Monique Quintana is a Xicana writer and the author of the novella, Cenote City (Clash Books, 2019). She is an Associate Editor at Luna Luna Magazine, Fiction Editor at Five 2 One Magazine, and a pop culture contributor at Clash Books. She has received fellowships from the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, the Sundress Academy of the Arts, and has been nominated for Best of the Net. Her work has appeared in Queen Mob's Tea House, Winter Tangerine, Grimoire, Dream Pop, Bordersenses, and Acentos Review, among other publications. You can find her at moniquequintana.com and on Twitter @quintanagothic.Read More
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Body Ritual is Lisa Marie Basile's column about wellness, chronic illness and finding healing and autonomy in ritual. You can follow her on Instagram for more on this topic.
If you live with a chronic illness, or if you love someone who has one, you know the delicate balancing act it requires. Living on that liminal precipice, between doing just enough and doing too much, requires an almost spiritual focus. And it’s tiring. I know, as I have ankylosing spondylitis, a degenerative, incurable spinal disease.
Who we feel we are within our minds is not always what our bodies reflect. And sometimes, that very lack of reconciliation rewires us. We start to believe we cannot, are not, will not.
We can, we are, and we will embrace the wholeness of our limitations and our magic. It doesn’t matter if people want us to stay quiet, go away, or stop complaining. We have a right to explore what it means to experience life as we do.
Stigma, lack of education, and fear make it hard to exist in a body that exists on the margins. Sometimes all the noise and suffering keeps us at a distance from ourselves. We often are so tired from the pain or insomnia or anxiety that we smile and pretend everything is okay. We sometimes allow ourselves to be taken advantage of just so we can seem “normal.” We push the limits of our bodies and lose grip on our boundaries. Sometimes, we get through the day, and that’s it. Sometimes it’s hard to feel empowered, to feel enough, to feel that we can and are and will.
The deep and important work that goes into healing the trauma of illness is often ignored. Instead, we focus on the day to day needs. We keep our heads above the water — but the secret is that we must become the sea.
Recently I decided to go inward and empower myself to make time and space for my voice and needs as someone with chronic illness. Instead of trying to blend in or assure everyone that, “I’m fine, really,” I stared down into visit the abyss. I decided to take my time, for no reason but my own needs, and look my chronic illness in its eyes.
I cut through the noise and the stigma and the denial. My body, alight and in focus.
To do this, I made a list of chronic illness journal prompts and chose a beautiful journal strictly for these questions (or you may want to type these out or dictate your answers).
So, I wrote down several questions in my journal, and attempted to answer them. At times I answered one a day. Sometimes I answered several in one go. The important thing is that you take the time to be honest with yourself.
What I learned from answering the below questions astonished me; I was able to advocate better for my needs, recognize and make space for joy and gratitude, and find the parts of myself, like glass shards, I thought I’d lost. I didn’t lose them, it turns out. They simply changed form.
Chronic Illness Journal Prompts
Who am I without my chronic illness?
Who am I with my chronic illness?
How did I change when I was diagnosed?
How did I not change when diagnosed?
How is my pain level today? How is my fatigue?
Are my basic needs met? How can I facilitate this?
What positive thing have I learned about myself while actively experiencing symptoms or side effects?
What negative thing have I learned about myself while actively experiencing symptoms or side effects?
What do I do during periods of remission?
What do I do or feel when I’m in a flare-up?
Are there any ways at all to bridge the gap between feeling good and not feeling good?
How do others make me feel about my chronic illness?
Who understands my illness and supports me in my experience of it?
How can I help others understand my illness?
What do I not feel comfortable explaining about my illness?
Where are my boundaries?
Where can I be more receptive or open? Is it in receiving love? Is it in talking about my needs?
How do my finances play into my illness?
Are there areas in which I am privileged and thus, have gratitude?
Are there community resources or other resources I can tap into for help?
How does my race, gender, or educational background impact my experience of chronic illness?
How does my illness impact my job?
How does my illness impact my social and/or sex life?
Are there other intersecting issues that impact my chronic illness?
What do I love about my body?
What do I need to feel happy on a day to day basis?
What do I need to feel sustainably happy in the long term?
Among the things I need, which do I have?
What are three things I am thankful for right now, in this very instance?
If I am not happy, what is in my power to change that?
What work — no matter how seemingly ‘small’ — can I do to advocate for or contribute the wellness of others who may be suffering? Would this feel gratifying?
What gives me hope?
Lisa Marie Basile is a poet, essayist and editor living in New York City. She's the founding editor of Luna Luna Magazine, an editor at Ingram’s Little Infinite, and co-host for the podcast, AstroLushes. Most recently, she is the author of LIGHT MAGIC FOR DARK TIMES (Quarto Publishing/Fair Winds Press), a collection of practices and rituals for intentional and magical living, as well as a poetry collection, NYMPHOLEPSY . Her second book of nonfiction, WORDCRAFT, will be published by Quarto/Fair Winds Press in April 2020. It explores the use of writing as ritual and catharsis. Her essays and other work can be found in The New York Times, Chakrubs, Catapult, Narratively, Sabat Magazine, Refinery 29, Healthline, Entropy, Bust, Bustle, The Establishment, Hello Giggles, Ravishly, and more. She studied English and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University, and received a Masters in writing from NYC’s The New School. Want to learn more? She’s been featured at Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, HelloGiggles, The Cools, and more.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams, The Gods Are Dead, Marys of the Sea, Sexting Ghosts, Xenos, No(body) (forthcoming, Madhouse Press, 2019), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault. They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Them, Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente / FB: joannacvalente
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Welcome to another installment of Lisa Marie Basile’s column Wild Words, an everyday, accessible, friendly series of how-tos around publishing, writing, and creating. It’s a response to the many inbox queries we get around writing (a lot of our readers come here for the literature, and also want to write!). There is no way these entries can be totally comprehensive, but it’s aimed to provide a general overview of any given topic. Feel free to leave questions (and additional advice!) in the comments below or tweet us at @lunalunamag.
I have been a full-time freelancer twice in my life: Once, by sheer goddamn necessity (no one would hire me; I was out of graduate school loaded with debt and was somehow either “over-qualified” or “under-qualified” at the same time) and right now, by choice. I’m freelancing these days because my chronic illness was getting out of hand, and my last job had me falling into a deep existential abyss. I swear I’m not being dramatic. Okay — maybe a little.
