where the writers are
Our Corner of the World (www.voicesatvona.org)
vona audience.jpg

The Publishing seminar takes place in the VONA Writers Room. A glass encased lounge in Phelan Hall at the University of San Francisco. The walls are papered with white sheets, intended for the writers to build a collage, representing themselves to the rest of the crew. Some blare color and quotes, pictures of their people and icons. Some hip hop flip, some standards--some are blank.

The writers who are in the workshops sling their legs over arm chairs and sprawl on couches. The floor is scattered with sleepy, half reclining participants. Unappealing remnants of another session's snacks crumble and harden on the coffee table. We share post-workshop, post-lunch near slumber.

The faculty writers with me, Suheir Hammad, Chris Abani, Mat Johnson and David Mura crest the room next to the pushed-to-the-side pool table. Our piles of notebooks, references and student papers fan under the chairs.

We know what we have to offer to this group who came to see a panel on "Publishing and the Writer of Color." We owe them our stories; we owe them the wisdom we wished someone had offered us when we were coming up. We owe ourselves the knowledge that we said it even if they don't follow it.

The first kind of information out of the gate is the normal stuff--I've thrown entire books away, I thought i'd be a superstar, i  had to learn to rewrite, to recognize when the book isn't good enough.

Deeper into the power: if you try to sell the book before it's ready, you give away your power

Writing and getting published is the heroic journey. You will feel strong and capable, but in act 2, you'll discover the dragon that needs to be slain or the obstacle that needs to be overcome or yourself who isn't equipped for either.

Everyone starts out rowing away from the shore; it's not the best rowers who get published (or live the writer's life), it's the ones who keep rowing.

It won't save you to publish your first book, you will live the same life after you've published, but with purpose.

Be imaginative in how you find your place in the writing scene. The formula will only prove how well you fit the formula.

So what's new?

In a room full of writers of color, the story is not whether your  Arab, Black or Asian book will be published, the question is will your exceptional Arab, Black or Asian book be published.

They don't get it asks the writer whether it's ready to be gotten.

Consider the spectacular failure (the book the breaks the rules) versus the compliant success.

We didn't talk about the best agents, the smart query letter, the perfect pitch. Our lives as writers and our dedication to our work took the center.

it was a relief because they might think about those things more.

But what we gave them is exactly where they need to be.


Thursday, July 3, 7:00 p.m. McLaren Hall USF: Chris Abani, Elmaz Abinader, Suheir Hammad, Mat Johnson, and David Mura