The Perils of Being a Literary Magazine in Dallas, Texas

Being a literary magazine based in Dallas, Texas is no easy feat. Dallas is a wonderful city, with more to offer than most people give it credit for, but the fact is the three most common activities here are eating, shopping, and driving (presumably to go eat or shop). Unlike the artistic spheres of New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and L.A., Dallas lacks a vibrant literary culture.

This is not to say we don’t have our organizations dedicated to expanding the reach of literary arts. We do, and they’re doing great work. The Writer’s Garrett is a year-round, full-service literary center dedicated to fostering reading and writing in the local community. They host workshops, conduct informative panel sessions, and have the CAMP program which allows community writers and leaders to work together. I have participated on panels and as a mentor in the CAMP program. Wordspace Dallas also features salons, workshops, and literary readings, several of which I have attended. I’ve been a workshop presenter at the Highland Park Literary Festival for three years. The leaders of all of these organizations have worked tirelessly, and I’m thankful for their dedication.

But admittedly, I can’t help but crave seeing more for Dallas. Attending the AWP Conference for the first time this past February/March in Chicago was eye-opening. I met writers who knew editors at both big and small publishing houses. I met people who had started their own small presses and had part-time employees working for them within a couple of years. I was astonished at how many writers had tapped into their communities as a main resource to help with funding and manpower.

As the editor of an online magazine based in Dallas, networking and using the community as a resource had rarely crossed my mind. In retrospect, it feels like sheer luck I managed to stay in touch with so many writers (and my teacher, Kristin) from my creative writing classes at UT Dallas. And I know now that what kept us glued together for so long was, in fact, Carve. I took over in January 2007, after I had graduated the previous month. I reached out to my former classmates to ask them to volunteer as readers, and in turn we created our own workshop group to keep us focused on our own writing. Throughout the past five years, we continued to maintain what we started with Carve as I worked full-time and so did they. Growing Carve and expanding our literary community was a distant, faraway thought that I rarely indulged in.

But then AWP happened. I left AWP with a vision: I want Dallas to become a literary hub, with universities that produce some of the best writers, schools that encourage creative writing, maybe even a publishing house. I want Carve to become a staple of Dallas - despite our identity primarily as an online magazine.

We have creative writing programs peppered throughout our schools and universities here in Dallas, but we don’t have anything threading them together. We don’t have enough literary agencies or small presses to convince people it’s worth it to stay in Dallas and shop around your book rather than move to New York or Boston and schmooze with the big-name agents and editors.

I’ve found myself in a curious predicament: being an online literary magazine with an international audience and yet envisioning a more local appeal. My dedication and committment to Carve will never wane. (My abrupt, year-long hiatus in 2009-2010 that I truly regret taught me that.) But in moving forward with ventures for Carve I’m also looking for ways to bring more to Dallas’ literary arts scene. It’s exciting and daunting, but I’m determined. And I know it will be a lifelong pursuit.

One thing that I did learn at AWP, however, was that we’re quite lucky to have an extensive staff of volunteer readers. While I recognize we lean female-heavy (we’re actively working to diversify our staff), these readers are top-notch. We published some of our best stories in 2011, and I believe it’s due in large part to their careful eyes. I’m thankful for their contributions and dedication, and I think it speaks to the desire for there to be a stronger literary network here in Dallas.

I love Dallas, having grown up here. And I love literature, having surrounded myself with it since I was in elementary school. It’s perilous, yes, being a literary magazine in Dallas. Many people I meet have no idea what it involves or what it is exactly I do. (They often think I publish my own work, which I then have to explain is not exactly custom in the lit world.) But it’s also exciting, because there’s so much opportunity for growth. We can create our own identity. We can try new things and take risks. I’m truly esctatic to move forward with Carve and help create a more vibrant, widespread community here in Dallas that truly values and encourages the literary arts.

But just how will we do it? We have lots of ideas, but we’re still refining and developing them. We plan to strengthen our own network here and develop more events that will bring the college and local writing communities together. We’ll be rolling out ideas, new features and events throughout the year and even into next year. We hope you’ll come back soon to find out more about them and our attempts to make Dallas a little less perilous for writers.