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When you first hear D.C.-based, queer speculative fiction author Dave Ring read his work, you immediately notice his smile, both on his face and in his voice, his tone mischievous as he tells his story. His fiction takes you on a wild ride, fantastical and inventive while also sneaking in lessons about human nature. When you sit and talk with him, his warmth is as contagious as his enthusiasm. He welcomes everyone to the table. Inclusiveness is part of who he is, both as a writer and a human.
“If you ask 10 queer writers about publishing, you’ll likely get 10 different opinions,” Ring says, with a laugh.
So it’s no surprise to hear that Ring’s new venture, Neon Hemlock Press, focuses on highlighting LGBTQ writers, telling the stories he always wanted to read himself and adding depth to D.C.’s literary and publishing communities. He founded the press in 2019, and is now the publisher and managing editor. Neon Hemlock allows him to expand on his previous work, such as the acclaimed Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of a City That Never Was, a short story anthology he edited for local indie publisher Mason Jar Press in 2018.
Ring spent several years co-chairing OutWrite, an annual literary festival born out of the DC Center for the LGBT Community, before becoming the chair in 2018. The festival has grown in its 10 years, drawing in large crowds and talented featured writers—Kristen Arnett, Jericho Brown, and Wo Chan just last year. OutWrite also sponsors programs and writing competitions throughout the year, adding to an established, but still expanding, local LGBTQ literary community.
There are LGBTQ-friendly and focused literary events that take place on occasion throughout D.C., open mics and readings that lift up important voices in the literary community, but Ring would like to see more. He would also like to see OutWrite, and the LGBTQ literary community in general, embrace an intersectional attitude that includes more writers.
“My hope for OutWrite under my direction has been to create a space open to myriad connections with the diverse communities under the LGBTQ umbrella, because queer people are not a monolith and our relationships with the idea of a shared community can be fraught,” he says.
Ring believes both in the inherent kindness in this community and also in its need to grow. He feels welcomed, but wonders about others who feel more marginalized.
“Would an Indigenous trans writer feel the same as I do about how inclusive the city’s literary circles are?’” he asks. “Likely not. So we all need to do better.”
Ring knows that the key to expanding community is accessibility, and his work with local writers and activists focuses on that.
“Accessibility is an area that I’m looking to improve on within my own event planning,” he says. “Conversations with Kris King from MoonLit, plus local writers like Marlena Chertock and Day Al-Mohamed, have been really helpful in figuring out what accessibility even means with certain venues. For example, one venue was considered accessible because folks could get into the room, but the stage wasn’t accessible.”
Ring often collaborates with King, who created MoonLit, a nonprofit that offers affordable, accessible writing classes and programs to the D.C. area. Like him, she works closely with independent bookstores to make sure all writers feel welcome. MoonLit’s events and classes regularly feature writers from a wide variety of backgrounds. Recent LGBTQ literary workshops included This is Gonna Be The Start of Better Days, taught by spoken word artist C. Thomas, which addressed using poetry as a tool for healing for LGBTQ writers, and Telling it Slant: Queer(ing) Form, taught by District poet Malik Thompson, who examined queer and trans poets who experimented with form to enhance their content.
“Accessibility and diversity are extremely important to MoonLit and drive much of our work,” says King.
For those who want to become more involved in the community, there are a variety of ways to learn, meet people, and support local writers. Attending events that frequently feature LGBTQ writers is a great place to start—events like the open mics that Regie Cabico, a well known gay poet and spoken word artist, hosts at Busboys and Poets. Rasha Abdulhadi, a queer writer, organizer, and leader in the literary scene, is the executive director of Split This Rock, which highlights writers with programs throughout the year.
Purchasing books from local indie presses is another way for readers to support marginalized writers. Small presses have long supported the work of LGBTQ writers when larger presses focused primarily on the gaze of non-LGBTQ audiences. And for writers, both LGBTQ and supporters, a big component of creating community is the act of lifting others up.
“Recommending names to event organizers is one of my favorite things to do, and I love getting recommendations from other folks in literary circles,” says Ring. “Also, as a writer who notices a representation imbalance, it can be helpful to offer up your spot on a reading or panel to make up for it.”
D.C.’s LGBTQ literary scene continues to grow, and there are several big literary and storytelling events featuring diverse writers to explore in the coming months. There’s Love Lit: A Valentine’s Day Salon at Smith Public Trust on Feb. 14, Smut Slam DC at Brixton on Feb. 20, and Out in the Open: LGBTQ Voices Across Genres at the Washington Writers Conference on May 9.
But Ring’s work is never done: Coming summer 2020, he and Neon Hemlock Press will release Glitter + Ashes: Queer Tales of a World That Wouldn’t Die, a post-apocalyptic short story anthology, and later, four new novellas from queer authors.
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