Tell Tell chats with Allison Joseph of Creative Writing Opportunities
Allison Joseph, professor, poet and curator of Creative Writing Opportunities, talks about literary community, how the pandemic affected her writing, and tips for poets and writers with Trish Hopkinson in our new Submissions Interview Series. Learn about multiple online communities, Facebook groups, and what’s important for starting your own literary community project.
Our interview with Allison Jospeh
Trish Hopkinson: [00:00:00] Welcome back to Tell Tell Poetry Submission Interview Series. I’m so pleased to be interviewing Allison Joseph incredible professor poet and curator of creative writing opportunities. Allison is author of several poetry books. She directs the MFA program in Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University.
Her latest, full length book of poetry, Confessions of a Bare Faced Woman was published by Red Hen Press in 2018. It was chosen as the gold first place winner and in the poetry category of the 2019 Feather Quill Book Awards, Confessions of a Bare Faced Woman is also a 2019 nominee in the poetry category of the NAACP Image Awards.
It’s also a 2019 finalists for both the Mo Montana Battle. Did I say that right? And the DaVinci I Book Award sponsored by the Eric Hoffer Book Awards. [00:01:00] So welcome to Alison. Thank you so much for taking some time to chat with me for the Tell Tell Poetry Submission Interview Series. We were fortunate enough to get to actually meet briefly in-person AWP.
And that was awesome. It was so great to see you there with that, that reading was just beautiful. It was really, really lovely. I wanted to ask you a little bit about creative writing ops and it’s definitely been so helpful for me over the years when I first started getting into like trying to publish poetry, it was one of the first places that I found that really posted submission calls.
Can you tell me a little bit about the original inspiration?
Allison Joseph: Uh, there were, uh, first of all, thank you for, for having me. We’ve been planning this for a while, so it’s good to have it come to fruition. Yeah. And in terms of the Creative Writers List, there were kind of two [00:02:00] origin stories because as writers, we can’t have just a simple way of something coming into being, can we, we have to have several stories.
One was. I had a habit of, uh, duplicating submission opportunities for the students in my MFA program. And also I was on a group listserv, the equivalent of today’s chat, um, called Wampo, which exists. Now, I believe as a fake, mainly as a Facebook group, but. You know, middle to early to middle internet days, everyone was on Yahoo groups.
So instead of posting things and duplicating things, I started a Yahoo group listserv for [00:03:00] anyone not charging anybody, but whenever I would find something that I thought was useful to poets fiction writers and non-fiction writers. I would send it out and God knows how many people were on that listserv and it came to an end.
Uh, I’m anticipating your next question. Like why did, why did the list serve? Come to an end? Um, because Yahoo groups decided to stop doing it. Um, and that was around the time I lost John. So it seemed, it seemed a good time to move on from what in some ways was problematic anyway, and give my, give my heart a break because, well, basically my heart was broken and it, and so, but, um, That’s the interesting things that writers always find a way to connect and share what they need [00:04:00] to share.
So now, um, I do a blog for crops, which is sort of a legacy blog, but also on Facebook. I have a couple of groups that are intended to serve writers as well.
Trish Hopkinson: Okay, great. So what, what are those Facebook groups, if you don’t mind sharing them?
Allison Joseph: Okay. There are. What one is, um, called Illinois poets and writers.
Since I live in Illinois, I wanted to have a space where writers who are connected. It’s a big state. Urban it’s rural, it’s suburban. And there was, there is no statewide organization. Some states have like a statewide writing organization and there, there used to be one in Illinois, but there isn’t, and I don’t have time to run one, but I’m like, Hey, I a Facebook group and get people who live in Chicago aware of what’s happening in the Metro east [00:05:00] or the people who live in.
Springfield what’s going on in champagne. Just it’s a state with a real, real rich literary history, but so people try to tend to take it for granted. Um, that’s one another is, um, I had started several years ago, a group called Heartland, uh, literary events and readings. So people could post a. Uh, notices of literary events that were going on in the Midwest that was originally a Midwest group.
And when the pandemic happened and everybody moved on to zoom, I said, just post, wherever. You’re hoping to have an event. And now. Um, Heartland it’s for anyone who is hosting either a zoom event, virtual event or real life event. So it’s an, uh, literary [00:06:00] events, calendar for readings and other writerly events like workshops and things like that.
