On Being a Literary Citizen

Our fearless program assistant, Lisa Bubert, had a few thoughts on literary citizenship, so we asked her to blog away. Here she is with the goods! And if “literary citizenship” is a new term for you, all the better. You’ll find out everything you need to know, here.

Notice, I did not title this "On Being a Good Literary Citizen" or "How to Be a Good Literary Citizen." A more apt title for this would be "On What it Means to Be a Literary Citizen To Me, Lisa Bubert, Your Friendly Local Librarian, Writer of Weird Stuff, and Lover of All Things Books and Stories." But that just doesn't have the same ring to it SO...

Bottom line— I love literature. I love stories. I love books. I love reading books, talking about books, recommending books, displaying books in my library. I love libraries, have worked in libraries for nearly all my working life, and give my heart and soul to library work. I love fellow writers, reading their work, offering feedback if they ask, connecting them with groups and resources, and just generally being a friend if they'll have me. And I love non-profits like The Porch, whose sole goal it is to do all of the above.

So with that in mind, here's what literary citizenship looks like for me, in this moment:

-       I read, a lot.

-       If it's a book I love, I talk about it a lot.

-       I'll display said book(s) at the library and I'll recommend them every chance I get.

-       I visit bookstores a lot. I don't always buy stuff but it’s pretty hard to get out of there without purchasing anything (cause who am I kidding, we all have problems.)

-       I go to said bookstores’ events and bring my friends.

-       I read my friends’ work.

-       I write at coffeeshops and tell my writer friends to join me so we can all suffer together.

-       I have a membership with the Porch. Last year, I gave at the Starving Artist level; this year, I had more to go around so I gave at a higher level.

-       I go to Porch events.

-       I tell people about Porch classes.

-       I was such a regular attendee of Lit Mag League they put me in charge of Lit Mag League and I said yes to this because I really, really wanted to.

-       I begged to start Draft Chats because I really, really wanted to.

-       I said yes to writing this blog post because I really, really wanted to.

In short, being a literary citizen (to me) is simply about being a person who loves literature and acts on that love, no strings attached. And that love almost always find its way back to you in the form of friendship, community, camaraderie, a shoulder to cry on when you receive the rejection that broke the camel’s back, people to party with when you publish (and people to hawk your stuff when you have stuff to sell).

Of course, as with anything in the writing world, the idea of literary citizenship is fraught with controversy, as fraught as the idea of regular citizenship. Do we vote, or do we not vote? Do we read the manuscript for free or do we demand pay? Both questions make no sense to some and perfect sense to others. (If you need a refresher on the controversy, read Becky Tuch's Salon essay, "More Work, No Pay: Why I Detest Literary Citizenship." ) It's all about perspective. And, honestly, how supported one may feel by their community in return.

Our Lit Mag League meeting in February at Lisa’s house. Adam Ross, editor of   The Sewanee Review   , joined us for a vigorous discussion of that writing and editing life!

Our Lit Mag League meeting in February at Lisa’s house. Adam Ross, editor of The Sewanee Review , joined us for a vigorous discussion of that writing and editing life!

But isn't that the key. What writer wants to support a community that doesn't support them back? What community wants to give support to a writer who has done nothing in return? The underlying word in both of these questions is scarcity. And nothing good comes from feeling like there's not enough.

The other issue at heart is one of tit for tat, or what my therapist likes to call "keeping score." You know, when the house is a disaster and you are busy, and you ask the kids or your spouse or your cat (anybody, PLEASE) to clean up and the response is "but I did the dishes yesterday!" And your response is "but I worked all day!!" and their response is "so did I!!!" regardless of whether or not either of you did anything the other would define as "work." The point is, the house is dirty and is remaining dirty and eventually someone will have to break and clean it and make the choice to either live in a pit of resentment or a pit of your own filth formerly known as your house.

Wouldn't it be easier to just clean it without the drama? (This is my therapist talking. Of course it's not easier, but it's what we call doing the work.) Which brings me to: Wouldn't it be easier to support literature without the fraught-filled tit-for-tat drama?

Like Jane Friedman, I like to see literary citizenship with an “abundance mindset.” (See “Are There Limits to Literary Citizenship?”) It’s much more zen, much healthier, and honestly, my therapist would be so proud to see me writing this. Thanks Dr. Upchurch!

So how will you act on your literary love? The Porch has many opportunities.

1.     Become a member

Three cool things happen when you become a Porch member.

                                               i.   You are supporting other writers, especially young writers, in your community. The Porch holds classes not just for adults but also for our youth who need this enrichment on their path to adulthood and citizenship.

                                             ii.    You get discounts, people! Discounted Porch classes, discounted subscriptions to various literary journals, and admission to Members Only events, ooo-la-la!

                                            iii.    You jumpstart your career as a literary citizen. I don’t wanna say it’s like being inducted into a club, but okay, it pretty much is.


2.     Get Involved

Three ways to get involved with the Porch:

                                               i.    Take a class. There are multi-week workshop series for when you really need to drill down, and there are one-day classes for those of us on the go. Did I mention Porch members get classes at a discounted rate?

                                             ii.     Attend an event. Most Porch events are free and open to the public and honey, they are fun, fun, fun! This is how you meet other writers in your community and find other people to commiserate with as we all take this wild ride called the Writing Life. And don’t worry, we’re all writers, which means we’re all weirdos, so trust me when I say that you are welcome here.

                                            iii.     Join a club. Okay, so maybe club is the wrong word, but we definitely have some group activities to get in on. Like Lit Mag League, our literary journal book club, or Open Studio, where you can hang with other writers at Porch Headquarters, or Write-Ins, where we drink coffee and write on nights and weekends, or Draft Chats where we share our work in critique group. I mean, the possibilities are endless.


3.     Get in Touch

Talk to us! Sign up for our newsletter where you can learn first thing about new offerings and secure your spot in classes known to sell out. You can follow us on social media (@porchtn) and get the scoop on upcoming events. And, if you receive some good publishing news, we’ll send you a high-five via shoutout in the newsletter.

So come on! Be our friend. We’d love to have you.