Other Words

by Richard Mathews

Introductory remarks,
Other Words Conference: March 4-5, 2005 Tallahassee, Florida


Some Opening Remarks about Vision

The title of our conference -- "Other Words" -- encompasses the mission of the Florida Literary Arts Coalition. However, as editors and writers, most of us know that the best chosen words don't always mean what they first seem to say. Take the Florida Literary Arts Coalition, for example. We are a group, gathered in Florida, united by our purpose to advance the literary arts -- but today our coalition includes participants from Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, Minnesota, Michigan, and other states. Our coalition is clearly larger than the geographic borders of a single state. And the conference itself: its name is the gift of our Tallahassee host Rick Campbell of Anhinga Press, who must have been visited by the Muse when he coined the name "Other Words." We agreed at once that it sounded right, and as this conference has taken shape -- as I have thought more about the "Other Words" we have convened to explore -- I have become more than ever convinced of the rightness and the richness of the name. By "Other Words" we mean not only the independent and alternative writing that conveys the living tradition and cutting edge of contemporary American fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction; we also mean the genuinely "other" words that shape our conscience, consciousness, and vision in history, politics, journalism, science, philosophy, and law.

Thinking of "Other Words" we are quickly called to consider the wide scope and larger borders of the literary arts. Like the participants from many states who have gathered here, the "other words" in literary arts include great works in many areas -- from theology and history to science and politics. The Declaration of Independence, for example, is a superb work of American "other words," independently published, and an enduring literary achievement of the highest order. More obviously or conventionally literary are the many original works of prose and poetry that are taught in literature classrooms -- and many of the those, too, have their origins in independent or alternative publication. Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" is one of the best-known examples of poetic "other words" -- self-published -- that gave voice to a new American sensibility that continues to inspire the poets and readers of today. Literary history is full of examples of the impact of written words that found their way into print and into the hands of their readers only through independent or alternative modes of publication and distribution. Writers, editors, publishers, and readers share common goals in nurturing and exploring the means and the media through which literary arts are created and enjoyed.

The Florida Literary Arts Coalition affirms the significance and vitality of independent writing that moves beyond the limits of a narrow definition of literary art. The creative and unique expressions of thought in words that give voice to our concepts and feelings, to our imagination and our dreams, have been and must remain central to the aspirations of a free and civilized society. And they are essential to the complex individuals who comprise it and sustain it. With this realization, in the face of the myriad forces that foster mass communication, popular culture, and global media conglomerates, our coalition in support of the creation, publication, and dissemination of independent, non-commercial literary arts gains a special sense of relevance and urgency.

It has been said that in order to love, one must come to know and embrace that which is truly "other." It has also been said that only by knowing the "other" can we fully know ourselves. With these thoughts in mind, this first conference of the Florida Literary Arts Coalition is a chance to get to know one another and to know ourselves, to share our ideas, ideals, and imaginations, to celebrate our diversity, and to explore and delight in "other words."

(Excerpts from Other Words conference welcome)

Richard Mathews is editor of Tampa Review, Director of the University of Tampa Press, and Dana Professor of English at the University of Tampa. He is the author of several critical books about science fiction and fantasy writers, and his poetry has appeared widely in magazines and anthologies. His most recent book of poems is Numbery (Borgo Press, 1995).