By DeWitt Henry, Literary Bookmarks Editor
Monthly link highlights to online resources, magazines, and author sites that seem informative and inspiring for working writers. Most are free. Suggestions are welcomed.
This lively site presents a writer to follow, think with, and respond to. Though Baumeister, a web columnist for The Weeklings, reviewer for The Nervous Breakdown and Electric Literature, novelist (a 2017 satirical political thriller set in 2034, PAX AMERICANA), and poet is earnestly liberal in outlook, his learning and wit recall David Brooks as he takes on big ideas and topics.
My two favorite essays/columns are “Beyond Good and Evil,” a comparison of literary villains, including Satan and Sauron, Dracula and Loki, Gordon Gekko, Hannibal Lecter, Voldemort, The Wicked Queen, Morgana, and Emperor Palpatine; and “Beware the Ides of Trump,” which invokes Plutarch’s Lives. From the former: “Sure, he may be capitalism’s id, but what’s just as clear is that Gordon Gekko has a living, breathing id and that id’s name is Donald Trump. While I’m not sure what exactly that makes Trump with respect to capitalism (Super Id? Id2?), whatever id is, id ain’t good….” Baumeister’s inspirations include Kurt Vonnegut, Martin Amis, Shakespeare, and Nietzsche. The site promotes his novel with an excerpt, interviews, and blurbs from reviews; as well as his services as a freelance writer and editor; but foremost it seeks to engage like minds in conversation. He claims some 2,387 followers.
I enjoyed Elizabeth Mosier’s novel, My Life as a Girl (Random, 1999; see my review), admire her engagement with adult literacy in The Playgroup (part of GemmaMedia’s “Open Door” series), and learn from her reviews in The Philadelphia Inquirer and elsewhere. I’ve also been moved by her recent nonfiction, which she’s archived here under the site tab, “articles, essays, and reviews.” Her twenty-four-some publications promise to become the basis of a memoir or published collection.
“Believers,” one standout, which was based on her volunteering as a technician at Philadelphia’s National Park Archaeology Laboratory, appeared in Cleaver and was selected as notable in The Best American Essays, 2015. “Writers are archaeologists, digging, processing and repairing the glittering and inscrutable relics to find meaning in experience,” she writes, and wonderfully explores her own individual and family past. She also voices the loss of her father and her mother-in-law in “The Value of Things We Treasure”: “My family of origin is my personal arcanum, an alchemy of resentment and grief that rendered me smooth and brittle. Memories are my material; writing is the way I keep myself from shattering….I’ve had to empty four houses full of objects collected by declining parents and departed parents-in-law.” She also writes as a feminist: “I love my husband of 31 years…I admired and emulate my father, and…I greatly benefited from the wise and judicious guidance of male professors….,” but at the recent Kentucky Women Writers Conference: “the whole landscape changed before my eyes, from hostile to hopeful, as I listened to the fresh ideas and intelligent voices of these literary women, who are thinking deeply about how best to live in these tense times.”
Attractively designed and content-rich, her website also includes her professional biography, information about her novels, her blog (including an interview about her novel-in-progress), and contact information.
The Kelly Writers House
Poet, professor, and critic Al Filreis co-founded this model institution at the University of Pennsylvania with a group of students in 1995. It is a thirteen-room house on the Penn campus in Philadelphia and serves as a writers’ center for Penn and the region, with 150 public programs per year. Online, its site offers interactive webcasts, where followers can phone in and talk to the prominent visitors being interviewed and discussed. The programming is energetic, imaginative, inclusive and well-considered, and has been praised as the “best reading series” by Best of Philadelphia, and its website as a “Pick of the Week” by Yahoo.com.
There are several, overcrowded menus of tabs, including one for Multimedia that leads to archived recordings that go back to 1998; one for forty-three podcasts by such writers as Jamaica Kincaid, John Edgar Wideman, E.L. Doctorow, Grace Paley, and Jennifer Yu; one for 1,916 reruns of KWH-TV programs of writers; and one for 5,510 (not a typo) Medialinks. All are searchable by authors’ last names. For instance, “McPherson” in Medialinks brings up rare videos of James Alan McPherson’s visit in 2004: a one-hour interview, a one hour reading of essays and fiction; as well as an hour of an audio-only discussion with a fellows class. Each year three influential figures are brought to campus: for this year Maria Bamford, Nathaniel Mackey, and Lydia Davis (2017), and for last, Anne Waldman, Dorothy Allison, and Jessica Hagedorn (2016). This is an encyclopedic, go-to site for research, discovery, and insights into contemporary literature.
Narrative, one of the earliest and most ambitious of online literary magazines, was founded in 2003 by Tom Jenks and his wife, novelist Carol Edgarian. With an MFA from Columbia, Jenks had had an establishment career in Manhattan that included being the associate editor of Esquire and an editor at Gentleman’s Quarterly, before becoming a house editor at Scribners, where he was known for his ScribnerSignature Edition Series and his successful editing of Hemingway’s Garden of Eden, long a dubious property in the Scribners vault. Many of the writers he worked with were a generation older than he was himself, and connected with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Abruptly, however, he left Scribners and turned his back on East Coast publishing. He had married Edgarian and they settled in San Francisco, determined to prove a point. The internet was a new frontier. From the West Coast, they would find, consolidate, and cultivate readers. Key features of their tri-annual, online literary magazine would be free, attracting younger readers; they would promote it primarily by email, rather than by print or snail mail. Editorially, they would reprint classic stories for little or no cost, discover new writers through contests, and pay as well as possible for work from established authors. They intended to earn their livelihood from the venture and its spinoffs—particularly Jenks’s workshops and private editorial services—while also helping to “shape the future of literature within the new media.”
Fourteen years later Narrative is still going strong. Circulation figures vary according to different reports from 250,000 to “180,000 registered readers.” The “about” tab on their attractive and easily navigated site includes Ron Charles’s 2014 profile from the Washington Post, where he praises the magazine as “a dogged survivor, evolving with each new technological shift” and consistently publishing “some of the best and best-known writers in the country.” He worries, however, about Narrative’s charging $22 for each unsolicited submission. “Such fees help pay the bills, but they also function as a tax on the least talented and most starry-eyed.” “Least talented” or not, many writers whom I respect think twice about submitting. Also its 2017 Perpetual Folly Literary Magazine Ranking is #21, and its ranking in the Top 50 Literary Magazines is #49. Some rejected writers have complained about their fees going to sponsor Jenks’s regulars. Jenks himself advises: Read before you submit. Get a clear sense of his standards and taste. Place realistic bets.
Narrative’s overall accomplishment, in any case, is remarkable. They publish three hundred writers and artists each year. The current issue features fiction by Gail Godwin (a brief novel excerpt) and Richard Bausch (a story), as well as stories by writers new to me: Xuan Juliana Wang, Kirstin Valdez Quade (a reprint of the First Place winner in Narrative’s Spring 2012 Story Contest), Austin Smith (recipient of the 2014 Narrative Prize); nonfiction by Bill Barich and Hal Crowther; photography by Curt Richter; a snappy Narrative 10 interview with Don Lee in conjunction with his new novel; poetry by Cam Awkward-Rich (a finalist in Narrative’s Eighth Annual Poetry Contest), Michelle Bitting, and others; and cartoons by various artists. The online, free archive is a valuable research and teaching resource: “thousands” of stories, essays, and poems, searchable by author, and endorsing favorite classics (Sherwood Anderson and Kafka, say) in company with well-, lesser-, and un-known contemporaries.
Copyright 2017 Woven Tale Press LLC. All Rights Reserved.