Um, because, and, and on crops, I was always getting stuff from people who wanted to promote their workshops, and there are so many workshops and writer events. This is a good thing. I think that, uh, there are a lot of them, but they were starting to crowd out everything else. So, so that’s an, basically an events calendar for readings and other like festivals and things like that.
Uh, the other one is called Recs and Effect and it’s for helping writers. And it’s a group. I was thinking about how, how difficult, particularly, if you like your food, you’re publishing your first book or your first chat book, and you don’t know anybody, uh, perhaps you might be able to tap, tap your teachers for [00:07:00] a blurb, or there’s just so much gatekeeping in the literary arts.
You know, if you want to go to a writers colony, you have to get recommendations. No, you’ve got to publish this book. You have to have blurbs and. Maybe if I get people talking about what they need to one another it’s it’s so agonizing sometimes when you have to ask somebody for something, and I know there are sometimes things that opportunities.
I see that I kind of let slide by because yet again, asking for another. Recommendation or asking for something else. It gets, it gets old, but yeah, I, it originally it was called blurbs and rec [00:08:00] parks and rec one of my favorite shows. Uh, but I took blurbs out because of. Even the word blurb is controversial for writers because I meant it to be say, you’re going to have a book coming out and you have to approach people to write a blurb for the back.
You know , the rec, the back cover recommendation. So many writers, particularly writers who are working and, um, self publishing, self publishing writers. Believe blurb means the synopsis on the back of the book and people started fighting about that. So I’m like, I’m going to get in the word blurb out of the title.
So, um, so now it’s Recs and Effect, but the objective is the same that, uh, writers often have information that they can help other writers. Or like if someone says, “Hey, I’m putting together a fellowship application for blank. Has anyone else done this?” So this is, and I try to keep the conversation civil, which is not [00:09:00] necessarily always easy.
So those three, in addition to two crops, those are the three, uh, things through Facebook that I’ve managed to do. And I hope they’re useful.
Trish Hopkinson: I get how they sound fantastic. And, um, I’m definitely going to go check them out. I wasn’t aware that you were up to all of that and it sounds like quite a bit. I mean, it can be challenging to run a Facebook group, especially something where, you know, it’s just all these people that you don’t even know and conversations perk up and sometimes they’re great and sometimes they’re not.
Allison Joseph: I think Recs and Effect has about 950 people in it now. And they’re not all from the United States. They’re from around the world. It’s, it’s a group. I can’t remember the settings on it. Private or public. [00:10:00] I forget. Uh, but I do screen try to do a little bit of screening and if I see somebody as.
Just try it out to sell people something or con people. If I get, you know, you get that itchy feeling like, I dunno if this was on the up and up, but most people in the group, depending on you know, what their own background, it, uh, it, we tend to, sometimes we tend to hoard resources and.
Um, I’m all for like sharing the wealth and getting the information out there to people who might not have even known that writers colonies exists. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into people who, um, are writers and I’m like, look, there’s all this stuff out there. They’re like, there are writers Connie’s [00:11:00] it’s like, yeah, you can actually get somebody to give you money to go to wherever it is, and sit and contemplate your work.
Trish Hopkinson: Yeah, no, it is interesting how some people have sort of say isolated as a writer, right? Where, you know, so many others really look to build that community. And I think there are plenty who don’t even recognize those communities exist. So those groups are really amazing. And I love how they focus on like different aspects of writing and the writing biz. Uh, if you want me to, if you want to call it that.
Allison Joseph: The events group sort of runs itself by now because people have gotten very used to doing Zoom and virtual events and, and publicizing them via Facebook and other social media.
So that just nothing. Ever bad happens because people are just posting. Okay. And these three people are giving a reading in Madison and [00:12:00] order, and here’s the zoom link. And that’s because of the pandemic. That’s the interesting thing that a lot of events are now sort of hybrid that you could access.
They’re moving back to being Face-to-face events, but you can access them. If the organizers have a, a way of doing it through Zoom or through Facebook events or however they’re doing it. So I think that might be one of the possible few positive legacies of this whole era we’re living in.
Trish Hopkinson: I agree. I think it’s so great to see. Well, it’s hard to let go of, right. Once you start getting that more national or even international visibility, you recognize there’s so much more opportunity there and how many more people can actually benefit from the different events that participate. And I mean, hybrid just makes sense.
And I think it’s really opened up a whole world. So many people that, you know, didn’t have [00:13:00] access. So yeah, I, I hope that that continues. I am looking forward to doing some stuff in person though.
Allison Joseph: I haven’t done personally a face-to-face reading since the March 2020 AWP in San Antonio. I’ve done scads of both teaching for various entities.
And readings this month already. I’ve done readings for, um, Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia, and, uh, the Downtown Writer’s Center in Syracuse. And I didn’t have to go to Georgia or to New York. I was right here, this, this, uh, and you know, that is, is a good thing. I think.
Trish Hopkinson: I agree. I agree. So, I mean, you talked about your Facebook groups and how well they run for the most part.
Uh, crops also [00:14:00] seems to run just like a well oiled machine. What advice do you have to other writers who actually want to start their own way of giving back to the literary community or a resource?
Allison Joseph: You got to figure out what your own strengths. And then capitalize on them.
And since I’ve been involved with event planning, oh, there’s a fourth group. I forgot about this. There’s another group that’s been, it’s been less active because, because of the pandemic, but I had started a group for people who plan literary events and conferences. So we can ask boring questions like, uh, How much for a rental room rental for a weekend.
And that kind of thing, because if you do or have planned such events, you know, that there are so many different moving pieces. Um, if you’re planning, [00:15:00] just if you’re planning just a face to face reading aren’t nowadays, if you’re planning a virtual reading, there’s a lot to, to, um, keep in mind. So that group has been less active.
I think it’s called literary planners advocacy group or something like that. Um, part of the fun is making up names for this.
Trish Hopkinson: I really, I appreciate all the, the different, um, insight you’re giving us on some of those space with group names. And, um, so what would you like to see more of in the literary community?
What do you think we’re, we’re still kind of lacking?
Allison Joseph: That’s that’s interesting. Um, and I had to think about this fairly recently because I had applied to be poet Lord of the state of Illinois, which I was top three. I was not eventually chosen, but I had to [00:16:00] start thinking about like, if I were poet Laureate, uh, what sort of projects?
And I’m happy to say that the selection of Angela Jackson as Illinois poet, Laura, she’s doing many of the things I would have done anyway. She’s working with youth, which I think is always important and under done as many programs as you see out there that target youth with the literary arts, there are always, there’s always more of a need.
You can always reach more, more, um, students at different levels. Uh, Also, I’m interested in integrating poetry with other arts, whether it’s poetry and music, poetry, and visual arts poetry and stand up comedy, whatever it is. Um, just having [00:17:00] Brittany and audience to, to poetry that may not think they even like poetry.
Trish Hopkinson: I love that. I love that. I think that is, I mean, I’ve, we’ve seen a lot more. Since the pandemic of, of film with poetry, which I really loved seeing like some of these short films that have been put based on poetry with the poem. Yeah. Really great stuff. I wish I knew a little bit more about filmmaking because I think that would be a really fascinating thing to dig into. But as you mentioned, focusing on your strengths, I’m not going to become a filmographer any day so that’s not what I probably will explore, but I would love to partner with someone, you know, on something like that in the future. What, what has really helped you the most as a writer?
What has helped me the most?
Allison Joseph: Well, being, being married [00:18:00] for 27 years, partnered with 31 years to another. Um, and I think that’s, for me, that’s why the last couple of years have been difficult losing John, John trouble. My husband in 2019 before all this stuff started. Um, I realized how, if, you know, there are so many popular culture tropes about if artists or writers get married to one another, it’s going to be.
I know smash bottles and dashed dreams, but we were really a team. And, uh, I miss having someone who shares my history as a writer and could push me and I push him. So I. You know, um, having someone, it doesn’t necessarily have to be your spouse. It wasn’t my case, but having someone who understands [00:19:00] that you’re going to be a little janky sometimes because you’ve got something going on up here, you’re going to be a little strange or you’re going to just, you know, disappear for a couple days because you’re working on something.
