The day began with Jeff Parker’s seminar on “repetition” which he turned into a seminar on “not-knowing/repetition” building a great deal off of the essay “Not Knowing” by Donald Barthelme, an author I’ve found I greatly enjoy. A handful of good things and Parker ran his seminar a bit more like a seminar, although having 46 students in the room makes it difficult to have something like a seminar going on.
There were two workshops today, and I figure I should point out that we have been spending some of our workshop time doing writing exercises, a practice that I have never engaged in, although I found the exercises suggested in Novakovich’s The Writers Workshop to be tempting.
The exercises thus far have been: write about the date from hell, write a story using negation as a narrative technique (inspired by Stuart Dybek’s “We Didn’t”) and write about a street.
We then moved into Keith Gessen mode. Gessen is scheduled for a total of three events, although I’ve chosen a different workshop opposite the third of these. Instead, I just had a chance to hear Gessen in conversation with Parker, talking about some of the writing life etc. I ended up feeling a bit like the guy who’s read everything since there were a couple books mentioned by Gessen where I was the only one to know them.
The evening session was a sort of panel discussion, called “As publishing perishes.” We had Gessen and Rebecca Wolff (Fence) talking about things from the perspective of independent publishing. Gessen’s n+1 has a rather impressive print run of 8,000 copies. The other interesting number was that out of 1,500 poems that come in through the Fence submission process, they typically publish around 24, which is a higher acceptance rate than appears on Duotrope. Meanwhile Gessen spoke more positively about the slush pile than the n+1 website does, which explicitly discourages would-be contributors from submitting:
Writers interested in contributing to n+1 should note that we come out only three times each year, and that most if not all of the slots available for a given issue will have been filled by the editors many months before publication.
Although re-reading that again, it doesn’t seem as incongruent with what Gessen said than it did that evening.
During the question session one audience member expressed the view that the low acceptance rates of a journal like Fence seemed a justification for self-publishing, a perspective I cannot come close to agreeing with. To me, it seems that aspiring to being in the top 1% is what we should all be doing as writers, and if we fail at that it should be a motivation to work harder at reaching that level.