Four Energetic Women
Behind America’s Literary Arts
Interviews with Lee Briccetti, Grace Cavalieri,
Jane Ciabattari, and Noreen Tomassi
“It’s a man’s world,” as the song goes, but Daniela Gioseffi has identified a few women who refuse to sing this tune. Lee Briccetti, Grace Cavalieri, Jane Ciabattari, and Noreen Tomassi have devoted tireless hours to cultivating a literary culture that extends beyond their local community. Indeed, the four women in this interview have overcome cultural and personal hurdles to ensure literature’s place in the national consciousness.
Lee Briccetti is the long-time Executive Director of Poets House in New York City. She has helped to shepherd it from a small facility to a grand library and auditorium with both an adult program and a children’s program. Under her leadership, Poets House developed the Poets House Showcase, an annual exhibit of new poetry books, as well as Poetry in The Branches, a national outreach program that assists public libraries throughout the country in providing poetry services. Lee Bricetti has received a New York Foundation for the Arts Award for her own poetry and been a Poetry Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her first book of poetry, Day Mark, was published in 2005 by Four Way Books.
Daniela Gioseffi: It must be difficult to be both an executive director of a facility like Poets House and a poet with personal concerns for your work. What are the difficulties involved in doing both simultaneously?
Lee Bricetti: Poets House has been at the center of my creative life for twenty-two years. Though making an organization will always be more public and collaborative than making a poem, both activities have a craft. My life at Poets House has demanded intense partnerships, a long view, strategic thinking, and has routinely exposed me to new poetries. During our recent capital construction period, building a permanent home for Poets House—which was tantamount to the poets in the gladiatorial arena with the real estate industry—the pace of business at Poets House created a less than balanced personal equation. Sometimes it is necessary to give everything to make a project work. But now I am finally making new poems and, as I tell my friends, rebuilding the person who can write my poems. I like to think of this period, as Dickinson writes (or almost) as a “midsummer in the mind . . . her polar times behind.”
DG: You’ve hosted great poetry programs by accomplished poets. Do you find that being steeped in contemporary poetry makes it difficult to write your own?
LB: Tuning one’s ear to great poetic voices from across different cultures and times only expands one’s sense of what language can do and what a poem can be. Personally, I have a need to make poems. Being engaged in this larger conversation with poets from different parts of the world has inestimably enriched my sense that we make our home in language.
DG: As an Italian American woman, how did you escape la vita della cucina, the traditional Old World role of the woman tied to the kitchen, and how did you become executive director of Poets House, what background prepared you for it?
LB: At some point, years ago, I drove by my old high school and saw a sign for the 15th Annual Lasagna Dinner benefiting the school’s literary magazine. When I did the math, I realized that I had started the tradition. You never know what will be worthy; and I never knew in high school that what I was doing—directing plays or running the magazine, inventing community dinners to support them—could become a practical, professional path. Later, I picked up tools as a town planner in upstate New York and as an urban planner in New York City working on low-income housing issues. A generous supervisor took me under her wing and showed me how to write my first grant, and that, and the engagement with long-range planning, gave me an unusual starting place for my Poets House work. But surely, the most important training for a life in public service has been coming from an enormous extended Italian-American family—juggling loyalties and negotiating with the many personalities and voices.
DG: What is your hope for the future of Poets House?
LB: All over the country non-profit organizations are built by boards and donors—by people who care—to create deeper civic engagement. Non-profit organizations like Poets House create options in the cultural landscape, and the cultural imagination, that would not otherwise exist in the market economy. Since Poets House has a sixty-year lease at its new home in Battery Park City, my rose-colored glasses see it thriving far into the future; and thriving will always mean inviting the broadest spectrum of people possible into a deepened relationship with the art of poetry and engaging communities in the support of this mission-based work.
What do I hope for Poets House? That it may give joy to many even as it changes, as poetry changes, and that it will continue to bring together diverse practitioners, making a place brimming with conversation, in Battery Park City and online. During the opening of Poets House’s new space, almost from the beginning, people sat down to read in the library as if they had been thirsty. For me, seeing this engagement with the collection, with reading, in our new home was joyous. I had an even keener sense of arrival when I saw a teenager with tattoos and a nose ring studying Giaocomo Leopardi all afternoon.
DG: I imagine that being steeped in all the philosophical thoughts and imaginative worlds of poetry, day after day, has given you a stupendous education in the art of poetry.
