Today’s featured Writefest speaker is Kate Martin Williams, writer, editor and co-owner of Bloomsday Literary. She attended the University of Tennessee and earned a Master of Arts degree in English with a creative writing emphasis from the University of Tennessee. She holds a master’s degree in teaching from Rice University, and in a former life, she chilled her writerly bones on an ice rink as a competitive (but decidedly non-combative) figure skater and coach. Her writing life has led her to bear witness to the stories of activists, survivors, visionaries, and the everyday people who make a difference by living engaged lives. She lives in Houston with three ridiculously lovely children, ridiculously supportive husband, and their dog, Abigail, who’s just plain ridiculous.
Williams had a conversation with Writespace about her editorial approach at Bloomsday.
What do you look for when choosing works for publication?
Bloomsday is seeking to work with writers of diverse ethnic backgrounds, with voices that are distinct, unique, and unafraid. We look especially to publish people of color whose work has not historically been given the same opportunities to rise to the surface in a crowded literary landscape. We are accepting novels, short story collections, creative nonfiction, and poetry. The mission of Bloomsday is two-fold: we strive to publish voices that have and continue to be underrepresented in traditional publishing, and also create community within our city by sharing stories, striving to reach wider audiences. So when we evaluate new work, we’re thinking about how this story-telling will stitch us together, will shed some light on the human experience. In short we are not scared of MORE. More voices, more light, more stories, not LESS.
How do you replenish your creative well?
I get really encouraged (and this sounds weird) when I hear people in the “old guard" publishing world saying the same old thing about the same writers, pretending they’re doing something different. We have lots of work to do to turn publishing towards new voices, but there’s room for people who have a focused eye to shepherd good work to a hungry audience. The more they drone on about old stuff, the more it pushes us to seek out what’s happening on the razor’s edge, carving out our place. When I get to hang with people who are pursuing new ways to communicate, different modes of expression, pushing art to be more and more human in ways that reach new audiences, I feel like I could do this all day and every day. We are a team of three people. One of our partners, Phuc Luu, calls this work that feeds the soul. We’re too surrounded by really amazing creators to be uninspired.
How has your writing experience influenced you as an editor/publisher?
Jessica Cole (co-founding editor on the Bloomsday team) and I went to graduate school together, and wrote novels on our laptops back-to-back. We cut our teeth writing together (we even have a novel we’re co-authoring together). We come to the table as writers first, writers who work in collaboration. We treat our authors in the same way we want to be treated by our editors. We build relationships grounded in trust and mutual respect from which the work emerges more strongly honed by the collaboration. If the process isn’t that, then why collaborate with an editor at all? We’ve had the benefit of good editing from good friends who respect the work for what it is trying to be. That’s how we approach our authors’ work.
What would you tell your younger (15-year-old) self?
BE SKEPTICAL OF THE SYLLABUS. Read more people of color, more women, more works in translation. Figure out who made the list, figure out who they left out, then go make your own list. I spent too much time reading what people told me to.
What’s one thing you want people to remember about Bloomsday?
I think there are many, many lovely cities in this country. Cities I love. But what Houston has that no other city has is a wellspring of culture that makes us a place brimming with Voice. We know that we’re the most diverse of the large cities in the US, but not a lot of other folks do. (Can I tell you how many times Angelenos/as try to tell me they are the most diverse?) Bloomsday wants to be a part of letting the rest of the world in on this little secret. By publishing great voices, from this town, but also from abroad, we are saying that listening (and caring about) these disparate voices is to our benefit as a people—as humans—who have to figure out how to love together.
Want to hear more from Kate Martin Williams at Writefest? Her schedule will be posted on our website soon. She will also be taking pitches during our pitch sessions!
Be sure to secure your tickets to Writefest if you haven't already!