But in all honestly, freelancing has helped me make time for my health and wellness, keep doctor’s appointments, and explore my own projects with greater focus (since I don’t commute). On the other hand, balancing the finances — and not getting insurance through work or a steady paycheck — are the trickier elements. All said and done, I’m privileged to have the opportunity to do this, and I realize everyone’s situation is different and complex.
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of writing for The New York Times, Healthline, Chakrubs, Good Housekeeping, The Establishment, HelloGiggles, Bust, Bustle, Sabat, The Vitamin Shoppe, So Yummy, Greatist, Byrdie, The Fix, Refinery29, Cosmo, and so many more. I’ve also edited essays and content for Hearst Digital Media and The Vitamin Shoppe and I’ve worked as the content director at a content marketing agency, among other roles.
So, my friends — here’s what I’ve learned from diving head-first into the full-time freelance lifestyle. There’s no way this covers everything, but it’s a start. Feel free to tweet me or Luna Luna or leave a comment below if you have additional tips and tricks you want to share with our readers!
Prep before making the leap into freelance.
Before jumping head-first into full-time freelance (or freelancing while also working) prepping ahead is super important. Anticipating a challenge means you’ll be less likely to freak out, give up, and then wonder why you’re not good enough to pull off the freelance life. Hint: you are totally good enough — capitalism is hard!
Some pre-freelance prep steps are way harder than others (like, managing your finances), so just be aware of that coming into this way of life.
Save some of your money, if possible. If you want to quit your job and start freelancing, it’s probably wise to save what you can while you’re still working so you have a cushion. Not everyone has family to lean on, a nest egg or a supportive spouse. This isn’t possible for everyone (and it wasn’t for me), and that’s where things get tricky if you don’t have a few gigs or leads lined up when you make the leap. One of the things that happens when you become a freelancer is that your pay will be all over the place. Some clients pay 90 days after you invoice while others pay right away. A steady paycheck is (sadly) not the norm, but you can ask each of your clients if they would be willing to modify their pay system so that your paycheck comes more regularly (or before rent is due, for example). More often than not they will not do this, so it’s wise to diversify your assignments so you always have a steady stream of money coming in. This by far has been the hardest element for me to deal with.
Start applying for freelance gigs while you work; this is like collecting acorns for your eventual departure. You do not want to find yourself stranded in the freelance sea without a clue as to where the shore is. Make connections, put your feelers out there, and make long lists of specific editors, marketplaces (websites or magazines), or other gigs before making the leap.
Get an author website and blog. If you are starting completely out of nowhere (without ‘clips’ or sample work), you’ll want to make sure you have something to show for yourself. A good idea would be to start a website with a blog page. Make sure your site is neat, clean, well-organized and well-written. No wonky fonts or colors. Clean is better so that everyone can view it on any device. You should include a page with a short bio, a page with links to any previous work, and a page with some details about what services you offer.
Here’s mine, and here are some other examples. I love Squarespace (which Luna Luna happily uses!) for website design and blogging; they offer affordable options, well-designed themes, multiple interactive options, and a chicness that goes a long way. Weebly is also really nice for drag-and-drop (read: simple) design.
Your blog (which is a page on your website) should be focused on a few topics that fully emphasize your interests and abilities. For example, you might start a blog about nutrition, fitness, and meditation. You would then be a ‘wellness’ writer with a few focuses. If you have nothing published (but need to show clips to potential editors when applying for gigs) you should write a few really good articles for your blog — ones that underscore your focuses as a writer. Use your voice. Tackle a longer topic and shorter ones, too. Show range.
First, calculate what you need to earn.
Money stuff is going to differ for everyone, and this is also going to be the part where you need to figure out your priorities. For me, it’s rent, health care, travel, and food. Everything else is second-tier, and thus not figured into my basic ‘needs’. Your financial priorities may be different. (Here’s a calculator).
Find anchor clients.
When you’ve figured out how much you need to live more or less ‘comfortably’ you’ll want to start searching for anchor gigs. Anchor clients are your bedrock; they provide the bulk of your earnings. I have two anchor clients — a media company and a doctor’s office for which I blog. They either pay me a set amount per month — an amount I can rely on to pay the bulk of my bills — or they provide steady, reliable work I can count on.
My other income sources come from a handful of not-so-steady freelance clients or one-off assignments. You should absolutely look for one-off gigs or less reliable gigs that can help you fill any income gaps. I am also always looking for anchor clients if I have the time to devote to them; the more work, the more security.
A word of warning: Once you get more established, make sure you say no to what doesn’t serve you. Think about your rate per piece; is it too low for the output? Don’t burn out. Be picky when and if you can afford to be. There will be times when you must say no to a gig, and times when you, well, need to take the work. This is the wild and wacky world of freelance, darlings!
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I wonder if they have the memories we do: sleepwake, working on our tans, ribbons of flesh twirling, long isabelline bus rides of dusk, necks of tulle, promises made on hands and knees, wet grass, actual heartache or actual love. Or the likeness of love, the shadow aspect. O, a medley of skin trying to find an answer. ~ A new poem in the beautiful @ephemerereview 🌾
The start might be rocky, but your experience will grow and evolve.
It sounds like a cliche — and it’s not always true — but sometimes we have to start from the proverbial bottom. I definitely did. For one, it’s hard to get high-paying gigs without experience. Two, it’s hard to get any experience without experience — which is a catch 22, I know.
For a long time, I couldn’t get paying gigs, so I started out writing for local blogs and friends’ blogs for free. Soon after, I started writing for content mill sites like Demand Media and ehow.com, along with media companies that needed daily write-ups for a handful of niche blogs.
I started out earning about $5-$10 per article or per hour. I wrote about celebrity cookbooks or toaster ovens or funeral home services or about how to plan a kid’s themed birthday party. Basically, if someone handed me money, I’d write about almost anything.
I slowly grew in the earnings area. The gigs were not glamourous, but they helped me pay the bills. Some people might say certain rates are an abomination; others may find lower rates normal for a new writer — it all depends on where you live, your living costs, and the kind of writing you do. It’s also in no way cool to shame people for the pay rates they accept.
I got most of my gigs by surfing Craigslist (which is less helpful these days) or connecting with writers, editors, and friends who worked in media. I’d also send emails out to everyone I knew to see if they knew someone who might need help. Today, gigs can be found through great Facebook groups like Binders or through places like Contently, MediaBistro, Ed2020, and LinkedIn.
