March 7th, 2012 / 1:31 pm
Behind the Scenes

NEA slams BlazeVOX authors

This letter just came from the NEA to a BlazeVOX author:

Dear XXX:

It has come to our attention that BlazeVOX books has asked authors to contribute to the cost of publishing their own books.

The eligibility requirements for the NEA’s Creative Writing Fellowships prohibit applicants from using publications from presses that require individual writers to pay for part or all of the publication costs (

Therefore, you may not use a book published BlazeVOX book to establish your eligibility.  You have until 4:00 p.m. (Eastern) on Friday, March 9, 2012 to establish your eligibility for the fellowships using alternate publications.  Please email your new Summary of Applicant Publications to me at by the deadline.  Any applicant failing to meet this deadline will be deemed ineligible for the fellowships.

Please contact me if you have any questions.


B— B—

Division Specialist| Literature Division

National Endowment for the Arts

1100 Pennsylvania Ave., NW | Rm. 703 | Washington, DC 20506

202.682.5757 | 202.682.5481 FAX |

What do you think? Is the NEA right or wrong? Should a writer be “punished” just because they had their first book published by BlazeVOX?


  1. Mark C

      wow, that’s fucked, especially since it’s been made clear that not every Blazevox author had to pay–only a selected few.

      I was talking to a poet friend (when this happened) about whether or not this sort of thing would do significant damage to how indie presses are perceived by grant institutions and universities. I tried to insist that it wouldn’t but, well.

      It’s a shame, really.

  2. Mike Meginnis

      I wouldn’t personally handle it this way but you can hardly blame the NEA. I wouldn’t expect them to see it as I do, and the fact is I don’t look on it very well — though I think BlazeVOX is entirely at fault, and I don’t think badly of their authors at all. Fact is, BlazeVOX damaged the reputations of its authors by doing what it did, and will continue to do so. I don’t think the damage is entirely fair (BlazeVOX did clearly exercise editorial judgment even with its paying authors, even if they maybe didn’t maybe exercise as much as they should have in order to make the numbers work) but it’s inevitable, and this won’t be the end of it. I don’t mind if BlazeVOX wants to keep going or if authors want to keep working with them (most writers aren’t necessarily looking for NEA grants or tenure-track jobs) but this sort of thing is going to keep happening.

  3. Roxane

      This is a damn shame but it was bound to happen. As Mike says, this is Blazevox’s fault. It’s a fine press, producing great books, but the missteps, the bad communication, the inconsistent policy about authors paying toward production costs, etc. were always going to have repercussions in terms of arts funding and academia. The quality of the book should matter more than where it comes from but it’s going to be a long time, if ever, that these institutions recognize this.

  4. Kazim Ali

      Getting a letter like this from the NEA doesn’t mean your work is illegitimate or that the press is, it only means the NEA doesn’t understand how literature gets written, distributed or published in today’s world of the hypercorporatization of publishing. It also doesn’t (necessarily) disqualify you from eligibility even if you only have one book and it is from BlazeVox.

  5. Karen Craigo

      I think the NEA is making the right decision here. Some of BlazeVOX’s books are vanity publications. They shouldn’t count — anyone can pay to publish his or her own work. At any rate, the NEA offers extra time for writers to demonstrate that they had 20 publications in six years or so. I don’t see why any writer with a book should be too badly inconvenienced by this.

  6. Reb Livingston

      Well said, Kazim.

  7. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Spicy meatball!

      Expanding on what Mark C. said concerning only a select few having to pay — I don’t expect the NEA to pool the resources to actually pursue this matter any further — but shouldn’t this be a case-by-case basis? What if a press publishes something by one of its editors — isn’t that “pay[ing] for part or all of the publication costs”? Does that mean that entire press is debunked in the same fashion as well?

      And, furthermore, where is the NEA’s proof that author’s actually contributed funds to publications?

      The NEA is not providing nearly enough proof/information/energy to justifying the withdrawal of funds, in my opinion. Hearsay shouldn’t be enough, but I guess in bureacracies it sometimes is?

      Also: 2 days to reapply: short fucking notice, much?

  8. Bill Knott

       the larger question is why poetry is always the least funded of all the major arts…

      nea should be showering blazevox with support for its valiant efforts, and many other smallpopresses too . . .

      if blazevox got a dime everytime the media called some musicmucker a “poet” they could publish a hundred books a year….

  9. Mahmoud

      That policy is clearly stated on the NEA app, so applicant should have known better. Not giving someone money isn’t “punishment,” even with scare quotes–no one is inherently entitled to an NEA grant. That also includes those who (unlike applicant) do not engage in vanity publishing. Whatever one thinks of self-publishing, it’s well known that it’s largely frowned upon in the literary world and NEA is just reflecting the norms of the field.

