Highlight on WWS-Las Vegas: An Interview with Chapter Lead, Jocelyn Paige Kelly

Women Who Submit: How would you describe your city and your local literary community?

Jocelyn Paige Kelly: Vegas is becoming a vibrant literary community. We have very supportive local bookstores that showcase local authors: The Writer’s Block and Books or Books.

There are also lots of opportunities for poets. We have three paying markets for poets: Desert Companion, Downtown Zen magazine, and Helen: A Literary Magazine. There are numerous open mics, a local slam team (Battle Born, named after the state motto), and readings that go on throughout each month. A few local groups have also started to sponsor awards and contest for local poets as well. We also have our first Clark County Poet Laureate Bruce Isaacson who does a lot to support the local poetry scene.

We have two nonprofit groups that support writers: Henderson Writers Group and Writers of Southern Nevada. The Las Vegas Poets Organization is a grassroots organization that supports local poets and a slam team, Battle Born. There’s also our yearly Vegas Valley Book Festival in the middle of downtown that has a lot of panels from local and national authors. And, of course, UNLV has an internationally recognized PHD program in Creative Writing. They also have an MFA program that does a monthly reading called Neon Lit at The Writers Block. Nevada State College does a lot to bring out nationally recognized poets to read and give workshops. I believe the next one is Sharon Olds in December. One of our WWS branch members, Angela Brommel, is actively involved with that.

Nevada Humanities also helps the local poets with exhibits of their work and poetry readings. Las Vegas Poets Organization sponsors a monthly one for six months out of the year featuring local poets. They also sponsor a state competition for the youth and put together a reading.

We’ve also had a long history of zine culture here. So, a lot of stuff. I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but people are often surprised how much of a literary scene Vegas actually has.

WWS: How did you hear of Women Who Submit, and why were you drawn to start a WWS chapter in your area?

JPK: I found out about WWS on Twitter in a reference through VIDA, I believe, and was intrigued. I decided to start a local chapter because it would help the literary writers of the town come together as a community especially the women. So much of our city’s resources are dedicated to self-published writers of nonfiction and fiction that I wanted to help the literary writers come together. Our town can be transient and people who move here may not be aware there is a literary community here. A local branch of WWS brings women together on a continual basis and helps grow our community to new levels. UNLV has a great creative writing program, but it doesn’t focus on developing an ongoing local writing community. I wanted to be a part of the community that wants that to change. The WWS chapter is part of my efforts to bring that community out and connecting us to the rest of the writing community.

WWS: What personal experiences are you hoping to bring to the table as the chapter lead?

JPK: I’ve been published in literary magazines and have loads of experience in dealing with rejection. That may not sound positive, but it’s truthful. It’s just a part of the process and you have to learn to take your lumps and move on. The worst thing you can do is stop writing and stop submitting. Just keep sending your work out and not take anything personally even when it feels personal. My goals is to help other women writers and poets learn to deal with it and move forward in their careers instead of stopping and giving up. When we come together as a community, we end up accomplishing more together and I’ve seen that in this past year with the local WWS branch. It’s made a huge difference already in all the women who have attended the monthly meetings.

WWS: What can people expect to find at a WWS-Las Vegas submission party?

JPK: We’re very low-key and supportive of each other. We’re often grouped together tapping at our keyboards and sharing our news, both good and bad, with submissions. Sometimes we discuss specific topics such as conferences, cover letters, how to target specific markets. We’re hoping as we grow that we can bring in speakers.

WWS: What specific submission barriers do the writers in your chapter face and what ways is your chapter addressing them?

JPK: That’s a really good question, and I believe a lot of it has to do with submitting to markets that mainly publish male writers. We have several members working on growing their professional network to help with that as sometimes just blindly submitting and hoping for the best isn’t always the best strategy. Knowing other editors who work for literary magazines does help increase your odds.

We also have issues with people in general taking Las Vegas seriously as a literary market and we’re developing strategies to help address that, but this is a larger issue.

WWS: Do you have any submission success stories to share? 

JPK: We’ve had quite a few of our members be published this year as we’ve started our chapter. Our members have been (or will be published) in Booth, Painted Darts, and Pinch as a result of the submission parties. One member even received a local grant. I’ve had four pieces accepted myself.

unnamed-2Jocelyn Paige Kelly is a graduate of Clarion West. Her short stories and poems can be found in numerous journals. She lives in Las Vegas where she publishes Helen: A Literary Magazine.

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