Today, I command much more money per article (or per word), but I still sometimes write for free (like this very article!) or for below-industry-standard rates. These are the sorts personal choices I make because I either love the client or the experience is really important to me. You’ll probably have to navigate these situations as a freelancer as well.
It’s not always fair to work for free, but it can help you get a few clips together for a portfolio. Now, it’s not always worth your time, energy, or effort to write for cheap, either— especially, if like me, you have a chronic illness or familial demands to manage. That said, where and how you spend your energy is up to you, and will continue to evolve as you grow in your freelancing life. The more you freelance, the more negotiation prowess you earn. Sometimes, in my experience, the less glamorous gigs lead to more opportunities in the future. For example, I’ve worked on Luna Luna for five years — unpaid — and it’s helped me secure plenty of opportunities. I don’t recommend that for everyone, but it’s one thing I do at night and over weekends (when I have the time) that has helped tremendously. (See: Get Creative below for more).
That said, no matter where you are in your freelance career, I firmly believe in the “asking for more is harmless” approach. Ask politely for the rate you want. Ask for the rate to be reconsidered if what’s being offered is too low. Know your worth; you may not have much experience but you may know that you are a damn good writer. This is worth fighting for!
I don’t use a ‘rate card’ (a card with my rates for specific projects) for this reason; my rate changes per client and per project. However, going in with a ballpark helps. My tip: Check the very helpful Writer’s Market for industry standards.
The bottom line: Be flexible. Be understanding of a company’s budget restrictions. Be willing to grow from where you are. All while advocating for your worth.
You’ll likely need to do an edit test when applying for gigs.
Most editors will want you to do an audition article when you apply to be a regular writer. For most of my edit tests, I’ve been asked to write a short article and include about a dozen potential pitches specific to the site. This helps the editor understand where you’ve got the site’s tone, voice, and niche down. For one-off articles, though, you don’t need to do an audition in most cases.
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Winter days as a freelancer: on deadline, writing writing writing, listening to ASMR, drinking too much coffee, yearning to just get back into bed to read this book, which I’ve been reading and rereading and taking notes from for a year. It’s amazing how much little bits of folk magic (all blended into Catholicism, of course) I can remember witnessing when I was younger. My grandmother often wrote wishes and intentions on scrolls of paper and placed them on an elaborate altar, something I do today. 👁
Know your worth.
Depending on your experience level, education (I’ve found this matters way, way less; most clients want skilled writers with some experience, versus education), and other variables, you can position yourself as an authority on certain topics. Always advocate for yourself, and know that asking is the key to getting.
On top of self-advocacy, it’s key that you help others, too. Give people job connections when you can, and share what you’ve learned, too. Generosity begets generosity, and it creates a good foundation for your work and life.
Find your passion (and also what you can tolerate writing about).
I write largely about wellness and chronic illness, intentional living, creativity and literature, and trauma recovery. Those are my umbrella categories, so I try to focus on those in most of my work. This has sort of ‘branded’ me as a writer, making me more visible to certain editors or publications.
On the other hand, if I need to write about other topics for pay (which we all do), I’ve also secondarily done work in other areas. Be flexible!
Figure out who you want to write for and contact them.
Make a list of websites and magazines that you would like to write for, and start setting intentions to write for those markets.
You can usually find the masthead on any website or in any magazine, which will often lead you to an editor’s name and contact information. If you can’t find the contact info, google their name or use a Facebook group for freelancers to see if anyone has the information. You can also look for the editor on social media and ask them politely for their contact info.
You can build all of this information in an Excel or Spreadsheet file. The columns might be, “Publication,” “Editor name,” “Editor contact,” “topic or vertical,” “pitch ideas,” and “link” (which should link to their hiring information or anything that you might help you remember what they do or what they are looking for).
Smaller magazines tend to have smaller staffs; I find these folks easier to reach. Larger or more established publications tend to be way busier. Often, I don’t even get a response. It might be smart to reach out to an assistant editor or associate editor (or a section editor) rather than someone higher up on the masthead.
Your emails should be short and sweet. Introduce yourself, share your pitch or ideas (put ‘Timely’ in the subject line if it is timely), ask if they’re seeking regular writers, and include your credentials and contact information. Be voice-y, be authentic, and be convincing.
Heed this warning: Don’t ramble; an editor will glance at your email for maybe 10 seconds before they decide it’s right for them.
Follow up if the editor doesn’t respond. Always follow up. Never — and I’m sure I don’t need to say this, but hey, who knows — insult or abuse the editor if they fail to follow up. Editors are busy, and your email simply may not be of interest. In a perfect world, we’d all get responses. Hint: The world isn’t perfect.
Maximize the types of work you do.
You don’t have to limit yourself to websites and magazines. You can get creative — you can write and sell e-books , you can pitch pieces to printed anthologies, or you can pitch your services to a small company. My gigs have run the gamut: I’ve written for print magazines and for websites, but I’ve also written perfume descriptions and product names for Valentino, “About” copy for small businesses, and edited poetry for an anthology.
Hey, I’m about to start writing obituaries!
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🧡 I published a story today to @lunalunamag: How to Become a Freelance Writer: On Starting Out, Discipline & Ritual. . These pictures capture my environment and some of the things that keep inspired and mindful as I write all day. I like to use this selenite ball to recalibrate and recharge, plants help me focus and ground me when I’ve been detached and working all day, and then there are books & coffee & cats for work breaks. 🧡 PS: I took this picture prior to getting a 2nd degree burn on this arm today after a French press exploded all over me, so enjoy my not-red skin.
Create a productive and inspiring writing environment.
One of the most important things I do is make my space cozy, comfortable and aesthetically beautiful. I try to surround myself with things that make me happy and comfortable so that I don’t feel the need to clean or reorganize or pretty things up. (Writers get distracted easily).
If I’m working from home, I’ll have my tea ready to go, I’ll keep power items near me (like crystals and plants) and I’ll keep the lighting cozy and bright, but not not harsh. I love salt lamps for a magical, glowy touch.
Build ritual into your freelance life.
I spend most of my freelance days writing, pitching ideas to editors, building articles into content systems, researching, working on my own projects, and editing. Because successfully working from home is largely very dependent on your own discipline, ritual is deeply necessary.
I never used to give myself a chance to rest or recalibrate during the word day, so my early writing was sloppy, grammatically imperfect, and my voice was messy. Today, I have a much firmer grasp on both my writing and my freelance habits — and that’s because I integrate ritual and intentionality into my work days.
