Between the Lines: Literary Citizenship

Feb 23, 2015

Lori May
Credit Lori May

When Lori May moved from her native Canada to Detroit she became keenly aware of her need to be involved in her new literary community. May takes the responsibility of being what she calls a "literary citizen" seriously. In fact, during her years living in Detroit (she now resides in the Pacific Northwest), May wrote The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship and the Writing Life (Bloomsbury, 2015), exploring what it means to be a literary citizen.

“It’s the buzzword right now,” says May. “But literary citizenship goes back centuries to Walt Whitman, the people’s poet, and probably before that. Literary citizenship is how writers and readers engage in the community to the betterment of the community.”

Credit Bloomsbury Press

May says that engagement can happen in several ways. Writers can mentor other writers. Writers and readers can review books as a way of supporting and promoting literature, especially new literature by unknown writers. Local academics can hold literary events. And everyone can shop for books at their independent bookseller.

Even if there isn't an independent bookstore in a 50-mile radius, May says, “That’s the wonderful thing about the Internet. You can shop independent booksellers’ websites. Most offer shipping across the country, and many across the world, so you can still support the independent bookseller.”

May says, “Readers can be the best literary citizens in waiting. It is the reader excited about a literary discovery who shares that excitement with others. Word of mouth is very effective. If they are excited about a book, they share it. They share it with family and friends and coworkers, and I think that’s a highly valuable component of the literary community.”

Readers also have the opportunity to meet and connect with their favorite writers by helping out at literary events. “Maybe that’s a reading series, or a book group at a public library, or at a senior center, or at a youth group. Anything a writer can do for literary citizenship, a reader can do as well.”

Having moved to various cities and traveling widely as a guest speaker, May has observed differences in literary communities across the country. She says each has its own particular niche to fill and has its own local flavor. She has found some of the strongest literary communities right here in Michigan.

Lori May writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. She's also an editor and teacher, and frequently travels as a guest speaker. Her other books include two poetry collections, two crime novels, and a nonfiction book called The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students (Continuum/Bloomsbury).

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