By Cassie Selleck
Double nickels. Fifty-five. That’s the age I was when I quit my full-time job marketing for a bridge access equipment company, and enrolled in Goddard College’s low-residency undergraduate program. It’s also the age I was when I could, for the first time in the more than half a century I have been alive, list my profession as “Writer” on legal forms. And speaking of nickels, if I had one of those coins for every time I was told I should not go into writing if I expected to make a living at it…well, let’s just say I’d have more nickels than that particular advice was worth.
I’m a writer, the author of a book that is barely a novel, but that has created a passive income more than twice what I’ve made in any of my other careers. If you ask my eighty-year-old mother, she’d say, “It’s about damn time.” She’s like that: blunt, sassy, irreverent. The persimmon didn’t fall far from that tree.
Some people say my success is a fluke. Who self-publishes and makes a living at it? Others have actually said, “Don’t be disappointed if you don’t have the same results with your next novel.” Okay, I won’t. I had no expectations for The Pecan Man, so it would have been hard to be disappointed. I was surprised by its success, in fact, and I continue to be delighted by sales that grow exponentially, but my question is this: Was it a fluke, or was it just an opportunity not wasted?
But this blog is not about me. It’s about you. Yes, you. I want to tell you a secret that some people don’t want you to know. Ready?
It. Is. Possible.
Oh, wait, here’s another one:
It isn’t too late.
I’m on a roll.
It doesn’t cost a fortune, and you don’t have to settle for royalties that net you less than 15% of your list price while other folks make three times that much on your work.
There has never been a better time, nor a more legitimate opportunity to earn a living as a writer. There are many affordable, some virtually free, self-publishing services that offer user-friendly tools to independently publish digital books, or print-on-demand services for paperback books. Are you guaranteed to make big bucks? Nope. But guess how much you’ll make on your novel, your memoir, your poetry if they are naught but files in your computer’s ever-expanding belly?
I had just two items on my bucket list a few years back. Who had time for a bucket list when I had been raising children since 1976 and had just sent my youngest off to college? I barely had time to breathe, much less dream about things I wanted to do before I kicked the proverbial bucket. So, when my husband and I talked about what we would do if we ever won the lottery he plays faithfully every week, my answer would always be:
1. Finish my college degree.
2. Publish a novel.
I’d been working on both for over ten years. I know, I’m a little slow. Slow like the tortoise who beat the hare.
I published The Pecan Man in January of 2012. And by March 2014, #2 had made #1 possible. I cannot imagine being where I am today without the success of my self-published novel. I am well on my way to completing Goddard’s BFA in Creative Writing program – the only low-residency program of its kind in the U.S., I am a co-editor of fiction for Goddard’s outstanding online literary journal DUENDE, and I get up each day and walk to my desk to write. I have an agent who found me, not the other way around. I have speaking engagements on my calendar, and have met astounding people I might never have come across if not for a shared love of reading and writing. I am living a writer’s life, something I dreamed of since I was a child.
I wish this success on all artists and writers. I hope we all make it. I hope we stop telling each other we must starve for our art. It’s not true; we must work for it. We must make it available in one or more of the many ways possible in today’s market. With countless online outlets and the rapid popularity of social media, consumers have grown incredibly savvy and have the skills necessary to find the material they want to read. If you take the time to write, edit and publish good poetry and prose, there is an audience out there waiting to find you.
Is self-publishing the only way? No. Is it the best way? Not always. Does it spell doom for local bookstores? I don’t think so. But it is one way of getting your foot in the door, of finding an audience, of having a large pool of beta-readers, of attracting an agent if you want one. It can even increase your chance of becoming traditionally published if that’s what your heart has always desired. For me, it wasn’t about having a big name on the spine of my book. It was about writing a story that bound hearts, and discovering a world where my voice was welcome and appreciated.
So, what are you waiting for? Go find your audience.
You can purchase Cassie’s book, The Pecan Man, here.
