Being an intern at CLMP isn’t like any other job. It’s a hands-on experience with the world of small presses and literary magazines. Interns leave her poised to take on their next challenge with a new set of skills and a network of literary tastemakers. We sat down with our Spring 2018 interns Merita Lubani and Megan Swenson to talk about their time with CLMP!
When you first came to CLMP, what were you expecting to learn/gain from this position? How did you time here differ from your initial expectations? What attracted you to this internship?
Merita: I was specifically attracted to CLMP because they work with a variety of small presses, allowing me to get the lay of the literary land. My previous work experiences were unrelated to my career interests, so CLMP was the first opportunity I received into the literary world. As such, I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in January. CLMP itself was also changing its internship and its management, which made me doubly unsure in the first few weeks of what my job would entail. Once management issues were settled though, I became more confident in my role as the Communications Intern. I came in expecting to learn a lot about the small press industry, which I did—what I did not expect was how willing my Communications Manger was to listen to me and sometimes, even let me take the reigns. Christina Blok was my work-wife, the best boss I have ever had, and now that my Internship is over, my friend.
Megan: I heard about CLMP while I was interning for One Story–one of OS’s readers, Natalie Mesnard, had just gotten a job here, and I chatted with her at meetings and later at the One Story Debutante Ball. She told me CLMP was looking for interns, so I applied for the fall. Coming in, I’ll admit I had very little knowledge of what CLMP stood for, both in name and in practice. So from the start I had a lot to learn. My experience interning at other places had set me up with some expectations, particularly in terms of the work I’d be responsible for–i.e., your typical grunt-y intern stuff–but to my extreme satisfaction I was tasked with some really important work while I was here, and I appreciate CLMP for trusting me and my skills to handle such responsibilities.
How has being at CLMP changed or influenced your view of the contemporary literary community? How do you view CLMP’s mission and it’s significance amongst the greater literary world?
Merita: Interning at CLMP has shown me that the contemporary literary community is diverse in its interests, forms, and writers, but that there is more to be done to promote marginalized writing, both marginalized because of its content and because of its authorship. That is what I consider CLMP’s significance within the greater literary space. It is in an organization where such marginalized writings, and the presses who do publish them, can find promotion, advice, and community.
Megan: My year at CLMP overlapped with my second and final year of my MFA at NYU, the year in which all of us were semi-freaking out about agents and publishers and what to do after we turned in our theses. Working with CLMP calmed me down a bit. With all the mingling and networking events CLMP puts on, I got to watch indie publishers and editors and agents interacting like people rather than like the intimidating authority figures I’d always built them up in my head to be. Everyone’s just trying to do their job well, and as a writer, all I have to do is go out in the world with my work and find one agent who loves it, who in turn has to find one publisher who loves it, and the world of indie publishing is so vast and nuanced that there’s bound to be a place for me, and anyone skilled, current, and committed to their craft, out in the literary landscape.
What excites you about CLMP’s future? What programs are you excited to see grow?
Merita: As the now former Communications Intern at CLMP, I’m most excited to see the new kinds of social media marketing that will be experimented with. CLMP began using Instagram stories as a platform during my time with the organization, and I think it’s a successful promotion tool to use at their own, and other small press events.
Megan: My main responsibility while I was here was the administrative management of our Firecracker Awards, so I have to say that’s the program I’m the most excited to see grow. This year we received the most submissions so far by a margin of sixty or so, whereas in past years the increase has been about half that, so the program is growing already! And from what our lovely first readers told me, the quality of submissions this year was the best it’s ever been, a trend I hope to see continue. Firecracker gives stellar indie books the time in the spotlight that they deserve, really helping to give their names a big shout in our community.
What books do you recommend from small presses? What books did you steal from the office shelf?
Merita: I highly recommend Kapka Kassabova’s Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe (Graywolf 2017) especially for those who enjoy travel literature. The author travels back to her birth country, Bulgaria, and explores areas along the triple border between Bulgaria, Greece, and European Turkey. Kassabova is also unsurprisingly a poet, which explains why her descriptions of people and places, even history, are so nuanced. I particularly appreciated her speaking about feeling ‘at home’ and feeling foreign as an Bulgarian emigrant, because it is a struggle I even face as a first generation immigrant.
I stole every book I could find by an Eastern European writer—shoutout to Ugly Duckling Presse for their Eastern European Poets Series.
Megan: Recently I read Michelle Tea’s Black Wave (Feminist Press 2015) and Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties (Graywolf 2017) which are both excellent and weird. I stole quite a lot of books from the shelf…Gaute Heivoll’s Before I Burn (Graywolf 2013) about a pyromaniac in rural Norway is one.
What’s been the best archive find/your best experience? What are your plans for the future?
Merita: Without a doubt, my best archival find was an advanced uncorrected proof of Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones (And Other Stories 2014). I found it a few months into my internship, on the bookshelf next to where I worked and would often peruse before leaving for the day. It definitely was not there when I began my internship, so I would like to thank the book troll who magically knew I was ethnic Albanian and placed the book exactly where I would find it.
My best experience had to be Press Fest: it was the first time I got to meet these small presses whose profiles I had been writing for Fresh Pressed. I loved talking to people in person whom I had been communicating with via email because hearing them explain their press versus reading it off their website are completely different experiences. You hear the passion in who and what they publish, which can’t be translated through the internet.
This Fall, I will be attending University of Massachusetts-Amherst to pursue my MA/PhD in English. My research interests revolve around Renaissance English literary interpretations of the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly the Balkan Peninsula. I also have a poetry manuscript that pertains to similar issues, but from a more contemporary standpoint, which I hope to continue adding to—it is currently at 30 pages—and get published!
Megan: We’ve got an issue of Prairie Schooner from 1936 in our office library. Who knew lit mags have been around so long! Working the Firecracker administration was a seriously rewarding experience, especially near the end when I was wrapping up with all of our first readers. Many of them expressed gratitude and were impressed by how smoothly everything ran this year, which made me super proud. My near future consists of moving to Vancouver where my partner is working on his Master’s at the University of British Columbia. I’ll spend some time in the rainy weather brooding over my novel-in-progress, which conveniently is partly set in the Pacific Northwest. I hope to get a solid draft finished by year’s end.
What advice would you give to the incoming interns?
Merita: I would tell interns to take advantage of this opportunity by introducing themselves at events to editors, readers, writers, and others in the small press industry. Literary people have a tendency to be shy, like we usually enjoy curling up in a corner with a book, but interning at CLMP immerses you in the small press world, so engage with it!
Don’t be intimidated by a publisher or writer, you have credibility as a CLMP intern, never forget that. Plus, everyone you meet at this job is bookish—as you likely are if you’re interning at CLMP—which means you already have some similar interests to talk about: discuss the book you’re currently reading, ask small presses about the kinds of books they publish, and query writers for any book recommendations.
Megan: Learn as much as you can while you’re here. Spend some time in the library, get to know the lit mags, read up on the presses we work closely with. Go to events, mingle (which admittedly I wasn’t great at; I’m not the best mingler, but even shaking someone’s hand is an excellent start). Get to know everyone in the office; each person plays a different role, so they’re all wise in different and overlapping ways. When email chains pop up between mag or press editors on the listserv, check them out; watching conversations between industry members and Jeffrey is pretty eye-opening and taught me a lot about the various issues editors run into on a daily basis. Have fun. You’ll leave here a better and more well-rounded literary citizen, and that’s worth a lot.