Experience, Professional

It’s practically impossible for a serious writer [in America] to set fixed prices on his work, because magazines pay such varying rates. So I’ve hit upon its principle: “From each according to his means,” which is to say that if the periodical can pay, I’d like as much as everyone else. If they can’t, I can usually be conned into taking nothing more than a few contributor’s copies. I estimate that most of my magazine publishing has been gratis—especially of my creative work. Even when I get paid, the money is rarely worth the time and effort—by standards of the U.S. minimum wage; and my anthologies have not been profitable either. The real rewards and pleasures—and even the vanities—of serious writing have little, if anything, to do with money.

The New Poetries and Some Olds (1989)

I suggested in this book’s preface that no one is likely to understand these granting organizations unless he or she has applied to them; a sometime program director once reported the observation that panelists who had not previously been applicants usually took a year or two simply “to figure out what is going on.” With this thesis in mind, I would be remiss by now if I did not tell some stories of my own experiences first as an applicant and then as a grants panelist as a means towards general understanding; for, in truth, it is one’s own experience, more than anything else, that prompts one to ask further, necessary questions of these organizations.

The Grants-Fix (1987)

One recurring feeling I have had as a [literary grants] panelist is that I could have done a better job all by myself. It is not just that my judgment is more experienced (after editing so many anthologies) or that I have written one of the few comprehensive critical surveys of new literary magazines. It is more my feeling that one knowledgeable person, acting fairly and tastefully and generously, can do a better job of emphasizing the best, and yet distributing the pie equitably, than a group of people trying to represent particular interests. There is perhaps a case to be made for the benevolent dictator in games like these.

The examples I cite from my own career are not the admittedly partisan (and taste-making) avant-garde anthologies but several other, perhaps lesser-known projects where I was invited to make a selection from a wide body of literature. [In these commissions] I made a better selection—far better in terms of both quality and representation—than most committees could have done, simply because it was my job not to represent any parochial interest or to take care of my backers but, simply, to make the best (and nothing but the best) possible collection. (There was no way in any of these circumstances that I could attribute any weaknesses to the “idiocies of my colleagues.”)

The point of this digression is that a sophisticated judge, on his or her best behavior, can usually do a better job selecting the best (and respecting genius) than a panel…. While this difference may explain why private foundations generally make better choices and support more extraordinary work than public benefactors, I am not so sure, in principle, that public monies should be distributed through a single hand.

The Grants-Fix (1987)

Shooting film is terribly boring, especially for a writer accustomed to controlling his own time, because you spend most of your day sitting around and waiting for everyone else to get his thing organized. I don’t ever want to do that again.

Film & Video: Alternative Views (2005)