Some easy ritual ideas include:
Make a morning routine that gets your blood flowing, and your mind settled and clear. Pull a tarot card and meditate on it, do some yoga, light a candle and clear your mind while you drink your coffee, or simply deep breath before heading to your computer. I like to make coffee, watch some ASMR videos on YouTube while I stretch, and then make sure my surrounding are conducive to productivity. I light a candle, put some stones and crystals out, and get myself a tall glass of water.
Take breaks to stretch, breath and recalibrate. Your work — and your health — WILL suffer if you don’t step away sometimes. I often do my best work after a break.
Create peace and joy in your surroundings. Make everything conducive to your needs, both logistically and aesthetically. Neat and tidy areas are better for me, and plants and natural light help me feel good. When I didn’t have this in my earlier years of living in messy houses with loads of loud roommates, I’d find a local cafe with wi-fi and get to work.
Use sound. I use the Calm app (this is a paid version but there are loads of cheap or free ones — as well as YouTube videos) to listen to stories or soundscapes during my break. It helps me delineate my work - brain from my rest - brain.
You can find more rituals at my account for Light Magic here.
Stay organized, and get ahead of your distractions. I use several organizational and productivity tools, and I suggest you either try these or research similar ones that sync up with your needs. Seriously.
Google Docs to save all my work
bill.com to send invoices
The “Reminders” app on my computer to outline my assignments and due dates
Trello is a tool that helps you track your projects, make lists, and monitor your progress.
I use Noisli 2.0, which helps me improve my focus and productivity using ambient noise. I use the white noises to make me focus when noises are distracting. I also use a free app called “Sound,” which has an amazingly soothing “brown noise” that has been helping me focus (and nap) a lot lately.
I use the Pomodoro technique when I really can’t focus. (Some of us have ADD or ADHD). This technique emphasizes bursts of work in 25-minute increments, and I’ve found it super helpful. You can adjust the Pomodoro as per your needs.
And because I’m good at guilt (thanks, former Catholic background), I use Panda Focus, which pops up my to-do list whenever I open a browser. Yeah, I know.
Learn how to research & find accurate information.
It’s so important to learn how to incorporate research into your work. Even if you don’t write research-heavy work, simply knowing where to turn for solid information can help. I use official, expert-approved sites when I need ‘accurate’ information, rather than blogs, for example.
Understand the difference between a pitch and an assignment.
When you’re freelancing, you’ll want to be pitching ideas to editors (this might include a cold pitch to an editor you don’t know, or pitching to editors you already work with) in addition to receiving assignments from people who have hired you as a remote writer. Never just assume you’ll ‘get’ as assignment. While many pitches are rejected, it’s an important part of the freelance life.
I pitch out about 5-10 stories a week to a mix of publications I either write for or want to write for. Other times, editors who have brought me on as a regular freelancer will email me throughout the week with assignments. For other clients, I do X articles per month at a set rate. It’s all over the place — so be flexible and make room for all sorts of relationships!
Learn more about pitching here: Wild Words: How To Get Published & Feel Good About Your Work
Although it may seem arduous or complicated or even inauthentic, it really helps to be active on social media. I’m sorry to say it, because I know some people equate it with the social apocalypse (and I don’t blame you!). I was confused when I started using Twitter; what’s the point? Who cares what I say? As I learned to use it over the years, it’s been really rewarding. I use it to engage with other writers and editors, I share my work, and I share others’ work.
Having a landing page — like Instagram or Twitter — full of thoughts and ideas and images, showcases your personality, your aesthetic, and your voice, and it lets editors know what they can expect from you.
In my many years on social media, I’ve gotten dozens of gigs. I even scored a book deal for Light Magic for Dark Times by being on Twitter (yep — my editor discovered my (unpaid) work on Twitter, read it, loved it, and asked if I wanted to write a book). Now, book deals may not happen to everyone, but the lesson here is this: Being visible does wonders for your freelance work.
Confused on where to start? Find some of your favorite writers and editors on Twitter and see how they use the platform. You can always follow me on Instagram, on Twitter, and on Facebook! PS: Luna Luna’s FB group The Luminous is a treasure trove when it comes to connecting with freelancers and bouncing ideas around.
Don’t be afraid to reach out.
Never think you’re too green, too unknown, or too inexperienced to reach out to an editor; editors want your pitches. If you have a good idea, send it along. (My only suggestion here: Make sure they haven’t published the piece already!).
The only way to go wrong is to reach out without politeness or with an air of entitlement. A little humility, kindness, and willingness to converse goes a long way. You can start by connecting with me on LinkedIn!
Most people aren’t going to land a 3000-word glossy magazine print piece right off the bat (but who knows, right?). Because of this, it’s smart to think outside the box a little: Go to writing conferences and meet people, design unique business cards that get people excited about you, reach out to your local gym to see if they need bloggers or copywriters, or ask your college alumni magazine if they need writers. I started Luna Luna (which is about as niche as it gets) — and that did wonders for my career! You never know who needs help or who is looking, so never underestimate the opportunities that are out there if you get creative.
Constantly learn and grow your skillset.
In the beginning, I had no clue about a lot of things — SEO, photoshop, certain content management systems. I was green, as they say. And guess what? I totally got by. Gig by gig I was required to learn certain skills — and I did. I’d often rent a book or watch a YouTube tutorial if I needed to learn something, like how to use WordPress or Google Keywords. If I needed to learn how to fill out a w9 on my computer (since I didn’t have a printer or scanner), I’d watch tutorials. The list goes on and on. All the info is at your fingertips — and if it’s not, join a Facebook group for freelancers and ask. Don’t expect anyone to hold your hand, but be ready and willing to ask for help when you need it.
Lisa Marie Basile is the founding creative director of Luna Luna Magazine—a digital diary of literature, magical living and idea. She is the author of "Light Magic for Dark Times," a modern collection of inspired rituals and daily practices. She's also the author of a few poetry collections, including 2018's "Nympholepsy." Her work encounters the intersection of ritual, wellness, chronic illness, overcoming trauma, and creativity, and she has written for The New York Times, Narratively, Sabat Magazine, Healthline, The Establishment, Refinery 29, Bust, Hello Giggles, and more. Her work can be seen in Best Small Fictions, Best American Experimental Writing, and several other anthologies. Lisa Marie earned a Masters degree in Writing from The New School and studied literature and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University.
