The Help Desk: Even in an age of Trump, writers should be paid for their work

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I’m a poet. I’ve been published here and there, in a magazine you’ve maybe read. Like most creative people, I’m pissed about Donald Trump and so I’ve written a few poems about current events. I read one at a group reading last week and I was approached after the reading by someone who’s putting together an anti-Trump anthology. The good news: he wants to include my poem!

The bad news? It doesn’t pay. Now, a portion of the proceeds are going to the ACLU and other charities, which is fine by me, of course. But it’s only a portion, which to me indicates that he’s taking some of the money for himself. I’m sick to death of people publishing my work without any compensation, and it seems like he’s exploiting the moment and the outrage to make a few bucks. It’s not really about the money, it’s the principle. Should I just politely decline, or should I raise a stink?

Nora, Auburn

Dear Nora,

Throwing oneself in front of a Arc bus seems like a slightly more effective "get rich quick" scheme than conning poets out of poetry, but I'm with you: artists should be compensated for their work. When my biological father died, I passed out candy necklaces and to-go bags of his cremains to all the eulogists. Their response to my thoughtfulness was visceral.

It's perfectly reasonable and not turdish at all to email this person and ask for a breakdown of which charities will benefit and how the proceeds will be split. Ask outright: Are you keeping any of the proceeds for yourself? From there, follow your heart – or the potato you call a heart, if you're like me. Remember: We're barely into month two of this administration. I suspect there will be plenty of time to participate in anti-Trump anthologies in the coming years.