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Collin Kelley on a Writer's Worth

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A blog from: The Staff of Poets & Writers

Posted by RW Blogger on 4.19.11

Collin KelleyP&W-SPONSORED WRITER & PRESENTER: Collin Kelley

For the next few weeks, poet Collin Kelley, author of After the Poison, Slow to Burn, and Better to Travel, and curator of both the Poetry Atlanta reading series and the Georgia Center for the Book reading series will be blogging about his experience as a longtime R/W-sponsored writer and presenter of literary events.

In February 2005, I wrote my first grant approved by Poets & Writers, Inc., when it expanded its Readings/Workshops program to the Atlanta area. The recipient of that grant, Cherryl Floyd-Miller, hadn’t asked for any money, but deserved it for her many years of selfless and uncompensated work as a writer in the city. We had a standing-room-only audience that night at the Barnes & Noble on the Georgia Tech campus, and I was thrilled to be able to put a check in Cherryl’s hand.

Asking a writer to pay airfare, hotel (or sleep on an uncomfortable sofa), and other expenses with no compensation other than the “glory” and “honor” of being asked to read becomes more and more abhorrent to me the longer I’m in the business of words. Even if the writer is just coming from across town, they are giving up their time, paying $3-plus for gas and providing experiences for audiences.

Whether the poet is coming from Boston or Los Angeles (such was the case with January Gill O’Neil and Steven Reigns, respectively) or just around the corner (the newly-crowned Women of the World Poetry Slam champion Theresa Davis or local favorite Karen Head), my belief is that they all deserve to be paid.

Let’s face it: Unless some book-loving heiress has died and bequeathed her fortune, most literary organizations are struggling. And not just because of the recent economic downturn, but since time began. It’s not that people don’t value literature; it’s just often taken for granted as always being there. Writers are usually left in the gray area of trying to balance doing what they love and keeping the lights on in their dens.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Reader Comments

  • sansan says...

    It would be lovely of course to be paid to do readings but some bookstores actually charge the publisher or the author to publicize readings so i'm happy if an Indie bookstore invites me to read and I don't have to pay anything for the privilege. I usually get to sell some books but frequently not that many (and if the bookstore includes a coffee house forget it). Local library bookclubs have treated me well with accomodations, dinners, gas money and I always appreciate that. The few times I've been invited either by myself or with other authors with the same publisher to speak and/or read my work at colleges we were not paid anything although we were provided with accomodations. I guess I always assumed that only famous authors would be paid for appearances and I am most definitely not famous nor have I ever considered earning a living as a fiction writer. Thirty years ago, Jack Salamanca encouraged me with my writing and said I should not consider doing anything else. My response was "I am a single mom with two kids, I have to earn a living" so I just took for granted that writing would be the thing I did when I had time for it between work for pay. Here's the thing: my day job as a court appointed attorney representing indigent clients in the juvenile, criminal and mental health courts taught me a lot about a side of life I might not otherwise have been exposed to and my best fictional characters are composites of the people I've represented, encountered or briefly observed. That day job did more than pay the mortgage, it gave me something to write about, a message I could be passionate about. So while I'd love to be paid to do readings, would really love to be better known (who wouldn't?) I can't complain about the time spent working a "day job".

  • JuJu says...

    Funny or ironic that I was just reading about this very subject of thinking that one should work for free. In that case give me a card I can carry around that says POET that I can take to the local grocery store and they will give me my food for free. I would be able to do the same with the electric company, the phone company, etc. Hey, we could even require resturants to let us eat for free. Afterall, we are the ones that keep the world turning with our words. Until that happens we need to get real currency for real time. My other fantasy is that we would get paid like football players in the NFL! I know, not going to happen. But we can DREAM!

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