Hillary Leftwich is the author of the forthcoming collection Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How To Knock from Civil Coping Mechanisms (CCM) Press in 2019. She earned her MFA in fiction and poetry from the Mile High MFA at Regis University. She is the poetry and prose editor for Heavy Feather Review and curator/host for At the Inkwell Denver, a monthly reading series. In her day jobs she has worked as a private investigator, maid, repo agent, and pinup model. Currently, she freelances as a writer, editor, writing workshop instructor, and guest instructor for Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash Workshop. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming in print and online in such journals as Entropy, The Missouri Review, The Review Review, Hobart, SmokeLong Quarterly, Matter Press, Literary Orphans, Sundog Lit, NANO Fiction, Occulum, Jellyfish Review, and others.Read More
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Wild Words is an everyday, accessible, friendly series of how-tos around publishing, writing, and creating. It’s a response to the many inbox queries we get around writing (a lot of our readers come here for the literature, and also want to write!). There is no way these entries can be totally comprehensive, but it’s aimed to provide a general overview of any given topic. Feel free to leave questions (and additional advice!) in the comments below or tweet us at @lunalunamag.
Whether you’re looking to publish poetry, an essay, a researched piece, or a book, here are some of my responses to the questions we’re asked all the time. We hope it helps!
You are already a writer.
One of the things I hear the most is, "I'm not a writer yet, but I'd like to be." But my darling, quiet that voice because—and may I be struck by lightening if I am wrong—yes, yes you are a writer. If you write, you're a writer. That might sound like a platitude, but consider this: Have you ever looked upon a beautiful piece of art, a painting perhaps, sitting in your friend's living room and thought, "well, it's not in a museum, so you're not an artist"? I doubt it.
The same goes for writers. There's this all-too-common myth that a writer isn't initiated into the dark mansion of writerly glory until published (see mantras like "publish or perish" or even well-meaning terms like "emerging writer"). You can very much be a writer without publishing credit.
Step one: Get out of your head. Save your head for the page. Your art comes first; everything else is secondary. Being a writer is less important than writing. So, just write and the rest will come into place.
Now, there's a caveat to all that.
Writing is not always glamorous; you have to put in the work.
Writing is often said to be lonely. It's not just an over-romanticization of the archetype of the writer (as we fall upon the chaise, in solitude, our poems clamouring in our chests), it's honestly a fact. Writing is one thing. Publishing is another, so in a way, being a professional writer is half craft half business. We’re alone at home, sitting in a dressing gown, downing coffee, and hitting “submit" over and over again.
Publishing is made up of all the unglamorous, sometimes uncomfortable parts we don't want to think about: formatting a manuscript, submitting to magazines and journals, attaching files, updating your "accepted" and "declined" excel sheets. It's all very Virgo, my friends.
There are a sea of opportunities out there; finding them is your job.
So how do you find journals or magazines? To start, social media is a wonderful resource. You can start by searching 'literary journal' or 'poetry magazine’ on Twitter or Instagram’s search bar. Then, read the journal. Yep, actually read it. Does the work resonate with you? Does the journal's niche work well with your voice? Does the journal stand for what you believe in? Do they take risks on style and genre? Do they make a point to welcome diverse writers?
Make lists of writers you admire. Who are they? Where have they published? You can see this by looking at their bios or Googling their names. (Most published works come with a bio (biography) of the writer.
Another easy way to find literary journals is by perusing your local bookshop; most indie stores have a dedicated literary magazine section. One of my favorite resources for literary journals (in this case, most are English-speaking ones) is at Entropy Magazine. They do an amazing service to writers by finding open submissions and separating them into journals, presses, and genres.
Facebook has some great groups, as well. Search "poetry writers" or "fiction writers" or "memoir writers" under groups and see what comes up. If you're familiar with #TheBinders, there are groups dedicated to poetry binders — aka, women, gender variant and nonbinary writers who write and submit poetry.
Engage with others, read their work, ask for recommendations to literary journals and follow their submissions policy.
13 AESTHETICALLY BEAUTIFUL LITERARY JOURNALS TO SUBMIT TO & READ
The beautiful thing about the Internet is that you have at your disposal hundreds of literary journals and magazines—as well as their "submit" or "contact" information. This will list what they’re looking for and how to send it in.
Look for those words on any literary magazine site, and you'll find out how to submit your work, too. Follow the rules. Don't attach a whole book, for example, if they ask for 3 poems only. Seriously. This inspires ire and bloodlust in some editors. Now, no one is waiting around for you to make a mistake, and you don’t have to stay awake at night quaking in your sheets ober understandable errors that happen, but do read the submissions policy and adhere to it in the most basic of ways.
Make lists of journals or magazines or presses that you like, take note of their publication schedules, and prep. Then, you wait. This is the sexy part (not true).
What is a pitch?
If you're trying to submit your writing to magazines (especially nonfiction or essays), you'll want to know there are usually two ways to go about this: You can pitch (aka send a clear idea) an editor directly (you can find emails for editors on social media or by going onto LinkedIn) and then wait for confirmation and the assignment, or you can write a whole piece and send it to a magazine via whatever submissions policy they state.
The latter is risky for one reason: You run the risk of writing and writing without it having a home. That said, you should be writing about what you want to write about—so even if it's rejected, you'll return to the drawing board because you believe in it.
Pitching editors seems scary, right? This is probably the question I'm asked most often: Should I pitch an editor? Will they ignore me if I've never published before? Why would they want to hear from me?
The answer is a bummer but most editors are super busy and many pitches don't get responses (there’s just limited bandwidth); however—a succinct, clear, well-developed pitch may yield a response. Editors appreciate pitches because it allows them to work with you—to calibrate an idea and ensure the piece covers the topic in the way they envision.
Pitches should include a well-developed idea, a reason why you're the one who should write the piece (keep this relevant, quick, and professional) and a sentence or two about why it would work for their publication. Here are some excellent tips.
To reiterate: Just because it can be difficult to get a response doesn’t mean you should be discouraged. Writers deal with this, and although it’s not ideal, it usually doesn’t reflect on you (if you wrote a good pitch).
A website and social media presence is helpful.
Many writers loathe the idea of having to step away from the writing desk to maintain a digital persona. I have a love/hate relationship with it. For one, it builds community and allows me to meet hundreds of talented writers. It's also become a source of support for me as a person, when used appropriately (aka not letting it consume my life). However, it can be distracting, narcissistic, and one-dimensional. We are, at times, reduced to parts of ourselves online—we are seen in fractions, and this can get us wrapped up in all the wrong sorts of ideas. Then there's the issue of imposter syndrome. When you see all the others writers online being amazing and publishing everywhere and getting retweets, you might wonder: Am I good enough?
