…remember that no one sounds or writes like you. Hold onto your own spark.
This Q & A was originally a feature of our Binders Book List bi-weekly email newsletter, in which editor Julia Phillips interviews members of the Binders community who are releasing new books. These treasured Q & A sessions are just too good to relegate to the archives, so we are now sharing them on our blog. For our first installment, we’re featuring poet and storyteller, and co-chair for the NYC BinderCon attendees committee, Cynthia Manick.
Your bio is filled with amazing credits, ranging from a Cave Canem fellowship to a Hedgebrook residency to a finalist spot for a New York Foundation of the Arts fellowship. Of all those experiences, is there one that most shaped you into the writer you are today?
I’ve been really lucky to write and study craft with great people. In terms of influence, workshop experience was the most important for the book [Blue Hallelujahs]. So workshops taught by Cave Canem and the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop helped the most because each meeting, whether it was with Tyehimba Jess, Nikky Finney, or Vievee Francis, taught me something I didn’t know. Those lessons ranged from letting the outside world into poems to recognizing my obsessions and writing within that framework. More importantly, the peers I met in those workshops are people I still send poems to in the middle of the night. Having a safe space and spaces that challenge you to write the hard poems are vital to the writing life.
When I describe Blue Hallelujahs I say the book asks the question: if you’re breathing, what makes you alive? Is it family, sex, blues, gender, race, or is it the way the body interacts with the world? It could be any and all of those things but we enter every dark place with our hands, eyes, and then the body follows. There’s a section of the book called “A Body Full of Verbs” where the black female body is at the core of the poems. I’m obsessed with the concept of beauty and erasure. Place is a circular concept in the book because the poems have multiple geographies. Some poems are based in the South where my family originates, while others exist in present imagination. For example, I have a poem called “Dear Black Dress” where the speaker knows that dress will get her in trouble, but it’s a trouble she likes.
You placed your collection with Black Lawrence Press after sending it into BLP’s open reading period. Any advice for other poets submitting to the slush?
I never had much luck with contests but I was a finalist twice for two other open reading periods before BPL said yes. First off, don’t be in a rush. You see all the announcements of people’s success and it’s easy to think, “Oh, I better get my stuff out there,” but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Some people can write a book in a month while others take five years. Ask yourself if the book is ready. Do the poems talk to each other? Then I would have someone else read the entire thing, either through a manuscript class or some other venue. We get so close to our own poems that at some point self-editing isn’t useful. Lastly, remember that no one sounds or writes like you. Hold onto your own spark.
Cynthia Manick is the author of Blue Hallelujahs forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. A Pushcart Prize nominated poet with a MFA in Creative Writing from the New School; she has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Fine Arts Work Center, the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts & Sciences, Hedgebrook, Poets House, and the Vermont Studio Center. She was a 2014 finalist for the New York Foundation of Arts Fellowship in Poetry; serves as East Coast Editor of the independent press Jamii Publishing; and is Founder and Curator of the reading series Soul Sister Revue. Select poems have been performed by Emotive Fruition, a performance series in NYC where actors bring life page poetry for the stage; the 92nd Street Y Words We Live In project, and is currently being developed by Motionpoems, a organization dedicated to video poetry. Manick’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in the 2016 Argos Books Poetry Calendar, African American Review, BLACKBERRY: a magazine, Bone Bouquet, Box of Jars, Callaloo, Clockhouse, DMQ Review, Gemini Magazine, Human Equity Through Art (HEArt), Fjords Review, Kinfolks Quarterly, Kweli Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora, Passages North, Pedestal Magazine, Poetry City, USA, PLUCK! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts and Culture, St. Ann’s Review, Sou’wester, Spillway Magazine, The Cossack Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Wall Street Journal, The Weary Blues, The Wide Shore: A Journal of Global Women’s Poetry, Tidal Basin Review, and Up the Staircase Quarterly. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.
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Writer Interview: Julia Phillips, Post Editors: Andrea Guevara, Leigh Stein
As our birthday week celebrations draw to a close we’d like to leave you with a few more nuggets of goodness. Together, we are making a difference in the careers and lives of women and non-binary writers. Here are two wonderful examples of the successes we love to see and hear about, in their own words:
“Since my very first BinderCon, I went from a small handful of regional publications to bylines in The New York Times, the LA Review of Books, The Rumpus, and Hobart, where my 2015 essay on Twin Peaks was a notable mention in the year’s Best American Essays collection!
I’ve gained the courage to ask for what I want and what I deserve, which has been one of the most important lessons I’ve ever been taught. I see my own value as a writer and can simultaneously map the directions in which I’d like to grow, basing these goals on other powerful women-identifying writers around me.”
