Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Black Presses: How Three Got Their Start

*In celebration of Black History Month, the Indiana Writers’ Consortium presents…
Black Presses: How Three Got Their Start
By Shelby Engelhardt

It doesn’t take one long to come to the realization that publishing, as many of us know it, is becoming a dying art. With the rise of e-books it seems that the end may be near for a traditional book consisting of a spine and bound pages. Now add in the challenge of finding a publisher who is dedicated to bringing forth some of today’s best African-American literature, and you can find yourself facing a conundrum.  After searching high and low, I have compiled a short, and by no means all inclusive, list of African-American owned publishing companies and a little about each.

Small Press Publishing
The owner of Small Press Publishing, Haki Madhubuti, started peddling books on a street corner in Chicago.  He sold his poetry collection for one dollar per copy and sold 600 copies in one day.   After winning a literary award for $400, he purchased a mimeograph machine and set up shop in his basement. In 1967 Madhubuti, a lead figure in the Black Arts Movement, was distributing the work of many writers including Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka.  What emerged from this was a mix of scholarly works and literature promoting some of the greatest black thought in the world.

Africa World Press/Red Sea Press

Searching for the American dream, Kassahun Checole left Eritrea (then still a part of Ethiopia) to settle in upstate New York. He began teaching sociology and African studies at Rutgers University. While teaching, he realized that there needed to be more scholarly texts on African history and culture.  He launched Africa World Press (AWP) in 1983 with Barrel of a Pen: Resistance to Repression in Neo-Colonial Kenya by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. The Red Sea Press (RSP) was established in 1985 to distribute AWP’s catalogue, a task it took on for other presses as well. Each year it now publishes over 100 titles, mostly scholarly offerings, but poetry and international fiction have also found a home with these presses.

RedBone Press
After being told that there was no market for her collection of works on coming to terms with her sexuality, Lisa C. Moore self-published her work, does your momma know?, in 1997. Not long after, Moore was asked to publish another writer’s works on the same topic and that is how RedBone Press came to be. The Washington, DC based company has become a highly respected source of black queer fiction and poetry. Its authors have been recognized by many organizations including the Pen American Center, The Hurston/Wright Foundation and the Lambda Literary Foundation. All of this becomes more impressive when one realizes that RedBone Press is still a one-woman operation.

From a man peddling his poetry on street corners to a woman self-publishing her stories about coming out, many black presses have interesting histories and offer a wealth of knowledge to those seeking it. They give many black writers their start in a rewarding career. As writers, we know how hard it is for publishers to continue their art. Please support these independent presses, as they are the key to keeping publishing alive.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Yours, Mine, Ours: Is it a memoir?

Sandra J Nantais
Fuzzy details?  Fading colors? Forgotten dates?  All these concerns plague a memoir writer along, as does the bigger question: “Can I ask someone and still make it my own?”
Unless you have an incredible memory, you will have to do research or interviews to nudge recollections and sketch them out.  It is still your story.
I had wanted to write a slice of my childhood about a circus that set up around the block from us one year.  I had started thinking it was an imagined childhood fiction because I couldn’t find anyone who remembered it, nor could I find the photograph of me that I remembered my dad taking.  Thanks to social media, I finally discovered this was not a dream. 
Not only did I find truth in my memory, but I also discovered the name of the circus.   Using this tidbit of information doesn’t mean I have to give credit to the person who provided it, nor does it mean the memoir isn’t mine because someone else filled in the minor details.
Here’s another example. For years I had two memorial events stuck in the second grade years of my life.  I remember picking up my oldest brother from the airport when I was in the second grade and that I was a flower girl in my sister’s wedding.   But now as my oldest sister’s 60th birthday looms, I realize there was no way she married when I was seven years old.  She was still in high school.
Verbally I could keep holding on to my story, but once ink hits the paper it becomes set and an eagle eye reader (or my own sister!) could catch this error.  I would lose credibility.
From mentioning a candy bar to a television show, you need to make sure they existed in the time frame you are using. 
Timelines also can be sketchy, but taking a few moments to get dates in a sensible chronological order will help with the flow of your memoir.
You can also use other resources to fact check.  Photographs, public records, letters, school year books, and the Internet all can assist with details and add accurate facts to you memoir.
Not every detail needs to be exact.  If you remember the local park having patchy grass and dented slides, but your brother remembers it being a lush green with shiny, slick slides, it’s okay to describe how you perceived it.
Remember, you will run into some difficulty remembering exactly what happened and possibly when.  Whether you ask a sibling about a detail you deem important or enlist records to secure correct dates, the memoir is still your story.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Distractions or Motivators in Disguise?