(Yes. There is space for everyone (a glorious truth no troll can take away from any of us!), and that space is what makes writing such a beautiful experience. Everyone starts somewhere. Let the Internet be a place of support and inspiration for you, but don't let it distract from your art. You're a writer; brand is not the main priority.)
That said, an author website (with a short bio, a picture, and some contact details) can go a long way. Don't worry about it being sparse at first. Your bio can be "XYZ is a writer from New York City." It's not embarrassing if it’s short, there's no rush to fill it up with details, and there's no competition. Be you, write, and the rest will unfold. You can build websites at Weebly, Squarespace, Wix, and even Tumblr. (We use Squarespace and love it—and my personal website is on Squarespace as well).
What about pay-to-play or self-publishing?
Ever see those commercials or website pop-ups, "Publish a book for only $79.99!"? Yeah. That’s, in my mind, a scam — because you could do it on your own for very little money (although you will pay for author copies) through Amazon’s Createspace, for example.
Here’s the deal with vanity presses (aka vanity publishers, subsidy publishers or hybrid publishers): They typically ask writers (and in some cases agents) to subsidize a portion or all of the fee that it takes to put a book into the world. Some are straight-up shams designed to fuck people over and prey on a lack of knowledge, while others are working presses that are transparent about their fees. Here’s a very basic look at the variants within the hybrid publishing model.
There have been plenty of debates around whether this is okay or not, and lots of wonderful writers have worked with vanity presses before; still, others maintain that it’s not for them.
Generally speaking, most established magazines or presses will publish your work or book out of love for it, not for money. Most authors don’t pay their publishing companies to publish them.
Now, you can self-publish without using a vanity press. You’ll use a website (like Createspace or Cafepress) to upload and design your book, and you’ll have to buy your copies at a discounted rate — but this entirely autonomous.
Poets & Writers offers great information around this option here. The fact is, some writers love the autonomy and creative power they get when publishing their own work. Many writers would prefer not to self-publish, too, and if you put your ear to the ground you'll hear lots of contradictory talk, everything from "self-publishing isn't really publishing," to "Why would I want someone else in control of my manuscript?"
Many writers who are simply experimenting and want to carry a book with them to local readings might want to self-publish. Maybe they want sell their work on Amazon directly or on Etsy. Many writers may feel disenfranchised by the publishing scene. Many might just like the process of creating their own work.
There is still very much a stigma around self-publishing, but it's important to stay progressive when it comes to art. People should feel empowered to create as they'd like, and people have self-published throughout time like crazy! It's a hard world out there for writers, and no one needs to be shamed for their choice. That said, it's important to weigh the options.
No matter what—self-published or not—the post-publication stage is key: You’ll want to share your work.
My work is published!—now what?
It's time to promote it! Remember that most smaller presses have very limited budgets; you'll still be expected to reach out to reviewers and do a lot of the work when it comes to promotion. I've noticed that a lot of writers are concerned about seeming self-obsessed or gauche when it comes to promoting.
Here's the cold hard truth: No one will read your work if you don't advocate for it from conception to page to submission to promotion. Period.
So how do you go about getting people to read your work? A good rule of thumb is this: Promote your work, and everyone else's, too. You can’t just drop one link to your poem and expect engagement. You have to take part, encourage others, share ideas. Go to literary readings if you can, join online groups for writers, share links, read magazines, and engage. Tweet your work and someone else’s. It’s like being at a dinner party; are you only going to talk about yourself? How boring would that be? Join the larger conversation, be yourself, care about others, and the rest comes naturally. Be human; people read humans. There's no greater secret to this.
…but privilege is a thing, right?
Sometimes writers have it hard. They might work stressful, full-time jobs or lack finances; they raise families, they have chronic health conditions, or they are disenfranchised in ways you or I can't imagine. Many are systemically silenced. Others can't attend fancy writing workshops usually and sometimes they can't even access conferences due to inaccessibility!
Recognizing privilege, and a lack thereof, is very important. This is why it's important to help other writers succeed; you never know their situation, and you never know what they've gone through to get where they are.
There will be times when privilege plays into publishing: expensive degrees in writing, Instagram shots of pricy workshops and writer retreats—it's all out there. If this is you, recognizing it is important. If it's not, then know that you're not alone. Despite money, connections, and all the time in the world to write, there's one universal truth: Talent usually rises to the top. Do your best work. Edit it. Rewrite it. Write it again. And put your heart into it. Don't rush it.
Now, onto questions from our readers:
"How do I quite the voice that tells me I'm a shitty writer?"
That voice is like the sea. It is natural. It ebbs and flows, it pulls in and crashes to shore, and it pulls back. It intersects with our culture, use of social media, how we were raised, our mental health, our social life, and our internalized responses. That’s heavy, so don’t think you’re alone in this. That voice is an albatross to many.
Sometimes it's a deep blue, high tide, sometimes it's low, low enough for you to see your feet down there on the sand through the turquoise. This is what it means to write. There are days when you don't want to, don't feel the need to, don't feel like it means anything. When you doubt your ability or purpose.
Why write when others are already so talented? Why am I not as good? Why does this suck?
The sea often yields surprises. What happens when one day the waves don't stop? Will you ignore it? Will you say it's too overwhelming—or will you say it's necessary and beautiful?
Very few writers truly think they are god's gift to humankind; sure, there's ego out there, but it's usually driven by insecurity. Even the best feel it. It's chronic, and can be seriously limiting. However, you have to push past it. Turn the insecurity into fuel. Acknowledge it and let it pass.
You have to know that your relationship to your work (and your personal, very real reason for creating it) is more important than your mood on any given day, more important than what other people are doing, and more important than the ego. Write because you feel the need to, and trust, as you edit and develop it, that it is a thing of beauty. From there, decide whether you want to share it with the world.
The idea of something being shitty is usually predicated on ideas around how it will be received; so, write it for you, and you alone. The voice will happen. Just move through it. And don't beat yourself up for the sea change. Your voice will be there, and then go, and then come—what you choose to do, despite it, is what matters. Choose your work. It deserves love.
When your work is done, celebrate it. Get a drink, print it, decorate a little altar to it, and light a candle for your success. Focus on manifesting that spirit and resilience in your future projects. Grow your garden slowly, and with love—for all the darkness and light that comes with it.