By Raphael Krasnow
The beauty of being a creative person is that many of us are inspired to learn new things, and engage with new concepts on the daily. I am currently in the midst of an eye-opening literary and poetic exploration. This enlightenment is due mostly to the power of a French writing collective formed in the middle of the 20th century called, Oulipo. Oulipo, in French, stands for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, which roughly translates into workshop of potential literature. Founded by Raymond Queneau and Francois Le Lionnais, the primary goal of this group of poets, mathematicians, and writers of all types, was (and still is) to explore and create something called, constrained writing.
To me, the idea behind constrained writing was meant to create literary beauty through the lens of certain parameters, or *drum roll, please*…constraints. Constraints are very common in the world of poetry. For example, sonnets, haiku, and sestinas are some of the more common forms of constrained poetry. While they are fascinating techniques, and can provide far more interesting results than one might expect, what really intrigued me was the realization that there were so many more options, with dare I say, potentially wacky results.
As a lover of free-verse, my poetry is meant to be performed or slammed, so the idea that using constraint could liberate my process as a writer, at first, seemed laughable. That is, until my exploration of Oulipo led me to univocalic poetry. The essence of a univocal poem is that the writer may use only one vowel throughout their piece, essentially making the poem a lipogram by restricting the use of all other vowels. While this may seem incredibly restricting and tortuous, the beauty and aural delicacies of the univocal poem, proved to be perfect for my style of writing. When you can only use one vowel, and therefore only the sounds that that one vowel can make, you are offered up a feast of potential assonance and rhyme: two of my favorite elements of writing.
I’ve grown to appreciate the freedom that practicing within these constraints can grant. I realize that many other writers might have the same fear or apprehension about constraints that I once had, and that’s exactly why I wanted to share what I’ve learned. Maybe it might help you tap into a well of discovery.
So, I’m offering up a challenge to any reader that is inclined: try writing univocalic poetry. You needn’t share it with anyone if you don’t want to; it can be your own private exercise of form. I assure you that if you give it time and patience, “restricting” yourself just might open your writing to new horizons. You can choose A, E, I, O, U, and if you are very daring, Y. After attempting to use A, E, I, and O, I found working with E helped me most.
For your reading pleasure or proof that it is doable, here is my most recent univocal poem using the letter E.
The recent tense end embedded embers,
stressed tresses, sent lewd letters.
Even wrestled gender-bent sex dresses.
Her chest shed,
He best get the fret wet.
She bled, let her dead wed,
led bed wetters,
he bred her free trend setters.
Pet-less nests get less pests
Best get me the rest, see,
Enter the center
Mend her fender
Then end her.
Then end here.
Then send beer,
Get me here.
By Jørn Otte
As the dust settles, the books are shelved, the business cards sorted through (who was that again?), and the jet lag lazily lingers, I sit and ponder over my first Association of Writers and Writing Publishers conference in Minneapolis, and what can be said of this unique literary experience.
Writers, readers, MFA programs, publishers, literary magazines, drag queens, booksellers, activists, panelists, recovering alcoholics, dog lovers, trendsetters, translation enthusiasts, poets, playwrights, prison writing publishers, Duendians, Goddardites, and thousands of other categories of people and uncategorizeable people attended this three-day-long event, and the positive energy in the rooms was palpable and contagious.
What did I learn? Plenty. Let’s start with my college and literary magazine.
Goddard College has a wider influence than I realized, and it was wonderful to meet alumni and former faculty who have gone on to great things – from people like Mark Doty, a Goddard alum and renowned poet and memoirist who won the National Book Award in 2008, to Doug Van Gundy, a Goddard alum and fellow West Virginia native who now at the low residency MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan, and was also a contestant on ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Alumni and former professors stopped by the Goddard table every day, recalling fond memories, sharing enthusiasm about our programs, and encouraging others to attend.
Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the AWP experience was the fact that many contributors to Duende stopped by our table to thank us for publishing them and to share their love of all things literary. From Harrison Candelaria Fletcher to Bianca Spriggs to Seema Reza and so many others, meeting our contributors face to face and sharing in mutual love of the written word was truly a wonderful experience. It was also nice to build an even deeper camaraderie with my fellow Duendians Amy Sterne and Catherine Chambers, as we represented our school and magazine.