  10. Lincoln Michel

      I really don’t know what to think of Blazevox asking authors to pay. I have conflicted thoughts, but I think ultimately I don’t care. Presses should do what they think works.

      As for the NEA, if their guidelines say that presses that ask authors to pay are ineligible then I don’t think you can fault them for enforcing their already existing guidelines.

      Also, isn’t the NEA requirement only 5 publications in literary magazines? I doubt many poets on Blazevox will be unable to meet those requirements, even if the book is disqualified.

  11. Lincoln Michel

      You don’t have to reapply, just establish your required publications. Which, again, I think is only 5 publications in literary magazines. You just have to give the issue numbers and titles. Not complicated. (although I guess if you get this while traveling it could be a problem)

  12. Krystal Languell

       The requirement is 20 poems or 20 pages in a minimum of 5 different venues, and applicant must provide address and phone for each publication.

  13. Lincoln Michel

      Ah! For fiction it is only 5 short stories in 2 or more journals/anthologies. Assumed it was the same for poetry.

  14. Anonymous

      Yes, literature only counts if someone with enough money for printing costs deems it worthy.

  15. A D Jameson

      1. Lots of presses ask their authors to subsidize their own publishing—even “impressive” presses that would surprise you.
      2. That’s because there isn’t enough money to finance small-press publishing.
      3. From this perspective, BlazeVOX’s mistake was getting caught.
      4. This situation is an excuse for the NEA to do what it’s been doing since the 1980s: finding reasons not to fund the arts.
      5. Regardless of how you feel about #s 1–3, #4 should distress you greatly.

  16. Amy Dryansky

      yep– I totally agree, Kazim. It’s naive thinking, at best.

  17. Jeffrey Morgan

      I got the call this morning. It didn’t feel like “a slam,” but perhaps I’m just being cute.

      The person from the NEA (just doing her job) seemed very contrite and is making the changes to my application for me using a sufficient list of journal publications I sent her. However, obviously the damage this does to Blazevox in the future remains to be seen. After the call, I had this feeling of being both helped and silenced. I hope it wasn’t designed that way.

  18. deadgod

      4. is terrible, an underreported aspect of The Reagan Legacy.

      In 1., what is “subsidize”?  Are there “impressive” presses that require $ as a condition for publication? or are things like availability for interviews being referred to?  As an unpublished, I would be dismayed by the former.  (It would go on the list.)

  19. lily hoang

      I’m glad you had that reaction, Jeffrey. It’s admirable. If I were in your shoes, I’d be upset, especially if I knew nothing about GG’s dealings with others. I’m happy you had other publications to fill the slot emptied by BlazeVOX.

  20. marshall mallicoat

      how can i get money from the government? is this real?

  21. Jeffrey Morgan

      Thanks, Lily. I’m not sure I’ve ever been called admirable. It’s nice. Personally, I’m much more disappointed with the NEA (seems like the kind of position an arm of the government takes up quickly in order to appear decisive, and not a decision based on firmly held (in this case artistic) principles. I could be wrong. As for GG, I love the guy, and I know so many other people who do as well. 

  22. lily hoang

      Oh, man, I hope you didn’t perceive that as a diss. Whereas I will withhold my personal opinion about BlazeVOX’s business model and the ensuing drama, personally, I am grateful for GG. He gave me one of my very first publications. I think he’s great. And I’ll stick by that “admirable” comment about you. I like it. 

  23. lily hoang

      Sadly, today, this is true. I wish it weren’t, but prove it wrong. 

  24. lily hoang

      Except that BlazeVOX isn’t a vanity press – nor do I think it should be considered one – and GG didn’t even ask all the authors to help subsidize costs. Which is to say: there are probably writers out there with BlazeVOX books who knew NOTHING about GG’s asking for “donations” for the press and then they get an email like this in their inbox, after spending a lot of time on their NEA grant. And dude, those things are massive. I’ve only applied for one – unsuccessfully – but it was hefty work. 

  25. lily hoang

      Hi Lincoln. 

  26. lily hoang


  27. Jeffrey Morgan

      Ah, no. I just wanted to give him love. And complain about the NEA. Seriously, what is up with their online grant submissions interface? Anybody hear me on that?

      Thanks, Lily.

  28. Moriah Purdy

      I recently submitted a revised version of my manuscript to BLAZEVOX. Geoffrey promptly informed me that my mss was one of 900 he had in his reading queue and very kindly accepted the revisions, and guaranteed me revisions did not mean I was bumped to the back of the line in terms of that reading queue. 

