A Call for Literary Patrons

I still have not found the words—or the time to search very hard—to describe the sublime experience of my research and conference trip to the Midwest these past couple of weeks. I spent nearly five days in archival and secondary research at the Marion E. Wade Center in Wheaton, IL. Cutting this research in two was my second trip to the 10th Frances White Ewbank Colloquium on C.S. Lewis & Friends at Taylor University in Upland, IN. I will to try to wrestle into place some of my thoughts about what made the Taylor conference so exceptionally good; for now, see Laura’s post here. Together, the conference and the research filled my heart with much needed refreshment.

During this exhausting and beautiful 10 days many of my digital friendships found their way into real life. I got to meet for the first time, or see once again after a long space in between, quite a number of my blog readers, teaching colleagues, writing and editing partners, twitter followers, Facebook friends, theologians in my field, and fellow literary hacks and sleuths. I have received so much from these “contacts.” It was a rich experience to be able to lean in on an idea together, to share a table, to walk together, to sing and dance and play, to reach for the same book on the same shelf.

writers-blockThough rarely said out loud, I am struck by how many of my colleagues are walking around with great, life-giving dreams that are in some serious danger of death. During my trip I met emerging writers with manuscripts they can’t get out, artists working at call centres to pay the bills, scholars without a place to teach, archives with thinning budgets, researchers without grants, faculty members at schools on the verge of closure, and projects stalled within sight of their completion.

If you have been around to see a literary project come to life, you experience the joy of birth for all the writers, editors, publishers, and beta readers involved. When one of these projects dies in the womb, the artist experiences the defeat and loss in his or her own little world of loneliness.

And when it comes to making books and sharing ideas, it may be that miscarriages in this day are more common than healthy births. Our educators, artists, writers, and theologians—once valued and supported in culture—are often on their own.

virginia woolf a room of ones own 8Knowing that so many of these stories of threatened dreams exist, I thought it was time to Call for Literary Patrons. You are a real reader, or you would not have connected enough with the stories of literary loss to make it this far into this note. I do not know what capabilities you have to become a Patron or Patroness of words and ideas–really of creators and subcreators–but it is time to renew this grand tradition. Great lights from St. Paul to Shakespeare had people who decided to remove the burden of financial worry so that the genius could do his or her work. As Virginia Woolf so aptly reminds us,

“Give [the writer] a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days” (Woolf, A Room of One’s Own).

Jesus and the two disciples On the Road to Emmaus, by DuccioDoubtless there are readers here who count every penny or pound, and the idea of supporting someone else seems ridiculous. Yet there are other readers here who could, if they wanted, leverage enough money to change someone’s life–or at least to encourage them along the way.

Knowing the great diversity of readers, I decided to create a Call for Literary Patrons that includes most everyone. What would you like to do to help others give birth to books and ideas? Here are some basic ideas. Fill free to add your own in the comments. And share this piece in case it may spur someone on to do something great in a literary life.

serre-livre-heros$0—Time and Talent

Not everyone has money that they can give, but you might be amazed by what you can do as a Patron with your time and talents. Here are some ideas:

  • Pipes and Tires: Scholars, writers, and artists all have things they do to help them process their work. That’s usually working in the garden, cutting grass, and cleaning the house. Don’t take these things away from them. But you may be able to support your local writer or independent scholar by doing mechanical work, plumbing, light construction, tech support, or something else within your own vocational comfort zone.
  • Sundays with Students: If you are part of a family with the kind of dinner table where one more person would not stretch time or budget, why not invite a student to eat something that is no doubt far beyond their regular fare? It’s true, you might find yourself in a future book, but that can be fun too.
  • Beta Reading: While Beta Readers really gain from the experience, they are necessary to the commercial author’s or academic’s project. These early impressions shape the project from inviting manuscript to viable book.
  • Editing: If you have the skill, offer yourself for more detailed editing services.
  • Street Team: This is an old album release idea that needs to find its way into the book world. Authors do not always make great event planners. As a book is coming toward its release date, you may be able to be part of the digital street team that launches a book to as wide an audience as possible.
  • Graphic Design: I don’t know if you noticed, but many indie and small press book covers are horrid. If you have the gift, you may be able to find a new niche in helping beautiful writing and elegant ideas actually look beautiful and elegant to the reader.
  • Reviews: Including indie books, emerging projects, and new books in your Amazon reviews or blogs can be part of that building energy that might help a book get sold or an artist signed.
  • Volunteer in Books: Privately run archives, libraries, charity book stores, and publishing firms often rely on volunteers to help them curate a literary experience of the past for a new generation.

