The BBT Launches Bhakti Writers’ Community
As an English major studying literature, Krishna Priya Dasi noticed that many great literary movements throughout history had had their beginnings in writing communities.
There were the romantics of eighteenth century Europe; the feminism and ethics inspiring Bloomsbury Group in the early 1900s; and J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’ group The Inklings, which promoted fantasy writing and Christian values.
With writing a strong part of Vaishnava culture, amongst such personalities as the Six Goswamis of Vrindavana, and more recently ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada, Krishna Priya felt that a writers’ community of devotees would be appropriate; that it would improve our writer’s skills, and strengthen our unified voice in mainstream culture.
So when Kaisori Dasi of the North European Bhaktivedanta Book Trust—ISKCON’s publishing arm—requested her to head up just such a project, she jumped at the chance.
Named after a word meaning ‘devotion’ that has lately crept into the mainstream vernacular, The Bhakti Writers’ Community was born this February at writers.bbt.info. Writers can create an account and become involved in three ways.
“The first is being a member,” says Krishna Priya, who is a former teacher at Alachua’s Bhaktivedanta Academy and a writer of children’s stories. “Members can participate in our forum, where they can discuss issues that come up with writing. They can also join a writing group, or create their own. There are four so far, some public and some private—for instance my writing for children group is open to anyone, whereas there’s another group for writing musicals, which is by invitation only. In the future, I’d like there to be groups for every genre imaginable.”
Another way that members can become involved is by participating in the Bhakti Writers Community’s writing contests. The very first of these, with a March 7 deadline, is the Golden Moon Poetry Contest, inviting poetry submissions on ‘the great golden dancer’ Lord Chaitanya and his brother Lord Nityananda, whose appearance days are celebrated at this time of year. The first place winner will receive a $25 Amazon.com gift card, while runners up will be published on the front page of the Bhakti Writers e-newsletter, and all submissions will be published on the website.
Similar small contests are expected to run every other month, with the grander International BBT Writing Contest held on an annual basis, and offering a larger cash prize. The start date for this year’s annual contest is May 1st, while the theme is the power of God’s Name. Writers can submit fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or play scripts up to 2,500 words long, and the winner may be published in a BBT print or online publication. A registration fee required from each participant will pay for the prize, and while submissions must have a clear spiritual theme and be devoid of offensive material, the general mood is one of inclusiveness.
Other than being a member, the second way that devotees can participate in the Bhakti Writers Community is by being a writing mentor.
“Mentors must have writing education, experience or be published writers,” Krishna Priya says. “And they can get involved by judging contest submissions, giving online seminars, or coaching individual members through a specific writing project or the writing process in general.”
And finally, the third way to participate in the Community is to become a patron, by giving an annual donation to help run the website.
The Bhakti Writers Community is expected to be developed in stages over the next several years. While forums, groups and contests are available right away, other plans such as publishing members’ writings in an anthology, offering assistance with the publishing process, and developing grants and book awards to help Vaishnava writers with their projects, will come next year. Online seminars and coaching may take three years to develop.
It will all be worth the wait, however, and devotee writers already seem to know that, with twenty-five members already signed up.
It’s exciting for Krishna Priya to see a new writing community being born, as she feels more quality writing is something ISKCON is in great need of.
“Personally I was inspired to write after seeing the dearth of literature for the children I was teaching at Bhaktivedanta Academy,” she says. “I would love to see devotees write not only more children’s books, but also books across a diverse range of genres: novels, humor, creative non-fiction, and more. And I hope the services of the Bhakti Writers Community will help them do that.”
Krishna Priya feels that our faith is strengthened by reading the writings of other devotees; by hearing their challenges and realizations.
“Devotees love to read,” she says. “And, as evidenced by the success of Radhanath Swami’s book The Journey Home, they love to read real stories, about real, personal journeys.”
While the Bhakti Writers Community is a BBT project, and the hope is that it will yield some new talent for the BBT, its main focus is simply to help writers reach their full potential, whatever their chosen market. And Krishna Priya hopes that devotee writers will break the barrier of being published only in-house, to write top quality literature that is embraced by the mainstream.
“I think that the general public would appreciate it, and gain a lot from it,” she says. “Reading the Bhagavad-gita is a powerful thing, but it can be even more powerful to read about someone’s real life experience in practicing its teachings.”
There’s a lot to look forward to, many new frontiers to conquer. But ultimately, at the heart of the Bhakti Writers Community is a very simple ideal.
“I want the community to be very inclusive, a place where writers can feel comfortable sharing their work, asking for advice, and expressing themselves at whatever level of Krishna consciousness they’re at,” Krishna Priya says. “It has to be a trusting environment. Because writing is a very personal thing.”
For more info, and to become a member, please visit writers.bbt.info.