Publishing Opportunity for Non-fiction Animal Prose

from the email…
Call for Submissions: Animals
For an upcoming issue, Creative Nonfiction is seeking new essays about the bonds—emotional, ethical, biological, physical, or otherwise—between humans and animals. We’re looking for stories that illustrate ways animals (wild and/or domestic) affect, enrich, or otherwise have an impact on our daily lives.
Essays must be vivid and dramatic; they should combine a strong and compelling narrative with a significant element of research or information, and reach for some universal or deeper meaning in personal experiences. We’re looking for well-written prose, rich with detail and a distinctive voice.
Creative Nonfiction editors will award one $1000 prize for Best Essay and one $500 prize for runner-up.
Guidelines: Essays must be: unpublished, 5,000 words or less, postmarked by November 13, 2009, and clearly marked “Animals” on both the essay and the outside of the envelope. There is a $20 reading fee (or send a reading fee of $25 to include a 4 issue CNF subscription); multiple entries are welcome ($20/essay) as are entries from outside the U.S. (though subscription shipping costs do apply). Please send manuscript, accompanied by a cover letter with complete contact information, SASE and payment to:
Creative Nonfiction
Attn: Animals
5501 Walnut Street, Suite 202
Pittsburgh, PA 15232

Please share this announcement with anyone who might be interested in submitting work. Please email any questions to information@creativenonfiction.org.

In Memoriam: Frank McCourt

tdy_couric_mccourt_051115.300wTo my knowledge, Frank McCourt did not spend a lot of time thinking about animal issues.  However, he was the first person who taught me to care about writing and to appreciate the power of language.  He did that as he did everything — with a twinkling eye and a raft of good stories.

Every Friday, we read the NY Times restaurant review in class.  He used to say: “If you can write well about food, you can write well about anything.”  Mimi Sheraton was the food critic back then and she wrote marvelously about food.  Mr. McCourt loved reading her columns aloud and his delight in her prose was itself utterly delightful.  To this day, I still read the restaurant column every week even though I don’t live in NYC and can’t remember the last time I actually went to a restaurant it reviewed.

Mr. McCourt also taught me to write only about things I really care about.  He always said, “If it doesn’t interest you, what makes you think it will interest me?”   Back then, I didn’t think animal issues were important.  But I do now and were it not for him, I don’t know that I would be teaching and writing about them.   So, I like to consider Mr. McCourt an animal advocate by proxy.

In any case, he was a truly wonderful teacher.  I will miss him and I wish him safe travels.

Frank McCourt: 1930-2009.

–David Cassuto

On Blogs, Blogging, and Animals

As a newbie to the blogosphere, I have spent a good deal of time recently, wondering what value this blawg brings to the ether and, more importantly, to the urgent and ongoing struggle to resituate animals within society.  This led me to ruminate on blogs as literary expression and as a forum for information exchange.

I have taught writing for many years, first to undergraduates and more recently to law students.  To all of them I preach that they should never show anything they write to anyone – not even their mothers – until they have rewritten it at least five times.  Then, they should rewrite it another half-dozen times before deciding whether it merits sharing with anyone else.  Good writing, I maintain, requires great care.  One of the best compliments a reader can offer is to say that an author writes like she speaks – that her prose seems conversational, approachable and easy to digest.  However, the key to an easy-flowing style lies in multiple drafts, careful parsing, and unstinting attention to detail.  This methodology bears no resemblance to common discourse and thus the paradox (and concomitant student resentment).

Furthermore, as an academic, my stock and trade involves laboriously composed scholarly treatises.  Some run long and some short, but all are heavily sourced and often refereed.  Because this form of writing consumes so much time and labor and because there is so seldom money involved (and so little money when there is), I must believe that my work in some way adds value to society or my motivation evaporates.  In this sense, I adapt Johnson’s timeless adage that “no man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money,” to the reality of academia and the marketplace of ideas.

All of this made me resistant to blogging, an endeavor requiring real or near real-time publishing of one’s virtually unedited thoughts (also for no money).  In short, blogging demands jettisoning many of my most cherished ideals about the nature of the written word.  Also, because I care so passionately about animal issues and because I believe them so philosophically and legally complex, I felt and still feel hesitant to throw thoughts out there unsourced and ungrounded.

Then I read this thoughtful piece in the Atlantic on blogging by Andrew Sullivan, a writer I admire very much, even when I don’t agree with him (he blogs here).  Sullivan quotes Matt Drudge (who I admire much less but whose cultural influence both in and out of the blogosphere lies beyond cavil) that a blog is a broadcast not a publication.  Its immediacy propels ideas straight into the discursive realm rather than leaving them to germinate for months or years in obscurity.  This got me to thinking about my unhealthy addiction to footnotes and to revisit the wisdom of Noel Coward, who once compared reading footnotes to “having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love.” He’s so right; notes are a buzz-killer and should be used sparingly and only when absolutely necessary.

The value of my scribblings -assuming they have any – lies in the discussion they generate.  It is far less important that I be authoritative than that I be interesting and that animal issues be taken up and discussed by as wide an audience as possible.  Public intellectuals like Peter Singer, Cass Sunstein, Gary Francione, as well as many lesser known but no less thoughtful folks (some of whom populate our growing blogroll while a small sampling of the myriad others can be found here, here, and here), realized this long before I.  Sullivan notes that the medium’s true blogfathers are writers like Pascal and Montaigne, whose meandering styles, willingness to share fragmentary thoughts, and (in Montaigne’s case) to publicly revise and republish, pointed readers’ attention away from the authors and toward their ideas.  (Fine essay about Montaigne here, although you may have to pay for access)

Upshot: The goal – smelting a new set of norms and laws that unhook human society from its exploitive relationship to nonhumans – is collaborative and the individual role within it minuscule.  Hubris is addictive and as dangerous to good writing as careless prose.  One must embrace both the medium and the message.  The cause is urgent and the consequences dire.  Nothing but full-throated blogging will do.  With apologies to the Bard, I say: Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of prose.

David Cassuto