Shelby Engelhardt
It has happened to us all. We have set aside a block of time to do nothing except write. All distractions are banned: no cell phone, no kids knocking on the door, no television. Maybe a pot of coffee is brewed or another favorite drink prepared. We go into the space we have designated as our writing spot and open the clean page, either in our favorite notebook or word processor. Then, we sit…staring. We write a sentence or maybe two, then shake our heads and delete them. Soon, we find ourselves surfing the internet, scrolling through our newsfeed, or tweeting about our problem. Maybe this has described you at this very moment. Well, good news! I have a few ideas to overcome this problem!
                First, congratulate yourself on actually blocking off time to write! That sometimes is the hardest part of writing. Often, we take for granted the flexibility that being a writer offers; however, we need to make sure we set aside the time and make it an important part of life. Violinists are sure to practice daily, painters paint regularly, so as writers we must also practice our craft diligently.
                Now, take a deep breath. Writing topics are all around you. Are you logged on to social media? Pull a tweet or a status update and use that as a prompt. Sometimes life is definitely more interesting than what even the most brilliant fiction writer can come up with. Googling? Why not search for something that interests you and use that to start a line or two?  Do some research; find out what made Chicago interesting in 1912 and write about it. Make your main character a child seeing the Empire State building for the first time. Oh, you haven’t been there? Google it! Browse Craigslist, find an interesting listing on there and envision the transaction. Why is the person selling their prized comic collection or looking to buy a baby goat?
                Those ideas sound great, but what if you still need more? Maybe your friends aren’t quite as addicted to social media as mine or nothing pops into your mind to research. Okay, Google is still your friend! Google writing prompts and you get numerous interesting results. Pick a few that strike your fancy, set a timer for ten minutes, and write! If at the end of the time, you still want to write on that topic…continue, but if you are done, move to the next.
                Maybe after you try all these suggestions, you have still only written a paragraph or a page and maybe what you have written is not anything you would consider a good piece. That is acceptable! Not every session we sit and write will yield a chapter or a complete poem. The idea is to practice our craft. One can only improve by working at something. So, pick up your pen or open a new page, and do what you do best…WRITE!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

2014 IWC Half-Day Conference: Call for Presenters

Indiana Writers’ Consortium (IWC) is pleased to announce the extension of its annual networking dinner to include an intimate, high quality, and affordable half-day writers’ conference on October 11, 2014. The conference, which will take place at the Hilton Garden Inn in Merrillville, Indiana, will include multiple breakout sessions and be followed by a dinner and keynote address by Barbara Shoup, author of seven novels, executive director of Indiana Writers Center, associate editor of OV Books, and an associate faculty member at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.
IWC seeks proposals from individuals and groups who are at different stages in their writing careers that will represent a broad range of perspectives and experiences. Presentations may include topics such as:
  • Writing and craft
  • Business of publishing
  • Creative writing pedagogy
  • Academic and community program development
  • Genre trends
Interactive individual presentation, four-to-five person panels, creative writing workshops, and round table discussions are welcome.
Submission Instructions:
Deadline: May 1, 2014
Submit:  A 250-word abstract that includes the session title, description, format, and presenter names. Each presenter should include a 50-word bio and .jpg photo.
Submit to: Please indicate “IWC Half-day Conference Proposal” in the subject line.
Questions may be directed to:  Janine Harrison at:
Indiana Writers' Consortium inspires and builds a community of creative writers. We are dedicated to educating writers through speakers, seminars, and children's programs.  IWC provides educational and networking opportunities for writers in all stages of their careers.  We are a nonprofit organization incorporated in Indiana in 2008 and a public charity under section 501(c)(3) of the United States Internal Revenue Code.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bringing History to Life

Kathryn Page Camp
Have you ever been told to “write what you know”? Some writers think that means they should only write what they have directly experienced. But if everyone felt that way, we would have no historical fiction and no biographies of long-dead individuals.

So what does the phrase really mean? I think it has two components.

The first component is research. Assume I want to write a story about the RMS Titanic disaster in 1912. I wasn’t there, so how can I make it realistic?

I can start by getting into the heads of those who were there.

Autobiographies, letters, newspapers, and “as told to” accounts are better than history books for learning what people actually experienced. And for more recent events, interviews can provide additional information by showing the anguish in people's voices and the pauses to compose themselves before talking about losing their fathers or brothers.

The Titanic survivors are all dead by now, so I can’t talk to them. But several wrote books or articles about the experience, and many more were interviewed by newspapers in the days following the disaster. There are even some tapes where you can hear the emotion in the survivors’ voices. These are all resources that a writer can tap into to understand what the participants experienced.

The second component of writing what you know is as simple—or as gut-wrenching—as breaking the experience down and reaching into your own background for related incidents and emotions. How can you portray the feelings of a character waiting to board a life boat or sitting on the ocean and watching the ship go down? He or she would probably have been terrified. But you’ve been afraid, too. Remember the feeling and magnify it. Have you watched a loved one die? Use that. We all experience the same things in different degrees, so take your own reactions and modify them to fit the situation.

I believe in writing what I know. But that doesn’t mean I have to have been there.

Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her latest book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013) is available from and other retailers. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at