Practicing Philanthropy: How Writers Can Contribute to the Greater Good

PRACTICING PHILANTHROPY: HOW WRITERS CAN CONTRIBUTE TO THE GREATER GOOD

By Erika Dreifus

Even in healthy financial times, writers who aren’t named J.K. Rowling or James Patterson don’t often have abundant funds to spare for charitable contributions. And when the economy suffers, writers’ incomes suffer, too. But writers can help their favorite causes in many ways other than writing checks. Especially as the holiday season approaches, it seems appropriate to consider some of these possibilities.

1. The “Write-A-Thon”: Perhaps some of you have seen the short article in a recent issue of The Writer magazine in which I described my participation in the New York Writers Coalition’s past two Write-A-Thons. As I explained there, I’ve always backed my friends and family members by pledging to support their walk-a-thons, bike-a-thons, and other physically demanding charitable activities. For the NYWC’s Write-A-Thon, I asked for their sponsorship and raised hundreds of dollars that went directly to the NYWC, a nonprofit community writing organization that provides free writing workshops throughout New York City for at-risk youth, adult residents of supportive housing, formerly incarcerated people, seniors, and others who often struggle to voice their experiences. If you’d like to see the Write-A-Thon model in action right now, check out the efforts under way at Dzanc Books, a nonprofit publisher (link provided at this article’s end).

2. The Auction: Some months ago, author Tayari Jones raised over $2,500 to assist the victims of the June 2007 Dunbar Village (Florida) attacks. How did she do it? She set up an eBay auction and enlisted literary types to contribute what they could: autographed books, manuscript critiques, and even, from this practicing writer, a set of e-books. But this is far from the only example of an auction featuring writer-related goods and services for a common cause. As I draft this article, the folks at Grub Street, a literary center that was a significant part of my prior writing life in Massachusetts, are preparing for their own “literary silent auction” fundraiser. See the link at this article’s end to check out the intriguing items on Grub’s auction block and the names of participating authors.

3. The Anthology: One example that comes to mind here is Telling Tales, a 2004 anthology edited by Nadine Gordimer. All the book’s contributors (among them multiple recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature) waived royalties/fees, so the book’s profits could benefit programs responding to the HIV-AIDS crisis. A more grass-roots case might be Stories of Strength, which emerged from the AbsoluteWrite.com discussion boards in an effort to contribute to disaster relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

4. The Book Donation: Countless book donation programs exist to build (or rebuild) library collections, promote literacy, and accomplish other reading-related goals. If you’re a published author, consider donating copies of your book(s). If you’re a writer who also happens to be an avid book buyer, consider donating some used texts. You can start by looking into the book donation policies at your local library. Googling “book donation” will produce thousands of links to additional book donation programs. Again, check the links at the end of this article for some suggestions.

5. The Volunteer Service: Writers have so many professional skills to share: editing, proofreading, translating, etc. For instance, I’ve voluntarily proofread a congregational history published by my synagogue. Another writer I know has edited a book whose sales benefit an alumnae association. Examples abound. You may have already done something similar. If not, think about it!

6. The Hat Tip: This one is oh-so-easy (and inexpensive!). Whether you e-mail a writer directly to tell her how much her poem or essay means to you, or you credit her market research (ahem) when you use it for your own newsletter or blog, it’s charitable to tip your hat to your fellow writers. Writers are particularly sensitive to words – and silences. This month I’d like to thank the Hayden’s Ferry Review blog for naming The Practicing Writer a “Website of the Week” and the soon-to-be MFA student who sent me an e-mail message telling me how much she appreciated the site as a “refuge.” You’ve earned yourselves some good karma!

As writers, we may not always earn lots of income to give away. But writing by no means excludes us from contributing to the greater good.

Relevant links:
New York Writers Coalition Write-A-Thon
http://nywriterscoalition.org/writeathon.htm

Dzanc Books Write-a-Thon
http://www.tayarijones.com/blog/archives/2008/04/weve_done_somet.html

Grub Street, Inc.,’s Literary Silent Auction
http://www.grubstreet.org/index.php?id=169

National Public Radio on Telling Tales
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4201842

AbsoluteWrite.com forum section on Stories of Strength
http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=86

Book Donation Programs page compiled by the American Library Association (includes links to international programs)
http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/hqops/library/libraryfactsheet/alalibraryfactsheet12.cfm

© 2008 Erika Dreifus. May not be reprinted without permission.

(A version of this article originally appeared in The Practicing Writer, November 2008.)

