Today I’ve got something a little different for you: Casey Lawrence, a good friend of mine and an author who was interviewed here in 2015, has come back to The Dabbler, this time wearing an editor’s hat. She’s spent the past several months working on an anthology entitled 11/9: The Fall of American Democracy, a collection of poetry and prose that focuses on highlighting marginalized voices. We had a lovely chat about the anthology editing process, why anthologies like this one are so important, and how writers can turn their political despair into creative energy. All that below the fold–but first, the blurb!
Presenting the diverse voices of those most affected by the results of the 2016 American presidential election, 11/9: The Fall of American Democracy is a charitable project meant to prioritize and highlight marginalized writers for a good cause. One hundred percent of profits from the sale of this book will be donated to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, and the ACLU, the nonprofit organization defending the constitutional rights of Americans.
11/9: The Fall of American Democracy contains the work of a number of award-winning poets and authors including Roger Aplon, Laura Foley, Alan w. Jankowski, Mike Jurkovic, Sergio A. Ortiz, Mindela Ruby, Claire Scott, and Jan Steckel, in addition to a number of unpublished poets and fresh young voices. From a precocious four-year-old writer to octogenarians, amateur poets to Pushcart nominees, American expats to teens who have never left their hometown, this volume collects poetry and short prose reflecting on 11/9/16, a dark day in American history.
Can you tell us a bit about 11/9: The Fall of American Democracy?
11/9 is a collection of poetry and short prose reflecting on the day that Donald Trump was named the US President Elect last November. There are more than fifty authors involved in the project, coming from diverse backgrounds. But what’s really unique about the project is that all the proceeds are going to charity. Every poet who contributed a piece to this anthology did so to help raise money for two very worthy causes—RAINN and the ACLU—which makes it all the more amazing that we had so many submissions, many of them from accomplished poets and authors.
For example, Laura Foley, whose collection Joy Street won the 2014 Bisexual Book Award for poetry, contributed her poem “Corked” to us, which describes the moving moment so many Americans experienced that night when bottles of champagne remained unopened. Three-time Pushcart nominee and 2012 Lambda Literary Award winner Jan Steckel shared two poems with us, one of which is appearing for the first time in 11/9. Other award-winning contributors to the book include Roger Aplon, Alan W. Jankowski, Mike Jurkovic, Sergio A. Ortiz, Mindela Ruby, and Claire Scott—as well as many, many more.
I think the most amazing thing, though, was getting to hear from new young poets—from those who hadn’t been published before. We had a number of submissions by teenagers who, frustrated by the election results, may have picked up the pen to write a poem for the very first time, and I think that is perhaps the best feeling in the world. Editing 11/9 has reminded me of the importance of words; the anthology really showcases the power of poetry, which I think is important in these uncertain times.
You were obviously inspired by the American election; how quickly did your outrage at the results turn into inspiration for this anthology?
I talk about this in my introduction to the book, but it was almost immediately that I knew I wanted to do something, although I wasn’t quite sure what. I went the whole day on November 8 in media blackout; I was so nervous about the election results that I unplugged from social media to help quell the anxiety. When I finally worked up the nerve to check, just after midnight, my heart sunk. I tried to write a poem before bed, but when I woke up on the morning of November 9, it felt wholly inadequate. I’m not sure when the idea to do an anthology really solidified for me—maybe a few days, a week. But when I pitched the idea to Billy and he was on board, I knew it was the right thing.
You co-edited this anthology with author William D. Dickerson. How did you split up the work?
From the very start this project has been my baby, and I think sometimes I hogged the responsibilities and was hesitant to give up the reins when maybe I should have. Billy and I have been friends for a long time—he was the first person to read Out of Order, and the one who convinced me to publish it—so I value his opinion and am confident in his abilities as a writer and editor. He had to put up with me being a control freak this whole time, but thankfully, we really complemented each other, especially with the kinds of experience we brought to the project.
Billy really grounded the whole thing in reality. When my big ideas soared, he brought it all back down to earth with the practicalities, and he’s still doing that. For the most part, I’ve been the face of the project, handling the communication and organization of the writers (you can’t imagine the number of emails I’ve had to send over the last few months), and Billy’s done a lot of the behind-the-scenes work. He’s the one who has formatted the manuscript and handled the business side of things while I did marketing, social media, and graphic design. Of course, we’re both writers first and foremost, and that made the actual editing of the anthology rather easy; we both worked equally with the text, double checking each other’s work, and that part was quite simple.
What was the hardest part of putting 11/9: The Fall of American Democracy together?
The hardest part for sure was organization. We always had a number of open documents and spreadsheets trying to keep straight who had given us what and when. How many poems were submitted, how many we accepted into the anthology, how many people had or hadn’t yet signed the contracts we went out, who edited which poem—all of that data was crucial at any given step in the project, and I am not good at data management. It was a real learning process, trying to figure out the best way to store and communicate with each other, and it didn’t always work. I could never have gotten it all done without Billy, as well as the patience of our contributors, who put up with my constant pestering and occasional amnesia.
What do you hope to accomplish with this anthology?
The goal was always to raise money for a good cause with this project. We chose RAINN, the USA’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, and the ACLU, for their work fighting for the constitutional rights of Americans. Every dollar we make will be split 50/50 between these organizations, putting our money where our mouths are.
Additionally, the poems and stories in 11/9 are so important as a mode of resistance. We really wanted to highlight diverse voices and give everyone affected by the election results a chance to speak. To be able to share this kind of poetry with the world is a beautiful thing, and I’m glad to have been a part of it.
What advice would you give to other creatives trying to turn political outrage & despair into art?
My advice would be to just let it out. Let it be what it needs to be. Even if it isn’t “good,” whatever that means, the act of creating something can be so cathartic and can help you to overcome negative feelings and find the strength to resist. And, of course, share. Share your art with the world. Post your poem on Facebook, tweet your feelings, Instagram your artwork—there is someone out there who feels the same and who will feel validated and less alone when they see that you do too.
Now that the anthology’s out, what’s next for you? Got any big creative endeavors you’d like to share?
My second book, Order in the Court, is up for a Bisexual Book Award this June. I’m going to be doing a reading and book signing at the BBAs in New York City at Westbeth Centre for the Arts on June 10, which is incredibly exciting. I’ve also got a speaking engagement at the International James Joyce Conference in Toronto, where I’ll be presenting a paper titled, “The Link Between Nations and Generations: Cissy Caffrey as Racialized and Gendered Other in James Joyce’s Ulysses” on June 22. After that, who knows? I’m still plodding away at the third book in the Survivor’s Club Series, and I’ve got another unrelated book in the works—a sci-fi novel. Maybe in the two months before I start my Master’s Degree this fall, I’ll have one or both of those ready for you guys.
About The Editor
Casey Lawrence is an undergraduate English Language and Literature student at Brock University minoring in French and German. The vice-president of the Gay-Straight Alliance and editor of the yearbook in high school, she now volunteers with the Brock English Students’ Association, Brock Faith & Life, Brock Pride, and, most notably, the Brock Leaders Citizenship Society. She lives at home with her mother, grandmother, and her adorable seven-pound Yorkie, Bindi, in Ontario, Canada, where her bedroom is packed wall-to-wall with books. She reads everything from classics to comic books, and is an insatiable consumer of all kinds of stories.