Earlier this year, the online literary organization Fear No Litannounced its first ever Submerging Writer Fellowship. This Fellowship is for writers who have not published a book, have won no major awards, and are not currently enrolled in an MFA or PhD program. And who have a story to tell about their own near-lit-death experience.
The Split Lip editorial team got curious about how this fellowship works and where it came from. So, after overcoming a few time-zone mishaps, I sat down to chat online with Tyler Barton, one half of the FNL brain trust, to talk about elaborate puns, the joys and hardships of AWP, and the need for good literary citizenship.
Fear No Lit - 7:37 PM Hi Scott! Hope I'm not too late. I'm on central time, so I was worried we might be off a bit. my bad
Scott Lyon - 7:38 PM No worries. I'm here.
Fear No Lit - 7:38 PM Awesome.
Scott Lyon - 7:39 PM You're in Minneapolis, right? Is that where Fear No Lit is based, too?
Fear No Lit - 7:40 PM Mankato, MN, about an hour south of the twin cities. Erin Dorney and I (Fear No Lit) are based here for one more year until I graduate from my MFA. We plan for FNL to be mobile, to be wherever we are. We've actually got events on the books for Mankato, Lancaster PA, and Tampa in the next nine months.
Scott Lyon - 7:41 PM That's fantastic. Spreading literary cheer all over.
So it sounds like it's really the two of you running the whole thing.
Fear No Lit - 7:42 PM We run it, yes, but our site wouldn't run without our contributors. Erin and I each contribute roughly an article (or podcast) per month, but our contributors fill the rest of the schedule.
Scott Lyon - 7:43 PM Where did the idea for the Submerging Writer Fellowship come from?
Fear No Lit - 7:44 PM It's lame to say, but actually a lot of our ideas start this way. We came up with a pun/joke and then decided to make the pun a real thing. It was like, "There are so many emerging writer fellowships."
Fear No Lit - 7:45 PM haha yeah. So then we just asked ourselves what a submerging writer would even be. And it hit on a lot of the stuff Erin and I (and, honestly, all our writer friends, when we're hanging out privately) talk about all the time. Which is: how hard it is to feel like you're making any progress. We've always been drawn to the idea that writers should talk about failure and disappointment more. We're pro-honesty and over-sharing and bitching and ultimately deriving hope from hearing our feelings reflected by other writers. And we just wanted to make an award that was for the most down-on-their-luck-but-kick-ass writer we could find.
Scott Lyon - 7:49 PM In the application you ask writers to talk about their contributions to the literary community. Reading and writing are solitary acts, famously so, but you seem to want to underscore something else. What is that? What is it you see that needs fostering?
Fear No Lit - 7:52 PM This is kind of a preoccupation of mine. I do believe that writing comes first, but I also believe every writer who hopes to publish and enter any community of writers should look for ways to give back, grow the community, preach the gospel of lit, etc. Of course, for some writers, that energy or time or sometimes, simply, willingness isn't there, and I can understand that, too. I just get so much of a sense of belonging from literary community, and often I'm more excited to hear about how and why and what people are doing to create and sustain community than anything else. As corny as it may sound, I just value literary citizenship. Erin and I both do, I should say. That's what FNL is for us, a way to engage and foster lit community. I also fucking love readings. Any kind of reading, as awful as they can sometimes be.
Scott Lyon - 7:56 PM I know what you mean. Readings can be really energizing, and for all the really shitty ones we've all been to, I bet each of us can think of one that set us on fire. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I wonder how you might define literary citizenship. It's an interesting idea, one that I think is somewhat special in our time.
Fear No Lit - 7:58 PM Yeah, that's a good question. My friend Jim Warner talks to writers about this a lot on his Citizen Lit podcast. I think it can mean so many different things. I brought up readings because that's an obvious one, and something I've been doing (organizing, hosting, attending) since sophomore year in undergrad. But I know some people are nervous around a full room, especially a room of writers, who can be kinda weird, and maybe that person's form of lit community is writing reviews, or attending online readings like Sundress Pub's Poets in Pajamas. I think it can also be just buying small press books, working for lit mags, being someone who hypes good work on twitter, emailing a writer to say something you wrote touched them. In a word, it just means effort. You're writing your own stuff, but in some part of your other time, you're putting energy into helping other people be writers, too.
Scott Lyon - 8:00 PM Or throw a lifesaver to a struggling writer.