beautiful bookshelf design 4$50-$100—Couch Cushion Contributions

If you have just a few dollars, here are some ideas that can give real encouragement:

  • Coffee Cards: Some writers write with the door closed, only finding their way into public when they are editing. Others find inspiration in the noise of a local café or restaurant. While libraries fill this space for a while, most writers need the energy of the coffee shop. Preloading gift cards for your local starving artists and scruffy scholars can be a beautiful thing.
  • Buy a Scholar a Book: Every independent researcher or advanced student has a list of books that he or she just cannot afford right now. Often that $82 scholarly book unavailable by inter-library loan creates a kind of academic mental pain. Slide up to a student some time and offer to pick up that expensive book tab. Note: Do not offer an independent academic or grad student a book that they “really must read.” Scholars are of two types: 1) the kind that will never read it and either feel guilt or ignore you; or 2) the kind that will read it instead of doing their real work.
  • Contest Fees: It is increasingly the case for poets and short story writers that contests are an essential launch pad for their careers. Yet the contest fees run from $10-$100—fees that are often hard to justify to spouses and creditors. Pick up one of those fees so the poet or storyteller can focus on her art, rather than the risk she is taking.
  • Buy Poetry: So few do any more.

55_Book-It-17-Beautiful-Bookcases-Bookshelves_1-f$100-$500—The Strong Surprise

These sorts of gifts are hard for most of us to give, but can make a big difference to the dreamer:

  • Folio Edition: While some people collect books because of the sheer joy of it, scholars of literary history and biography often need folio copies, manuscript printings, and first editions to do their work. The digital world is helping here, but we are decades away from full access to the past. While not all of this can be done for less than $500, a lot of lower quality first editions of modern authors and folios of medieval manuscripts are in this price range.
  • Conference Fees: Conferences can change lives and shape careers. They are essential for the writer trying to find an agent, the scholar trying to find a community, and the student trying to land a graduate placement.
  • Software: While most software comes in free apps, the really good stuff typically costs money. You would be amazed at what starving students and desperate writers have done to beg, borrow, and (occasionally) steal the software they need. Relieve the burden: buy the license for them.
  • Dental Work: It might look strange on this list, but artists, writers, independent scholars, and many graduate students are entirely without benefits. It has been years since some have seen a dentist. Give the gift of a gleaming smile.
  • Graduation Fees: I can’t tell you how many students come to the end of their degree, but the slip of paper that says “M.A.” is miles away because they don’t have the hundreds of dollars needed to graduate. As an anonymous giver or close friend, you can help them finish well.

beautiful bookshelf design$500-$1000—The Shocked Silence Subsidy

This is the kind of gift you put in a card or offer through a third party. In a generation that purchases cell phones in this range, it may not seem like a lot of money. When you see the income of the average writer, artist, adjunct professor, or graduate student, you’ll see how key this nanogrant is.

  • Laptop: Literary workers need a computer that can run multiple programs and have a strong processing speed and video card. Laptops are key. One time my church’s small group had someone drop off a brand new laptop to me at work. It came at an absolutely essential time.
  • Course Fee: This amount of money will pay for most professional and graduate level courses that creators need to upgrade their skills or learn new ones.
  • Design Upgrades: This amount of money would allow an indie book producer to get significant design upgrades, making the work more professional looking (and thus more accessible).
  • Travel: For my research as an independent (unpaid) scholar, I have traveled in Europe and North America, trying to access archives and libraries and conferences that are essential to my work. Even staying in hostels and eating microwave food, these are costly trips. Put some wind in these wings and you will see great things happen.
  • Chapbook: Chapbooks have often been independently printed in history, and the trend is returning today. Small presses might help, but getting a collection of poetry to print is costly. You could give a poet you know—or novella writer or photographer—the chance to see his work in print.

CI-Alexander-Love_Library-Chair.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.966.644$1000-$10,000—The Microgrant

At this level, you are writing cheques that are essential interventions in a writer’s or researcher’s life. I have received two $1000 grants, and each helped me do great things. At these higher levels you will want to find a foundation or charity that is able to help you leverage your donation dollars.

