Literary MagNet: Sean Enfield

Dana Isokawa

In 2015, Sean Enfield was recently out of college and teaching English at a predominantly Muslim middle school in North Texas. His experiences during the year that followed—including witnessing Donald Trump’s first presidential campaign and the Black Lives Matter protests in Dallas—are the subject of Enfield’s debut essay collection, Holy American Burnout! (Split/Lip Press, December 2023). In the book, Enfield locates his teaching, his family, and his own artistic passions within the broader context of America’s racial politics and notions of success. With humor, fury, and compassion, Enfield asks how we might connect beyond social media and a polarized political culture. “Holy American Burnout! is a book that I think my younger self could have used as he reluctantly became an educator for the first time,” says Enfield. “I think it offers some meaningful commiseration while keeping its eyes forward, chin tilted upward.”

In finding homes for his work, Enfield says he seeks journals that “publish thoughtful, engaged, inventive pieces that speak to our moment, don’t just publish a token or two writers of color per issue but are actively and meaningfully seeking diverse voices, and [have] editorial teams that are engaged beyond the sphere of just accepting and rejecting from the slush pile.” He found that with Counterclock, which published his essay “Where Were You When Frank Ocean Returned?” After a bad experience workshopping the piece, Enfield says Counterclock’s editors’ considerate communication and mission felt like a “safe haven.” He praises the journal, which comes out three times a year online, for its vibrant and thoughtful curation of poetry, prose, and art. The editors launched Counterclock in 2017, hoping to “heal, destigmatize, and empower through the arts” and showcase the possibilities of cross-disciplinary work. Submissions in all genres are open until January 13.

Enfield’s passion for music—Frank Ocean, punk, hip-hop—threads throughout Holy American Burnout!. His essay “God Is a Moshpit,” about punk music, Christianity, and learning to live in “this haphazard body of mine,” appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, a print biannual edited by MFA students at Arizona State University. After admiring the review for years, Enfield submitted to it in 2020 because the editors began waiving entry fees for Black writers; he felt a print journal would “preserve the frenetic energy of the back-and-forth structure of the piece,” which consists of blocks of text that shift across the page. He adds, “Hayden’s Ferry seemed like it would be a good fit for both the risky form of the essay and for its politically charged content.” The review, which features art and original and translated poetry and prose, has published writers such as Haruki Murakami and Naomi Shihab Nye. Submissions in translation and art are open year-round; the general poetry and prose categories will open in June.

In 2018, Enfield submitted “Paper Shackles” for the Diana Woods Memorial Award, a nonfiction prize given by Lunch Ticket. The online biannual went on to publish the essay, which chronicles Enfield’s experience as a seventh grader being asked to reenact the Middle Passage in class. Students and alumni of Antioch University’s MFA program edit Lunch Ticket, which gathers poetry, prose, translations, art, and interviews. The journal also posts pieces to its website weekly, including a series on obsessions called Midnight Snack and a series of pieces in all genres by teenagers, School Lunch. Submissions in all genres open via Submittable in February.

On a rainy day in June 2020, Enfield was weeding in a community garden in Alaska when he learned he had won the annual Steinberg Memorial Essay Prize from Fourth Genre. He says the $1,000 award changed his life; it financially enabled him to move and affirmed that his writing could reach readers. His winning essay, “The Revolution Will Be Revised,” about the 2016 Black Lives Matter protests in Dallas, during which five police officers were killed, considers how “thin the line between witness and agent truly is.” Fourth Genre is devoted to all styles of literary nonfiction, including the personal essay, reportage, lyric essays, and visual essays. The journal appears twice a year in print and electronic formats; general submissions are currently closed. Submissions for the Steinberg essay prize will open on January 1.

