Sunday, March 27, 2011

Attention all Parents!!! ~ interview with M. M. De Voe, executive director of Pen Parentis

In addition to serving on the editorial board here at Our StoriesM. M. De Voe is executive director of Pen Parentis. An award-winning and oft-published short fiction writer, De Voe established Pen Parentis in December 2009, after running a year of successful Pen Parentis readings in Lower Manhattan with salons curator Arlaina Tibensky. Three Pushcart nominations, two Editor's Prizes, a few arts grants, two children, and several publications later, De Voe continues to seek balance between family and writing career. She holds an MFA from Columbia and is a former actress: DeVoe still does occasional voiceover work—and is also the Director of Online Workshops as well as an Associate Editor at OurStories Literary Journal. See www.mmdevoe.com for De Voe's extensive writing CV and recent news. And if you have an extra minute: "like" her on www.facebook.com/mmdevoe



Q: According to the Pen Parentis website, "The objective of Pen Parentis is to provide resources to authors who are also parents." Could you share something about how, for you personally as a parent, Pen Parentis was something that simply needed to be?

Writing is a very isolating activity, and (surprisingly) so is becoming a parent. There are a zillion new-parent groups out there, but almost all of them focus on the child—when to change a diaper, how to teach them to sleep—what I needed was permission NOT to sleep when the kid was sleeping but rather to use that time to edit a short story. In short, I needed a community of artists who understood that writing was just as 24/7 as parenting--and who could help me find balance. The last thing I wanted to hear was "oh, just give up your day job for as much of your kid's life as you can manage." Writing wasn't something I could just give up. So I set about finding experts—people who had managed to publish novels despite having small kids in the house. The curator of our series, Arlaina Tibensky, is a genius at finding great authors. We have featured some outstanding authors—and all of them have had really great advice for the rest of us who are still struggling along! Our website actually has podcasts (free to members) of the Salons Q&As. They're amazing: successful authors who are so intimate and open about their personal lives.  As for me, personally, I have a 4 yr old and an 8 yr old, and thanks to the support of the members of Pen Parentis, I started a brand-new novel a year ago that's already nearing the second draft stage.


Q: What (or who) are some of the "success stories" of Pen Parentis?
Well, Cara Hoffman, for one—she was featured here on Our Stories! We invited her to read at one of our very first events, she came down from a small town in upstate new york and had us all in stitches. She read from an unpublished manuscript. Since then, she's gotten the MS published and is returning to our stage this coming May (alongside Ann Hood and Marina Budhos!) to read from SO MUCH PRETTY.  We have had such wonderful feedback from all the authors who read for us—our stage is elegant and upscale, not the beer-rings-on-the-bar open-mic experience we all know (and sortof love/loathe). There's lovely wine and you can even buy little food plates. It's very professional and warm. Authors who have read for us often ask to return—Arthur Phillips, for example, made the cover—the cover!--of the New York Times Book Review on the very week that we had him for the first time at Pen Parentis. He enjoyed his experience so much that when he published his next book (THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR) he asked if he might read again—and he brought along his friend, Whitney Terrell. So the April 12th, we feature the two of them (National Book Award winners, both!) as well as a third wonderful writer, Roy Kesey, who lives in Peru with his wife and kids. Honestly, I can't get over how talented and giving these authors are. Oh! And on a totally other note, we also offer a Fellowship each year to a writer who is a new parent—last year's winner, Abby Sher, had her second child a month after winning the $1000 award—and managed still to publish this year! And as for the organization itself, Brain/Child Magazine wrote a lovely article about us last December and we've been nominated twice for Neighborhood Achievement Awards as well as receiving Manhattan Community Arts Fund Grants. Oh! Do check out the Sustainable Arts Foundation at www.sustainableartsfoundation.org. They are not affiliated with us but they did give us a lovely grant, and they are currently accepting applications from individual artists and writers who are parents (see? This is the sort of information we give out to our members all the time…) 


Q: What Pen Parentis outreach activities are currently under way, and where?
Well, we have our monthly Salons. They are always on the second Tuesday of each month at 7pm, September thru May, and always on the second floor of the Gild Hall Hotel in Lower Manhattan at the Libertine Library (a lovely little bar) -- 15 Gold Street is the address, if you happen to be in NYC this coming April 12th, or May 10th, you are invited! They're free and open to the public, and feature book signings, drinks, and great networking—we've had agents and even one big house editor soliciting manuscripts at our March event.  We are also soliciting applications for our Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship for New Parentis through April 20th, guidelines are on our website at www.penparentis.org.  


Q: How can the Our Stories community get involved?
PLEASE FB us and Tweet about us!! If you have kids, please consider applying for the Fellowship. If you don't, please send this link: www.penparentis.org do someone you know who DOES have kids and is a writer. If you live near NYC or are visiting — come to the Literary Salons! They are free and open to anyone. You don't have to be a writer or a parent to enjoy them. You get to meet authors at close-hand, and really, the interaction is fantastic. Please visit our site-- membership is open—it's a national organization—we accept writers at all levels of their careers with any age children, but there's a lot to look at even if you don't become a member. We have free podcasts of most of the readings from the past two years, maybe you have a favorite author you'd like to hear live? Send us your suggestions—of course they have to have kids.  I'd love it if some more elderly writers would join the group; their advice is invaluable!  We have two message boards, one that's for the general public (for information on contests, submissions, etc.) and one that is for members only (to ask for and exchange advice on the balance between parenting and writing) — the website is very new, so we would really love to have more participation on these boards. We are creating something entirely new—a place where authors who are also parents can really let loose and be themselves in utter privacy. But if nothing else—just send on the link to someone you know who might know someone…again it's www.penparentis.org

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