CROWDFUNDER: Open Pen Is Open And More Importantly Is Open To Me by Fernando Sdrigotti

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The first time I bumped into Open Pen was back in 2015, during one of their now mythical summer parties. I don’t remember how I found myself in the Jamboree in Limehouse, watching people deliver words from a small stage in the dark. Someone must have invited me; I might have owed someone a favour; or I might have had nothing better to do, being that night a Wednesday in the dead of summer. But somehow I managed to avoid paying the ticket at the door and there I was, among nicely coiffed and washed-for-the-occasion literary people.

There was poetry that night; there was jazz; there was jazz and poetry performed together and to my surprise the result wasn’t that bad. There was someone murdering Bob Dylan, who to me is already synonym with musical murder or at least the involuntary butchery of tonality and key, but the Dylan covers — harmonica included — didn’t go on for too long. And there were some very interesting readings, from people I didn’t know, and whose names I can’t remember because I didn’t go there to imprint strong memories.

You see, back in the summer of 2015 I had never heard of Open Pen because they hadn’t published me and like all so-called writers I only pay attention to those things that have to do with me. Thinking only about oneself when you are a writer is a duty of self-care, judging by the ideas of the gurus in this sector. This ranges from taking breaks whilst writing, to being an antisocial asshole when you feel that the people in a certain gathering have nothing to give you. But this is another story. Regarding Open Pen not having published me, thankfully, a year later they would rectify their lack of vision and I would publish one of their best cover stories. Later I would write another excellent Christmassy short story, later a powerful editorial, and recently I would publish a tour de force of a book with these lovely and hardworking people from East London. Taking all of this into account, I can certify that they are a magazine and press worth paying attention to. I would even use the word urgent to describe the kind of project they are — urgent and pushing well above their weight. My urgent writing has found a home in urgent Open Pen. A win/win scenario, if there ever was one. Not only for Open Pen and I but for you too.

But this is not only about me — it is also about Open Pen. One thing about that night stayed with me: the moment when Sean Preston, founding editor and now a personal friend of mine, introduced one of the people reading that night as “someone who’s not supposed to be writing”. He then went on to suggest that Open Pen was “a place for people who are not supposed to be published”. Perhaps the choice of words was other but the I think I am being truthful to Sean’s intention. In hindsight this might have happened in another of their summer parties, but it definitely happened at an Open Pen event. And no, Sean wasn’t talking about me — no one would doubt I AM supposed to be published — and I won’t go into details of why the person reading after Sean’s introduction isn’t your typical literary soiree attendee. It just suffices to say that that night was to me a clear manifestation of Open Pen’s openness: it isn’t just about ticking this or that box but about taking risks and generously and fearlessly expanding what literature can be about, and who is allowed to produce that literature. Since then I have had innumerable moments to certify what I thought that night: it is always a pleasure to grab a new issue of Open Pen and discover new talent, from all sorts of backgrounds, while reading myself, or seeing ads about my own book.

Now, I am aware a magazine like Open Pen, free for readers, and voluntarily-run by editors and writers, might produce a bit of noise for that kind of very Anglo-American writer who likes to pretend to live off their writing — “how will this lack of pecuniary exchange look on my CV?” they must ask themselves. I say Anglo-American and maybe I am wrong, but I swear you don’t see this so often in the Third World where I come from: even our most famous writers moonlighted as journalists, lecturers, translators, what have you, delaying the daily moment of writing for those free hours which are always rare, and perhaps because of that better used. There is no poetry in sacrifice and what many would like to label as amateurism but there is also no beauty, and no space for risk, in conceptions of literature that put professionalisation on some kind of pedestal above the rest of the world. But moreover I have always found this topic particularly irking, because it is a well-known fact that 98.5% of those who claim to live off literature in the UK are either members of the landed gentry, leeching off a partner or family member in full-time employment, paying the bills with a day job (the racket known as creative writing courses included), or simply dodging bailiffs while convincing themselves “the break will come”, while they keep churning out harmless and run of the mill narcissistic nonsense and engage in gruelling masturbatory conversations regarding conferences, residences, workshops, agents, “auctions” and “the industry” and other things that make me depressed to the point of wanting to pen a memoir. And this is why projects like Open Pen are important: they both discourage the perpetuation of this kind of writing, while opening the doors to more interesting forms — like mine, obviously, but also like all the writers who have blessed the pages of Open Pen for close to eight years.

I have already pledged some money to Open Pen’s fundraiser. One of the advantages of not pretending to live off one’s writing is that my money is actually mine, even if earned thanks to a series of minor occupations, none as glamorous as that of being an author. And because my money is mine I have felt no remorse in contributing — whatever I could because they haven’t paid my royalties yet — to this charitable initiative that will allow Open Pen to guarantee its existence for some years to come, thanks to your pity and generosity.

We need more places like Open Pen. We need them because they expand the notion of what is possible in literature. We need them because they are truly diverse and are diverse without self-righteous chest-banging. And more importantly, we need them because they publish me.

Give Open Pen some money today. The history of literature will thank you.

Fernando Sdrigotti

Fernando Sdrigotti was born in Rosario, Argentina, in 1977. His fiction and critical writing has appeared widely online and in print, and has been translated into French, Italian, Turkish, Norwegian and Spanish. He is the author of Dysfunctional MalesShitstorm, and Grey Tropic among other titles. He lives in London.

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