LB: That “precarious gait some call experience” can also be called an education. Poets House’s programmatic focus for the last twenty-five years has been on poets reading and discussing other poets . . . and it has been a remarkable education. A program in 1990 that Susan Howe presented on Emily Dickinson changed my reading life and introduced me to the radical consciousness of Dickinson. Our many years of co-sponsoring The People’s Poetry Gathering with City Lore helped me understand more about poetry’s roots in oral tradition, chant and song. But throughout the years, Poets House’s international programs continue to make my world bigger. Stanley Kunitz, (along with Elizabeth Kray, the co-founder of Poets House) said poetry is the most remarkable historical recording device, telling us what it feels like to live in a certain time and place.
Jane Ciabattari is the author of the 2002 short-story collection Stealing the Fire. Her short stories have been widely published and nominated for O. Henry and Pushcart awards. Ciabattari served as president of the National Book Critics Circle from 2008 to 2011 and then as the organization’s Vice President/Online, in charge of the Critical Mass blog and social networking. She also serves as an executive board member and secretary of the Overseas Press Club, and is former board chair of Women's eNews. A past president of the Women's Media Group, and a member of the Authors Guild, PEN, and The Century Association, her articles and book reviews have appeared in many publications, including The New York Times Book Review, The Guardian, NPR.org, The Paris Review, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Poets & Writers Magazine, and Columbia Journalism Review.
Daniela Gioseffi: You’ve had and still have a very impressive and varied career as a writer. How did traditional women’s roles influence or challenge your career as a writer, editor, literary critic, and as the president of The National Book Critics Circle?
Jane Ciabattari: I was raised in a traditional family in the Midwest—I'm a fifth generation Kansas descended from abolitionists. I went to public school and won a National Merit Scholarship to Stanford, where I studied creative writing and married Mark Ciabattari, an Italo-Finn from Butte, Montana who was a bit older. (Happily, he's also an author, and still my husband.) Mark and I were adventuresome. We essentially swapped roles for thirty years or so. I was the major breadwinner, working as an editor, a journalist, a Parade columnist, and always writing fiction; he was the primary parent raising our son Scott. It worked for us—I was interested in the world of work, which seemed exotic, given my mother's role as a homemaker, and Mark was a nurturing dad while doing graduate work and writing.
I often attended the National Book Critics Circle awards ceremonies in New York, and always enjoyed them. I come from a family of folks who pitch in, so I ran for the NBCC board once I had been reviewing for several years (regularly for the Los Angeles Times, Kirkus, The Washington Post and others). After elected, I chaired the Autobiography and then the Fiction awards committees, served as VP/Membership, and helped then president John Freeman and tech VP Rebecca Skloot launch Critical Mass, the blog. I was elected president by the board in 2008. (I served three years, was elected twice.) During my last year on the board (2011-2012) I was back to Critical Mass and keeping an eye on NBCC Facebook and Twitter.
DG: Do you find that your executive positions take tremendous energy and time away from your writing, or does it help to fertilize your own work?
JC: Of course I lost writing time. No question. I wrote most of my early short stories and the novella that was my thesis (and published in Redbook) on Saturdays. I've had tremendous support from writers' colonies like MacDowell and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. I still have weeks at VCCA in the fall that are sheer heaven, working continuously. On the other hand, I've witnessed all sorts of human behavior in the course of my work. My stories often are inspired by place, and I've traveled all over.
DG: Is it more difficult to be a woman in a directorship or editorship than it is to be a man, do you think, or do you find that a superfluous question?
JC: I wish I could say that's a superfluous question. At the Examiner, as a woman in my early twenties, I was surrounded by traditional guys, most of them in their forties and fifties. Some of them made my life tough; others saw my merits and promoted me and supported me. I learned a lot. Among other things I learned to empathize with women AND men of all ages, and I learned to be flexible. Later, on the road as a Parade columnist, covering international affairs, Washington politics, and the movies, I sometimes seemed to surprise the heads of state, politicians, and film stars I was interviewing when I showed up. In particular I recall a group of NATO leaders, including a Norwegian general and the German Secretary General at the time, who seeming bemused that I was asking them such knowledgeable questions; the Secretary General asked who had been briefing me. But I had the clout of eighty million American readers behind me.
DG: What is the allure of reviewing books? Does being a reviewer make you hypercritical of your own writing?
