You've probably heard the 2005 New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year ... podcasting. You might have even heard of some newer offshoots: vodcasting, godcasting and porncasting.
But have you heard of PodLit? It's a new online podcasting feature created by Pittsburgh-based Creative Nonfiction, the first literary journal devoted entirely to its titular genre. Editor and founder Lee Gutkind got the idea from reading a New York Times article about podcasts to his son two years ago. Having once worked for National Public Radio, Gutkind sought a Sprout Fund Seed Award to develop and host audio files of interviews and literary news on the journal's Web site, similar to a collection of on-demand radio programs.
Podcasting is a way of distributing multimedia files over the Internet. The name "podcast" is misleading; podcasts can be played not only on iPods but on any MP3 player, computer or Web browser, and they are not necessarily ever broadcast anywhere. The main difference between podcasts and other downloadable file formats is that podcasts are typically available as subscriptions and can be set to automatically appear in media players as they are released.
Creative Nonfiction (www.creativenonfiction.org) currently has about 3,000 PodLit subscribers and 1,000 more who download single podcasts of readings, talks and interviews. Current offerings include Gutkind's interview with Poets & Writers Magazine editor Mary Gannon about her decision to include nonfiction pieces.
While a four-issue subscription to the print quarterly is $29.95 for individuals, Creative Nonfiction podcasts are free. Gutkind says the free online material shouldn't affect profits negatively, citing American Zoetrope as an example of a print publication with a highly successful virtual online writing community with free services and materials. "It enhances reputations," he says. "[American Zoetrope's] sales are better than ever."
Other groups already publish free podcast material that's similar in either format or content. The Society of Critical Care Medicine is a journal that releases summaries of articles and interviews with authors through its "iCritical Care Podcast." The BBC offers a limited-trial arts-and-drama podcast called "Radio to Go," although subscriptions are available for only seven days after broadcast. Purdue University creates podcasts of class lectures, including literary lectures, for its "BoilerCast." But Creative Nonfiction seems to be the first literary journal offering a regular podcast subscription.
An audio format has advantages over the printed word. "It makes writers and editors instantly more articulate when they're not in front of a keyboard," Gutkind says. "They must be spontaneously clear. They can't delete anything. It makes you aware of what you really don't know."
The format also allows editors to capture more material. PodLit No. 2, for example, features a talk by writer and educator Natalie Goldberg at a conference in Santa Fe that Gutkind attended, followed by a private interview. "So many readings and lectures are lost because people can't record and distribute them efficiently," says Gutkind.
The first wave of self-published writing on the Internet was heralded by blogs; to Gutkind, PodLit is a second wave. "It's awakening so many new voices and allowing us to discover [them,]" he says.
An upcoming Creative Nonfiction project is the publication of an annual Best Creative Nonfiction collection. Rather than seek material from well-established mainstream sources, as does the similarly structured Best American Essays, Creative Nonfiction aims to pursue alternative presses, podcasts and blogs. Gutkind also plans to seek podcast material from people whom no one else publishes. An upcoming interview will feature Amy Stolls, the Literature Program Officer at the National Endowment for the Arts, on how to apply for grants.
Still, Gutkind doesn't see electronic auditory material replacing the printed word. "It will always be supplementary to printed material," he says. "This is not a transition. It's part of the explosion. It's another way to express yourself."