I’ve jut gotten home again, but now I am packing another suitcase. This time, I am heading to the Virginia Center For The Creative Arts where I have been awarded a one-month residency. As many of you know, one reason I started this blog was to let people know what opportunities are available for writers. Forgive me if this information is a repeat, but I wanted to take a minute and let new people know a little more about residencies. Here are a few FAQs.
Q: What is a residency?
A: A residency is basically an artists’ retreat. Sometimes it will be called a colony. As opposed to a conference, you don’t have to do anything while you’re there. You’re supposed to write, but nobody checks up on you. If you want to you can spend the whole time napping and reading comic books. Sometimes writers need the time to just decompress. I write like mad when I am on a retreat, but I can understand those who just need to lie down and drink more water.
Q: Is it expensive?
A: Most residencies receive outside funding. Some, like Yaddo and MacDowell, require no contribution from the artists. Others, like VCCA, ask that the writers chip in about $30 a day. This is a fraction of the cost of the residency; outside sources provide the rest. Usually, you can explain your financial situation and the residency will work with you. Often there are scholarships and grants. Please, do not let money keep you from applying. Get in, then figure out the money situation.
Q: Do I have to be published to get in?
A: Nope. Most residencies try to have a mix of artists at different stages of their careers. You have to apply to be accepted and your work is looked at in terms of where you are in your career. One of my most favoritest undergraduates, Michael Fauver, went to Yaddo the year he finished college.. in the SUMMER.
Q: Who is going to be there?
A: Most of the residencies I have attended have been open to all artists, not just writers. Composers, poets, sculptors, dancers, painters, you name it. But other than that, you can also expect to meet a lot of sort of middle- to upper-middle class artists. Even if the residency is free, you have to be able to take time off from work, which suggests a certain leisure. However, some residencies offer a little grant to help you with your expenses at home while you are away.
Q: Ummm.. I am not white. Will I be The Only One?
A: Probably. But it’s okay. The environment is usually pretty welcoming. I’ve only had one or two bad experiences and they have been pretty mild. A few hair questions, but whatevs. Then, there is Soul Mountain, which has a very strong commitment to diversity.
Q: How long do you have to stay?
A: Most last from two weeks to two months. I suggest applying for the whole two months, but then you see what you are offered and see how much time you are available to take. No one gets mad if you have to reduce, as long as you do it in advance so another writer can take advantage of the opening.
Q: Are the accommodations nice?
A: Some residencies are swanker than others. Yaddo and MacDowell are the dreamiest. But they are clean and you basically have what you need. Here are my photos from MacDowell from a couple years ago.
Q: What about the food?
A: In my experience, yummy. And even more yummy because I didn’t have to cook or pay for it. Some places give you three squares, but almost all give you a sit down dinner. The ones that don’t provide lunch usually have lunch fixings in the kitchen, but you have to assemble it yourself.
Q: Why should I go? I write at home.
A: If you can write well at home, stay there. I choose the go to colonies because I find it very helpful to be away from the demands of my life. I find that people who can’t respect the fact that I am busy writing, so don’t call me, can somehow understand that I am away at a colony. Also, it’s just lovely to be in the company of other creative folks. UPDATE: Here is a way over-comprehensive search of residencies for writers.
Everyone is talking about Richard Bernstein’s racialized freaky-deaky.
Okay, y’all. I am so tired. The Great Diva Road Trip was terrific fun. Yale University is a gorgeous campus and I love thinking of our very own Natasha Trethewey doing research in those lovely libraries. But car travel is exhausting– even when you travel diva-style– and I need to lay this body down.
Move over Oprah and Gayle! Natasha and I are driving up the east coast– destination: New Haven, CT. You may not think of this is a swanky destination, but it is when you know that Natasha has been named as the 2009-2010 James Weldon Johnson Fellow in African American Studies at Yale University. Ginormous congratulations to her. You know she will represent us well. We’re breaking it up into three days so we don’t start to get highway psychosis, and so that we can enjoy the amenities at the fabulous hotels we’ve booked for our pit stops. (Yes, we’ve packed our favorite cocktail dresses!)
I will tweet from my blackberry, but I don’t know if I will be able to blog during this little adventure. So, if things are quiet over here, know that I will be back home on Tuesday.
I must admit that this outing could not have a better time. Now that my manuscript is in the hands of Team-T, I feel so idle. When I was working on the manuscript, all I could think about was how much I wanted to be finished. I was playing Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In the Dark” over and over, just to hear him say, “I’m sick of sitting around here trying to write this book.” Now, I am so lonely for the project that it feels like a romantic break up. Crazy, I know, but a little bit of crazy is an occupational hazard.
I’ve just gotten done with the first read-through and basic edit of my new manuscript. I know that it’s not a beautiful work of art yet, but I have done all I can do by myself. It’s now time to bring in the first team of readers. Here’s how I picked them.
Everyone on the team must be someone I trust. By trust, I mean that they all much be someone who I believe wants me to write a better book. No one on the team can be weird or competitive with me. They are all folks who will approach the manuscript with an open heart, with nothing to prove.
