Browsing Tag

Literary Citizenship

Happy Literary Citizens

Let me tell you how I was called Professor Bigger.

The finger-pointing and hand clapping credit goes to Cathy Day. Last year, she suggested that we move Midwest Writers Workshop to coincide with the final week of Ball State University’s second summer session.  She then suggested that because I was the Director, I should teach the class (the class she developed) on Literary Citizenship and that the students could be the interns at MWW. I nearly uttered my great-grandmother’s words, “Oh, Psshaw.” Although I have B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from Ball State, I hadn’t taught college classes in {REDACTED} years, and those were freshman composition courses.

Somehow, she convinced me. And somehow, she convinced Adam Beach, chair of the English Department, that this a worthy plan for English majors to both learn the value of literary citizenship and to receive an immersive learning experience as assistants to literary agents at a writers’ conference.

Great things can happen when you say “yes” to a Cathy Day idea. The curriculum. The classroom. The students. It was déjà vu all over again and I remembered how much I enjoyed teaching.

Then Cathy tagged one more brilliant idea onto her plan: assigning me a research assistant, Meagan McAlister. Surrounded by all this supportive energy and encouragement, I entered Room 291 of the Robert Bell Building to teach “ENG 299x: Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age.” And there I was greeted as “Professor Bigger.”

Let me tell you about the students.

Six students. Amanda Byk, Lauren Cross, Caroline Delk, Kara Harris, Rachel Lauve, Rachel Wright-Marquez. I told them to call me Jama.

They are clever and articulate and curious and thoughtful and funny and passionate. They are majoring in Creative Writing and English Studies and English Education, and they all bonded into a special friendship. They fangirl over authors and they love books and Harry Potter and donuts. One wears a Chicago Cubs cap, one carries a Pokemon backpack, one has political buttons pinned to her laptop bag. They became the 2017 MWW Ninja Team (the very first interns were called “ninjas” and it just fits).

Let me tell you about what they did.

That first day I explained Cathy Day’s definition: “A literary citizen is an aspiring writer who understands that you have to contribute to, not just expect things from, the publishing world” and the mantra of Literary Citizenship: “Be Interested in What Other People Are Doing.”

I explained that they can tend to their literary citizenship by reading (a lot), buying books, reviewing them, and publishing the reviews on their blogs or Goodreads. They can champion the successes of authors, not because of what they can get back, but because it’s part of being a literary citizen.

I underscored what Matt Bell reminded us: “The better solution is, as a part of your daily work as a writer, support the communities you wish to be a part of, by reading books, writing reviews, promoting other writers or bookstores or whatever in your social networking. It’s a small but old truth, but the more you give, the more you will receive. And this isn’t any kind of slimy networking. This is every writer’s responsibility, and the writers who create the most buzz for the good work of others will find that same energy waiting for them, when their own excellent book finally comes out.”

They were all in and realized that they had been literary citizens without even knowing it. “I’m a literary citizen for life,” one said. Another one said, “In the words of Cathy Day, it’s about building an oasis and creating and maintaining relationships in the community.”

They wrote blog posts about their experiences as a literary citizen. They jumped enthusiastically into the community-building project of sending “charming notes” that Carolyn See described in her book, Living a Literary Life. Their social media “charming notes” were both passive – friending or following or emailing someone in the publishing field (a writer, editor, publisher), and active – actually saying something to them (“I enjoy your work,” or “You published one of my favorite books”).

They read books written by some of the Midwest Writers faculty, they wrote and posted reviews of those books, they interviewed the authors and wrote another blog post.

They were bright and cheerful and arrived early to class. They were attentive and listening and respectful to guest speakers Gail Werner, Kelsey Timmerman, Holly Miller, Meagan McAlister, and Cathy Day.

They were spectacular as MWW Ninjas, as assistants to the literary agents during the 43rd Midwest Writers Workshop. They structured the (very fluid and challenging) schedules for their agents, they monitored the time for pitches, they bolstered the confidence of attendees who were pitching and calmed their anxieties. They worked tirelessly; they were friendly and generous.