JC: I love good literature. Always have. I grew up reading books from the library. My parents subscribed to The Sunday New York Times, so I was reading book review sections in our local paper (the Emporia Gazette, where I got my start writing a weekly column when I was 14), the Kansas City Star, and the NYTBR. Being a reviewer helps me see what works and what doesn't. As a fiction writer, I've been thrilled to recognize (and learn from) the work of NBCC award finalists and winners like Jennifer Egan, Jayne Anne Phillips, Bharati Mukherjee, Jane Smiley, Roberto Bolano, and dozens of others.
DG: How do you feel about the new digital electronic age in publishing? Does it provide more or less opportunity for writers?
JC: I don't think we'll be able to turn back the tide. I just try to keep up with the currents. The past decade has been earthshaking, no doubt about it. But we're still a nation of passionate readers, and we still need gatekeepers or curators to guide us toward what's worth our time. I have talked a lot about these changes over the past six years at writers' conferences, at NBCC events, at the BEA, on university campuses, and every six months the picture changes.
DG: What are some of the changes you’ve instituted in the National Book Critics Circle, and what is your hope for the future of the NBCC in this digital age?
JC: I'm pleased to have been part of the founding of Critical Mass in April 2006 (with John Freeman and Rebecca Skloot). The NBCC has been an online-only organization ever since I've been on the board, so I see digital as a huge advantage for a tiny nonprofit funded almost entirely by membership dues. Also, during my tenure, I hired David Varno, the NBCC's web manager. I developed NBCC discounts for members from literary quarterlies and other places. We started doing that this past winter, beginning with Granta, Pleiades, Poets and Writers, TinHouse, now expanded under new president Eric Banks to include the Paris Review, New York Review of Books, Open Letter Books, and I just brought in Selected Shorts. We’ve been setting up a Wiki for the members-only NBCC Guide to Freelancing Markets, updated annually by former board members. The National Book Critics Circle got its first ever NEA grant while I was president, and that's something I worked hard on. Ditto: expanding the events nationwide, in the wake of John Freeman's energetic barnstorming as president. I tried to keep up that momentum with NBCC events at AWP, BEA, PEN World Voices, and book fairs and festivals all over the country, from Brooklyn to Portland to Virginia and Texas and at iconic bookshops like Canio's, Prairie Lights, City Lights, and others. Upgrading the website, under Tech VP Lizzie Skurnick. Hosting three years of NBCC finalists' announcements and awards finalists' readings and awards ceremonies, with the incredibly hard-working Barbara Hoffert as awards chair. Passing the baton to the highly qualified Eric Banks, the current president. And all the hours of online and in person book discussions. There is nothing like arguing passionately with twenty-four fellow critics.
Grace Cavalieri is the author of 16 books and chapbooks of poetry, most recently Sounds Like Something I Would Say and Navy Wife (CreateSpace 2009 & MiPOesias 2010), The Poet's Cookbook (Bordighera Press, 2009), Anna Nicole: Poems (Casa Menendez, 2008), and Water on the Sun (Bordighera Press, 2006). From 1977-1997, Cavalieri produced and hosted "The Poet and the Poem," a weekly show that presented 2,000 poets to the nation. She now presents this series to public radio from the Library of Congress via NPR.
Daniela Gioseffi: What got you started in radio, and how did you come to find yourself producing the country's most widely syndicated radio show about poets and poetry? What roles did The National Endowment for the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation play in getting this program off the ground?
Grace Cavalieri: I co-founded WPFW-FM in 1977 partly with a $40,000 grant from the NEA Literature Division to put poetry plus eight other art programs a week on the radio. It was not until the 1990s when I had more support from NEA. In 2004, I received an additional $5,000 grant from NEA when Dana Gioia saw the value of poetry on air. Along the way, I applied for personal state arts and humanities grants that I always poured into radio. Witter Bynner came in 1989 with a single grant from the Library of Congress to send my regional series national (a trial balloon.) When I went to the Library after retiring from the 20-year show on WPFW in 1997, the Witter Bynner foundation started supporting the series annually. Each year I reapply. I am not a line item on anyone’s budget.
DG: You now keep your interviews online at the Library of Congress (LOC). When did that process begin and how far along is the transition?
GC: I have interviewed or presented approximately 2,500 poets in 34 years. Only recent shows are on the LOC website. There are one thousand at the George Washington University Special Collections. Approximately five hundred are held at the Pacifica Archives and Program Service. Most of the shows have raw (not produced) recordings still at the LOC on hard drives and tapes.