And someone who is willing to, and this does not necessarily have to be another writer, but if you have a really good first reader, someone who can read your early manuscripts, it could be, it can be a fellow writer, but also there are really wonderful people who are pleasure readers, um, and they can read your work.
As well as any agent or editor or PR publishing professional. Um, so some people look into that have a, having a friend or someone they knew, went to graduate school with who continues to be [00:20:00] a first reader for the.
Trish Hopkinson: I’ve had a lot of success in that. Just, um, swapping manuscripts with other poets and writers.
It’s really great when you can sort of, you know, exchange, uh, that extra work it’s, it’s nice to, to share and get someone to support. Support you I’ve done that with book reviews too, which was super fun where we, you know, reviewed each other’s books. And, and then when the magazine published it, they specifically talked about how we had done that.
So it was really great, cause it was very transparent, you know, that we were helping each other out and it was, it was really a great, great project. So how come you were signed up for your pages?
Allison Joseph: Well, that’s a great thing since it’s now a blog, rather than a list people just go to the list and check it out, go, go to the blog and check it out.
Um, uh, so there’s no signing [00:21:00] up, which was a big relief for me when I did it as list, there were always problems with people not getting the postings or the postings going into someone’s junk or someone signing up for it. And then remember it not remembering, they signed up for it and getting mad that they were getting all these postings. I’m like, you signed up for this. I never signed anybody up for it, but you know, writers are also, um, forgetful, but just to it’s, uh, Creative Writing Opportunities. Perfect. That’s all anyone needs to know. And there’s a service called blog Trotter. Some people were like, but I need, I must say emails. I might sign up for blog, Trotter and blog Trotter. We’ll send the post to you [00:22:00] as emails. And that’s what I do.
Trish Hopkinson: Yeah, no, that’s a great, great tip because you can actually use that for any blog that you’re following. Excellent. Do you have any other advice for telltale listeners?
Allison Joseph: I have been, uh, during the pandemic doing so much writing, um, between the pandemic and doing, uh, elegiac grief, writing of my own. So as things, hopefully move back to a more normal world, maybe a world where COVID is not pandemic, but endemic finally. And this is a task I assigned [00:23:00] for myself, finding the strength to turn that pandemic writing into what will constitute literature to move our writing back to the forefront, because it’s really hard right now for me to feel, oh God writing literary magazines, contests workshops, conferences.
It’s still. So hard to conceive of the mattering. So getting back the spirit that yes, these things do matter and a literary expression, our literary lives do matter. Um, but we’ve been living basically under emergency orders for two going on three years now. So it’s going to take some time to. And I’m, I’m hoping there are no more variants lurking for us, [00:24:00] uh, that we can get back to receptions with punch and cookies, uh, particularly for, I think it will be storytelling, poetry, stand up, create any kind of creative expressions will be really important to, to the rehabilitation of children and teens. Um, I mean, there’s no, there’s, there’s a, a reason why tick-tock blew up big because people needed, needed an outlet. What scares me about Tik TOK is mouthing someone’s words isn’t enough. You have to find your own words.
Trish Hopkinson: I love that. The kids and the teens have had the roughest time during the pandemic.
And it feels like it’s going to take some momentum, you know, to, to bring them back, get, get them caught [00:25:00] up. So I, yeah, I think that’s all really important to mention. I know a lot of us did do a lot of writing over the pandemic, but then, you know, thinking of it as getting back to it as this is an art and it’s important and it needs to be out there.
I think that is going to be the next step. And it’s going to be a little bit harder.
Allison Joseph: Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s going to be hard because, um, cause you can get stuck in these pandemic patterns of, um, basically pulling the blankets over your head and going back to bed, right?
Trish Hopkinson: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, hopefully we will get to see each other again in person, sometime in the future, maybe the next AWP or some other event. I, uh, I have been known. I need to go to Illinois for work. So maybe at [00:26:00] some point we can connect.
That would be fantastic. Thank you so much for your time today. This was awesome. And, uh, give us the crops website. One more time. The blog
Allison Joseph: Creative Writing Opportunities
Trish Hopkinson: Thank you so much, please enjoy the rest of your Sunday. And, uh, we will talk again.
Allison Joseph: All right. Thank you.