Archive for the ‘audience’ Category

home from heaven

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Just home from residency at Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island overlooking Puget Sound. Six women writers are each given a cabin to live and work in, as well as meals. Applications for February through November 2010 must be postmarked by September 24, 2009.

During this stay I finished work on By Heart: Poetry, Prison, and Two Lives, the two-person memoir I've been writing with former San Quentin student, Spoon Jackson. By Heart will come out April 2010.

On my next-to-last night, I read Spoon's first chapter in our book to the group. After I read the last word, the room was completely silent. I looked up from the page and saw each woman was crying. I went back to my cabin and tried to describe this amazing moment to Spoon in a letter to where he's housed at New Folsom. Each woman wrote him her own note about what his story -- and the beauty with which he wrote his story -- meant to her.

audience and niche

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

Disguised as a Poem: My Years Teaching Poetry at San Quentin and Teeth, Wiggly as Earthquakes: Writing Poetry in the Primary Grades came out at just about the same time, though the story of each was so different. It took me years to find how to write Disugised -- to discover what was, and wasn't, mine to tell -- and then a couple more years to sell what I wrote. Everything about the process was a (deep and good) challenge.

In the midst of that process, I was sharing poetry with little kids and their classroom teachers asked me to teach them how to do what I was doing. Then they asked me to write them a book. Then they told me to publish what I'd written. Then they told me which publisher to send it to. And then that publisher took it. Everything about the birth of Wiggly was fun and relatively easy (the path created for me ).

The books came out at almost the same time, as I say, and as I didn't know how to find an audience for Wiggly, I relied on the wonderful Stenhouse Publishers to do it for me. With Disguised, once again, I worked hard, throwing myself into finding the readers I thought might be there -- setting up readings, interviews, lectures, etc. With Disguised, too, I lucked out with my publisher: Northeastern University Press was fantastic. Although the staff was so small and I had to do a lot of the work, they were right there with material support in every way they could be.

The two books -- one taking little from me but love, and the other taking just about all I had to give -- have sold about the same number of copies (very mid-list). I've gotten lots of nice response to Wiggly, but I often joke that -- although Disguised has sold only a few thousand copies -- I've heard from just about every reader. Partly, I think, this is because Northeastern is (was -- the university shut down the press a few years ago) a university press and the bulk of the book's readers have been college students who want me to know what the book has meant in their lives. Also, there is a small world (a niche, I guess such worlds are called these days) actively involved in prison arts and prison issues, and we tend to find each other and to be grateful for each new experession of what it is we do and see and work toward.

I don't know exactly what I think of these "niches." I love the community of prison artists and activists I feel so close to. At the same time, I'm pretty sure Disguised tells a story more people than those in this niche would find of interest. As a reader, I love when the new book of an author I already love is released. But I also love being surprised, finding a book by an author or on a subject not already close to my heart. Current directions in publishing and book distribution seem to encourage finding one's niche, and to discourage being surprised by the unexpected. I suppose, as with most things, there's something gained and something lost.