The Wednesday Web Browser: New Posts from Churm, Daily Writing Practice, and Tales from a Term Paper Mill Writer

Our chum “Churm” has two excellent new posts over on his blog. First, he wonders if literary publishing is “inefficient or inhumane.” Chances are most practicing writers will find something to relate to here! And then, he introduces us to a new book about Chekhov (this especially piqued my interest because I’m just wrapping up a related book review).
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We all know that the best way to work toward writing success is to write. Ideally, daily. Somehow, though, Nova’s recent post “makes it new” and worth hearing all over again.
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As hungry as I was for work as a freelancer, I never considered writing for one of the notorious term paper mills. So Nick Mamatas’s testimony threw new, if not altogether surprising light on that experience. (via AL Daily)

PDFs and Polyglossia

Part of my work as a practicing writer (and yours, in case you haven’t realized it) involves keeping up with technology. Or, in my case, trying to make up deficits.

Here’s an example: In the last week I’ve finally learned how to upload PDFs to my Web site on my own. My larger goal–and I’ll get there someday–is acquiring the ability to build entire new site pages that would consist of full articles or stories. But in the meantime, I’m slowly adding some of my work to the site in PDF form.

Case in point: My mini-rant related to this year’s Nobel Prize for literature and surrounding commentary is hardly my only writing taking on American literary “isolation” or “insulation.” Here’s the start of an essay, “In Praise of Polyglossia,” published in 2004 in Matrix magazine:

Last winter I sat with my fellow (American) fiction writers around a seminar table, absorbing our (American) instructor’s insights about Craft and Process. We had just finished critiquing one of my classmate’s manuscripts, and during a brief discussion the instructor pronounced one of the most shocking statements I’d ever heard a writing teacher articulate:

“People who use foreign words in their fiction,” she began, leaning back in her chair and waving her hand, “are just showing off.”

Slight, polite laughter rippled through the room. My own face froze.

Ma foi! Was she, I wondered, alluding to my own “person,” my own fiction? Was she thinking of my own reputation for peppering speech with a French phrase here and there? Because to my knowledge she had not yet read any of my stories, many of which feature immigrant characters, stories in which German-Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, especially, address loved ones as Liebchen, or slowly and painfully acquire English language skills. In any case, even granted the tension-filled time that it was, with the United States and France veritable foes at the United Nations, the instructor’s comments seemed the epitome of American exceptionalism—and certainly provided another insight concerning “why they hate us.”

To download and read the rest of the essay, please go to my Web site’s Writing page and scroll down. “In Praise of Polyglossia” appears twice, once with the articles about writing, and a second time in the “Essays” category.

Friday Find: "Woman of Letters: Irene Nemirovsky and Suite Francaise"

If you’ve seen the latest (November) issue of The Writer magazine, you may have caught my short “Take Note” item about a new exhibition at Manhattan’s Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Titled “Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française,” the exhibition runs into March 2009 and is accompanied by an impressive Web site.

I haven’t yet made it to the Museum to see the exhibition, but this week Edward Rothstein reviewed it for the New York Times. I think his review is essential reading for anyone interested in Némirovsky, Suite Française, and/or the exhibition itself. Rothstein does a particularly good job summarizing the ambiguities and dilemmas that too many reviews of the U.S. translation failed to acknowledge. (For my own take on the book, please click here.)

To its credit, the Museum is offering a number of complementary programs to help elucidate these points. One will take place this Sunday (October 26), and it features eminent historians Robert O. Paxton and Michael Marrus, who will offer context on “Jews in Vichy France.” (Aunt Erika has a competing and admittedly more cheerful commitment pre-celebrating Halloween with a certain box of French fries [five-year-old niece] and cheeseburger [two-year-old nephew] that will preclude attendance.) Another event is planned for December 8, when a panel of literary critics and scholars (including one with whom I had the pleasure of studying as a graduate student) will take on the dicey subject of “Irène Némirovsky and the Jewish Question.”

Whatever your plans, I wish you all a bon week-end!

Review of Margot Singer’s Story Collection on Kenyon Review Online

Folks, I’ve been waiting quite awhile to be able to post this one.

Last spring, I read Margot Singer’s extraordinary short story collection, The Pale of Settlement, and I’ve been eager to share my full review with you, hopefully encouraging more readers to discover the book. Since I’d sold the piece to the Kenyon Review Online, however, I’ve had to wait for the editors over there to post it. That’s now been taken care of, so please go over to KRO and read the review now! Thank you!