April 21, 2020
Nonprofit literary arts coalitions the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP), LitNet, Writers in the Schools (WITS) Alliance, and the Poetry Coalition have released the following letter, which is being distributed to philanthropic institutions, advocating for emergency support of the 300+ organizations they represent.
We write to you on behalf of over 300 nonprofit literary arts organizations and publishers throughout the United States whose work has taken on new significance in this unprecedented time. Reading offers a vital space for people to find solace and connection; writing provides a meaningful way for people of all ages to communicate their experiences, to process grief and pain, and to imagine the future. We need dedicated emergency assistance from the philanthropic community to ensure our efforts in the months and year ahead.
Collectively, nonprofit literary organizations and publishers have a presence throughout America and reach tens of millions of readers annually. A unique and key part of the arts and culture sector, our organizations spend more than $110 million annually to offer programs and publications to our communities and employ thousands of people. Since shelter-at-home orders have been in place we have seen remarkable increases in digital engagement and have pivoted to offer powerful new initiatives to meet the moment, including online readings and workshops, virtual book festivals and book clubs, and remote learning curriculum for K-12 schools.
The literary arts are perhaps our most democratic art form, reaching millions of Americans through free and low-cost programming. The nonprofit organizations we represent produce literary journals, books, festivals, conferences, retreats, writers-in-the-schools programs, poetry readings, writing workshops, and much more. We serve readers and writers who come from every demographic by:
- publishing the work of poets and writers, making it available to the widest possible readership. Publication fees paid by publishers are an important income stream for writers;
- presenting poets and writers through readings, lectures, panels, and conversations at conferences, festivals, schools, libraries, and performance spaces. These appearances help introduce writers to readers and provide honorariums to speakers, another essential income stream;
- teaching creative writing, including through education initiatives in prisons, senior centers, hospitals, and in-school and after-school programs. Teaching widens the readership for writers’ work and provides income for thousands of teaching artists;
- leading workshops and retreats that offer essential spaces for creative expression, gathering writers together in ways that have a lasting impact on their careers;
- creating public art projects that place poems and prose in shared civic spaces—from sidewalks to parks to buses and subways—making the literary arts part of everyday life;
- honoring the achievements of poets and writers, giving their work visibility in the media, reaching new readers, and helping them secure employment and publication opportunities; and
- supporting the creative practice of poets and writers by providing grants and fellowships to help sustain them so they can create new work.
Despite the breadth of work that literary arts nonprofits offer, they are among the most vulnerable cultural organizations. The majority of our organizations have modest budgets, limited financial resources, and all have been deeply impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, losing funding due to cancelled lectures, workshops, fundraising events, and in-school programs, as well as a precipitous loss in book sales. Those with spring and summer galas have experienced considerable loss of revenue, and those with fall galas are anticipating cancellations. Across the board, the financial losses are severe. Members report already suffering over $4 million in losses and forecast losses nearing $20 million over the next four months.
Without our presence, literary culture in America will markedly diminish. Our organizations bring writers into public schools, host retreats and provide mentorship for writers of color, encourage teen writers through poetry slams, facilitate a broad range of writing workshops, gather entire cities together at festivals, and have made possible donations of over a million books to underserved communities. Our nonprofit publishers share the work of a diverse array of authors, and are often the place where writers and translators are published for the first time, launching their careers. Books published by our presses, and poets and writers funded by our organizations, have won Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards, National Book Critics Circle Awards, Lambda Literary Awards, and more.
Collectively, our members celebrate language, promote reading, and lift up the transformative power of written expression. If the ecosystem we are a central part of collapses, it will significantly harm poets and writers, readers and communities. Our work is an essential thread in the social, educational, and cultural fabric of the United States.
Please help us ensure that nonprofit literary arts organizations and publishers can continue responding creatively and powerfully to our immediate crisis, and remain viable in the months and years ahead as an important part of the recovery.
We would be grateful for an opportunity to talk with you about the scope and impact of the nonprofit literary field, and how we might partner toward sustaining the organizations we represent.
Thank you for your consideration.
CLMP / LitNet / WITS Alliance / Poetry Coalition