The Write Crowd by Lori A. May is a great little book on literary citizenship, a topic I’ve discussed on the blog in an earlier post. Geared toward writers, chapter 2 is titled “The Writer and the Writing Life,” the book has good ideas for promoting literary citizenship for readers as well.
May starts the book with the chapter “What is Literary Citizenship? An Introduction.” She writes: “most often, contemporary writers refer back to Walt Whitman’s efforts in advocating a society connected through literature,” (2) so even though the phrase ‘literary citizenship’ seems new, it isn’t. Writers have a long history of promoting not only their own work, but the work of others, in an effort to enhance the common good. Now the common good not only applies to local communities, but to the World Wide Web, encompassing societies in ways Whitman couldn’t begin to comprehend.
May gives solid advice throughout the book, with one of the earliest pieces being one all writers are familiar with, but may not—like me—follow through on—the writing comes first. But if we focus on just the writing, we lose out on much more: “participating in the broader community, in engaging with others, and sharing our skills and passion with peers and emerging fellows, there is so much joy to experience outside of our individual worlds. We become more.” (11). It’s important to protect the writing time, but not to the point we exclude others. Writers need not just readers, but other writers.
May’s advice throughout the book fits writers (and readers) of all types—big city or rural (like me), those with a knack or willingness to work with organizations—established or built from the ground up—or introverts who’s day job drains them of energy, and mingling with more people is the last thing they can handle (again, like me.) The section “Creating Connections Online,” in Chapter 4, is the one I find most helpful because it fits where I’m at in life right now. May writes about Matt Bell, a Michigan author, but also a reader, and he uses his blog to post an ongoing reading list, seeking to connect to like-minded readers whose reading tastes run toward the unconventional and indie presses (48). I am first and foremost a reader, and sometimes finding fellow readers is just as difficult as finding fellow writers in my rural community, so examples such as Matt give me ideas for finding and connecting with others sharing my own reading and writing tastes.
Plenty of the ideas in May’s book are also free to do—so not having any spare cash isn’t an issue. Volunteer at a local organization, or a national one—an appendix in the back lists different organizations in need of volunteers. The chapters in the book cover a wide variety of topics, and one can find something of value in all of them.
After reading The Write Crowd, there are no more excuses for not doing even a small bit of literary citizenship. If you’re reading this, you have internet access, so send a tweet. Start a blog. Post on Facebook and share with the world at large your favorite books and support your favorite authors.