Saturday, January 7, 2017

Surprise donation offers assurance: Your work matters

The meaty heels of my palms are resting on a sleek, cold MacBook Air as I type this post. I’m not used to the keyboard yet—its new dimensions. The letters are a little closer together than on my old machine, but the keys are springy and responsive. I can type the letter “O” and an “O” will show up, without the gape-mouthed, stunned surprise I’m used to from that will-it-or-won’t-it vowel.

Where did I get a new MacBook? It was an unexpected gift from a benefactor—a patron of the arts, my own private Medici.

Recently I tossed up a throwaway social media post about my dying keyboard and finger pad, my laggy cursor, my overheated case, my spinning rainbow wheel. Instantly, I received a private message from a Facebook friend, asking what kind of computer I was looking for.

I wasn’t sure why my friend was asking me this, but I answered honestly: I wanted a simple laptop, preferably a Mac, and a small one that would be easy to carry around with me. My friend asked for my address and then sent me a link to track delivery of my very own brand new laptop, due to arrive at my home within days.

There was just one condition: I wasn’t to reveal the name of the donor. This is something the person enjoys doing from time to time—covering the needs of a literary artist, merely because the benefactor is in the position to do so. The person was quite adamant on one point: public credit or thanks were not wanted. 

In return for this stunning gift, I committed myself—and still do, permanently—to passing the kindness along to artists, and specifically to writers (the benefactor, too, is a writer, and a talented one). As an adjunct college instructor, I’m not in a position to buy anyone a laptop, so I’m going to have to be creative to do justice to this amazing boon I’ve received—but I am creative, and that’s why someone chose to support my work in this way.

I’ve been brainstorming for some ways to be a better member of the literary community, and I’ve fixed on one plan above all others: starting and sustaining dialogue about writers and writing. 

Regular readers will note that I’ve picked up the daily blogging practice again, and each day I post two things: an appreciation of a contemporary book of poetry and an essay on writing. This is no accident. It’s how I’m starting the process of giving back to the literary community—to share the insights I gained as an editor for a couple of decades and to begin conversations about (and, I hope, to build readers for) books of poetry.

After each book review post, I go straight to Amazon to post my appreciation there, because I think it’s really useful for writers to get reviews. I’m always asking my own readers to post a review—good, bad, or indifferent, although I hope good—to my Amazon listing for No More Milk (Sundress, 2016), because buzz is helpful for building a readership. And just imagine the conversation we could get going if more readers shared their opinions about the books they were reading. I would love to see more conversation about poetry in the culture.

There are a lot of other ways I can contribute to writers and the writing community:

  • Share favorite poems on social media.
  • Write book reviews for journals and magazines that publish them.
  • Take advantage of local opportunities to build “offline” relationships.
  • Volunteer to teach workshops for populations that could especially benefit, like homeless teens or prisoners at the correctional facility in my town.
  • Offer to provide feedback for fellow writers who need it.
  • Support nonprofit presses and publishers with donations, contest entry fees, and subscriptions.
  • Stay observant for smaller financial needs of writers that I am able to cover.

I take away a key message from my large, unexpected gift, and that is that I’m worthy of support. My writing matters. I really want to “pay it forward” in a tangible way—to help other writers in the spirit within which I have been helped—but the support I received communicates to me that I need to keep writing as a priority. Someone thinks my voice is important; someone thinks I’ve got the stuff.

It’s not always easy to see our own worth; it feels cocky to believe that poems have their own value. But the backing of a donor forces me to confront the idea that my writing itself is a meaningful way to serve. I’m going to choose to look at it as a mission, and to keep it up—to devote the best part of myself to my work.


  1. Karen, you are so deserving of the gift! You were already do the things you say you want to do: you contribute to writers every day, whether it's on your blog or a Facebook post, you inspire.

    1. Thank you so much for saying so! This amazing act of kindness makes me want to go very big with the love I give in return. :)

  2. This is fabulous. I'm so glad your benefactor exists, and I'm a huge believer in contributing to the literary community in ways you've described. Thanks for all you do!!!

    1. I've seen YOU contribute in so many ways! Let's go out there and work magic. :)