Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Save This Date, Please

Poets and Writers League Party August 19th. Longtime readers of Working With Words know that the Society of Professional Journalists is one of my special causes. The group is nearly 100 years old, and for most of its life, it has been something of a dowdy overachiever. But it's also been a bit like the journalistic equivalent of your dad's old Buick, fussily worrying about issues of fairness and ethics like a censorious old school marm, joylessly rapping the knuckles of offenders. While parts of me rather like and respect that, I also think it has to grow with the times, and grapple with the far more complicated, grayer issues that are now at the intersection of journalism, citizenship and public affairs. Happily, the Cleveland chapter has, in spades. I'm happy to be a part of that crew of engaged hungry minds in the profession who are tackling all these issue and sparking conversation within the profession, and (here's the real key) increasingly outside it--with readers, citizens, those who are written about, etc. We have a
new website courtesy of the talented web designer Jim Kukral which will allow us to reach more people with more issues.

But with SPJ so well entrenched in the civic conversation, I will begin this year to steadily move out into other related and allied organizations, in an effort to continue to try to influence the breaching of walls between all these writing categories. If you don't write yourself, you may not know that the writing community is full of more niches than a honeycomb, and that's just how some jealous guardians like it. There are of course the journalists (and they even contain subsets, such as literary journalists, a category to which I aspire). There are poets; novelists; children's book authors; and writers of mystery, romance and science fiction (often called genre writers by some purists, who never hesitate to add a note of disdain). There are specialists in nature writing and their newer-age brethren, environmental writers. And of course there are bloggers. And on and on it goes. For the most part (or am I wrong here?), denizens of these ghettoes prefer to keep to themselves, buttoned up in their walls, talking only to each other.

Nonsense, I say. We're all writers, and we all have much to learn from each other's disciplines and special interests. Those who write news and are forever being pressured by the market imperatives of journalism to shorten their articles, so they can learn poetic compression from poets. Pure bloggers have much to learn about generating story ideas, doing basic fact-checking and other subjects from longtime writers. And pure traditional journalists can learn a thing or two (or maybe two thousand) from their blogging counterparts about pouring more authentic conversation into their work and being a bit less full of themselves. Okay, so perhaps my ecumenical outreach is driven by a personal mania to bring coherence to my many writing selves. I see parts of myself in all of these specialties. And let me say that there's really no tension between any of these selves. I can't say that I've ever had a moment's hesitation, never felt a second of friction between my roles as writer, journalist or blogger. They all fit together seemlessly. My responsibilities to each are precisely the same: to give sacred witness to my beloved readers, to bring them some news or help them understand some point of view, to spur their thinking, to help them wrestle with some pain, experience some joy or to simply bring them into communion with others. After all, a wiser person than I once helpfully observed that in the end, we really read in order to find that we're not alone.

We have so many wonderful developments popping up in this broad writing landscape in the region. With all of this grassroots energy bubbling up all over the place on behalf of the written word, it seems only fitting that I should increasingly move toward what I consider the grandaddy, the hub of this network--the Poets and Writers League of Greater Cleveland. As the product of a merger between a predecessor poets' group and one dedicated to those who deal in prose, it's already done some knocking down of walls itself. It's the only such group in the region that I know of with an actual physical location--the charming Literary Center, or "the Lit," as it's affectionately known--and a fulltime staff member, the energetic Darlene Montanaro. It offers a wonderful array of classes and keeps in touch with a thousand small and large developments that affect those who write. And so I plan on spending significant time with the group in the coming year.

Anyway, I hope you'll join me at an August 19th evening event, a modest (and I mean modest: just $5) fundraiser for the group, which it's calling Raise the Rent (directions are here). It will be a wonderful way to celebrate summer's end among likeminded word lovers. I'm looking forward to seeing you there.


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