      I’m sorry, but any small press respected enough to have a queue of 900 manuscripts (and counting) is nowhere near a vanity press. Other small/independent presses who are no longer accepting unsolicited submissions (for fear of having 900 manuscripts in the queue, I’d guess), but are still publishing authors they’ve hand-picked, qualify, to me, as vanity presses more than BLAZEVOX.

  29. Kent Johnson

      When I received an NEA some years ago, I listed a BlazeVOX title in my application. I might have listed two. Should I give the award back?  I find the NEA’s narrowminded position outrageous, inasmuch it can only serve to injure the reputation and future opportunities of a small, ambitious, and bravely idiosyncratic poetry publisher. Who can doubt the NEA’s blacklisting of BlazeVOX (and for a practice, at that, its editor has *publicly abandoned*!) will dissuade many authors from submitting work to the press? Perhaps even compel some prominent names who presently have manuscripts there to withdraw them (and some surprise names, in fact, are in the works)? Or lead to many of the press’s fine books not getting the fair consideration they deserve? Some further questions: 
      What if a particular BlazeVOX book happens to be a somewhat prominent collection, one that’s been well-reviewed and discussed in the field? Shouldn’t the record of discussion or debate around that work be relevant to the author’s position in the selection process? Indeed, a few of BlazeVOX’s titles have already been the focus of considerable critical talk, not least because they have pushed the limits of propriety and convention. 
      Or what if, hypothetically (though less plausibly now, given the NEA’s blackballing!), an author comes to publish a book with BlazeVOX and that book goes on to be nominated for, or even wins, say, the NBA, or the NBCC, or whatever big-time prize? Should the book not be listed in the NEA application? Whether or not the author had helped fund the publication (and many, if not most, BX authors DO NOT do so), what sense could censoring its mention make?
      Or what if, for instance, Bill Berkson, Anne Waldman, Clayton Eshleman, Lee Ann Brown, Tom Clark, Ray Federman, Gloria Frym, or Stephen Ratcliffe, all BlazeVOX authors, decide they WANT to list their BX book because they are proud of the work therein (as one assumes they would be, since they published it)? They should be canceled from NEA consideration because they do?
      I’ve published three titles with BlazeVOX, and I’ve never paid a dime as condition of the book’s publication, nor have I been asked to. I know that Geoffrey Gatza has in the past used the cooperative financing model with some titles, and I know that has been controversial. That practice no doubt helped allow him to keep the press in high-volume operation in the past. Regardless what one may think of such cooperative-funding arrangements, they are obviously agreements that are freely entered into by the authorial parties, many of whom no doubt gladly did so in the spirit of contributing to the press. But, as I indicated above, it is a moot question now, because Gatza has prominently stated–and months ago–that he’s ended the practice.
      The NEA should allow its applicants to list any book they so choose. And those books should be judged according to their contents, not according to the name or publishing model of the press. Through its actions in this case, the NEA has done a disservice to poets and to the free, creative, and evolving publishing culture that supports their work.
      Kent Johnson

  30. Justin Sirois

      As a BlazeVOX author who didn’t pay to have his book published, I have to say that the way GG literally phished for would-be first time authors was predatory and sad. I’m not entirely sure how he is going to heal his reputation, but it will be tough. He didn’t ask for donations; he sent out identical letters to authors, sometimes confusing their genre because he never read their work. I hate defending the NEA, but they are more right than wrong on this one. 

  31. lily hoang

      Is that true, Justin? About the letters? That changes things a little, but GG has also published a lot of really great people, yourself included! 

  32. lily hoang

      Thanks, Kent. I wonder if now the bigger question will be what kind of precedence the NEA has set. Who will follow suit, and how far will this thing ripple? (Hopefully, not too far.)

      And yes, in an ideal world, absolutely, a book should be judged STRICTLY on its content, but how often does that happen? So much of a book’s judgment is based on the press that’s published it. And sadly, with BlazeVOX, well, every writer is marred now, no matter how brilliant the text is. That being said, I hope I’m wrong.

  33. Justin Sirois

      It’s true. And I warned that author to stay away from Blaze after seeing the letter. Didn’t HTML also post one of the letters a few months back? It was a generic email that way more than one writer received. 

  34. lily hoang

      Honestly: I’ve tried to block out that whole ordeal. It was – too much. 