Lisa Marie Basile is the founding creative director of Luna Luna Magazine—a digital diary of literature, magical living and idea. She is the author of "Light Magic for Dark Times," a modern grimoire of inspired rituals and daily practices. She's also the author of a few poetry collections, including the forthcoming "Nympholepsy." Her work encounters the intersection of ritual and wellness, chronic illness, magic, overcoming trauma, and creativity, and she has written for The New York Times, Narratively, Grimoire Magazine, Sabat Magazine, The Establishment, Refinery 29, Bust, Hello Giggles, and more. Lisa Marie earned a Masters degree in Writing from The New School and studied literature and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University.
Joanna C. Valente is a ghost who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and Sexting Ghosts (Unknown Press, 2018). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017), and received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of their writing has appeared in Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, Them, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, and elsewhere.Read More
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The biggest secret to writing well is that there aren’t any secrets. Maintaining a blog or writing a book takes the same type of skill, and that’s organization. That means, creating a schedule, an environment, and taking the time to research. When we talk about writer’s block, we are really talking about disorganization and waiting for those “idea” moments to happen. Like lightning, inspiration does strike—just not often and fades before our very eyes.Read More
BY MIGUEL PICHARDO
Outrage is exhausting. Three-day conferences in a different time zone are just as taxing. With plenty of collective outrage leading up to the 2016 AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference in Los Angeles, I had to conserve my energy.
I understand that there was plenty to rail against—culturally-deficient committees, poor accessibility, the tactless exploitation by Vanessa Place made worse by Kate Gale’s ranting—but I didn’t travel across the country to be swept up in polemics. When holding a conference in such melting pot of a city whose history has been marred by racial tumult, the Association could no longer afford to ignore the groups they’ve alienated in past years. And I couldn’t bring myself to knock the Association for trying. So, I loosened my brown fist into an open hand, tucked my soapbox under the table at my lit mag’s exhibit, and prepared to make the most of a conference where, for once, I felt welcome.
If you’ve ever been to an AWP Conference, you know that there are so many panels and events going on at the same time that you might wonder how far human cloning technology has come in recent years. Had I a team of extra Miguels, I would’ve attended everything on the schedule that spoke to me as Latino writer of poetry and fiction—maybe. Here’s some of what one Miguel managed to catch at the 2016 AWP Conference:
Panel Discussion: “Creating Opportunities for Writers of Color: A Continued Urgency”
Seated at the head of a hotel conference room were Reginald Flood, Diem Jones, Elmaz Abinader, Angie Chuang, and Angela Narciso. All of these authors have in one way or another dedicated their writing lives to circumvent “the perils of publishing in white institutions.” Abinader and Jones are two of the four founders behind VONA Voices, the only writing conference/workshop in the US that focuses on multi-genre work produced by writers of color. As of last summer, VONA left San Francisco and has made Miami its new home. Flood, Chuang, and Narciso have been involved with Willow Books, an independent press that strives to promote diversity in publishing by recognizing outstanding writers of color.
The panelists asserted that, as a community, writers of color can work towards creating an “alternate canon” worthy of inclusion in national and literary discourse. The aim then is not “diversity”—a word the panelists agreed is white, politically correct code for racism—but “equity,” as put forth by Narciso. Chuang then spoke on how writers of color should avoid becoming monoliths, self-absorbed loners who have forgotten that art can build bridges between communities.
When Jones pointed out that traditional pedagogy sometimes doesn’t work for writers of color, I realized that instead of writing for just anyone who will read our work, we should be writing for readers of color instead. Before I penned my first poem, I was an English major who couldn’t stomach the Bard and whose aspirations were forever changed after reading Junot Diaz’s Drown. I didn’t find this collection in any classroom; it switched hands between me and some of my Dominican friends at St. John’s University. I then passed it on to a group of high school students I was mentoring at the time. Re-education is not only possible; it’s necessary if we wish to turn the status quo on its head.
Before fielding questions from the audience, Abinader urged the writers of color in the room to fill in the “hollowness of diversity’’ by nurturing their individual voices and to always “make them [white people] uncomfortable.”
Will do, Elmaz. After all, change is hardly change unless it’s uncomfortable.
Reading: “Throwback Thursday: Four Forms of Performance from the Early 90s Nuyorican Poets Café”
Four years ago, when I still lived in New York, I’d often check out a reading or a slam contest at the hallowed literary hub that is the Nuyorican Poets Café. I’d sometimes take my high school students along as a field trip. More than once, they left the café so inspired that they’d recite their own poems on the R train back to Queens. The panel at this year’s AWP showed me that the Nuyorican still has that same impact on young poets.
An institution of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the Nuyorican has been home to a community of poets since 1975. The AWP readers—Xavier Cavazos, Ava Chin, Crystal Williams, and Regie Cabico—represented a living snapshot of the Nuyorican’s 90s heyday. Since then, they’ve earned fellowships and PhDs, won national slam competitions, appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Slam and NPR’s Snap Judgment, and of course, published multiple books. However, they all agreed that none of their achievements would’ve been possible without the Nuyorican, their “first MFA.”
Each poet recited a piece and followed it with some recollection of what the Nuyorican did for them as budding artists. Cabico, a queer Filipino American slam poet, said that without the Nuyorican he would have been a massage therapist or a lawyer. Chin credited the Nuyorican with giving her the space to explore language as a first generation Chinese American. Williams broke down the three lessons she learned about slam at the Nuyorican:
1. If you’re going to read a poem, then read a poem. Make sure that it has all the craft and technical considerations that go into creating poetry that is meant to be read aloud.
2. Slam with the intention to connect with your audience.
3. Come original. Be your full-throated self.
Last, and most memorable, was Cavazo’s reading. Taking a cue from Williams’ lessons, he launched into a hilarious poem titled “Motherfuckers” without the delay of unnecessary preamble. The piece was a tirade against Miami Marlins’ former manager, Ozzie Guillen. No matter where I go, the 305 follows. But his poem is not what stuck with me. Recalling his days as an addict, Cavazo said he owes his life and his sobriety to the friends he made within the Nuyorican’s brick walls, his fellow panelists. Teary-eyed, he reminded us that, “Slam is not an aesthetic; it’s a community. Keep it whole. Keep it beautiful.”
A Q&A followed, unlike any I’d ever seen. A Japanese American teen from Orange County raised his hand not to ask a question, but to make a request. He had a slam competition coming up, and was wondering if he could practice his piece for the audience. The panelists could not have been happier to oblige and invited him on-stage. As he read, I was reminded of my students back in New York. It was a relief to see, to hear that the oral tradition of slam poetry is alive and well from coast to coast, as relevant today as it was in the 90s.
