It wasn’t until 1990 that the Pulitzer Prize for fiction first went to a Latino (Oscar Hijuelos). But today, Hispanic writers routinely have awards and book deals thrown at them from passing cars.
OK, that’s not quite true. Latino writers, like all ethnic-minority writers, continue to have problems breaking through and finding a large audience for their works.
The founders of the YouNiversity Project, Jonathan Marcantoni and Chris Campanioni, are well aware of this. Both are award-winning writers busy nurturing their own careers, yet they’ve taken the initiative to launch a program to educate promising authors on the unique challenges of 21st-century publishing.
The program helps writers establish a social media presence, build an online platform, and engage their communities. YouNiversity also helps writers learn the craft of editing and improve their writing. Marcantoni says that Hispanic writers face a unique challenge when it comes to tackling these concepts.
“A key issue for Latino writers is that they are grouped under this umbrella of ‘Latino stories,’ which not only homogenizes the kinds of stories that are expected of them — namely, identity and immigration narratives — it also homogenizes the writer’s particular culture,” Marcantoni says. “The YouNiversity project offers Latino writers a chance to get out from that umbrella, embrace their unique experience, perspective, and interests, and build an audience through that prism rather than adjusting their voice to fit the status quo.”
So how does YouNiversity help Latino writers accomplish this goal? Well, the program accepts promising artists who understand an essential, often overwhelming truth: modern publishing is global publishing.
“Your work has the potential to reach people on the other side of the world instantaneously,” Marcantoni says. “So how do you effectively do that? For starters, you need to know who you are as a writer. This is why YouNiversity doesn’t accept brand-new writers. We need people who already know what their brand is, or have an idea of what that brand is. Once you know what you write about and why, you can figure out who your audience is.”
Campanioni adds that the ideal candidates for YouNiversity are “women and men who are critical thinkers and want to contribute to the cultural dialogue with their art and how they represent themselves in the culture.”
The most recent version of YouNiversity accepted two writers — Nami Thompson and Vivian M. Chabrier — who received hands-on training in author branding on several different platforms. Thompson and Chabrier learned about the creative uses of the cover letter and pitch, how to interview with publishing professionals, how to organize author events, and how to create multimedia artist statements, such as projects on YouTube or Vimeo.
“We want our students to learn the practical aspects of life as a writer, not just how to construct plot and dialogue in their stories, but what to do with a story once it’s drafted and revised, and how to start a dialogue with other writers and editors to find the right market for their work,” Campanioni says. “I like to think that YouNiversity is situated at the intersection of literature and technology and publishing, and this is where we meet our students and where they meet us.”
The program is not limited solely to Latino writers, but Marcantoni says that YouNiversity can help Hispanic writers in a number of ways, such as showing them how to create their own paths beyond the “Latino” label.
“What truly makes writers distinct is the richness and fullness of their command over their art,” Marcantoni says. “That confidence makes for marketing that grows out of the artistry, rather than compromising the art to fit an ad campaign.”
Or as Campanioni puts it, “The more alternatives there are to an overpriced, overvalued factory-stamped MFA, the better off our future writers will be. Regardless of what route they choose, at least they will have options.”