Do I Smell Brownies Cooking?
It just so happens that my professor for the Writing for Publication course I am taking this semester gave the class this assignment requiring us to interview a published writer (a faculty or staff member in the department of Writing and Linguistics) who he randomly assigned us to. Coincidentally, I was assigned to interview the professor of my Advanced Creative Nonfiction course (the class I write this blog for), Ms. Emma Bolden! So, for all you out there who are interested in learning a little more about this woman, below is the actual paper I submitted for this assignment. Unfortunately, I was in a major time crunch, so it’s not the absolute best of my abilities, but I do intend to revise it and add some of the juicy info she gave me that didn’t make it in before the deadline. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching it!
I recently interviewed a rather extraordinary woman by the name of Emma Bolden. I asked her all about her life as a writer, and how to get published. She provided me with tons of useful information, but first I’d like to formally introduce her. Emma Bolden is, in her own words, a “Poet, prose writer, professor, ponderer, and professional cat-wrangler”. She was the recipient of a Tennessee Williams Scholarship to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and was named a Finalist for a Ruth Lilly Fellowship by the Poetry Foundation/Poetry magazine. She won the 2009 Betty Gabehart Award in creative nonfiction from the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, and her story, “The Laws of Motion,” was named one of the top ten finalists for the Wordstock Prize. She has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. She has written three chapbooks of poetry: How To Recognize A Lady; The Mariner’s Wife; and The Sad Epistles. She has also had poems published in journals such as Prairie Schooner, the Indiana Review, Feminist Studies, The Journal, Redivider, The Greensboro Review, and Verse. Currently she is the creative nonfiction professor in the Writing & Linguistics Department at Georgia Southern University. She has written works of fiction, nonfiction, and even plays but her true passion is for poetry. She told me that she has been interested in poetry since she was in the second grade, when she decided that she wanted to be a writer, and she studied it in her years as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College because she loved it and wanted to develop her skills as a poet.
When asked how to get published, Ms. Bolden stressed the importance of having “a boss ass cover letter” and that you “have to know what the journal publishes, and show them that you know that” because it tells them that you have done your homework and that you take writing seriously. She also mentioned how important it is to continue submitting to a journal or magazine that has rejected you especially if the rejection letter contained anything that was handwritten. The inclusion of anything handwritten is important because editors are generally very busy and if they took the time to write something specific on your submission then that probably means they really liked your work. Ms. Bolden noted how important it is to stick with it and to “have the nads to suck it up and send it out again,” but also to allow yourself a “mourning period” to recover from a rough rejection.
When discussing the poetry marketplace specifically, she added that it is her personal belief that poetry is the most difficult form of writing to get published, especially a book of poetry because it is so expensive to print the books and there is little to no profit. In addition Bolden said that the poetry market is very small and very competitive, thus hard to break into since publishers want someone who is guaranteed to sell books and make them money. The advice she had for anyone attempting to break in to this market was simple: “Know your stuff. That’s the most important thing is knowing your stuff,” but she also suggested that, “Before you do anything else it’s important that you learn the process.” Meaning that an aspiring writer must become familiar with the presses and their editors, what they like and what they like to publish. Doing so, for Ms. Bolden has also come in handy in that at times she will be writing a piece and think to herself that it might be a good idea to submit it to a particular magazine because it is along the same lines as the things that magazine has published in the past. In that way she doesn’t really have to strive to find a market that might be receptive to her piece because she already has one in the back of her mind as the is writing. So knowing the market is essential.
When asked what she had known when she was starting out as a writer, Ms. Bolden response was not the most encouraging. She said: “How frustrating and hard it was going to be”. She also would have liked to have known how demanding her schedule would be and how on top of things she would have to be. She also added that she wished “that somebody would also have told me how important it is to be patient and to persevere, and have faith in yourself”. After all that, she identified the best piece of advice she ever received which came from a woman she shared an office with while teaching at Auburn University who said: “Look, you can’t get rejected if you’re not submitting. Sometimes you just have to give yourself a break,” which Bolden says that she did just that, and stopped submitting for a period of roughly six months. As a result, she says “It’s totally changed the way that I write and the way that I approach my writing.”
On a more casual note, I wanted to include a bit about the very first major publication Emma Bolden ever had. It was a short story called “Dead Lands” and it was published when she was just seventeen years old. At the time she attended a fine arts high school and part of her grade depended upon submitting to various contests. She submitted to the Literary Arts Forest for teenagers. As it turned out, one of the judges of that was also editing an anthology of female southern writers and he wanted to put her short story in it, so he actually contacted her high school. Ms. Bolden was called to the office one day because there was a phone call for her, and it was the editor. So her story was published in his anthology, but the best part is what she found out later. Apparently, her creative writing teacher had submitted to that very anthology on more than one occasion and was rejected, this says a lot about Ms. Bolden’s writing ability.
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