Sunday, March 22, 2015

Welcome to a Community of Writers

We live in an age of constant digital interaction thanks to our various gadgets and social networks. I'm no technophile but I recently became the owner of an iPod Touch, which is basically an iPhone without the phone. (All I wanted was a music player... but apparently they don't make them like they used to!) Thankfully, this strange Apple product makes listening to podcasts extremely easy which means I have been geeking out on past On Being episodes as well as the newest, coolest podcast, Dear Sugar.

Dear Sugar was an advice column started on The Rumpus a few years back by Steve Almond who later gave the reins over to Cheryl Strayed. Now they have switched over the radio (because radio is all the rage, didn't ya know?) and I am hooked.

Now, this isn't just your regular advice column. When you've got two powerhouse writers running the show, you better believe things are going to get interesting. Almost every show, they call up their friends to weigh in on a question. Luckily for us listeners, these friends also happen to be people like Roxane Gay, George Saunders, Steve Elliott, and Elizabeth Gilbert. Only some of the greatest writers of our time... So yes, these podcasts makes me giddy like a schoolgirl because it's like eavesdropping on a conversation between your favorite writers. We get to hear them being candid and wise and funny and it's simply glorious.

Which brings me to the point of this post: writers and their online presence.

The internet presents several challenges for the modern artist, but it also provides a communal space for sharing and connecting with one another - whether you're a Pulitzer prize-winning author, an avid reader, or a hopeful writer.

Whereas before there was a barrier between writers and their readers, that gap is narrowing everyday, in large thanks to the interweb. Although not all writers partake in the digital world, you'd be surprised how many of them do take advantage of social media.

For example, Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) has one of the most fascinating and inspiring pages on Facebook. She posts almost daily about whatever is on her mind that day, whether it be an idea from a book she's reading or a thought provoked by a walk around her neighborhood. She usually includes an uplifting message for aspiring artists/anyone. Not only does she share her thoughts with the world, but she responds to her readers personally, encouraging dialogue between her readers.

Some other examples: Roxane Gay tweets hilarious messages all day and edits an online magazine, Butter. Jesmyn Ward keeps a blog. Joyce Carol Oates is an active tweeter. Even dead writers have an online presence! Raymond Carver and Sylvia Plath both have Twitter pages.

Although some can take social media to an extreme, I appreciate the communal space that it provides  writers and readers to connect. It brings everyone onto a level playing field, in a way. The barriers come down on the internet. Writers are able to communicate informally, which also allows us to get an insider's view into their lives and psyches.

Good art should provoke healthy dialogue, and the internet is a place where those conversations can be held. Thankfully, we can all be a part of this huge, beautiful, messy, artistic world.