Writers in Washington, DC

A writers’ gathering, “Third Annual Conversations and Connections” held on 11 April 2009, involved a trio of excellent literary journals — Barrelhouse, Potomac Review and Baltimore Review — with sponsorship by the Johns Hopkins University and Montgomery College.  The venue was SAIS near Dupont Circle.

The conference opened at an early hour on an unfriendly wet day. I rolled in late to the Christian Herter Room, named for one of the least known 20th century Secretaries of State who was also a co-founder of SAIS. A panel of experienced and informed novelists — Susan Coll, Keith Donahue, C. M. Mayo, Leslie Pietrzyk — began a conversation about how to manage point of view in fiction.

Ducking a hard rain shielded by a Munchkin umbrella made in China for Marimekko, I scooted across Mass. Ave to another office building that’s now part of the SAIS complex.  Years ago, the Italian Cultural Institute occupied the first floor of this building, where films and lectures in Italian were followed by Prosecco and amusing canapes.  The Italians have moved on, now hosting cultural events in their swank Embassy across Whitehaven Parkway from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s residence.

The panel exploring the Digital Literary Landscape offered the most international perspectives. Editors M. Flinn and G. Donovan  from Blackbird, a lit journal nesting at Virginia Commonwealth University, told a SRO audience that among their global 750K page views is surprisingly deep market penetration in Turkey where women read online and join book discussion groups, which is an acceptable social activity outside their nearly-cloistered homes.

Blackbird receives submissions from the global anglophone writing community. Other contemporary literary journals whose editors were also on the panel — Failbetter.com, JMWW, LOCUSPOINT  .  They  publish a diverse pool of writers. A key point that there’s no need to distinguish between serious  online lit journals and printed literary journals.   The editors pointed out that online literary publications offer added value with audio and video files that enhance understanding of poems, stories or essays read aloud and published in the journal.

How to tell which online journals are worthy, someone asked. Read the masthead and take note of a stable publication schedule answered a panelist.

The future:  More of everything digital.  Kindle books; print-on-demand books and articles; novel serializations chapter pre-releases, partnering with universities, publishing on cellphones.  Just possibly literary gatherings facilitated by VOIP or video conference.