The Independent Literary Community consists of noncommercial literary presses and magazines, literary centers, writers conferences and festivals, writers who publish with noncommercial literary presses and magazines,
service organizations which support the community, and independent bookstores which are the chief purveyors of noncommercial press books. Many of these organizations are"nonprofit, a legal category usually meaning
that they have been granted IRS 501 (C) (3) tax status, which denotes a charitable or educational purpose and qualifies the organizations to apply for grants and donations--in a word, for subsidy--from public and private
foundations or from individual donors.
Most art lovers know that art museums, symphony orchestras, ballet companies, and many theaters cannot sustain themselves by ticket sales alone. Art lovers understand that the fate of a symphony orchestra, for
example, should not be determined by the marketplace, that we should not be denied Bach because U2 can fill up an orchestra hall and make money while Bach is forever a drain on public and private funds. Art lovers
recognize that if we want an active, vital theater in this country, we must recognize the difference between a Broadway production of Cats and a nonprofit regional theaterÉs production of Chekhov or Beckett or even
Sam Shephard (whose plays are almost never produced on Broadway). One is intended to make money, the other is intended to provide a cultural benefit.
To preserve these cultural benefits, foundations, government agencies, corporations, and individual donors act to supplement what arts organizations can never hope to gain through ticket sales. Indeed, if you can
imagine a society that doesnÉt subsidize the arts, you will have imagined a society without serious music, dance, visual arts, theater--or literature.
Until recently, literature had not made a case for itself as an art form as much in need of subsidy as the other arts. Many art lovers are unaware that most of the poetry, plays, literary translations, innovative
novels, and reprints of 20th century classics published in America are not published by large commercial presses but by small nonprofit presses. During the past five years, for example, more poetry has been published by
nonprofit presses than by all the commercial presses in American combined.
Quality literature is now at that point where it must be sustained by subsidy or it will become less and less available to present and future generations. Art lovers should understand that a collection of poems
or a literary translation or an innovative novel is as different from a Hollywood biography or a new diet book or a best-selling novel as Bach is from U2. More generally, art lovers should recognize the difference between
a commercial publisher driven by the market and a nonprofit publisher existing to serve a cultural function. While the first is self-supporting and may make large amounts of money, the second is devoted to literary art and
requires subsidy to stay in business just like the art museum or the symphony orchestra or the ballet company or serious theater.
As a national center for the literary arts, the Unit for Contemporary Literature at Illinois State University is committed to the advancement of the independent literary community and to the writers, presses,
magazines, bookstores, and literary arts organizations that comprise that community. We urge art lovers everywhere to support the best in modern and contemporary literature by doing business with independent literary
presses and magazines, literary centers, and bookstores and by giving what you can to make their efforts a success. The health--indeed, the survival--of serious literature in America depends upon it.
For related documents, see:
Robert L. McLaughlin. "Oppositional Aesthetics/Oppositional Ideologies: A Brief Cultural History of Alternative Publishing in the United States"
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