Writing, Community & Government

Becoming a Good Literary Citizen

Roxane Gay

Lesson time 06:34 min

Roxane talks about the value of paying it forward. She aims to instill in you a sense of duty to the literary community.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Diversity in Writing · Being a Good Human


[MUSIC PLAYING] - There are a lot of different opinions on what it means to be a good literary citizen and whether or not it is your responsibility to be a good literary citizen. Of course, it isn't. You can do whatever you want as a writer. You do not have to engage with the rest of the writing community. You don't have to be nice to people you don't like or anything like that, which people tend to think that's what it means. When I say be a good literary citizen, it means that the literary community is actually very tight knit and it's very supportive. And so you want to give the community as much as you take from the community. And that can mean a lot of things. When a writer is coming to your local library or your local independent bookstore, if you have the free time and the interest, go to their reading and support them. Buy their book if you can afford it or check their book out from the library. If you read a great book that you love, talk about it online where other people can see, because word of mouth is one of the best things you can do to support a writer and help them move books. If you're on Goodreads or LibraryThing or another social network for books, talk about that book there. If you're a writer, judge contests and support the literary community in the ways that you can. Volunteer your efforts whenever those efforts might be needed, especially when you're writing for progressive causes or contributing a copy of your book to a fundraiser. It's not about being fake. It's really just about contributing. And so I find that being a good literary citizen helps to preserve this community that has been so invaluable to me as a reader and as a writer, and it's the very least I can do. The biggest downside to not being a good literary citizen is that if you treat people badly, word gets out, and people will talk real trash about you, as they should. I mean, I think reputation matters. My name matters. What people think about me matters. The writing world is actually pretty small, and I think it's better to err on the side of if not kindness, then consideration. But I choose to err also on the side of kindness, because you never know when someone that you encountered is going to come back into your life. And even if they never do again, you want to make sure that you treat people the way that they deserve. When I'm doing events, and I can see I'm going to be signing books for two or three hours, I still spend as much time as I can with every person, because they have invested the time and often the money to attend one of my events, and then they stand in these ridiculous lines. And so the least I can do is give them some genuine time and energy. It doesn't cost you anything to be kind. It doesn't mean you have to be everyone's best friend. It means that you have to be just considerate, and you have to treat people with respect and dignity. And that should not seem like a radical idea, ...

About the Instructor

Bestselling author, professor, and New York Times columnist Roxane Gay has connected to readers around the world with her unyielding truth-telling and highly personal feminism. In her MasterClass, she teaches you how to own your identity, hone your voice, write about trauma with care and courage, and navigate the publishing industry. Learn how to document and narrate the world as you see it—and then demand change.

Featured MasterClass Instructor

Roxane Gay

Bestselling author and cultural critic Roxane Gay teaches writing for social change and arms you with the skills needed to make an impact.

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