  • The Full Trip: This level of grant will cover the full tab for a research trip, conference, or trip to New York or London to secure an agent or editor. It will not be lavish, but it will be essential.
  • Professional Fees: A microgrant can take an important work of literature or bit of research and provide the editing, design, and legal team needed to launch the end product.
  • The Discovery Grant: So much of our research these days is driven toward the final goal. Our research needs to be justified. You may be able to give the right curious mind a space to simply explore a problem without the pressure of knowing there must be a solution.
  • Estate Fees: Researchers and writers who are in dialogue with a figure of the recent past will need to provide fees to estate and copyright holders—even when the end result will not make money (like an academic book or a church outreach). Sometimes these fees are small, but they can easily cost thousands of dollars. Here in Prince Edward Island, for example, we are in constant dialogue with the estate of L.M. Montgomery for things connected to Anne of Green Gables. The same is true of existentialist philosophers, postmodern writers, modern American and English greats, and the Inklings. If you believe in a work being done on a 20th century thinker, then help get that work to print.
  • Regional Book Tour: A microgrant can cover the cost of a small but significant book tour—especially one filled visits with friends the author has met along the way.

beautiful bookshelf design stair$10,000-$50,000—The Grant

Many philanthropists are involved in providing grants to artists, activists, journalists, writers, and researchers. Here’s where you could fit if you can leverage this amount of money.

  • MA/MFA: While this amount of money would not pay for every degree, it will pay the tuition cost of most Masters of Arts and Masters of Fine Arts in North America, Australia, and Britain. As national grants are increasingly difficult to find, and bursaries increasingly focussed on certain kinds of students, you will see a need in the graduate-bound students in your life.
  • Full Trunk and Open Road: This level of grant would allow an author to fill up the trunk of his car with books and blankets and hit the road. Many an author has been signed with a big publisher after selling her wares in the conference and bookstore circuit (especially in the U.S.). Sometimes the old fashioned approach works.
  • The Next Level: A grant can create a professional placement for the right book project, securing not just the front-end design needs but also the distribution contacts and review lists that can make or break a book.
  • 6 Months that Makes a Writer: I once heard a writer on the CBC describe how she was tired and frustrated one day, sitting at a park bench trying to write her book between shifts. A gentleman sat and talked with her for a while, finally asking the question, “what would it take to get your career started?” “Six months,” she answered. “I think I could get my work out in six months.” So this stranger gave her the money to take work off for six months, and it gave her the head start she needed. Who in your world would this be true of?

87468417733067003_fxyqrcsm_f$50,000 and up—The Life Changer

This upper level grant can be done anonymously, or in someone’s name. It is an opportunity to shape in significant ways the kind of work you want to see happen—really, the kind of educational and literary world you want to see around you. This might be a single donation or an annual contribution.

  • The Patron: You may feel like it is important to take an artist or writer you believe in and stipend him or her full time until their work monetizes (if it ever does). There are a lot of businesses that could bring on a “staff” member without sacrificing the work of the firm. I would encourage you to give them the freedom to do their work, leaving the message and medium to them.
  • The Chair: Increasingly schools are having their government subsidies shrink. Literature and Arts departments are feeling the pain of those cuts in very tangible ways. If you have the means, consider creating the space where someone can do something amazing for a whole generation of students. This might be the simple task of ensuring there is a poet in the faculty, or it might mean the creation of a new thing (like a Fellowship in Theology and Speculative Literature, for example). Universities at this stage would even be open to smaller classroom-driven donations that allow part-time and sessional professors to teach new courses in their fields and out of their research.
  • PhD: Not including lost wages during the study period, and outside of the Tier 1 American and Canadian schools that fund their students (an increasing trend in parts of Europe), a PhD typically costs $50,000-$150,000. Yes, that’s a lot. If you have the means, consider giving the right student with the right project a lifetime gift.
  • Literary Matchmaker: Even with the right amount of money, not everyone can play this role. Still, if you have the ability and the connections, I would encourage you to become a kind of “vocational whisperer”—someone who makes sure that emerging artists find the right mentors, new authors find the right agents and publishers, and freshly minted PhDs get to schools, charities, and publishing firms that need them. This is a huge project, and yet so very necessary in an age where the study of literature is slipping way, and there are so many eager scholars and writers looking for a space for their voice in culture.

serre-livre-heros

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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25 Responses to A Call for Literary Patrons

