Last weekend, I went to the Printing Plant Art Book Fair. To be honest, I wasn't there for the art. I came to listen to Megan Garr and, as usual, she did not disappoint. Megan is the founder of literary journal Versal and its live performance version, VERSO. She spoke about the literary press economy, that is, the marketplace for the small press and literary journals. That exchange is called - sometimes derisively, sometimes fondly - the gift economy:
the currency of recognition, the barter between a writer's work and the press's ability to "get it out there," the philanthropy from editors (and others) to make this possible.
Megan M. Garr, "Hold the Damned Door Open: Idealism Is No Currency" in Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century (Milkweed Editions 2016)
Megan spoke of the inability of either writer or editor to earn a living wage. You see, literary journals survive on grants, donations and the pockets of the editors themselves. Even with the generosity of strangers and friends, the cash that comes in goes straight back out to pay for printing and postage. I had to think of a term from my lawyer past: the net present value of money. It's a formula to value a future good in today's money. The NPV is always, sometimes significantly, lower than the face value of any future cash. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
The Pushcart Prize is run by a non-profit organization whose mission is to honor the work of small presses like Versal. The prize is publication in the annual anthology. No cash, not even a symbolic amount, changes hands. But it's the recognition the writer wants. Publishers Weekly called the Pushcart Prize one of the most influential projects in the history of American publishing. It's devoured by readers and writers, creative writing teachers, agents, publishers, in short: the entire population of the literary press world.
This week, I was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The nomination comes from Nunum.ca for my flash fiction story "Frogs." I can tell you now, this recognition feels awfully good. So good that I've decided to write a whole blog post on the topic: Prize.
Having landed on this particular Cloud Nine, I'm in a generous mood. 'Tis almost the season, isn't it? So for you, my loyal audience, I have a gift. I didn't make it, though I wish that I had the talent to do so. It's gift made of many voices, primarily that of the current US poet laureate Tracy K Smith. If you subscribe to her podcast, The Slowdown, she will read to you a poem every day. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving.