Meet the Neighbors: Q&A with Dave Ring of OutWrite DC

In this post, Erika Franz interviews Dave Ring, the community chair of the OutWrite LGBTQ Book Festival in Washington, DC. He was a 2013 Lambda Literary Fellow and a 2018 resident at both Futurescapes and Disquiet. Hard at work on a novel, he has also placed stories with publications like GlitterShip, A Punk Rock Future and The Disconnect. He is the editor of Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of a City That Never Was from Mason Jar Press. More info at www.dave-ring.com. Follow him on Twitter at @slickhop.   

OutWrite DC is based out of the The DC Center. Can you explain the relationship between the two?

OutWrite is a program of Center Arts, which is the DC Center for the LGBT Community’s umbrella program for arts-based initiatives. Like other Center Arts programs, OutWrite is supported by Kimberley Bush, the DC Center’s Director of Arts and Cultural Programs. Aside from Kimberley, we’re staffed entirely by volunteers, including myself.

Can you explain a little about the genesis of OutWrite DC? What is the umbrella mission under which you are operating?

That was before my time. The festival was started as a program of the DC Center in a joint effort between David Mariner, the Center’s Executive Director, and poet Dan Vera. The umbrella mission is “The DC Center for the LGBT Community educates, empowers, celebrates, and connects the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.” OutWrite does that by celebrating LGBTQ literature.

That actually touches on my follow up question: Who is the target audience? How far does the region extend?

There’s been a recent discussion on social media about queer communities connecting outside of bars. And while I think there’s value both historical and individual in “gay bar culture,” it’s been pretty great to curate this other space.

OutWrite’s target audience, like many LGBTQ organizations that exist in person and online, is both hyper-local—DC—as well as global—the internet. And by DC, in practice we mean the DMV.

There isn’t an LGBTQ literary festival in every town, so we also have folks attending from all over. It’s common for us to have folks coming to us from the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, or even California.

Can you explain the programming and what’s on offer from OutWrite? I am especially interested in the festival in August.

The Festival is our biggest event during the year. It will kick off on Friday, August 2, with an event—the details of which are still to be announced. Saturday, August 3, is the busiest day of the festival. It’s a full day of readings, panels and bookselling. Saturday will see about 650+ attendees, if we go by last year. Sunday, August 4, is quieter and more focused. We have six workshops for writers, two at 10am, two at 12pm, and two at 2pm. Those typically have 5-15 attendees each.

This year all events are free and open to the public.

How did you manage to pull off a free event?

With a lot of hard work from volunteers and support from our sponsors. This year our sponsors include Poets & Writers, Science Fiction Writers of America, and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

The vast majority of writers and poets who read at OutWrite are doing so out of the generosity of their own hearts. We’ve grown our budget a little bit every year, with the support of the Center, so we are pleased to be able to support a small number of featured writers in their attendance. This year we should have three featured writers, two of which are confirmed: Kristen Arnett and Jericho Brown.

Why do you think this is so important for the community? Why are people willing to donate their time in this space? I know you mentioned safe spaces away from bars, is that part of it?

I’m grappling with these issues as much as anyone really, so I don’t want to pretend to having more authority here than I do. I’m fairly sure OutWrite’s success has a lot to do with its relatively small size and the quality of connection that is available. Being in a predominately queer space has a noticeable effect on the tenor of certain conversations. It can create room to discuss issues with greater nuance. That nuance can be everything.

There are definitely still challenges that arrive from readings like this. Representation can be uneven from within different enclaves that make up LGBTQ communities.

Because the vast majority of folks donate their time to come and read, our participation still skews towards those who have the economic opportunity to do that. On the flip side, not having a conference fee hopefully widens the possibility of attendance for folks.

So, how did you get involved?

Totally by accident. I was a Lambda Literary Fellow in 2013, and after attending the retreat in LA, I wanted to seek out queer literary community. So I showed up at a planning meeting while Julie Enszer was the community chair of OutWrite.

Two years after that, when Julie moved out of town, she appointed myself and Phill Branch, another Lambda Fellow from that year, to be co-chairs. As Phill has taken on more responsibilities with Story District, he’s no longer a co-chair, and this is my second year as the solo chair.

You were published in the last issue of LPR and have recently edited a collection. Can you talk about the collection in particular?

Sure. The anthology I edited is called Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of a City That Never Was. It came out from Baltimore-based Mason Jar Press in August 2018.

I was inspired by other fantasy collections I’d read, namely Swords of the Rainbow and Bending the Landscape, that collected queer genre stories.

How did you go about building the collection? Were they solicited stories? Slush pile? What was that process like?

All ten stories came from the slush.

The anthology accreted over the months that we were open to submissions. The first story we accepted, “Under Her White Stars” by Jacob Budenz, ended up being the final story in the anthology.

How did you like the role of editor?

I enjoy it more than I’m proud of! There are dueling impulses in me now, where I want to not only write but to edit and anthologize. We’ll see how much spare time I have in me.

You also have a book club reading of it coming up, tell me about that, too. How does someone participate in the Queer Book Club and other events? Where do I find you?

It was a bit of nepotism to schedule it for the third meeting of the Queer Book Club, but I assure you that we’ll be taking suggestions for other books unaffiliated with OutWrite volunteers moving forward!

All OutWrite events are publicized on our website—outwritedc.org—as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Typically, they are all free and open to the public.

Although it’s worth warning folks that you might end up chairing the festival in a couple years if you come to a volunteer meeting. You never know.

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