Fear No Lit - 8:00 PM Yeah, totally. Or interview a couple of people who made a fellowship as a joke.
Scott Lyon - 8:02 PM Hah. OK, fair.
The rewards of this Fellowship are manifold - I mean, a chapbook, great! - but heavily centered on AWP. How or why did you arrive at that?
Fear No Lit - 8:04 PM Well, this is again coming from our perspective, which is that we think AWP can be a great thing. I know a lot of other writers would disagree, but we've only been going for two years in a row now, so maybe its shine will wear off eventually. I just think it is a place that can do a lot for a writer. I can't say anything tangible that's come out of AWP besides meeting people I know online in person, seeing great readings and talks, and buying a ton of awesome books, but it's mostly helped me to feel like this community is a real thing that I want to keep working to be a part of. And the biggest barrier to AWP, I think, (which sucks), is that to go can cost a lot. Mostly travel and room, but even the money you have to pay to get in can be a drag on a bank account. It would be for me if my MFA didn't pay for it.
Scott Lyon - 8:06 PM Yeah, it's expensive. I haven't been since I finished my MFA.
Fear No Lit - 8:06 PM So we just wanted to give the writer a chance to enter that space if they haven't. And also we love doing events and wanted to do an event at AWP really bad. Did you like it? Going to AWP?
Scott Lyon - 8:09 PM I would say I had a mixed experience. The parts you just enumerated were great. It can be a bit of a frenzy, and social competition isn't my favorite milieu, but I also found time to slip away and catch my breath and come back feeling good. I've been twice. I'd go again. I met amazing people and learned a lot about who's doing what in the indie publishing world. Invaluable for those reasons.
Fear No Lit - 8:10 PM Yeah, it can be overwhelming too. It's also just fun to see writers having fun.
Scott Lyon - 8:14 PM With this Fellowship, how will the judging of the applications work? Will Jennifer Givhan choose the winner based on the creative work, or the whole application?
Fear No Lit - 8:16 PM We'll send the ten applications we favor the most to Jen at the end of September, and she'll have a month to pick a winner and three finalists by the end of October. The winner gets the prize and the finalists will get free admission to AWP if they want it. As for what Jen will be seeing, you know, this is something Erin and I have been talking about, and we don't have an answer yet. Originally I thought just the work, but now that we've actually been going through submissions, reading some of the answers to these app questions, we're just blown away by people's stories of why and how they've become 'submerged' and the myriad, weird, and amazing ways they create literary community. So it's tough, and this is our first year, and we're still working out the kinks. What do you think? Should we send her the whole app?
Scott Lyon - 8:21 PM Hmm. Well, I guess the reason I ask is because I tried thinking about the application as if I were going to apply. A lot of emerging writers' contests emphasize how much it's just about the creative work itself. So, if this is for Submerging Writers, maybe what's floating around the edges is more important? I think if I answered the (really great) questions you pose in the application, I'd want them considered. I imagine you'll find a lot of inspiration from those applications.
Fear No Lit - 8:23 PM Yeah, it's been great so far. We look forward to reading more. And thanks for the input. I think we're leaning that way too.
Scott Lyon - 8:24 PM On a technical note, what can or should folks submit? Fiction and poems? Nonfiction?
Fear No Lit - 8:24 PM Applicants can send fiction, poetry, or CNF. Any combination of that, published or not, up to ten pages.
Scott Lyon - 8:27 PM Got it.
Last thing. You ask applicants to name a mistake they've made as writers. What's a mistake you've made as a writer?
Fear No Lit - 8:30 PM I've got so many, and they sound so small, but they feel so big and emblematic. Like hosting a reading and then reading at my own reading. Like addressing the wrong editor and naming the wrong magazine in a submission because I got lazy and copy and pasted my cover letter. Like ending a story where the character was really a ghost and thinking that was clever, like The Sixth Sense never existed, and then actually sending it out. My biggest continuing mistake is thinking about myself too much and not listening enough. But I think that's a mistake that translates to life in general.
Scott Lyon - 8:31 PM Thanks a lot, T, and best of luck sifting through so many great applicants. It's gonna be tough.
Fear No Lit - 8:32 PM Thanks so much for doing this, Scott. Really, it means a lot.
Scott Lyon - 8:32 PM You bet. Hope we get to meet irl sometime soon.
Fear No Lit - 8:34 PM Definitely. If you can afford everything that goes with attending AWP, there's a drink in it for you.