  35. Justin Sirois

      I should have posted that (below) as a reply. To make matters worse, charging $16  for a book and then ($4?) shipping on top is abusive when using POD. I’ve seen only one check from BlazeVOX in four years and that was for under $20. The only reason why I don’t press the issue is GG is a little unstable and I know that book of poems hasn’t sold very well. 

  36. lily hoang

      Royalties are a whole different issue. That depends on what kind of contact you entered with GG. I can say, however, that I’ve never received a single royalty check for any of my books. So, your less than $20 would feel heavy in my pocketbook! 

  37. Kent Johnson
  38. Kent Johnson

      I mean “moot point” in that the NEA is blacklisting BlazeVOX and its authors for a practice that is NO LONGER in operation.

  39. Mahmoud

      Sounds more like an issue of bv ruining its own reputation through shady practices than nea being unfair. of course everyone is going to say they weren’t one of the authors who paid to play.

      in general it really frustrates me when artistic companies in all fields  assume the artists they work with have more money than the company. if you’re that broke, consider finding someone with competent business skills to work with you and/or volunteer at an already existing press (there are so many good ones! and they’re nearly broke too! i’m sure they’d love volunteers! is it that important that YOU get to choose who gets published, even if that means the publishee herself pays for the costs?) rather than borderline-extorting the people whose career you’re ostensibly helping.

      if an author is paying for her own publication costs, how is it not vanity publishing? what service, exactly, is the publisher providing?

  40. Anonymous

      BlazeVOX has always confused me–they’d publish some amazing stuff, but they’d also publish sub-standard material from pals, and–I’ve just now learned–from those willing to pay. Some pretty mediocre poets have established careers with BlazeVOX debut, capitalizing on the fact that many people weren’t aware they did vanity-like publications. I find it helpful that the NEA clarified this. 

  41. Endless Dan Moore

      poetry is the least funded of all the major arts because nobody reads it and lots of poets don’t seem all that bothered by that. 

  42. Justin Sirois

      Still, phishing for vulnerable, first-time authors isn’t the best business model, agreed?

  43. Anonymous

      Notes from a BlazeVOX author:

      Background: more than 25 years of writing * MFA Washington University 1985, Hurst Fellow * Breadloaf Scholar * Winner of RIVER STYX International Poetry Prize judged by Philip Levine * finalist or semi-finalist in the Four Way Books Intro prize, the Anthony Hecht prize, Elixir poetry prize, Verse poetry prize, among others * poems published in many journals through the years that include RIVER STYX, ASCENT, WITNESS, GULF COAST, THE LITERARY REVIEW, THE LAUREL REVIEW, SENTENCE, NATURAL BRIDGE, ANTI-, THE AMERICAN POETRY JOURNAL, PEBBLE LAKE REVIEW, SOU’WESTER, and many others * author of the chapbook, FORTUNE COOKIES, (2River View 2009) and of the BlazeVOX book, THE EQUATION THAT EXPLAINS EVERYTHING, 2010


      * I have never taught and earn a living in the private sector (Information Technology) but have continued to write and publish
      * Through the years the manuscript evolved and come close in many contests but finally no cigar, as they say
      * When the book was taken by BlazeVOX was asked if I would subsidize but said no. Was told it would be published anyway. In the end donated to the press as a show of support to small presses everywhere.
      * I have never applied for an NEA though I qualify because I don’t want money from the government to write my poetry. This is just my position and fault no others who apply.
      * My two mentors in the early years, Donald Finkel and Mona Van Duyn, taught me that writing for a lifetime is about the poems themselves and the obsession of chasing the music in your head. The rest is bullshit. A writer need no sanction from anyone or thing.


      * Open the acknowledgement page of any BlazeVOX book and what you see qualifies the writer to apply for an NEA grant.
      * No matter the press, big or small, DIY, vanity or whatever, the writing and the poems are all that matter. If they are no good, they will die their own death. If not, then they will live. Rejection and acceptance and grind all.
      * “And so it goes…”

  44. Stacia Fleegal
  45. Chris Roberts

      Good for the NEA, no legitimate or publisher with any pride would ask authors for money. I hope BlazeVOX goes under so I can piss on their grave.

  46. lily hoang


  47. Kent Johnson
  48. Robert Archambeau
  49. Kent Johnson
  50. The Paranoid Side of American Poetry | Bark: A Blog of Literature, Culture, and Art

      […] when certain crowds get riled up, you see comments like this: Two of the best considerations on this matter…were published last fall by…one of […]

  51. The Paranoid Side of American Poetry | Bark: A Blog of Literature … | The Literature Blog

      […] when certain crowds get riled up, you see comments like this: Two of the best considerations on this matter…were published last fall by…one of […]