THE BLOG

Why the Definition of 'Good Writing' Needs a Transformation

02/27/2015 06:18 pm ET | Updated Apr 29, 2015

Carey Salerno, Executive Editor of Alice James Books and a Literary Arts Curator supporting the launch of Pen and Brush's new programming, shares what she has learned throughout her career in publishing and her experience as a poet and a writer. Read on for the first installment of our conversation, including Carey's thoughts on diversity, e-publishing, and challenges that exist in the industry.

Janice Sands (JS): Alice James Books (AJB) was founded over four decades ago, on the principle idea of allowing women access to publishing and involving authors in the process. What do you believe was the biggest lesson learned in order to grow and be successful in this endeavor?

Carey Salerno (CS): Yes, the press was founded to give women writers a chance and a voice. A little known fact is that of the seven founders of AJB, two were men, and the press does also publish men. One of the biggest lessons, I think, is one we are always learning--that of balance. We are constantly negotiating how to continually adapt in the evolving field of publishing, how to remain open to change and possibility, and how, at the same time, to remain present in our mission and its resolve.

JS: What are the biggest challenges facing the publishing world right now?

CS: Gosh, there are so many. For poetry, it's the digital market. It remains difficult for us to completely integrate our books for e-reading, and we still need to restrict elements of some of the work we publish when creating an eBook. For instance, one challenge we face with eBooks is line integrity; it is impossible, given the liberty of the individual reader to customize their reading experience (font, font size, etc.) to ensure the purity of the line communication between poet and reader. This can present an impasse for poets. There are ways of working through it, like suggesting font and font size for "maximum reading enjoyment," but really there's no control over what will happen once a person has the eBook in hand or how the final communication of the text's formal elements will transpire. I think this, in turn, calls into question the ways in which poems are read and intended to be read, widening the gap and potentially causing a breach of understanding.

Other challenges we continue to face are finding enough spaces for women, transgender, and racially diverse voices. Yes, there are more publishing opportunities available to writers with the existence of online venues now, but when we consider mainstream literature we still have a dramatic imbalance of representation. There needs to be more validation and equity. There needs to be less marginalization and dismissal of subject matter based on it being gendered or racial. There's a strong sense of what makes good writing in our culture, and that definition sorely needs reconstruction, but of course that type of sea change won't happen overnight. Consider the creation of AJB; what was at the forefront of its founders' minds then is still at the forefront of ours today.

JS: Why did you decide to sign on as a Literary Curator for Pen and Brush?

CS: What excites me most about Pen and Brush is its commitment to women artists. There's incredible energy at the organization right now, and I felt it so immediately in speaking with you, Janice, and Associate Director, Dawn. Since its inception, the institution has focused heavily on the visual arts, but now has created an opportunity for writers, which is amazing. Pen and Brush is really trying to do something. The organization is the real deal, and at the same time, it is intensifying its programming. Pen and Brush is also moving into a new space in the Flatiron District, which is exciting. When you first approached me about doing this work, I was immediately moved by your dedication to women artists and inspired by the possibilities for artists via the organization. The new space and programming will even allow for all types of hybrid expressions of art. I certainly don't want to miss out!