2021 Tillman Scholar Jo Unruh earned their MFA in creative writing at Saint Mary’s College of California after a career as a Navy ordnance disposal officer and in underwater robotics. Now she’s putting their business savvy, earned with an MBA at Arizona State University, toward fixing something she believes is broken: the publishing ecosystem. Creating what she believes is the future of publishing, NiftyLit, Jo, and their team are cultivating a “creator-first economy” where individuals can publish and purchase digital first-editions, which they call literary NFTs.
“For me personally, literature often serves as a mirror that has tremendous healing power, as both a reader and a writer. I wanted to help bring more work to light. As such, to take language from our team’s pledge, NiftyLit seeks to ‘publish exceptional, thought-provoking work that not only investigates humanity, but seeks to advance a peaceful, nonviolent world, free of harmful or prejudicial barriers,'” Jo said. “Coupling this objective with our desire to differentiate and to create a mechanism to commodify short-form literature, we landed on using blockchain technology to publish work as non-fungible tokens, wherein readers can collect writings as they would digital art or ebooks, and writers can stand to earn meaningful compensation from their writing.”
Trying to address the all-too-common phrase “starving artist,” Jo is passionate about pushing the literary world into the age of crypto.
“We are still very new and constantly iterating; right now we are working on blockchain-enabled publishing software that can further help writers succeed and get their voices out there. Above all, regardless of the technology aspects of NiftyLit, the writing stands on its own: it is a joy to slow down and read through our magazine’s publications, to take in the art and writing,” Jo said. “We’ve published some exceptional poetry to date—from emerging poets to Academy of American Poets prize winners—much of it grasping with the same joy and sorrow that represents the human condition, the ups and downs we all go through. It helps me feel more connected to who I am … I hope it does the same for others. We are so grateful to be part of a community that is bringing such work to light.”
As National Poetry Month continues through April, consider checking out some of the incredible work done on NiftyLit! You can also learn more about Jo’s work with literature in the crypto space from our 2022 PTLS Panel, Not Another Crypto Panel. Be sure to check out more scholar stories at blog.ptf.org.