DG: You’ve interviewed some of the world’s most famous poets, including every US Poet Laureate for the last few decades. Which were your most notable interviews—ones that stick out in your memory or remain especially meaningful?
GC: Ginsberg (1977) was the most difficult, as he had been up all night marching in a protest and was cranky. Also being a woman from the suburbs with children and being a Navy wife did not bring me much love from his world. I might have been politically aligned, which I was, but I could not carry a sign proving it. We became friends later. The poet Wilfred Cartey from Trinidad was a blind poet and he was the last of the “Negritude movement.” When he finished talking with me, we were both in tears. I’ve loved all the Poets Laureate. They are happy to share themselves in the bright light of that appointment. W. S. Merwin’s interview this year was a highlight of my life as a radio host.
DG: For how many years have you been doing the show and how widely syndicated is it? Can people lobby their local stations to carry it?
GC: The show will celebrate 35 consecutive years on-air in February 2012. A big landmark! It is given free to all public radio stations and I have no idea who takes it. Station carriage changes, but I imagine from 30 to 50 stations carry it. There is no way to chart it, because some stations tape it for educational use, some download and play at random, some take the series as sent, some miss the feed and write me to get CDs. It is something I cannot control. Now NPR distribution is all automated so it is a computerized setup where stations can pick programs from a “Content Depot” like grapes from a vine. Each season, I send shows up weekly and they hang there for six months for the taking.
DG: Have there been some funny incidents that stand out in your mind, or some embarrassing moments that you'd like to correct or share?
GC: A million mistakes! On WPFW, Henry Taylor was on-air. The wiring got fouled up and the front door buzzer and speaker came over the air. So everyone who was trying to get in the station, came through on my show and Henry braided it all into his poetry. It was fantastic performance art. Brodsky started every sentence with Nyet! and No! Then he’d agree with me. So, I edited out all the No’s and had a reel of fifty No’s; and on the final program, he sounded quite affable. Everything that can go wrong, in 34 years, of course, did. At one time, our radio station was located in Chinatown in D.C. and a celebration of the Chinese New Year interrupted my audio. Even a sound proof studio could not shut out the fireworks. A.R. Ammons showed up for an hour-long interview and reading without his books (thank heavens I had them). This happened quite a lot. I never arrived empty handed.
DG: How much preparation do you have to do for each show?
GC: If I am interviewing a U.S. Poet Laureate, I read every single word written: prose, memoir, poetry. I do that all summer as these interviews occur each October. This is enjoyment for me. As for other poets, I know their most recent books and probably former works.
DG: When did you yourself start writing and publishing poetry?
GC: As we all know, poets are born brain-wired a certain way and every poet I know wrote as a child. I’m no exception. I started writing poetry because language was how I understood the world. It was a paradigm that made everything matter and in forms that were safe to hold what I felt. I sent poems out as a young adult, but not until my 4th child was born did I write and send poems out every day. That was 1964. My current process is that I write a book of poems and then the characters won’t go away so I write a play from that. This is the case with my last five plays. They were books of poems first. Yet, the play becomes nothing at all like the poetry. However, the characters have been born there.
DG: Does that the radio show has helped or hindered your own writing?
GC: Public work does not cut into personal creativity. They are streams from the same river but with different destinations. I get a huge energy transfusion from listening to poets read their works. But that does not belong to me. I go into a different room in the house inside myself to plunder my own secrets and language for poems. If anything, hearing another poet is a sacred experience I enter, but I can honestly say this does not influence my own work.
DG: Lately, you've been working on having your plays produced. Tell us about those, where they've been done, and what has pleased you about their productions.
GC: Well, I am a product of the “Hippie” theater movement of the ’60s. In 1968 I had my first play produced in Baltimore’s Corner Cafe (a branch of Café La Mama.) It was the heyday for theater, even using storefronts and cafes for stages. I had ten plays produced in succession, all one-acts . . . which was the vogue then. . . along with Sam Shepherd, Leonard Malfi, many interesting writers. I had one show billed with Joe Orton at WPA Theater Off -Broadway in 1977. But, with four children I could not play in that sandbox continuously. It takes hands-on attention and I had to meet the school bus each day at 3:00 pm. In the mid-70s I saw my first full-length play win a national award, produced several times on both coasts. Then a hiatus until the mid ’80s with that same play in NYC. It has just been published in “Scene4 International Magazine of the Arts:” The Sticker Tree,” all these years later. In the 1980s I formed an association with NYC’s Xoregos Performing Company, and through my writing grants, several plays have been mounted with professional actors. I have had twenty-three plays staged since 1968 all over the country. They usually are tried in NYC such as “Hyena in Petticoats” in 2006—then it went to Durango Colorado. After trials, “Quilting the Sun” went to Greensville South Carolina and is now being produced in different South Carolina cities in preparation for the Spoleto festival. Also harking back to the ’70s and ’60s, I have worked with Baltimore composer Vivian Adelberg Rudow in writing texts and lyrics for songs and opera that continue to be produced and recorded.