Meeting famous authors is always a treat, and it was distinct pleasure to be able to sit down and talk with people like Nick Flynn and Karen Russell, both of whom, like so many other attendees, were gracious with their time and thoroughly engaging.
Being courted by MFA programs does a little something to stroke the ego as well, and while I won’t call out any names, I can say with complete sincerity that the fact that half-a-dozen graduate writing programs expressed a genuine interest in both my writing and in me as a person made me feel that this whole experience was equally surreal and grounding.
Panels of noted authors and publishers were also an integral part of the AWP experience, and none was more engaging that the Writers Write No Matter What panel, conducted by four wonderful writers: Wendy Call, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Anastacia Tolbert and Sejal Shah. This panel was actually workshop, and the productive writing that occurred in this space was unlike anything else I saw at AWP, and hearing from other attendees and panelists, I can confirm that this was a unique and engaging experience that ranked up there with the best panels AWP has ever had.
What more can be said? Being around 15,000 like-minded people – people who care about the written word, about publishing, education, poetry and prose – it is both an awe-inspiring and humbling experience. I am proud to be one of the managing co-editors of Duende, and I am honored to be a student of Goddard College. As a literary magazine and as an institution, we are setting a high standard of excellence, and it was evident at AWP in Minneapolis, just as it will be when I see all of you at AWP in Los Angeles in 2016!
By Catherine Chambers
“If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger.”
– Muriel Rukeyser
As tempted as I was to write a blog post for April Fool’s Day, I decided against it in favor of another celebration starting today: National Poetry Month. Founded in April of 1996 by the Academy of American poets, National Poetry Month aims to:
- highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets,
- encourage the reading of poems,
- assist teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms,
- increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media,
- encourage increased publication and distribution of poetry books, and encourage support for poets and poetry. (poets.org)
I had the privilege, along with Kris Castiglia, of being a co-poetry editor for the latest issue of this amazing journal. We received an overwhelming amount of work from all over the world, from every walk of life, and I want to thank submitters who entrusted us with their creations. Make sure to take a look at the incredible work in both Duende Issue 1 and Issue 2. If you haven’t by now, it’s alright by me if you jump ship on this blog post. Really, go. Enjoy the Duende!
To kick off the month of celebration, fellow Duendian Amy Sterne and I will be attending a poetry reading featuring Goddard BFA Program Director Janet Sylvester, along with Goddard BFA faculty members Wendy Call, Michael Vizsolyi, and Arisa White in Montpelier, Vermont tomorrow night. To get in the spirit you could also attend a reading in your hometown, or buy a book of poetry at your local independent bookstore, or (if you’re me) curl up with the 1989 film Dead Poet’s Society and cry into a pint of ice cream over the “o Captain, my Captain” scene. Poetry is for everyone and can be celebrated in just about any and every way.
In honor of National Poetry Month, I have assembled a list of the Duende Issue 3 staff’s favorite poems. Check them out! We’d love for you to share your favorite poems with us, too! Tweet us @DuendeLiterary #SharetheDuende.
Catherine Chambers: “Twenty-One Love Poems (II)” by Adrienne Rich
Raphael Krasnow: “A Lower East Side Poem” by Miguel Pinero
Ah-Keisha McCants: “Nikki Rosa” by Nikki Giovanni
Jorn Otte: “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver
Cassie Selleck: “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
Jay Sheets: “Caracol (Seashell)” by Rubén Darío
Amy Sterne: “Her Kind” by Anne Sexton
Tyler Woodsmall: “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg
By Catherine Chambers
As the 2015 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference draws near, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences since I attended the 2014 conference in Seattle. In the past year, I found, applied to, and was accepted by Goddard College’s BFA in Creative Writing program after a two-year break from school to work for a circus troupe in Dallas, Texas. I had my first piece of writing (incidentally, based on an encounter I had during the conference) published in a literary journal, moved to a new state, and chose the career of “writer” for myself.
