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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!

  • Southword says...

    I'm the director of a writers' centre in Ireland. We receive 90% of our funding from various state agencies. This allows me to invite writers from all over the globe, pay their airfares (where their own state-funded literary organisations don't exist), pay them fees, feed them and generally show them a good time. On my various visits to the States my opinion that the non-governmental funding model does not work for the literary arts outside the universities was confirmed each time. While in the Bay area I noticed much literary activity, readings, talks, booklaunches with nobody getting paid for it. Musicians do not tolerate this state of affairs. The USA spends €5,000 on its military each year for every man, woman and child within its borders, if it spent .50c for each person on the literary arts your world would be transformed. Much poorer countries can afford to pay for their writers' expenses, yet the richest country in the world mostly can't.

  • violetwrites says...

    Sad state of affairs - in the entire world for everyone except the wealthy. We're lucky people get paid to work anymore. With all the union busting going on and people screaming about Mexicans who do work no one else wants to -

    please it's just about that time

    and this revolution may be televised.

  • Baby Boomer Writer says...

    Yes, I agree that any writer who can attract an audience is well worth paying.

    I ran a local group for new writers for a year. It was sponsored by the local library and as a county facility it had a tight budget and no funds for groups like mine. Still, I felt it was only right to treat our one guest poet to lunch before the 2 pm meeting. That does not qualify as payment, but it was certainly a deliberate gesture. How could I not acknowledge her kindness in spending an hour speaking with new writers who knew little about poetry, but were eager to learn.

    One exception might the writer who has recently published and wants to have a chance to read from the work as a prelude to selling it afterward to a sizable audience. This creates a mutually beneficial reading/marketing opportunity. In that case, the writer is expected to be compensated financially in another way.

    Writers need to see evidence that their contributions are worthy of payment if they are ever going to take a leap of faith, give up that day job and write full-time for the pleasure of readers.

  • jforjames says...

    It would be nice of all readers could be paid. By the same token, many of the reading organizers are not compensated for their time spent scheduling, promoting, grant writing, hosting, etc.

    I run a local reading series in Hartford CT (which unfortunately does not pay its readers). I do it as a labor of love at a small financial loss to myself, which would ba larger financial loss if I added in my time spent as the sole organizer.

    I don't think it's a great hardship for local poets and writers to read locally without compensation. Many are reading because they are promoting or selling books. No better place to sell your book these days than at your own reading.

  • jlcannon says...

    Extreme as this may sound, I often wish for the Renaissance practice of sponsorship. Who knows how or whether the needed discrimination would be present to keep standards up, but somehow we need to devise a means of compensation for people who don't produce goods. If it isn't physically consumable, it seems nigh impossible to reap essential benefits to keep the arts available.(Like a living wage and time to work at them.) We all need to be sure we don't let grants disappear altogether.

  • creech444 says...

    I'm always amazed at the creativity of poets and writers though. Especially those that work so hard promoting their own work, supporting their communities and just keeping things going. Poets and Writers have become masters of social media, self-marketing, mounting creative events and presentations - but yeah, we've had to.

  • mjschamun says...

    I totally agree. I live in Argentina and the situation is almost the same, only here we also have difficulties finding the place to create the event (they ask for a lot of money that cannot always be charged to the attendees). We can, sometimes, organize readings by novel authors in bars or bookshops but it is really difficult to do it with recognised writers.
    To that situation must be added the fact that we do not have so many workshops and so writers become almost a fantastic figure that can only be seen or listened to during the International Book Fair.
    Sad.

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