  1. dnbeckmann says:

    Brenton: Great post. I too very much appreciated the colloquium and getting to know people, like yourself, better. May the Lord prosper this post resulting in a greater extension of the true, the good, and the beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Charles Huttar says:

    I have forwarded this to the provost at my college:
    “Dear Jim,
    “This very unusual and heart-warming blog comes from a new friend whom I met at a conference earlier this month — himself a struggling (read ‘job-market-victim’) independent scholar, here writing passionately on behalf of others. You’ll have to scroll down a couple of screens, to get to the meat of it. Even though Hope offers its faculty scholars significant resources, internal and external, to support their work, I think many of my colleagues will resonate with it. Would you be willing to pass it on?”

    Like

  3. sdorman2014 says:

    it might be helpful for Signum/Mythgard to have more patronage. a worthy program. Dr. Olsen has a state of the university address.

    Like

  4. L.A. Smith says:

    Fantastic post, Brenton! Sometimes people want to help but just don’t know how. This will give some ideas. And I heard that CBC interview with the writer as well. It’s stuck with me all these years – how wonderful to have someone believe in your work to that extent that they would be willing to give you that gift.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I also liked the unspoken call to creative carpenters (a variant of “Pipes and Tires”) in all those wonderful bookshelf photos! (And, I suppose, patrons of carpenters abler than oneself…)

    Liked by 2 people

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Greg and Suzanne Wolfe turned up in Oxford, and, surprised at the absence of a C.S. Lewis Society, got in touch with Walter Hooper… and here we are, some 35 years later, with a thriving Society (I suppose, as of last Saturday, having taken the older Charles Williams Society under its wing), and The Journal of Inklings Studies, and its further publications, among other things…

    So, starting, joining, fostering a reading circle, study group, or some such, is probably always worthwhile!

    Like

  7. Well said, Brenton, and I hope that one day I will be one of your regular readers that you meet face to face.
    A few years ago my wife and I went to the home of some friends to clean it from top to bottom. He was a William Blake scholar and a teacher without tenure at a university in the English Midlands and he and his family were living in poverty. Eventually he gave up on scholarship and got a job in finance in order to feed his family (literally!). I went round to his house some months after he started the new job and noted its cleanliness and that his children looked healthy.
    I recall this on the day that my daughter, Bethan, gets her undergraduate results. I have already told her that I am proud of the integrity with which she has worked, discovering her own passions and insights and challenging received opinions and orthodoxies. If the results are as she hopes then she has a place at Cambridge at Girton College (Malcolm Guite’s college) to study under a scholar of major international reputation. Supporting her in her academic ambitions will keep us living modestly for some time to come but we think it is worth it. She has also become a dress designer of some ability. Her graduation ball dress is stunning! She hopes to support her studies by establishing her own business with a good friend. She reminds me of Anne Hathaway’s character in “The Intern” and I am passionately proud of her.
    Thanks for giving me this space to write about her. I guess our support for her will be our own form of patronage, and support for “one’s own” is less altruistic than disinterested patronage, but I believe that what you ask for is deeply worthwhile among all the important causes in the world. I hope it will have good results.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stephen, thanks for this. I have met folks like your finance friend. We have been in dire straights before, and may be again. Our stability now comes at some sacrifice–or delay–to dreams.
      You should be proud of your daughter, and I am glad that she has your support. I don’t know that film, but can probably imagine Anne Hathaway’s character within it.
      Who knows, there may be someone out there looking to create a space for academic dress designers. One can never know.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. sdorman2014 says:

    have you a tag for reviews? you’ve reviewed works not highly publicized here before, such as Matthew Dickerson’s /the rood and the torc/ which i bought and read on your recommendation. asking for a review copy from publishers is helpful if, while intending to follow through with a good response, one can’t afford to buy.

    Like

  9. Pingback: Patrons of the Humanities – Idiosophy

  10. Joe Hoffman says:

    I’ve been trying out thoughts along these lines, but they kind of got out of hand so they’re here: http://wp.me/p710l9-3y
    The world of the humanities lost a lot, when I didn’t win the lottery that time I played.

    Liked by 1 person

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  14. wanderwolf says:

    So, do you have a list of people looking for a patron? Can I be the top of that list?
    But, can I also offer my editing experience, should you (or others on said list) ever need one? I may not look it, but I have three years of editing under my belt. 🙂

    Like

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