Previously, writing had been a hobby for me, one that I enjoyed but didn’t feel that I was especially good at. I began to write memoir pieces about my experience in the circus, an abusive relationship, and my childhood, but I didn’t feel “legit” writing about these things. Everyone had these problems, I thought. Nothing made me any more special than the next memoirist who loved her mom and made some bad choices in the love department.
At this point, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Nicole Hardy, author of Confessions of a Latter-day Virgin: A Memoir. She, along with with Suzanne Morrison and Claire Dederer, presented a panel on humor in memoirs by women. It was the first panel I attended at #AWP14, and I was completely taken with all three women, Nicole Hardy especially. After the panel, I was walking around with my two best friends (Hi Janice! Hi Jenna!) and we stopped at a booth about ten feet from Nicole. My friends urged me to go talk to her, but I was having a hard time with my words. I couldn’t believe I could just walk up to her?!
I did eventually get up the courage, and Nicole gave me a hug. I asked her if I could ask for writing advice, and she said that I could ask her anything. My questions were: “What if my story is average compared to someone else’s? What if my experiences aren’t extraordinary?”
Her answer: “It doesn’t matter. All your experiences can be extraordinary. It’s not the quantity of stories you tell; it’s the quality of your storytelling.” From that moment, my perspective of my own writing shifted. I started taking steps to better myself as a storyteller, rather than worrying that my life wasn’t interesting enough to merit the title of “memoirist.” Following that illuminating experience, I found Goddard, I found confidence in my craft, and eventually, I found beauty in everyday experiences.
I will be live-tweeting my #AWP15 experience as I represent Duende with Managing Editor Amy Sterne, Non-Fiction Editor Jørn Otte, and Faculty Advisor/Editor-in-Chief Wendy Call. Come by the Duende booth and take a selfie with us, talk writing with us, or come by just for a hug. Let’s #MeetandTweet
We would especially love a photo-op with any of our contributors! See you in Minneapolis!
By Jørn Otte
Last October, I had the unique and wonderful opportunity to hear Mumia Abu-Jamal deliver a prerecorded commencement speech to the fall 2014 graduates of my school, Goddard College. Abu-Jamal is a former journalist and activist, as well as a distinguished writer and Goddard College alum. He is also a member of America’s enormous incarcerated community, serving a life sentence in a prison in Pennsylvania. Feel free to learn more about him by reading his incredible book, Live From Death Row.
The United States of America has a population that accounts for 5% of the total number of people on planet Earth, however, the “Land of the Free” houses 25% of the world’s prison population. This means, that one out of every four incarcerated people, in the world, is housed in a United States jail cell.
While I will not mythologize the role of convict, nor defend any atrocities committed by anyone, it is a certainty that innocent people are incarcerated at an alarming rate in America. Though it can be argued that the vast majority of people who end up in prison do so because they were guilty of committing a crime, that does not mean that the law they broke was a just law, nor does it mean the sentence they received was a fair punishment to fit the crime. The reality is, persons of color are incarcerated at a disproportionate rate in this country. Statistically speaking, if you are a young black male, you have a greater chance of being put in jail than a white person, even if you both commit the same crime.
Real and documented social inequalities are one reason why those in prison deserve a platform to be heard. These people are fathers, mothers, children, friends and loved ones. No matter what put them in the cell they now occupy, they are still human beings. They have lives worth learning about and stories worth hearing.
There are many organizations that exist to help give voice to the millions of people behind bars in America. Perhaps the best known is the PEN Prison Writing Program. “Founded in 1971, the PEN Prison Writing Program believes in the restorative, rehabilitative power of writing and provides hundreds of inmates across the country with skilled writing teachers and audiences for their work. It provides a place for inmates to express themselves freely and encourages the use of the written word as a legitimate form of power.”
Another wonderful organization that uses the power of words to work with at-risk youth is called Pongo. “The Pongo Publishing Teen Writing Project is a volunteer, nonprofit effort with Seattle teens who are in jail, on the streets, or in other ways leading difficult lives. We help these young people express themselves through poetry and other forms of writing.”
