Chapter 40: Every Voice
This newsletter began forty chapters ago as a journey propelled by a question: Is it inevitable or even essential that writers suffer?
That journey started when I returned to writing after six years away; I had stopped after a painful conversation with my agent that left me believing that my book writing career was over, that there was no place for me as a midlist author anymore. I returned to tell a story that I had long needed to tell, a sad story but one that prompted a joy in writing that I had never before experienced.
I had always assumed that writing was supposed to make me miserable. But the discovery of joy felt like a revelation. I began to wonder whether there were ways for other writers to discover it, too. Nothing good, I had come to believe, ever came from writers punishing themselves. But how to find that elusive joy?
What I had not foreseen was how much of a difference company can make in a writer’s life.
Friends, yes. Colleagues, certainly. But even more, in a world where the work is often done alone, to feel part of something larger, a community built on a culture of kindness and support.
Writers endure fear, anxiety, depression, and the weight of expectation. Those come from within. We also endure rejection, indifference, callousness, and cruelty. These come from editors and publishers, who may not intend to act in ways that leave writers feeling hurt and defeated, but who often sustain a culture that does not place sufficient value on what writers can do, and who they are. I have worked for wonderful, supportive editors I would run through walls to please. I have worked for editors who could bring me close to tears as they ripped through my writing.
When I ask students what they want from my class they often tell me: I want my writing torn apart. I tell them: are you nuts? Only masochists or fools want their writing torn apart. You may not want what one of my children used to call “grandma compliments” -- you are the best grandchild/writer who ever lived! But nor do you want to be told, as was once seen as essential toughening of the writerly psyche, that you are a no-talent-mope who is better off selling aluminum siding.
What you want, I’d say, is what all writers want, or should: to get better. To be able to tell the stories you need to tell, in your voice, in a way that will leave readers never wanting to stop.
There are skills writers need to learn, and part of this newsletter’s role is in talking about those practical ways to improve. But it has become clear, as well, that this newsletter serves another role, and that is as a place where, I hope, writers and those who value them, can come to be reminded that they needn’t suffer needlessly, and that their struggles are not theirs alone.
Over these forty issues -- coming up on two years -- thousands of people have signed up for Writerland. That is humbling, and for Natasha Rodriguez who has joined me in writing this newsletter, as well as our colleagues, it reinforces our belief in the culture we have worked to create through this newsletter and at The Delacorte Review.
An important element of that culture began last year, when we launched a grant program to bring new and diverse voices to the Review. Our hope was to offer a home to three writers whose voices have historically been too seldom heard. We would offer financial support as well as ourselves, as editors committed to working with those writers from story inception to publication in our pages, through all the maddening twists and unexpected turns true stories make as they take on lives of their own.
It is in that spirit that The Review is once again offering three grants intended for candidates whose work will contribute to diversity and excellence. Each grant will pay $1000 and will run for five months. Our goal is to help recipients work to bring their voice to life in a work of ambitious narrative nonfiction.
Each recipient will be assigned an editor who will work with them on every step of the process, from story inception, framing, and reporting, to writing, with the goal of publication with the Review. The Review’s publishing partners include Granta, Scientific American, ELLE, Mother Jones, Longreads, Lithub, CrimeReads.com, and Columbia Journalism Review.
We are committed to close working partnerships between writer and editor. Recipients should expect to file frequent memos and receive constant feedback. We do not believe that writers grow by sending a pitch, writing a first draft, having it kicked back for revisions until they get it right. We believe that writers grow when they have an editor at their side, pushing, cajoling, encouraging.
We asked last year’s grant recipients, Sheena Daree Miller, Idza Luhumyo and Zenique Gardner-Perry about their experiences. We hoped that they enjoyed working with us as much as we enjoyed working with them.
Sheena wrote: What a rare treat: to work with someone who not only cares about the story you're trying to tell, but also concerns himself with how and why you're trying to tell it. Mike Hoyt, my editor, found connections where I didn't, asked questions that opened new pathways, and encouraged me to dig deeper than I ever would or could have on my own. I joked to my friends that I wasn't sure whether he was an editor or a therapist (spoiler alert: he's both). I'm grateful for all of his guidance, encouragement, and curiosity; I've never felt more supported in a creative pursuit than I have with him and The Delacorte Review. While I'm not sure anyone really deserves this level of continued consideration, I'm certain any writer would benefit emotionally, intellectually and professionally from it. So...apply!
Idza: Two things stood out to me. The first was the fact that, even though we eventually each got to work with one editor, all three editors were interested in our ideas. It was fascinating to meet (albeit virtually) and listen to each of the grantee’s ideas. It’s always intriguing to see the journey each idea has to travel in order to become a fully-fledged piece. I also had the best time working with Cissi Falligant. Not only does she let you follow your nose during the wool-gathering process, she also has a way of asking the kind of questions that help you to get clear about your writing project.
And Zenique: A friend told me, “Apply for this grant, Zenique. The $1k is nice, but the support you’ll receive from editors is invaluable.” Boy, was she right. Michael was my cheerleader, my counselor, my hard-nosed coach. He knew when I was stuck and avoiding him because of it and would say “hey! Let’s hop on a call and talk about it!” And he’d share an anecdote, affirm my writing and remind me that he’s there as my resource in my writing process. “Don’t go at this alone, Zenique. I got you.” It was because me and my story felt so cared for and seen, that I wanted to see my story to its end. And I wondered often: is this what it means to have access to an editor or agent who’s connected with you and your work, helping to see it through? Just to be able to witness what’s possible when you have someone in your ear, coaching you along with educated insight, experience and the right measure of affirmations is a writer’s gift, one that BIPOC writers have so often been deprived of. The Delacorte Review’s Diversity Grant and commitment to uplift the stories of traditionally underrepresented writers—a commitment borne out of the equity conversations among writers and publishers post-George Floyd—is a step towards reconciling a long history of omission, exclusion, and lack of access in publishing and supporting the stories of Black and brown writers. It is a step forward.
Applicants should send a CV, up to three samples of nonfiction writing they are most proud of – it need not have been published -- and a letter proposing an idea for a story they’d like to work on, and how they’d go about reporting it.
Please send applications to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line GRANT APPLICATION (all caps please, to ensure they are not lost).
Application deadline is December 23rd. Grantees will be notified by January 24th. The program runs through May 20th.
We look forward to hearing from you.
And if you know writers who might be interested, please spread the word.