“I’ve published personal essays online and made connections with a million Binders–who share and support my work daily. I’ve found editing jobs, been featured on another writer’s website, and been used as an article source. The agent I pitched at BinderCon NYC 2015 told me to pitch her future manuscripts, too!
Like I said, most of my friends are now Binders. I have learned so much about social justice, ally-ship, my passing privilege, how to be a decent person–and that’s not necessarily directed to writing. I’ve learned the importance of pitching, and that there is a market for personal essays, and to keep going. I’ve learned that writing full-time might even be a real possibility.”
Naseem has been an invaluable asset to our social media team and continues to give back to the organization by volunteering.
Want to get involved? Here are a few ways:
- Attend BinderCon NYC 2016 at Cooper Union NYU, October 29 & 30, 2016. Tickets are now available.
- Buy a BinderCon Support a Scholar scholarship ticket for a deserving scholar.
- Donate to the cause!
New York Times bestselling author and BinderCon keynote, Suki Kim has been getting a lot of press as of late, primarily surrounding racism, sexism, and what she considers to be the misbranding of her investigative narrative journalism book, Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, as memoir. In the past few weeks she has been featured on BuzzFeed News, NPR’s Morning Edition, and FlavorWire.
In her recent essay, “The Reluctant Memoirist,” Kim took on racism and sexism in the publishing world.
“I really do not feel comfortable with my book being called a memoir,” I told her. “I think calling it a memoir trivializes my reporting.”
As the only journalist to have lived undercover in North Korea, Kim explores not only the decision to brand her book as memoir, but the backlash she received from journalists:
“In their eyes, it seemed, I was a memoirist treading on journalistic turf, a Korean schoolteacher who sold out her students for a quick buck.”
Kim was also recently featured on KCRW’s Press Play with Madeline Brand. You can listen to that interview here: How Journalist Suki Kim Became a Reluctant Memoirist.
Last November, Suki Kim was a keynote speaker at BinderCon NYC. Here are a few key video segments from her talk:
Did you know that in the two years BinderCon has been around we’ve facilitated 1,158 pitch meetings? That’s 1,158 meetings between writers and agents, editors, and publishers. Every BinderCon offers the opportunity for attendees to add on Speed Pitch sessions to their agenda. Below are just some of the many success stories from pitch meetings at BinderCon.
A few pitch success stories:
Michelle Marie Robles Wallace pitched Arielle Pardes of Vice and sold the piece, “The Artists Using the US-Mexico Border as a Blank Canvas“!
Lisa Rabasca Roepe sold her story “Are Gen X Women Being Squeezed Out Of The Workplace” To Fast Company as a result of her Speed Pitch session with a Fast Company editor. Here’s what she had to say:
“Fast Company is a publication I read all the time but I never would have the guts to pitch them without the opportunity to speed pitch their editor at BinderCon. I am so thrilled to have pitched this article and then had this published on their site…This would not have been possible without the support of BinderCon. In fact, just about every one of my freelancing gigs can be traced back to the support I get from other Binders so thank you!”
Osayi Endolyn met her agent Monica Odem, of Bradford Literary Agency, at BinderCon, not only at Speed Pitch, but by happenstance sat right next to her in one of the panels sessions before as well. To read the full story of how they met, what made Osayi’s pitch stand out and more, read the full email feature.
Motivated to get your career of the ground? Join us for the 5th BinderCon this October in New York. Tickets are selling faster than ever so get yours now!
We’re always thrilled to see how our programming, support and efforts have helped women and non-binary writers, but it’s not every day we hear about a sister team! We hope you enjoy reading about the RossMottley sisters’ experiences at BinderCon:
I’ve gone to three Bindercon conferences so far and each and every time I have transformative experiences. I’ve been given countless opportunities to connect with women but more importantly women who write. Each time I make a new friend or network with a potential future colleague the foundation for my career becomes stronger and more dynamic. I haven’t done well with the traditional school structure in the past and I find this conference fills that educational space for me. These conferences really have been such a value to me that it can’t be quantified.
Bindercon has impacted my life in immeasurable ways; most significantly with the women I’ve been connected to through this semi-annual conference. I have no idea how I would have met writers who I now consider my mentors, my friends, and the people who inspire me to work hard and believe in myself on a consistent basis. Providing a space for women and gender non-conforming writers to get together, learn from each other, and help each other with their careers is vital. Having dropped out of university, I’ve decidedly been taking an alternative route to my goals. Out of the Binders has helped me get right back on track; especially with the practice pitch meetings. I was able to meet producers whose work I love and was given amazing advice and support. The general atmosphere of the two day event is so encouraging and inspiring! And importantly, it is still very realistic. The balance of the creative panels and workshops with the business ones is one that I personally really enjoy. I’ve made several incredible work connections from this conference that continue to grow. It may sound dramatic, but with complete honesty Bindercon has changed my life. I will always be very grateful to everyone who puts so much time and effort into making the conferences not only happen, but constantly improve. Thank you so much!