I was their Summer English Class Professor and I was also their Midwest Writers Workshop Director. And I could not have been prouder of their literary citizenship development and their at-conference professionalism.

Let me tell you about what it means.

I enjoyed this summer more than I thought I would. The energy of the students, the classroom, building relationships, expanding the vision the purpose literary citizenship.

Encouraging, building up, cheerleading. And yes, teaching. It’s what I’ve done for a long time as the Director and now the experience has broadened as a “Professor.”

It means my life is enriched. Great things happened.


Amanda Byk, Rachel Lauve, Caoline Harris, Kara Harris, Lauren Cross, Rachel Wright-Marquez (center)

“Be passionate about books and writing, because passion is infectious.” ~ Cathy Day


A Workshop, A Manuscript, A Book

Or Why Attending a Writers Conference Can Help Your Career….

Or How I Became One of the First MWW Success Stories ….

I never pitched an agent. I never wrote a proposal. I never wrote a query. I never mailed the manuscript to the publisher. I never submitted any sample writing, any biography, any synopsis.

I never followed the professional protocols for turning a manuscript into a book.

And yet, one day I received a phone call from an editor at Fleming H. Revell publishers. An editor I had never met. A publishing house I had never submitted to.

“I love the first chapter and the chapter The Date, and we want to publish your manuscript,” he said.*

What? My manuscript? My untitled manuscript?

Not your typical path to publication.

But a pathway made possible because of my trips through Midwest Writers Workshop.

It was 1976 and I was a 20-year-old college student with a desire to write and an idea for a book, an English major at Ball State University. That summer, an (accidental?) bumping into a friend-of-a-friend, a casual conversation about writing, a mention of a writers’ conference (in my very city, at my very university), a leap of faith, a saying “yes” to a new adventure, all led to me sitting in a classroom in Ball State’s Carmichael Hall, listening to author and humorist Tom Mullen talk about writing for the inspirational marketplace.

I had found a mentor.

Life-changing. That’s what Midwest Writers was.

That class, that creative environment, that support and encouragement from faculty and committee and participants was like water and sunlight and nourishment. It made me grow.

I was hooked on the importance of a writers’ conference, the value of Midwest Writers Workshop.  For the next few years, I registered and signed up for classes in nonfiction and poetry. I learned to be a better writer, listening, asking questions, taking notes. I kept growing.

I found writer-friends. And become part of the MWW community.

Then in 1979, the inspirational writing class I attended was taught by Floyd Thatcher, an editor with Word Publishing. He was friendly (just like Tom and all MWW faculty seemed to be!), offered keen advice on tightening my writing, and believed in my story.

Very rough first draft, which went on and on and on for pages before the "story" (action) began.

Very rough first draft, which went on and on and on for pages before the “story” (action) began.

Eventually, after rewrites and rewrites, I summoned enough courage to mail my (unnamed) manuscript to him. When he called and said, “I was moved by your story, but it’s not quite what our company publishes,” I almost dropped the phone. Until I heard his next sentence. “But I hope you don’t mind, I mailed your manuscript to another editor I know.”  Then I did drop the phone.

A few weeks later, Victor Oliver, editor at Fleming H. Revell, called.

I had found an editor.

And I had found a publisher.

And I became not just a writer, but an author.

This path of mine to publication, this walkway was created with stone after stone.  Courage. Registering for the workshop. Courage. Asking for advice. Courage. Revising editing improving. Learning. Courage. Sending out my words. Courage and hope. My story.

Attending MWW was my right first step out of the sometimes secluded life of writing and into a community that was chock full of resources, connections, inspiration. And above all, friendships.

Then Came a Miracle1I could go on and on about the impact Midwest Writers had on me every year that I attended. After my book was published, I became a presenter, then a committee member, and then director. In some capacity, I’ve been part of MWW for 37 of its 40 years.  MWW is part of who I am. And I am grateful.

What will your Midwest Writers story be?

(In the spirit of Literary Citizenship, get the book, read the book, review the book.)

* This call came two weeks before I got married. It was a very good summer!