There are many other programs across the country and around the world that are striving to allow the written word to be a vehicle through which people behind bars can express themselves, share their stories and heal. We at Duende wish to add our voice to helping the voiceless. We want to share the words behind the bars.
Our online literary journal is committed to giving voice to those stories by presenting a platform where previously or currently incarcerated writers, poets and artists can share their work with the general public. Duende is dedicated to showcasing quality writing from communities underrepresented in the U.S. literary landscape. The journal seeks to be a vehicle through which writers who are or have been incarcerated can share their writing and visual art with a wider audience. Duende seeks poetry, prose, hybrid work, and visual art coming from the minds and hearts of prisoners—current or former, in the U.S. or in other countries.
You are not forgotten and you deserve to be heard. We gladly accept your submissions via postal mail until March 25, 2015. Please send to:
BFA in Writing Program
123 Pitkin Road
Plainfield, VT 05667
This is our first effort at this endeavor, however it most certainly won’t be our last. Mumia Abu-Jamal was once quoted as saying, “Very few people in prison have voices that go beyond the wall. It’s my job to do the work for them because they have no one.” That is Duende’s mission as well. Please feel free to share this call with your local prison writing organization. Thank you.
By Charity Goodrow
On this day in 1932, Audre Lorde was born in Harlem to Caribbean immigrant parents Linda and Frederick Lorde. I often heard this lyrical name, Audre Lorde, in passing during my residencies at Goddard College’s Plainfield, VT campus. Many of my peers seemed deeply moved by her work as a poet, essayist and activist. It felt natural for me to include The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde in my studies since my work focused primarily on feminism and writing from the female experience.
My goal this semester was to find my feminist voice. I hoped to build up the courage to translate my voice into a collection of personal essays, poetry, and fiction. I believe that certain people (in my case authors) reveal themselves to us during the exact time we are seeking guidance and inspiration. While studying Lorde’s collection of poetry, I developed a deep admiration for her. I quickly realized she possessed a fire within that blazed a trail for women around the world to express themselves. There’s no question, Lorde’s work ignited a fire within me that has illuminated my path as a writer.
The poem in Lorde’s collection that inspired me most was “A Litany for Survival.” While fear can be debilitating, this poem reminded me that silence is far more destructive; silence can destroy a person’s soul. Audre Lorde once said, “I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.”
As an aspiring writer, there have been times when my fear of rejection, judgment or being misunderstood has disrupted my creative process. Sometimes I feel as though I have so much to communicate to the world, but the powerful voice within me comes out as a whisper. If you’ve ever had a dream where you try to scream and nothing comes out, then I’m sure you can relate to this feeling of being locked in by fear. What I admire most about Audre Lorde is her ability to embrace fear. As I read “A Litany for Survival,” first silently then aloud, I began to understand that fear is a basic human emotion that we all experience and if we welcome it as we do joy and happiness, let it pass through us, we can discover its origin, allowing us to move forward and reject the isolation of silence.
The following lines have since taken up residence in my soul and I am forever grateful for Audre Lorde’s wisdom and honesty:
“when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid”
Lorde had an impressive career. She attended Hunter College, where she received her BA in literature and philosophy. She also received an MLS from Columbia University. She worked as a librarian at Mount Vernon Public Library as well as Town School Library in New York City. She had two children with Edwin Rollins and after their divorce, met her partner Frances Clayton while working as a writer in residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. Lorde was a mother, poet, activist, and feminist who was involved in the civil rights movement as well as the Afro-German movement which inspired the documentary Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992. In 1968, Lorde’s first collection of poetry First Cities was published. Some of her most popular work includes Coal (1976), The Black Unicorn (1978), and The Cancer Journals (1980). Audre Lorde was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1978 and liver cancer in 1984. She passed away on November 17, 1992.
Today, we celebrate the life and important work of Audre Lorde. Let us be reminded that we all possess a fire deep within and sometimes all it takes is a little inspiration to ignite it.
