MFA 505 Module 5 Journal – The Writing Community
August 18, 2018
Q: What does literary citizenship mean to you?
A: When you look at the dual definition of the word “citizenship,” you see there are two components: one is the rights and privileges gained from citizenship; the other is the duties of a “citizen” that being part of a group confers on the individual.
In his inaugural address, John F. Kennedy uttered what likely best describes citizenship when he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” According to the JFK Library online, “Kennedy’s words inspired children and adults to see the importance of civic action and public service. His historic words challenged every American to contribute in some way to the public good.” This applies to any kind of citizenship, and especially to being a member of the literary world. Being a citizen means to take action.
It’s also interesting to look at citizenship from the perspective of the USCIS.
“Citizenship is the common thread that connects all Americans. We are a nation bound not by race or religion, but by the shared values of freedom, liberty, and equality.” In the literary world, being a citizen means seeking common ground with other writers who may write in different genres than I do, or who may write about subjects I am sensitive to or perhaps even disagree with. It’s important to see the bigger picture.
Thus, when I ponder literary citizenship, I think of caring, connecting, and communicating, of advocating for, o protecting, and of advancing the fundamentals of the literary craft and the literary world. There are many examples, I think, of organizations that are doing this, such as Hugo House in Seattle. On a personal level, I think the answer can also be as varied as the individual responding, depending upon your background, upbringing, personality type, and circumstances, to name a few. For me, as an INFJ, who thinks a great deal about the suffering in the world, wanting to find solutions, contributing to the greater good has always been important. So, for me, being a literary citizen means contributing to the community, to the world around me, using the craft and tools that writing and storytelling provide.
A few months back, I created a writing workshop called “Writing to Heal from Trauma,” which was intended to use expressive writing methods to help others begin a healing journey. It was a way for me to give back, and to help others, using the tools of writing that had helped me. This is one aspect of literary citizenship. As Marge Piercy describes in her book, So You Want to Write, being a literary citizen also means being a part of the literary community, caring about issues that affect literary pursuits, such as freedom of speech, and other freedoms. It means to participate with other writers in supportive groups, critique groups, or in manuscript readings. It means sharing the gifts of the craft with others who have stories to tell (225-226).
Q: How can you connect with the writing community?
A: There are many ways to connect with the writing community. One way is through the SNHU MFA program, as we are all doing right now in this class. Being a student of writing is certainly a way to connect with others as is participating in local writing organizations or groups. When I was working on completing my first bachelor’s degree I had the good fortune of taking a creative writing class at the local community college. That led to working with other writers and poets at a weeklong poetry workshop. I have also served on the boards of writing and arts councils, and thereby helped put on events and a conference for writers. I also participate in a writing critique group which meets twice monthly. I found this group because I had volunteered for the local newspaper to help launch a “community connections” column where my part was to interview and write about local writers. One of the writers I interviewed mentioned the value he had found by being involved in a local writers group. I asked to join. Of course, there are also many professional associations to consider as well, dedicated to the writing practice.
Q: How will you leverage these connections to further your writing career?
A: Throughout my life I have always involved myself in groups and organizations working on projects or in areas that I found interesting and necessary. Early in my life, I volunteered for the local arts council, writing press releases and later, founded a community organization where I hosted monthly meetings and wrote a bi-weekly newsletter that featured members of the community. This work led to a position writing for a daily newspaper. When I moved to a new community, I jumped in to some community work, and again found myself writing for some nonprofits and the local paper. I will always continue to be involved in various groups, by searching out and connecting to those where I feel I can best contribute. I do think one needs to be a bit choosy as in my own experience I have found that I can easily become overly committed. As Marge Piercy says in her book, writers will need to learn to say no, because you find yourself being asked to do more work for the nonprofit, or to do other tasks, which if not managed, can take over the time you need to do your own work. It seems all of life is about creating boundaries and managing time (231).
Recently I have been studying a book called Creative Writing in the Community, which is a guide developed by Terry Ann Thaxton, a professor at the University of Central Florida. It’s a book meant to provide resources and templates so-to-speak, for taking creative writing into the community to help others tell their stories such as in shelters, prisons, schools, retirement homes and more. It is used in colleges for their service-learning courses. Thaxton says she wrote the book because she wanted her students “to be part of a conversation with writers around the country who were involved in” being “teaching artists.” I have been pondering ways that I might create a service learning program in our local area, using this book and the sample syllabus and case studies. Being a citizen also means being a part of a larger conversation.
I also believe that writing my blog, where I explore such things as trauma and resiliency, the future of work (in the wake of AI and such technologies), homelessness, poverty (and companies and organizations fighting it), is also key to contributing to the literary community. Writing a novel is also a way, as is teaching. I am excited about the future and the many ways I can contribute. I think Robin LaFevers describes the value of being a literary citizen in an article she published on WriterUnboxed.com: “You connect to critique partners, to writing teachers, but again, and perhaps most importantly, you begin to mine your own truths, explore your own voice, ask yourself tough questions. And that changes you. And as all writers of fiction know, when you change the protagonist in any story, that change alters the people and world around them. No matter what else happens with your writing, THAT is a worthy thing, a reward in and of itself.”
For me, what LaFevers describes, especially about mining our own truths, is literary citizenship.
Kennedy, John F. “Ask Not,” JFK Library.com <https://www.jfklibrary.org/Education/Teachers/Curricular-Resources/Elementary-School-Curricular-Materials/Ask-Not.aspx> Retrieved August 18, 2018.
LaFevers, Robin, “Success- Taking the Long (No, Longer Than That!) View,” Writer Unboxed. August 10, 2018. Retrieved August 18, 2018. <http://writerunboxed.com/2018/08/10/success-taking-the-long-no-longer-than-that-view/>
Piercy, Marge and Ira Wood. So, You Want to Write: How to Master the Craft of Writing Fiction and Memoir. 2nd Edition. Middlemarsh, Inc., 2010.
Shoup, Barbara and Margaret-Love Denman. Novel Ideas: Contemporary Authors Share the Creative Process. University of Georgia, 2009. (73-88)
Thaxton, Terry Ann. Creative Writing in the Community: A Guide. Bloomsbury. New York. 2014. (1-10)