All Write Now: Being a good literary citizen finds company in Montclair
By STEPH AUTERI
For Montclair Local
“All Write Now” reflects the writing life. Steph Auteri is a full-time freelance writer and editor who has written for the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE and other publications. Her memoir, “A Dirty Word,” is due out in October 2018. She is a member of Montclair’s The Write Group. For more, visit stephauteri.com.
The café was already full when we pushed our way through the front door, eased our way past the bodies milling about the front counter, picked our way carefully around bare toes and jutting-out knees to sit in the very front row. We could have stretched out our legs and kicked the microphone. But that was fine. I’d always loved the intimacy of Red Eye, which was why it was such a perfect location for the Halfway There Reading Series.
That night in April, Lisa Romeo and I were there to hear readings from Traci Brimhall, Joan Silber and Kem Joy Ukwu. In June, Lisa read from her own debut memoir, “Starting from Goodbye.” This October, I will read from mine. The thought of it made my chest thrum with excitement, and not just because my book would finally be out there. Rather, I was excited to move from lurker — passive observer at book parties and literary festivals and conferences — to someone who was actively participating in Montclair’s literary community.
Ten years before, I’d left a full-time job in academic book publishing in order to become a full-time freelancer. Ten years later, I could never give up the flexibility of this lifestyle. But, I also can’t deny that the solitude of this life has been challenging. For years, I experienced extreme FOMO [fear or missing out] as I Twitter-stalked the NYC literati, wondering where in heck all the Montclair writers were hiding, and whether or not they would be willing to hang out with me.
Now, in addition to the quarterly Halfway There Reading Series, I regularly skulk about Watchung Booksellers, gulping wine at the book launch parties of friends and acquaintances, bringing my daughter to Story Time events, and spending entire paychecks on books. I show up every Tuesday morning at the public library for the weekly support group meeting of the Write Group, where I learn what other writers are working on and hash out issues of process and craft. On Tuesday nights, I sometimes show up at Trend Coffee & Tea House for Shut Up & Write, a meetup where writers gather to, um, shut up and write (unless they’re feeling extra chatty).
On Wednesday nights, I meet with my writing critique group, a group of amazing ladies I can no longer live without. I’ve also been lucky enough to teach for the Writers Circle (which offers creative writing workshops around the north Jersey area), to become a regular at East Side Mags (a local comic shop that plays host to many local writers and artists), and to see the Montclair Literary Festival launch and establish itself. Once I really started looking, there was no shortage of opportunities in Montclair for connecting with and supporting my fellow writers.
In 2016, I drove up to Lancaster, PA for HippoCamp, a creative non-fiction conference run by the folks behind Hippocampus Magazine. By that point, “literary citizenship” — a phrase referring to how one supports books, writers and publishing while simultaneously growing one’s network — had become a major buzzword, so much so that there had already been a backlash to it. Still, the phrase was invoked on many panels that claimed to share what was essential in order for writers to achieve success. Some publishing professionals even intimated that it might be more important than that other buzzword: “platform.” Gasp!
While at the conference, I learned about the various acts one can do as a Good Literary Citizen:
• Purchase books from local independent bookshops. Instagram other writers’ books, perhaps in a photo also featuring an adorable cat (#bookstagram!).
• Attend readings.
• Subscribe to literary magazines.
• Pay their submission fees without complaint.
All things I was already doing because it seemed the logical and nice thing to do.
Of course, lurking beneath the affable enough concept of literary citizenship is the normalization of an increasing burden placed upon writers to market their own books as publishers become less and less able to do so themselves. As if writing 65,000 words over the course of seven years without the promise of recompense wasn’t enough.
But in the end, I don’t do all the things I do for all of the literary currency it might accrue (though hey — wanna blurb my book?). It’s because I want to support the writing I’m most excited about, and to connect with the people who will best understand me. Luckily, living here gives me plenty of opportunities to do so.