#SaferLIT: An Interview with Lynn Melnick

Lynn Melnick is an author and editor that utilizes her platform to call attention to pressing issues within literary, publishing, and academic spaces. Her writing explores gender violence, rape culture, and identity through unrelenting images and depictions of both the internal and external process of pain- to ultimately reveal the survivor within. The elements of rage and hope exist within her poetry to defy expectations and disrupt the silence that is all too often forced upon victims.

As a former executive board member of VIDA, Melnick has strived to promote transparent, honest, equitable, and inclusive literary environments free of abuse and harassment. The resulting efforts have produced the pledge and commitment to:

#SaferLIT

How is the #saferLIT initiative addressing issues within the literary, digital arts, and publishing community?

#saferLIT launched in March of 2018 with an ask of the literary community: Join us in ensuring that all corners of the literary community are as safe as possible. Since our launch, we’ve created a pledge for publishers to take to work towards safety within their communities, and we’ve partnered with CLMP and SPD to get the word out. The Academy of American Poets, and scores of smaller journals, signed on, and, we hope, more people will join us soon.

We are currently planning a #saferLIT expansion for the coming year, so stay tuned!

What other issues are writers and publishers facing within the current toxic climate of sexism, harassment, and abuse? How can writers and publishers use their platform to confront these issues?

Well, harassment and abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum. That Boston Review refused to allow Junot Díaz to take a leave of absence after abuse allegations came to light is no surprise when you also consider their recent VIDA Count numbers. The Paris Review has had a very spotty record of publishing women and non-binary writers in equal numbers to men, so, again, it was no shock that their editor, Lorin Stein, stepped down last year after it came out that he had been harassing women in the workplace for years.

Writers and publishers can create a culture where abuse and harassment isn’t tolerated, and where victims feel safe enough to come forward. Also, writers and publishers need to create spaces where marginalized voices are not only heard but in positions of authority as editors, executive directors, MFA directors, etc. And spread the word! Everyone can call abuse out when they see it, can call out discrimination and exclusion, can promote marginalized voices across their platforms.

Why is it important to keep writing and publishing inclusive and equitable? How can academic and nonprofit institutions secure the future of literacy for all?

For too long, the white male voice has been the default voice in the literary world, the voice that can speak for all. This is just simply unacceptable. We can’t change the world with such a skewed notion of the experiences of those in it. We need to access to all voices.

I have no particular expertise in literacy, but I can say that when people are introduced to literary voices that mirror their own, it can be life changing. I was teaching poetry to a group of teens at a public housing rec center in Brooklyn and they were very skeptical of me and my poetry thing. But when I had one of them read Nikki Giovanni’s “Ego Tripping” out loud to the group, I could see their eyes light up, I could feel them relax into the poem, open themselves up to it. One of the reasons I edited my anthology, Please Excuse This Poem was to introduce a diversity of voices to teens and young adults and to let them know that poetry is not just written by the long dead white men they’re taught in high school, but by people from a mix of backgrounds and experiences.

How can underrepresented writers, poets, and authors navigate the literary field and furthermore challenge the singular narrative of white, heterosexual men that is popularized within media?

It’s tough to keep at it when you feel like the field is stacked against you. I would say keep writing, submitting, putting your voice out there. Create your own networks and support each other.

But, really, it’s those in positions of power and privilege who should be challenging the status quo. It’s not enough to say, “Yeah, we should be more equal!” Actually do something: question an editorial decision, a mag’s VIDA Count numbers, the lack of inclusivity at your journal, school, organization. Call the bullshit out when you see it. Call it out before it’s a bandwagon to do so. Use your privilege to help those with less. If you burn a few career bridges (oh I’ve burned several!) you’ll be okay, I promise.

What authors, writers, and/or publishers have influenced your writing and work? How have they inspired you to continue to create resources for women in literature?

I was early on influenced by the art and activism of Alice Walker, and I continue to be. Every day I am inspired and buoyed by the people I work with at VIDA, who give of their own writing time to work for the betterment of our community.

What advice would you offer to women and other underrepresented writers who are early in their careers?

Keep writing, keep submitting, find your community of writers and support them and let them support you. You matter. Also, you are not imagining that this thing is stacked against you. It is. We’re working to change that.


Lynn Melnick is the author of the poetry collections Landscape with Sex and Violence and If I Should Say I Have Hope, and the co-editor of Please Excuse This Poem: 100 Poets for the Next Generation. Her poetry has appeared in APR, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, and A Public Space, and her essays have appeared in LA Review of Books, Poetry Daily, and the anthology Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. A former fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, she also teaches poetry at Columbia University and the 92Y, and formerly served on the Executive Board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, where she coordinated the #saferLIT initiative. Born in Indianapolis, she grew up in Los Angeles and currently lives in Brooklyn. Find her on Twitter: @LynnMelnick.

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