By Cameron Price
In March I will be graduating from Goddard’s BFA in Creative Writing Program. It feels spectacular to thumb through the 88 page manuscript of poetry and critical writing that I labored over and revised more times than I can count. In fact I printed it out just so I could hold it in my hands (I’ll reuse and then recycle the paper, don’t worry.) I’m very proud of the work that I’ve done at Goddard and grateful for the invaluable lessons and friendships I’ve gained.
At this point, many people know I’m pretty much DONE with my undergraduate degree. It’s an amazing feeling, don’t get me wrong. I like being congratulated as much as the next guy. However there’s that question. You know which one. It’s the question that keeps (or did keep) you up at night as a young 20-something on the verge of beginning a new life chapter: “So what’s next?” And, of course, this question may keep you up at night regardless of your age. We seem to hear it everywhere when we’re about to finish a milestone. What’s next, what’s next, what’s next….
It’s an enchanting notion right? Life’s endless possibilities. The sky is the limit. Actually, as we all know, it’s much messier than that. In the past when faced with the inevitable unknown, my emotions more closely resemble a tight and vicious knot of nerves and ecstatic excitement than a clichéd white-winged eagle soaring easily up to the lofty heights of aspiration. It’s a terrifying question. And often it just feels easier to make something up. We are kind of making it up as we go along anyway…..right? Instead of worrying incessantly about the unknowable future, I’ve sought ways to approach the end of my degree differently. There must be a better way to look at all of this, I’ve thought to myself many times.
By far the advice that keeps coming back to comfort me are the words of Chicana author and activist Stephanie Elizondo Griest. She was Goddard’s visiting writer last Fall. Griest is a colorful speaker who has lived an even more colorful life. Her stories of beautiful, terrifying, and transformational experiences from living everywhere from Russia, to China, to Cuba enthralled us all. However, one idea stood out to me: Don’t be the one to disqualify yourself from an opportunity. Let that be someone else’s job. Don’t you be the one who tells you you don’t have what it takes.
She figured, someone had to win that fellowship, write that book, get that job, receive that grant, tell that story. So why not her? Why not me? Why not you? The trick was not to NOT get rejected. The trick is not to be the one to tell yourself not to bother, that you wouldn’t get it anyway. Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s advice: Give it your best shot and don’t get in your own way.
This means a great deal to me as a poet. My poetry easily gets rejected more often than it gets accepted. But I know now that if I had let just one of those rejection letters shut me down and hold me back, I may not have gotten my work accepted at the places I have. A good example of this is when I made an experimental video piece based on a poem I wrote. I wanted to try something different in an unfamiliar medium so I had fun with it and made something I was proud of. A little thought came to me that I should submit it somewhere. It was as simple as Googling “video art submissions” to find an avenue to potentially share my work. One of the first opportunities that came up was for the 6th Cairo Video Festival in Egypt. I browsed their website, marveling at the quality of the work I was seeing. A little thought came again that I should submit my little film to them. I scoffed. Um, helloooo, I shot this 2:45 second video on my iPhone 4. No way. But I did it anyway because there was no submission fee….
I totally forgot about the submission until months later when I received an email from Egypt telling me that my video piece had been selected to be screened in their upcoming festival! I was in shock. How did my iPhone movie make it into this international video festival!? The only thing I did know was that it wouldn’t have been accepted at all if I had never submitted it. Though I had my doubts, I didn’t disqualify myself from the opportunity. Well, maybe more accurately, I followed my gut before I could talk myself out of it and lo and behold, something great came of it. On November 17, 2014, my film played on loop in a gallery somewhere in Cairo. I’ve never been to Cairo—I may never go to Cairo, but my iPhone video did!
I am remembering this now as I am about to graduate. I am trying to imprint it in my mind, make it my mantra: I will not be the one to disqualify myself. That’s someone else’s job. I just have to go for it. And I share that with you now, dear supporters of Duende. May it light your path as it has illumined mine. Remember that you are your best advocate! Don’t be the first one to tell you that you, your writing, your craft, your dreams, are not good enough, not attainable, not realistic, not “reasonable.” Let that be someone else’s job. Your job is just to kick ass and go for it (and of course, to submit your brilliant creative work to Duende Issue 3 starting March 1st…).