Support Women, Drink Coffee

grounds

Happy International Women’s Day, readers! Earlier today, I tweeted about a charity called Grounds for Health, an organization that provides women’s healthcare in Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Peru, and elsewhere. Their program centers on reducing cervical cancer among women in developing, coffee-growing companies.

For awhile, I struggled to promote or donate to charities of any sort. After learning the ins and outs of a powerful and politicizing “charity,” I became more skeptical about the not-for-profit sector. I now meticulously research charities before donating or serving them. Admittedly, my research often leaves me feeling rather bruised. I am particular about which charities I choose to support. (It makes me uncomfortable to support any charity with a religious message or tone, for instance.) I used to have a difficult time convincing myself to support programs that didn’t seem like long-term solutions to certain societal problems or infrastructures, but I have come a long way from that line of thinking.

By focusing only on endgame prescriptivism, I realized I was neglecting the humane core of altruism. Particularly, my thought process was challenged by Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams. We absolutely do need long-term solutions to poverty and global healthcare for women. However, when I choose not to support a charity that is a “short-term” solution rather than a long-term solution, I am forgetting the people who are still trying to live in the short term. I am forgetting the people who are dying from cervical cancer, the people who need to eat, drink clean water, wear shoes, receive medical treatment in the short term. Ignoring the short term while talking about long-term solutions is a conversation one can have from the too comfortable vantage point of privilege. Keep the conversation about the long term alive, but I more often advocate that we leave our leftism at the door and think about people too.

A Skeptic’s Guide To Writing Contests

Earlier this morning, I submitted a short story to a popular literary journal’s writing contest, and I feel worse for it. I have never submitted to this type of contest before. Despite knowing fiction writers and poets who have won story and poetry contests, I have even advised other people against this practice. Writing contests have often rubbed me the wrong way. We can chalk it up to my inner skeptic. We can call it bad math. Writing contests? I just don’t trust them. But here I am, short another $20 looking at my Submittable ticket receipt, and drinking coffee like any other regular day in the life.

Many of my friends have entered contests with a reader’s fee. (Say, $20.) A journal would announce its contest, promise the winner $500/publication, and the runner-up $100/publication. This amount varies depending on the contest, journal, allotted reader’s fee, etc. In exchange for the reader’s fee, writers will receive a subscription to the literary journal.AQR Writers begin submitting their stories and paying the journal’s fees. A journal hosting the contest might receive 1,000 manuscripts during their reading period. That’s a lot of reading fees. $20,000 of reading fees. For a long time, that sounded like bullshit to me.

Maybe I’ve become a bit more amiable over the years, because I’ve met the readers and judges of these contests and heard their horror stories. Or maybe I’ve gotten an insider look into literary journals that allows me to see how difficult funding can be. I am saddened by a recent article and movement that’s been floating through the literary scene entitled Save the Alaska Quarterly Review. This article illuminates some of the obstacles faced by journals, and the hashtag #saveaqr is a painful reminder of these problems.

I realize I could just be saying all this to make myself feel better about spending that $20.

Originally, I felt like contests were money-making ponzi schemes. Highly successful literary cons. A darker side of my skepticism thought the judges of said contests probably had a small pool of favorites anyway. I disregarded reading hierarchies and anonymous submission/reading guidelines with the understanding that people talk. Writers recognize each other. I concentrated on getting published the regular way, and that has seemed to work pretty well. I operated under the golden light that my stories might receive awards after they’ve been published. In some ways, I felt like I was taking the “smart” route, but now, I’m not so sure. I have started to see contests as a necessary evil in the literary world. A give and take affair.

Contests are a viable way for journals to stay afloat financially. Some journals that have contests use that extra generated money to pay writers for their accepted submissions throughout the year. Other journals just want to pay their fucking rent. However, it’s still best to remain pragmatic when submitting:

  • Submit to contests hosted by journals you love.
  • Only submit exceptional material.

There are a thousand other people out there submitting their work to a contest. If your submission doesn’t stand out from your own pool of writing on your laptop at home, it’s not going to stand out in an even greater pool.

But here I am thinking about the different ways a person could spend $20—new pants, a bike lock, gourmet cheese, tote bags— and wondering if any of my friends secretly submitted, too.