July is our birthday month and we’ll be celebrating all this week! Can you believe we’re only two years old? Not, bad for a toddler, huh?
Join us online and keep up with the latest happenings by following the #BinderConTurns2 hashtag.
Don’t forget, this week is your last chance to buy Early Bird Tickets to BinderCon NYC (Oct. 29 & 30, 2016 at NYU)!
Way back when (in 2014), when BinderCon was just a twinkle in Leigh Stein and Lux Alptraum’s eyes, there was the first Kickstarter campaign. MailChimp was the first sponsor to jump on board, helping make the very first BinderCon a reality. Thankfully, they have stuck with us through the four conferences we’ve produced since. Once again we’d like to thank MailChimp for furthering the careers of women and gender non-conforming writers across the globe.
We applaud MailChimp’s commitment to diversity and their support of BinderCon.
This LA BinderCon was, dare we say, our best yet and as we continue to learn and grow we hope MailChimp will continue to stay on as one of our founding sponsors.
Follow them on Twitter and Facebook. And if you’re building an email list get started with their email marketing platform for free.
Since it’s inception, BinderCon has had the backing of The Harnisch Foundation. We were honored once again to have their sponsorship support for BinderCon LA 2016. Each conference continues to grow and their generous support helps us to keep improving and expanding this movement.
One of our goals is to help women and gender non-conforming writers wherever they may be on this planet and The Harnisch Foundation stepped up once again to sponsor our livestream. What a livestream it was! This time we had viewing events/parties across the globe, from San Francisco to Jerusalem, Toronto to Florida, and so many more locales. Even better, our livestream viewership quadrupled from our last conference in November!
Yesterday, during the Being a Writer While Having a Life panel, moderator Julia Fierro jokingly asked whether anyone was really watching the livestream. Within seconds Twitter users responded from Berlin & Toronto that they were not only watching, but loved the panel.
The Harnisch Foundation is a stellar supporter of BinderCon, but they also support some pretty amazing initiatives as well, check just a few of them out:
and visit their website for so many more.
Once again, here is the inspiring video, played during our opening remarks on Saturday:
We’ve heard it before: writing can be a lonely affair. Maybe you enjoy your days spent in front of a glaring screen with a mug of tea and a potted orchid as your only companions. Or maybe it’s time to step out of the office and be a part of (or create) a thriving writing community.
We’ve asked panelists from the How to Build a Writing Community panel (coming to BinderCon LA), to share some of their favorite tips.
Let’s start with just being there. Lauren Eggert-Crowe says, “Show up. If you want to build community, participate. The more you show up to support other people at their readings and events, the more people will come to your own readings. Say yes to as many invitations as you can. Be a regular face in the crowd. The more you do, the more people you will meet, and the deeper friendships you will build with the people in the community. That’s how collaborations arise.”
If you’re feeling more ambitious, Siel Ju has some great advice: “Start a Literary Journal, Zine, or Other Publication. Yes, there are already thousands of lit zines out there — but if you’ve taken a good, long look around and still see a niche you’d like to fill, why not go for it? I wanted a flash fiction zine that sent tiny stories via email for easy reading by smartphone — so I started Flash Flash Click. Turns out, a lot of other people wanted a flash-via-smartphone zine too and started to subscribe!
Being the editor of a publication gives you a readymade reason for reaching out to writers you know, like, read, or admire from afar — as well as a reason to read more widely and discover new writers you’d like to be part of your community. So check out what’s out there, find a niche, and get that journal going.”
Find Local Literary Resources & Then Leave Your House
Michelle Franke says, “Writers! Take a moment to figure out what literary offerings are available in the city you live in, and in the cities you’re traveling to. Google bookstores (especially indies!) in your area and visit them. All of them. Support them with your cash and pick up their events calendars. Many bookstores are hosting writers reading their books all week, score! These events are often free, double score!! Find a city-wide literary events or cultural calendar online. This calendar might include lectures, performances, or a reading series. Once you know where the writers and readers will be, leave your house. Go see them. Get excited about what other people are writing and reading. Find out if writing workshops are available in your area. Take a class! Some are more expensive than others, so find one that’s right for you. That might mean an online option if you’re in the boondocks. That’s okay. Invest in yourself and your community quest. When you meet other writers and readers, ask what reading series, literary journals, websites, and events they like! And, as your community circle widens, leave a little time to celebrate the success of others. Share a publication, a reading, basically any good news. Because you know very well how hard pursuing what you love can be. This kind of support will make your community strong.”
