I came across a sort of funny article in the Washington Post today regarding Busboys & Poets, the famous restaurant/bookstore/poetry venue in Washington, DC. According to the article, poet and Washington native, Thomas Sayers Ellis, stole a cardboard cutout of Langston Hughes from the venue in response to what he calls a “low pay scale” for writers that perform at the venue.
Ellis, also an assistant professor of creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College, went on to tell the Post, “You would think that an establishment that makes as much money as Busboys would have set in place a reading series with a respectful pay scale for writers. The restaurant gives poets a venue, but it also profits from their talent. The literary community doesn’t know if Busboys is the good guys or the bad guys.”
The article also mentions that the owner pays a monthly salary for three poets-in-residence (one at each of the restaurant’s locations) as well as $50 each to a host and featured poet at three weekly readings.
A lot of poets starting out are used to not making much money at readings, and the little money they do make usually comes from book sales at readings. But the two Busboys & Poets locations are popular spots and staples of the poetry community in DC. Can’t they afford to pay more than $50 to some of the bigger names they bring in? At least what Ellis did has started a debate about the pay scale for poets at the popular venue.