Blog: Dan Wickett

It has been said that you should write to be understood. Dan Wickett, executive director and publisher of Dzanc Books, an independent press and literary advocate, offers up resources for those tangled in the oft-solitary pursuit of creative writing, and speaks to how writers impact our economic, social, and cultural issues.

Post 3: Beyond the desk: Authors head up community outreach programs

What can an author do these days, beyond writing, to make a difference?  I think one of the best ways of answering this question is to show what some Washtenaw County authors have been doing recently.

Elizabeth Ellen is one such author.  She's seen numerous stories and poems published over the course of the last five or six years, as well as a chapbook, Before You She Was a Pitbull (Future Tense Press, 2006) and 1/4th of the chapbook, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness (Rose Metal Press, 2008).

In the past year, Elizabeth has started the Great Lakes Great Times Reading Series, bringing over three dozen authors from around the country to Ann Arbor over the past year.  As fewer and fewer publishing houses are spending money to send their authors out on book tours, having a reading series that covers the costs for authors, especially those published on independent presses, is needed more and more.  In setting up and moderating this series, Elizabeth Ellen has helped to fill a void that was created when Shaman Drum closed its doors, allowing those from the area to continue to have access to great writers and their work.

Scott Beal, Jeff Kass, and Matt Bell are a trio of local authors that have helped us out at Dzanc Books by running some of our Dzanc Writer in Residence Programs  (DWIRPs) working in coordination with a local teacher and attending that teacher's class once per week for the duration of a school year.  The author works with the same children week after week, promoting an interest in creative writing and reading, helping them to write their own stories or poems, learning how to revise, and eventually editing a full length book of work from the students in the class, and when possible, setting up a public reading for the students to perform their work.

All three of these authors go above and beyond simply helping Dzanc out. Both Scott and Jeff are also very active at The Neutral Zone as well, and Matt has done an incredible amount of blogging about other writers' work, helping to continually publicize other writers, other publishers, and doing what he can to keep others excited about the written word.

Lastly I'd like to mention my partner at Dzanc Books, Steve Gillis.  If you really want to know what an author can do to support his/her community, simply pay attention to what this man has done the past decade.  He founded 826michigan, setting up an organization for students to come in and get help with their writing, and take workshops, etc.  He set up the Visiting Writer Series at Greenhills, and then co-founded Dzanc Books.  The drive behind Dzanc is community-based projects.  The aforementioned DWIRPs have been running in schools in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti since 2007.  Steve also came up with the Dzanc Prize, a monetary award to an individual with the best combination of a literary work in progress and a literary community service; a project that uses literature to help out a group of people in need (to date the prize has set up workshops in prison; workshops for cancer patients, their families, and caregivers at the UM Cancer Center; and workshops for African immigrants connected to an English as Second Language group).  Steve has put his own money and time into setting up and pushing Dzanc Books forward and does so tirelessly.  His efforts have helped out thousands of people.