The team must be diverse. There is no point having a bunch of people just like me vet the manuscript. I need people who bring different strengths to the table. One person should be talented with plot, another should be a language freak. Someone who knows from experience the world I am writing about, and someone else who doesn’t. You get the idea.
They should be writers. This is really just so that they will have the language to help me improve. Talking about a manuscript in progress with someone who is not a writer can make me feel like a mechanic listening to a customer make weird noises to tell me what is wrong with the car. Also, something like a point of view problem is easily diagnosed by another writer, while someone else will be disconcerted by the chapter and may not be able to say why.
If there is any inkling that I may be using the manuscript to win the person’s approval, they can’t be on the list. This goes back to the idea that it has to be all about the work at this stage. For most people (me included) this takes family off the list. I have always said how much my early work benefited from the fact that no one in my family thought I was really going to be a novelist. If I had looked at my writing as a way to get that parental pat on the head, it would have warped my creative impulse.
They must be brilliant. The reasoning is obvious. I have to say that I am so lucky to have so many smart people in my life.
On this day in 2000, my agent called me and said that Warner Books wanted to publish my first novel, Leaving Atlanta. This was six months after she sent it out and about a year after I had completed work on the manuscript. It would be two more years before the novel was actually in stores.
I remember that I was so excited, but I didn’t have anyone to celebrate with. This is when I was living in Arizona and basically had one friend– she was busy that night. About three months earlier, I’d bought myself a bottle of champagne and two pretty glasses that I was going to break out whenever there was news. I was by myself but I washed one of the flutes and filled it to the rim with bubbly. The bottle was expensive, so I didn’t it to go to waste, so I drank most of it.
Needless to say, this was not an evening that ended well, but it was still the best day of my life.
I guess it’s only right that I am spending today punching in edits for the last chapter of my third novel. It’s not pretty. It’s noon and I am still in my pajamas, my hair is all over my head, and I am about to eat a crazy lunch of assorted leftovers. It’s not a glamorous life, but I’m still doing it. That in itself is worth a champagne toast.
I was going to include this in the links, but I think I should post it by itself. Today is the end of the fiscal year. Please go to the website of your undergraduate institution and make a donation. The schools are able to receive more funds based on the PERCENTAGE of alumni who give back. So even if you give just $10, you are considered active and that ups the numbers.
My Spelman Sisters, and other HCBU grads, it’s time to step up and you have to do it TODAY. Here is the link to the Spelman site. Just do it. It won’t take but a minute. Think about what you got from Spelman, Morehouse, Southern, FAMU, Hampton, Howard, etc. Was it worth five minutes and a little bit of money?
Table flip update: Alice Hoffman has sort of apologized.
Salon has a cool article about the history of writers getting even with reviewers. Highlights include absolutely nutso Richard Ford SPITTING on Colson Whitehead. And the very last line of the article is a keeper.
Beat writers Kerouac, Ginsberg & Burroughs feature in three new Hollywood films. Yay for more films about writers, but can we get some diversity up in here?
Little, Brown says it’s too dangerous to send Luis Urrea to Mexico for his book tour.
On Twitter yesterday, I noticed that novelist Alice Hoffman was not in such a great mood. The Boston Globe had given her new book a bad review. Hoffman called the reviewer a “moron” and even posted the reviewer’s email address and phone numbers. I think we can call that putting out a Twit-Hit. (Gawker has the full story.)
Almost everybody in the twitterverse disapproved of Hoffman’s reaction. About a month ago, Hoffman also complained on twitter about the treatment she received from Washington Post Book Review. Ron Charles, editor of that review, responded to her via twitter. (I must say he was very professional on that occaision, although he did loosen up a bit yesterday.)
I will admit that I thought Hoffman was coloring outside the lines a bit, but there was a part of me that was weirdly envious. It was exactly how I felt watching the Real Housewives of New Jersey. Remember on the finale when Teresa flipped that table? Haven’t we all wanted to flip a table, but were too scared, too bourgie, too careful to do it?
When my first book came out, I got a sort of stupid review in The Washington Post. My poor little feelings were so hurt! Not only did the reviewer downplay the historical significance of The Atlanta Child Murders, but he also said that my writing was pretentious. There were also little factual mistakes. (For example, he identified Kenny as Octavia’s stepfather, when he is actually an uncle.) It really made me want to flip a table. I am just really grateful that Twitter wasn’t invented back in 2002. Twitter makes it way too easy to show the world your private petulant self.
But the question about the medium of twitter doesn’t really address whether or not you should respond to reviewers.
I am not convinced that it helps you out at all, unless the reviewer did something that was ideologically problematic. Let’s say the reviewer did something racially offensive. I think you can respond to that because it seems to be a matter of ideas, rather an issue of wounded feelings or personal taste. Also, I think responding to a bad review only brings attention to it. So Sensible Tayari is going to conclude that no, you shouldn’t tweet in response to a negative review.
But Crazy Tayari says, flip that table, girl.