Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Advantage of an Extended Publishing Record

Although there are exceptions, poets who begin pursuing professional writing careers early on tend to have an advantage over those who begin later in large part because of how a long it takes to develop a really solid career. Poets often write and publish regularly for years and often decades to attain the support of a publisher and develop the loyal followings numerous anthology editors, literary critics/reviewers, and devoted general readers (who are also book buyers) all necessary to have a really solid career. 

Langston Hughes is one of our most popular poets. Not surprisingly, his works have been in print now for over 90 years now. Gwendolyn Brooks and then Rita Dove received Pulitzer Prize for Poetry awards in their early 30s, and spent the decades afterward really securing their places in literary history.

Many poets who are especially well known have had their poems in circulation for decades. Margaret Walker's most known poem "For My People" was first published in 1937; Nikki Giovanni's popular pieces "Nikki-Rosa" and "Ego-Tripping" first appeared during the black arts era of the 1960s/70s. The popularity of those poems today rests on an extended publishing record that was decades in the making.

An early start for a poet matters less without institutional support. That early start matters less too if the poet's works do not display a writing style that can draw particular kinds of attention and interest or if the poet does not have a signature poem that appears in various contexts and anthologies.

But having an extended or extensive publishing career raises the likelihood that new readers will become aware of a poet's work or that a poet's newly published works might be considered for a literary prize, which could lead to more recognition and an even longer publishing record. Literary critics and historians tend to focus their attention on veteran literary artists or writers with a demonstrated track record as opposed to apparent rookies.

So while having an extended publishing record is not the only thing that matters, it is, nonetheless, a quite important advantage.

Why are some poets more popular than others?

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