Breaking Into Publishing
Kelle Grace Gaddis is a two-time IAS graduate. She received her BA in Culture, Literature, and the Arts in (2011) and then, in spring 2014, was part of the inaugural cohort of graduates of the MFA in Creative Writing & Poetics, one of IAS’s three masters programs. While a student, she acted as host of UWave Radio’s Arts, Literature, and Music Hour. She also founded her own press.
Andrew Shinn, editor of Intersections, had the opportunity recently to learn how Kelle is putting her education into action after graduation.
AS: Why did you choose to pursue an MFA degree?
KGG: I have always been a writer. I kept journals, wrote poems and short stories, and won a top prize in Poetry.org’s national poetry contest in 2004. But even with the encouragement of success, I knew that I would need to get a formal education to take my writing to the professional level. I was right - I gained a clarity of process in the MFA and learned what level of commitment is necessary to go from hobbyist to career writer.
AS: Why did you choose the MFA in Creative Writing & Poetics at UW Bothell?
KGG: Well, it was close to my home, so that was a factor. But more important was the University of Washington’s great reputation, and the fact that an MFA lends credibility to any writer who wants to be part of the national literary conversation. I was especially intrigued by and drawn to the contemporary poetry aesthetic and wanted to learn more about what constitutes cutting-edge literature.
My degree has given me exactly what I’d hoped: a voice that is heard and respected in the literary, intellectual, and creative communities in Washington state and around the country.
AS: How have you sustained your creative practice since graduating from the MFA?
KGG: When I graduated from the creative writing program, I was used to producing and editing a considerable amount of work every week. As appealing as a long break sounded after two years in the MFA, I was worried that it could undo the good habits I’d acquired. I put aside the idea of an extended vacation and went to work.
Three weeks before graduation began I decided to start building Brightly Press, and began that project by making a list of writers that I thought might make for an exceptional anthology. This kept and keeps me busy.
Two weeks after graduation, I joined the “Nanowrimo Challenge,” an online, 30-day challenge to write a novel. I wrote over 50,000 words, a short novella, none of which is edited. It’s a real mess, but I plan to rework it later this year. Writing in a surge and then dramatically editing is a part of my writing process and it inspired me to keep pushing forward with all of my endeavors.
I also made a point of returning to all of the work that I began in the MFA. I found gems from all of my classes and began to hone them for publication. I started submitting my work to various contests, presses, and literary journals. I’m happy to say that I have had considerable success. Highlights include selection for 4Culture's city arts project "Poetry on Buses" (my poem, “A Day At The Beach With The NSA,” was featured last August), publication of my poem “Wishes” in Dove Tales Literary Journals online publication and forthcoming book on Nature, and five more poems selected for publication in Knot Literary and Arts Magazine. Lastly, I radically revised my thesis, Polishing A Gem On The Surface Of The Sea, and it’s now a finalist in Omnidawn's National book contest.
AS: Tell us more about the small press you started prior to graduation.
KGG: Brightly Press had been on my mind throughout graduate school but I didn’t have time to start it. Now, nearly a year later, our first publication debuted at the 2015 Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference. Entitled Shake The Tree: A Poetry Anthology, it features new and previously published work by Frank Sherlock, CA Conrad, Craig Santos Perez, Kate Durbin, Maged Zaher, Deborah Woodard, Carolyne Lee Wright, Malachi Black, Kit Frick, TC Tolbert and Natasha Moni, all prominent poets, several of whom I met through the MFA at UW Bothell.
AS: Is it challenging being an independent small publisher?
KGG: Definitely! It is costly in time and resources, but it is worthwhile because it has radically enhanced my editing and networking skills. I also find it rewarding to be immersed in such great poetry. I read and reread all of the writers’ work and can feel their influence lingering in me long after I’ve taken off my publishing hat, influencing my writing as all good poetry can.
AS: Are you able to make a living as a small press editor?
KGG: I make a living as a counselor and meditation instructor. Those activities support the press, though I do anticipate a small profit in 2015. Financial success aside, running the press has opened new professional doors for me by giving me skills and experience that I didn’t otherwise have, such as the often required “year of experience” as an editor or proofreader. Brightly Press gave me credibility. For instance, I’ve been invited to be a guest editor for Blackmail Press this summer. I can thank the MFA for the push to move my career forward in a way that I find meaningful.
You can learn more about Brightly Press on Facebook and follow Kelle’s publications at www.kellegracegaddiswriter.com.