Build Around Love
“Invite writers and community members you admire, and encourage them to invite writers they love and admire. So many of us have strong relationships with other writers, collaborators, and readers, and it’s good to celebrate those relationships. For my reading series, HITCHED, I ask a writer whose work I enjoy to feature and then I ask that person to invite someone they work with or collaborate with to feature with them. More often than not, the reading ends up being a love-fest, filled with exciting work and new faces. I guess my tip is to build around love.” -Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo
To get more great tips, including Q & A, plan to attend BinderCon LA, March 19-20, 2016. Tickets are now available.
More info on the How to Build a Writing Community session at BinderCon LA:
(Siel Ju, Lauren Eggert-Crowe, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Sunyoung Lee, Michelle Franke)
Writing may require a room of one’s own, but many writers also seek to be part of a community — for inspiration, encouragement, and advice, as well as professional networking. This panel aims to empower writers to participate in — and even create — their own literary communities. Featuring community organizers of different backgrounds, in different fields, and with different motivations, this discussion will show participants how to go from feeling like the literary life is a solitary endeavor to becoming an integral part in a dynamic, real-life community.
Participants will leave the talk with an arsenal of tools for practical community building. Topics discussed will include: starting (and growing!) a reading series; evaluating the pros and cons of launching (yet another!) literary journal, changing the race and gender imbalances in publishing through local action; working with local universities; crafting a community around a small press; tag-teaming with an existing literary nonprofit; and assessing the needs of the community where you live.
Last month I asked our community of writers for their best tips on how they promote their writing. We collected a cadre of tips and posted them here: “How to Promote Your Writing.” But the tips kept pouring in, so just in case you haven’t completely nailed down every possible way to promote your writing, here are even more tips:
Julie Schwietert Collazo says, “I don’t love promoting myself–it doesn’t come naturally to me–so I like to look for natural partners and mutually beneficial opportunities. Last year, I spoke on a panel at The New York Times Travel Show about travel in New York State. I was invited to do so by the state tourism board because of my guidebook about the state. This is one of many ways that writers can get away from the screen and promote their work AND connect with natural allies who can promote and support their work (and whose work you can promote and support). You don’t have to sit around and wait for these opportunities to fall in your lap, either; you can go out and pursue them. Within your niche or genre, who/what is your natural partner? How can you work together to reach mutual goals?”
Throw a Party
Lillian Ann Slugocki says, “I launched my latest book with a reading/party with four other writers. It got a lot of PR, we got listed in Poets and Writers, profiled in Time Out New York. I kept a blog and a month before the reading, posted interviews w/ the writers. It was great fun and it really worked.”
Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee also does readings, signings and classes whenever her books come out, and adds, “The event is an excuse to send out press releases and announcements to local and national media to keep you and your work in the forefront long after it’s been published.” Cecilia ties in her events to the theme of her books including cooking classes for her cookbooks, and tastings and slideshows for her travel guides. She notes, “The more interactive the event, the better, I think.”
How can you make your book launch party or other event pop with a unique interactive component?
Enlist Friends & Get the Word Out
Laura Shin, a bit of a social maven, says, “When one of my ebooks came out, a friend suggested I ask family and friends to buy it around the same time to boost the ranking. I also participated in several Twitter chats and radio interviews to promote it and made sure to let all my sources know when it came out. Aside from the ebook, I try not to turn down any opportunities to speak at conferences or on webcasts or webinars as long as I feel qualified and have the time. I also share every story I write on all my social media platforms, including LinkedIn and Google Plus, and I tweet each story multiple times since I am sure not all my followers will catch my first tweet of a new story. And again, I share it with all sources since many of them will want to share the story with their network and audience as well.”
Don’t Write Books?
Melanie Padgett Powers says, “I don’t write books so I’m not out to promote my writing as much as my services as a writer and editor. I have found in-person networking invaluable. It really helps to meet people, and if they need your services plus they like you, they’ll be more likely to select you when looking for an editor/writer. People like to work with people they like. It’s human nature, so I work to build long-term, authentic relationships. No BS. I’m honest about what I can provide and how I think we can work together. Opposite of in-person, I find Twitter a valuable tool as well. It doesn’t work for everyone—I think you have to truly love Twitter and, thus, be willing to commit to it. I take part often in tweet chats, which allows me to network and show my expertise in certain areas. I also respond to tweets often. You can’t simply tweet about yourself all the time and not tweet to people. Twitter needs to be a conversation tool for it to be effective.”
Still More Tips & Resources:
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Are you new to BinderCon? Check out our video booth from last year’s BinderCon LA:
Hope see you this March, in LA!