The Latino Caucus
This year, the Association’s efforts to be more inclusive were apparent without coming off as pandering. Special accommodations were made for disabled attendees and panel titles were rife with acronyms like WOC and LGBTQ. The most apparent reforms could be seen in this year’s caucuses. At the end of the conference’s first two days, caucuses were held where groups of writers communed to discuss the challenges and opportunities their demographics face in the current publishing landscape. Caucus groups included writers in low residency MFA programs, Indigenous American writers, Asian American writers, and writers in recovery. One caveat about these caucuses was that many were held simultaneously. So someone who identified as say, a queer woman who teaches high school, would’ve had to prioritize one of these identities as her way into a larger community of writers.
I attended the Latino caucus where each panelist represented a different facet of the literary world. Emma Trelles, an alumna of FIU’s MFA program, spoke for the journalistic obligations a community of Latinx writers has in order to foster an atmosphere of good literary citizenship. She urged us to query editors for reviews on books by Latinx authors, and to cover each other’s events. Francisco Aragon, director of Letras Latinas at Notre Dame, suggested ways we can foster relationships with existing institutions in order to create literary programming and events focused on works by Latinx authors. Co-founder of the poetry workshop CantoMundo, Deborah Paredez invited us to “self-interrogate” in our work as a means of surveying the isolation we experience inside and outside of institutions. Moreover, she reminded us that “we are not exceptional Latinos; we’re representative of them.”
Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano, editor of several Latinx anthologies, posed the important question: “What would it take to publish ourselves into being?” The answer was provided by the following panelist, Ruben Quesada. Representing the literary magazine world, Quezada has held decision-making positions for publications like Codex Journal and the Cossack Review. Whenever he noticed a lack of Latinx representation in literary magazines, he either started his own or changed a predominately white one from the inside through what he called “deliberate editing.”
Quezada’s talk resonated with me especially. As the Latino editor of a literary magazine, I’d love to edit deliberately, but we simply don’t receive too many submissions from Latinx writers. During the Q&A, I made this known to a room full of strangers who looked like me, who spoke my first language. Before the Latino Caucus was over, my magazine’s Facebook page saw a surge in likes and the inbox was hit with questions about submission guidelines and book review queries.
If that’s not community, I don’t know what is.
Despite the overwhelming kinship and empowerment I felt in that room, I knew this could be the first and last Latino Caucus to ever be held at an AWP Conference. Sure, Latinx authors are as visible as ever, but being visible and being sustainable are two different feats. Before this caucus becomes an annual event, the Association asks that we jump through a series of hoops. For one, there must be panelists to preside over future Caucuses, each of whom have to have attended the last three consecutive AWP conferences as paying members. Also, the Association wasn’t concerned with how many people attended the Caucus; they just wanted the minutes when it was over. Only after the third Latino Caucus, to be held in 2018, does it become a permanent panel on the conference schedule.
Regardless of the shaky foundation the Latino Caucus stood upon, I still felt that I’d found my literary tribe, one I never knew could be available to me.
Off-site Event: The Bash hosted by The Conversation
This event could not be found on any official AWP listing. Invite only. I came as a dear colleague’s plus one. After enduring a lame, ill-planned reading, we called an Uber to take us to Ladera Heights, AKA the Black Beverly Hills. Live drums and saxophones could be heard as we pulled into the driveway of one of the nicest houses I’d ever been invited to. We were greeted at the door by our co-host’s father, Mr. Barnes. Inside, the rooms were adorned with paintings and wall-to-wall bookshelves brimming with knowledge. I imagined that this must’ve been such a nurturing environment for a poet like Aziza Barnes to call home.
I leaned over to my colleague and whispered, “I wish Mr. Barnes was my dad.”
Mr. Barnes gave us the lay of the land: where to find the booze, the coffee, the snacks, and the pièce de résistance, the taco bar. The hospitality was on one hundred thousand; I was exactly where I needed to be.
The band played Motown classics as I made trip after trip to the taco bar. I spoke with young black, white, and Latinx poets from all over the country. I even reunited with a poet from Mississippi I met during the 2015 conference. We agreed that the Association had taken the hint since last year in Minneapolis, where the melanin-deficient panels and attendees made us seriously question what we were doing there in the first place.
I struck up another conversation with a black poet and PhD candidate from Flint, Michigan. Maybe it was the festivities, but like me, he was overjoyed to see so many writers of color sharing such a memorable night. He told me about Claudia Rankine’s moving keynote address, which I’d missed the night before. We exchanged email addresses and poems. The band played their last notes and then we heard the announcement, “They’re going to read.”
An unveiling was upon was, the reason why we’d all come together. Nabila Lovelace and Aziza Barnes had organized The Bash as the joyful inauguration of a new literary institution they’d founded and dubbed “The Conversation.” The organization’s mission is to “carve out a space for Black Americans to contend with their Blackness and its infinite permutations in the South.” Lovelace and Barnes wanted to turn the literary conference model on its head, and by throwing The Bash, they had done so beautifully, in a manner no POC I know could resist: the house party.
Our hosts stood silently in front of their mic stands, commanding us with their presence before either of them spoke. Lovelace’s head was wrapped in a soft cloth and Barnes wore a plaid blazer, dreads draped over her shoulder. Barnes thanked all of us for attending and stressed the importance of coming together outside of the Association’s confines. She went on to read a poignant piece about being harassed by LAPD outside of the very house we were gathered in—the house she grew up in.
After the reading, the band packed up their equipment. Yet, the party was far from over. A DJ set up his gear and turned the Barnes living room into one of those basement parties from my high school days. The lights were low, the floor was shaking, and bodies moved to anthems like Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” and Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up.” When Dark Noise Collective poets Danez Smith and Nate Marshall busted out a flawless “Kid ‘n Play” in the middle of the dance floor, the crowd lost it.
I swayed to the music, getting by on my two left feet and reveling in the ruckus we were busy making. Amid a conference that was anything but silent, the noise of change had been a low hum since I arrived in Los Angeles. Here, at The Bash, it reached its crescendo.
The DJ threw on Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” and played it loud. All of us chanted the chorus together, “We gon’ be alright/ Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Like this article? You should try: Breaking the Cultural Ties That Bind Us
Miguel Pichardo is a Dominican/Ecuadorian writer out of Miami. His poetry has appeared in Duende and Literary Orphans. He is currently an MFA candidate at Florida International University and the editor of Fjords Review.
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