Noreen Tomassi became Director of the Center for Fiction in New York City in 2004. She began her career in Play Development department at McCarter Theatre at Princeton and was director of the Literary Arts and Theater programs at the New Jersey State Council for the Arts and a past president of Arts International. Her books include Money for International Exchange in the Arts and American Visions/Visiones de las Americas. With Jane Alexander and Birgitta Trommler, she co-created What of the Night, a theater piece based on the life and work of Djuna Barnes, produced by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel in Spring 2005.
Daniela Gioseffi: How did you come to be director of the Center for Fiction, and how did the Center for Fiction come about as an institution and facility?
Noreen Tomassi: When I took the job as executive director in fall 2004, The Center was still called The Mercantile Library of New York. The “Merc” was founded in 1820 by a group of merchants who wanted to create a library for the use of their clerks. I believe I believe I was hired because in my interview I laid out a vision for a Center for Fiction in New York City, and this perfectly aligned with the Board’s interests in moving the organization into the 21st century.
DG: Describe the facility’s functions and programs. What is its raison d’etre?
NT: The Center for Fiction is the only nonprofit in the U.S. solely dedicated to celebrating fiction. We work every day to connect readers and writers. Time Out calls The Center “one of the top three reasons to stay in Manhattan for literary events,” citing the innovative panels, lectures, and conversations that take place in our beautiful building on East 47th Street. We also feature workspace, grants, and classes to support emerging writers, reading groups on classic and contemporary authors, and programs to help get kids reading. We recognize the best in the world of fiction through our annual awards, and we operate an independent fiction bookshop on our ground floor. We are also an important piece of New York City history, continuing to build our renowned circulating fiction collection, begun before the advent of the public library system. In the future, I would like The Center to be known nationally and internationally as the pre-eminent place for lovers of fiction, both readers and writers, on-line and here in NYC. I’d like to be able to support more writers early in their career. I’d like to have a residency program for accomplished writers. I’d like us all to think about fiction more expansively—novelists writing for TV, as Tom Piazza does for Treme; multi-media work and innovative e-books; immersive fiction/gaming, and more—and I’d like The Center to be known for having unbelievably great, earth-shatteringly great, literary programming here in our building, at other sites, and in all media.
DG: What are the biggest challenges in shepherding the Center for Fiction’s work and existence? I imagine it is difficult in these hard economic times.
NT: It is hard—and has been especially hard for all non-profits since 2008. But it’s hard for everyone. The goal is to find enough people who love the art of fiction enough to support a center—the only Center for Fiction in the entire country—in these rough times. Charitable giving is always a very personal choice and when money is tight, the trick is not to convince random people to give, (That never works!), but to find the institution’s “family. ”In our case, these are the people to whom writing and reading matter terribly, who really want to help writers, who want to get more kids reading, and to whom it feels natural and right to help maintain a meeting place and oasis for fiction lovers. We find more and more people like that every year, and that’s heartening.
DG: As an Italian American, how did you escape traditional notions of Italian femininity, or la vita della cucina (the woman in the kitchen)? Were your parents and family encouraging of your education in literary arts?
NT: My grandmother spoke almost no English and a number of my cousins were born in Italy and still live there (in Milan and Rome). Neither my mother nor my father, nor any of nearly 40 aunts and uncles on either side, were college-educated. So I can’t say that my parents encouraged me to continue my education in any field, though they seemed more or less glad that I graduated high school. That said, my mother was a voracious reader and wrote quite good poetry, mostly on religious themes, and encouraged me to read. Because most of the adult men I knew in my extended family worked seasonally in the trades as masons or carpenters, nearly all of the women worked outside the home to provide a basic steady income. My mother learned bookkeeping and worked in the office at a car dealership. Many of my aunts worked the assembly lines at the GM plant or as cashiers in retail stores. So I don’t know that I had much of a sense of the woman solely as "keeper of home and hearth.” It’s true that these women made homes, created holidays rich with tradition, were the primary care-givers to their children and did all that in addition to working. But, I don’t know that that was specific to Italian American families of the time.
