On Literary Citizenship

Cathy Day
Cathy Day

I’m always on the hunt for new ideas I can steal and use in the classroom and the latest thing that has me excited is Literary Citizenship. Author and Ball State professor Cathy Day wrote about this in a blog post back in March of 2011, possibly inspired by Blake Butler. For the past few years, she has given a pep talk about participating in the literary community at the end of each semester and has since developed an entire course around the idea.


Literary Citizenship is one of those great ideas that gives a name and a form to something many of us have felt or noticed but had not articulated. As creative writing programs have grown in number over the decades so too have the number of cynics who point out that not every undergraduate creative writing major or MFA graduate will become a great novelist—or even a published author. This attitude seems loaded with elitist contempt for creative writing programs that let the unwashed masses believe they can become writers and implicitly argues creative writing education lacks value. I have been looking for a simple, concise response to these critics. Here it is:


Day points out that of course creative writing education doesn’t lead every student to become a published author—but many students do become literary agents, editors at publishing firms both large and small, founders of literary magazines, book reviewers, bloggers dedicated to literature, organizers of literary festivals and conferences, subscribers to literary journals, creators of library reading groups, founders of book clubs, journalists, lifelong readers, educators, and so on. These people sustain our literary culture by becoming active participants in America’s literary community. After all, in order to exist authors need readers and a culture that values literature.


College literature courses once brought young people into America’s literary community, but no more. (More about this in a future post.) Today, the many creative writing classes, conferences, and workshops fill this role. Day proposes that in these classes and workshops we promote “literary citizenship” so that “more aspiring writers would contribute to, not just expect things from, that world they want so much to be a part of.”


Day says she first learned the term literary citizenship from Brevity’s blog here. Read Day’s six points of literary citizenship on her original blog post at The Bird Sisters, and check out her website at http://cathyday.com/.

10 March 2013