.  The weekend writing sites helped writers from all over the borough to make connections with other writers.

At many of the sites I was asked, “When are we doing this again?”  My answer was: You can do it as often as you want!  Get together with other writers and write—you don’t need Newtown Literary to organize it.  Sure, you can form critique groups, but there is power in just sitting down and writing with others.  When I arrived late to a group, it was an incredible experience to walk into a room with several people writing.  The intensity was palpable.

What’s more, we were able to raise over $425 for our programs.  This money goes directly back into paying for our printing costs and running low-cost workshops and a kids writing contest (both of which are coming soon!).  No one at Newtown Literary gets paid for their work, so every single cent goes into the organization’s programs.

If you missed the event, but would still like to donate, you can visit the donation page (link: https://www.wepay.com/donations/queens-writes-weekend-2013).  It will remain active for a few more weeks.

Thank you to our site captains: Jeff Brandt, Tyler Rivenbark, Anna Voisard, Margarita Soto, and Linda Fisher.  Without them, this event could not have been the success it was.