Carissa Halston loves living in Boston. It makes her productive: while living here, she has published two novels, A Girl Named Charlie Lester and The Mere Weight of Words, and she is at work on a third. She also curates the Literary Firsts reading series, edits an annual print journal, apt, and runs a small press called Aforementioned Productions. The handle on her website, "a writer living in Boston," seems like an understatement.
There are plenty of other writers for Halston to hang out with. When she moved here, she didn't know a soul, but she started meeting people when she founded Literary Firsts. Because she features poets and writers of fiction and nonfiction, her talent pool overlaps with those of other local series, like the Room Down the Hallway, U35, and Four Stories. The first group Halston met was a cadre of Emerson College graduates. She was then granted entrée into what she describes as a "huge circuit": editors of local literary journals and instructors at Grub Street, the independent writing center. "Now I know more writers than not," she says.
Like many writers here, Halston's career circles around the university system. Unlike many of them, she didn't start going to college until she was 26 (she's now 31). Although her superhuman enthusiasm for literature has occasioned numerous guest lectures at area creative-writing classes, she can't teach one — she doesn't have an MFA. Instead, she works day jobs as an ESL teacher and administrative assistant.
"Even though I have eight years of experience, that makes people look at this as a hobby," Halston says. "There's Ploughshares and Salamander and AGNI and Post Road — those are journals that have money. I don't have that."
Boston writers, she says, are more collaborative than competitive. "Word-of-mouth will treat you well — there's not an expectation that your reputation needs to precede you," she says. Instead of brushing a writer off for lacking prominent publications, "people are more likely to tell you about the places where you can learn more about the craft."
Recently, Halston took this advice and applied to MFA programs. While she hopes it will help her writing, it's also a matter of economics: "It's really hard to do all of this work for free."