SUBMITATHON! as Applied Feminist Epistemology: Rejecting Models of Scarcity, Believing in Plenty
When I was a Stanford sophomore I took a class called Feminist Epistemology—I know, right?—that looked at ways of learning and doing and knowing and talked about were they feminist or not. It was hard. I remember reading and talking about the importance of individual “pathfinders” not obscuring the work or the process, so everyone could benefit from what the “pathfinder” figured out.
We apparently still have a hard time agreeing on what “feminist” means, and I was never clear on “epistemology.” Mostly I remember the class because I thought “pathfinder” was a stupid label, and I doodled SUVs in my notebook, rolling their headlight eyes. But I also remember we decided Feminist Epistemology had less to do with gender and more with transparency, opportunity, shared resources, community. No “old boys’ club,” no acting like questions were tacky or unbecoming. That anybody can figure out how to open the door, and hold it to let everybody in. I liked that.
When I was in grad school an older writer I knew got a great adjunct gig. I asked how you do that, how you find out about jobs, what steps you take to get such a cool one. There was a long pause, and then a small, pained “I’m not comfortable sharing that with you.”
When I was a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center, Mark Wunderlich told me the difference between a CV and a résumé. I asked if I could see his CV, and he emailed it to me so I could use it as a template for putting together my own. He emailed it to me like it was no big deal.
Those two more experienced writers helped me figure out what kind of grownup I wanted to be. Most every favor’s no big deal, and I’m not comfortable being pained or small. When it comes to opportunities for writers, I believe in plenty. And so far that’s worked out awesome.
So. “Applied Feminist Epistemology: Rejecting the Model of Scarcity, Believing in Plenty.” That’s my jam. It could be the title of the job talk I gave at UMass Boston, any of the syllabi or pedagogical statements I use as models in The Teaching of Creative Writing. Here’s a small, fresh example: SUBMITATHON!
Students were scheduling private meetings with me to ask about submitting work, and I gave them each an overview: read lots of magazines—Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard is a rich resource, and Duotrope is helpful. Then send your work out to places publishing work you like. Read guidelines, stay organized, do it over and over. Submit work to the next place on the list whenever it comes back from the first, so all your beautiful polished finished work is always out being considered by somebody.
I had this same talk over and over until I understood sometimes my students weren’t just ignorant of how this stuff worked, but also really nervous about it. I offered to let some watch me while I submitted my own work, and they were so relieved and grateful I realized I was on to something. So what the hell—I made it a party.
As far as I know, I invented Submitathon. Sometimes I spell it SUBMIT-A-THON! or SUBMITATHON!—I like it when it has caps and an exclamation point, to make up for how boring submitting work can be. Writing is fun. Reading great literary magazines is fantastic. But the secretarial work of sending your work out, over and over, is a pain in the ass. So. Caps, italics, and exclams: oh, my! Bold that shit! UNDERLINE IT! My sister Susan wears a tiara when she washes dishes. Same deal.
Sometimes SUBMITATHON! is for digital submissions, showing people how Duotrope works, me narrating how to go through and submit to magazines, the nice things I say to hard-working, underappreciated magazine staff in my cover letters, how I keep track of which poems are out where. Sometimes Submitathon! provides stationery, copies, and postage for print submissions. Once Tanya Larkin was there, talking about work/life balance while I held her cheerful baby and let her get some work done. There’s always pizza, soda, candy, and publishing advice for anybody who shows up. I put out a heap of Mardi Gras beads and whenever someone clicks SUBMIT or throws an envelope in the outbox, they pick some beads as a prize.
Last spring UMB MFA students and pals submitted 135 poems and stories in 87 submissions to magazines from Agni to Zyzzyva in two two-hour SUBMITATHON!s. Look what we did! 135! 87! There’s collective pride: my, what big numbers we have! Plus which, pizza and community. Nice distractions from the usual Tedium and Desire, with a Fear chaser.
People talk about how it’s lonely being a writer. I don’t think that’s exactly right, at least not in a city like Boston. For the writing time you WANT to be left alone, right? So it must just be this other stuff, this worrying about money and prizes and readers and publishing. About rejection and putting yourself out there and how incredibly boring it is to do the secretarial work of submitting. And. Waiting. To. Hear. Back.
That part doesn’t go away. I’m moderating an AWP 2015 panel with Jay Hopler, Major Jackson, Kimberly Johnson, and Brando Skyhorse, called “Publishing Sucks, Even When You Are Good At It.” For Real. Look:
Event description: Five successful, published, prize-winning writers from all over the country bare all. We will share our publishing anxieties, grudges, and horror stories; our awkward bookfair shynesses; our lists of the places that haven’t ever taken a piece. Not one. Even though we keep sending them our very. best. work. We’ll offer insights and strategies that have worked, too, and offer plenty of time for Q&A and sympathy with audience members’ own publishing troubles.
Statement of Merit: “Submission.” Abasing yourself before the editors of a magazine or publisher you admire, hoping to be allowed to join the club. Even people who publish widely have their share of trouble. An open, funny, real conversation about submission and rejection hardly ever happens, and it’s a relief to hear others’ stories. Combine this willingness to share humiliating stories with some practical advice, and we have the panel everyone wants to attend.
I was delighted to discover it’s the only time the word “sucks” appears in the 103 page catalog of panels: so much easier to find with a keyword search. Come see us.
And if you’re a writer near Boston, come to the next SUBMITATHON!—everyone is welcome. Email me and say you’re coming, so we order enough pizza. And candy. Maybe for the next one I’ll bring in my office door from home; it’s decoupaged with rejection slips, and it looks really cool.
The next SUBMITATHON! is 12/2, in the UMass-Boston campus center, Room 3540, at 5pm. Eileen Myles is reading in the same room at 4pm, so it’s a twofer. Come for Eileen, stay for pizza and company. Email jill(dot)mcdonough(at)umb(dot)edu for details. She’s also happy to add your magazine or contest or whatever to the list of contacts and deadlines she’ll give SUBMITATHON!ers.
The winner of three Pushcart prizes, Jill McDonough is the author of Habeas Corpus (Salt, 2008), Oh, James! (Seven Kitchens, 2012), and Where You Live (Salt, 2012). The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and Stanford’s Stegner program, she taught incarcerated college students through Boston University’s Prison Education Program for thirteen years. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Slate, The Nation, The Threepenny Review, and Best American Poetry. She directs the MFA program at UMass-Boston and 24PearlStreet, the Fine Arts Work Center online.