Last night was the first meeting of the Saint Paul Almanac community editor group and my second season as an editor. When our work is done, we will have helped launch the 2014 (and eighth) edition. It will make its debut next year in September.
There were about 20 of us, seated at a long table inside AZ Gallery in Lowertown. This first evening, I am always aware of what a mixer this gathering is. Except for a few from last year, these are people I have not met before. The group is recruited and selected in a way that ensures diversity of age, gender, neighborhood, community and level of ability.
There is a section of the group made up of professional writers: novelist Diego Vazquez, Jr., poet Patricia Kirkpatrick, Pamela Fletcher who co-directs the Critical Studies of Race and Ethnicity Program at St. Catherine’s University and local writer Ibe Kaba. The rest of us are various types of professionals, students and retirees. Some of us write for our work or for pure pleasure. For some others, writing is not their thing. But all of us were interested, applied and were chosen to be here.
I found myself sitting at a table with mostly young members of our cohort: Kevin, back in town after travel in Latin America and college in Portland, two young women who are high school students at Higher Ground Academy and Shaquan, a St. Paul College student (and friend I am delighted to see return with me after being community editors last year).
Our task over the next several months will be to educate ourselves on the task of being an editor and then do it. We will read hundreds of submissions, rate them, discuss them with the group and finally settle, in a lengthy, democratic process, on those that will fit best in the 2014 edition of the Saint Paul Almanac.
Lesson 1: A good editor knows how to write
Saint Paul Almanac executive director, muse and inspiration, Kimberly Nightingale explained that as editors we needed to understand where writing comes from. One of our most important lessons was to learn where to find stories in our communities and how to shape them into prose and poetry.
Community editors are asked to write and seek publication for a couple of their own pieces in the almanac and elsewhere. Last year, I submitted poems and short prose pieces to about 10 publications. I got mostly kind rejections but I did have a haiku published at 99 Poems for the 99 Percent, Dean Rader’s (University of San Francisco) site and I was immensely proud when my piece “All That Silk and Satin Gear” was chosen for the 2013 edition of the almanac.
Editors are also asked to bring in two stories from their community written by others. Last year, I asked everyone I knew to write and submit a story. I was so pleased when two of them made the final cut: “They have Ice Palaces There!” by my mom Laurie Gustafson and “Ocean Floating on the Avenue” by my friend Patricia Teefy.
During our session last night, it felt good to work on writing with some grease to get the wheels turning from writing teacher Wendy Brown-Baez. She led the community editors through ice-breaker style writing exercises to help us get to know each other. My favorite involved reading the poem “Have a _____ Day” by Lou Lipsitz. We came up with our own variations on the line “Have a nice day” in a Mad Lib way using favorite foods, song titles and historic events, “Have a chocolate, peanut butter chunk ice cream day!”
Listening to my fellow editors share their written work, I felt excited to be in the company of serious and seriously talented writers. This is the beginning of a whole new year of stories.