From very early on I decided to learn how to be financially self-sufficient while doing work I would love and I suppose I think of myself as a career woman. That said, check in with me on any Christmas Eve and you’ll find me in the kitchen furiously cooking my grandmother’s recipes for my son and nieces and their families. I doubt there’s anything I love more than sitting at that long table among high chairs and toddlers and teens and my son and nieces with a glass of red wine and a meal I cooked for them on the table. La vita della cucina is something I value very much!
DG: You studied literature at Skidmore, not arts administration. Does being director of the Center for Fiction inhibit your own writing, or are you still doing writing of your own? How does being around the richness of these programs affect your inner life?
NT: I’m not a terribly structured writer and am full of admiration for people who say they write n words or n pages a day without fail. I need to have an idea or project I love. I was wildly in love with Djuna Barnes for three years. Thought about her day and night, couldn’t stand to be away from her. I do note that What of the Night, my last big project, ended just as I was taking this job, so it’s possible that the amount of energy and passion I put into The Center is getting in the way of my next big literary love affair. (Though I am having a little flirtation right now, so who knows?)
I hope that the programs mean something to our audience, enrich their lives. There have been a number of books lately—the wonderful Montaigne, or How to Live; Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, and A Jane Austen Education to name just a few, that suggest that great literature can teach us how to be better human beings. I’d like to believe that’s true, that anyone who reads Jane Austen can’t be a bad human being, but there’s lots of evidence to the contrary, isn’t there? Think of the writers who disprove it. Naipaul, for example, is a fine writer and obviously a thoughtful reader, but it clearly hasn’t been advantageous to his inner life. Pound read Dante and Leopardi, but was a wreck of a human being. So why spend 60 or more hours a week, week in and week out, if you don’t believe reading makes for a better, richer inner life? I guess the truth is that despite the evidence, I do believe it. I have faith. Reading is better than not reading, books can be sacred objects and libraries sacred places, and my inner life, such as it is, and certainly my outer life, my everyday existence, are made better by fiction.
DG: What aspects of your position do you find the most fulfilling, and which are the most challenging to that sense of enrichment?
NT: I love writers. They are endlessly fascinating to me and for the most part are a pleasure to be around. So the programming is my greatest joy, matched only by working on the awards we give—The Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize and the Emerging Writers Fellowships in particular. I can’t begin to explain how satisfying it is to sit down with the first 25 pages of a debut novel submission and think— “Ah, this is it, the real thing, this is a writer I’ll still be reading with great pleasure 20 years from now.” I also love talking about books, which makes lingering with audiences after events and leading book groups a lot of fun. And I love my Board. I hope other executive directors don’t hate me too much, but I honestly do think I have one of the greatest Boards ever—committed, thoughtful, supportive, and full of humor and grace. My Board Chairman in particular (Peter Ginna of BloomsburyUSA) is a godsend. The biggest challenge continues to be how to do all we do with such a small staff. People are generally amazed to hear that there are only a few full-time people working here. They are all talented, dedicated people, but still . . .
DG: Is there something else you wished I’d asked you that you’d like to expound upon? Please feel free to add anything else about your work and life that you’d like to articulate in closing.
NT: The question I'm most often asked at dinner parties seems to be whether I think people will still be reading books twenty years from now, whether the next generation will be willing to immerse themselves in a novel or whether short pieces of prose on screens will be all that interests them. I, of course, believe they will. More people are reading on this planet than ever before. and new technologies will make great books even more available around the globe. Not everyone will want to become a voracious reader or a person who "lives by fiction" as I, and many members of The Center, do. But that's always been the case. Some people care more about music or dance or finance or painting—or golf, or baseball. But the fact that more people are literate and more people have access to the written word means that more people will fall in love with reading. Whether books, in their current form, survive is a different question and I don't have an answer for that. I don't think anyone does. I do know that as much as I love real books—paging through them, the smell of them, the look of type on paper and the beautiful covers, it really is what's inside them that counts. The stories matter, not the form in which they're delivered. And, I don't have any doubt at all that people will keep telling stories and reading them as long as there are people around.
Daniela Gioseffi is the founding editor of Poets USA and ItalianAmericanWriters.com. She is the American Book Award winning author of fourteen books of poetry and prose.