After Elizabeth Dodd, the nonfiction editor of Terrain.org, accepted his essay “Campsite on Troubled Land,” Enfield was delighted that she invited him to a Zoom call to discuss edits. That editorial relationship resulted in a tighter, more lyrical essay and Enfield’s eventual decision to join the magazine as an associate nonfiction editor. Terrain.org regularly publishes poetry, creative prose, articles, community case studies, and editorials that focus on place, climate, and justice. The online journal’s mix of registers—Deborah Fries’s case study of Philadelphia’s stormwater management, for example, appears alongside an essay by Ross Gay about “pocket parks” and a poem by Julia Alvarez—offers a deep engagement with our changing environment. Enfield says the publication helped him see the role of place in writing: “We must help each other notice the big and the small of the world around us.” Submissions in all genres are currently open; all contributors receive $50.

 

Dana Isokawa is a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine and the editor in chief of the Margins.

Literary MagNet: Mira Rosenthal

by

Dana Isokawa

10.11.23

I wish you were here,” says the speaker of Tomasz Różycki’s poetry collection To the Letter (Archipelago Books, November 2023), translated from the Polish by poet Mira Rosenthal. This phrase recurs throughout the book, addressing many figures—a lover, the self, a god, an absent hero—as the speaker seeks to make sense of the despair and communal losses weathered by eastern Europeans during the past century. Różycki wrote the book in 2015, when Poland’s right-wing populist political party won a majority in Parliament; Rosenthal committed to translating the book in 2017, when she felt similarly authoritarian forces rising in the United States. The poems are intimate and wry, philosophically complex, and charged with metaphors for absence and language itself. Rosenthal discussed the path to publishing her English translations of poems from Różycki’s collection in journals that welcome translated work.

Although Rosenthal has been translating Różycki’s work for two decades, she notes it was both a “challenge and play” to capture To the Letter’s “virtuosic sonic texture” and ironic tone. In sending out the English translations for publication, she was guided by the belief that “the point is not to publish but to connect.” The first journal to publish a poem was Guernica; the online magazine of arts and politics ran “Phantom” in 2019. Guernica is edited by volunteers and regularly features poetry, fiction, memoir, reportage, and interviews “exploring identity, conflict, culture, justice, science, and beyond.” Submissions in all genres are open via Submittable, including for Guernica Global Spotlights, a series that reprints experimental prose by authors outside of the “Western literary corridor.” Contributors are paid $50 for a poem, $100 for an essay, and $150 for fiction or reportage.  

Publishing literary translations requires specialized editorial coordination and expertise: Translators usually must confirm the piece’s translation rights are available, and publishers must evaluate the merit of a translation, edit it, and—in some cases—also edit the piece in the original language. Two Lines, an online journal that has long championed translated poetry and prose, has a particularly “nuanced understanding of the art form,” says Rosenthal. Two Lines is “the only place I know that asks area studies experts to review translation submissions they’re interested in before they accept them,” she says. Italian translator Olivia Sears helped launch the journal in 1993 and, in 2000, founded the Center for the Art of Translation, which now publishes the journal as well as books. Located in San Francisco, the center also hosts events and offers educational programming. Submissions to the journal will be open in early 2024.  

“I’m always on the lookout for new journals that show a dedication to literature from other areas of the world,” says Rosenthal. Her curiosity led her to Cagibi, established in 2017. Founding coeditor Sylvie Bertrand says Cagibi takes its name from the French word for “a space made out of an unused corner…a cabinet, a cubbyhole, a shed, a place where one stores all kind of strange, unusual, meaningful, forgotten stuff.” The journal is devoted to place-based prose and poetry, with an emphasis on translation and world literature. “I appreciate that they publish poems bilingually, reminding us of the translated status of the English that is in conversation with another place and linguistic tradition,” says Rosenthal, who placed Różycki’s “Wind” in the journal in 2019. Cagibi releases quarterly online issues and an annual print edition. Submissions are open year-round via Submittable.  

When translating from languages with literary traditions unfamiliar to her, Rosenthal says: “I find that [other] translators, as the most attentive readers of the poem, provide compelling background, fill me in on essential context I often know nothing about, and point out wonderful subtleties that come to the fore when working between languages.” She praises the editors of the online journal Plume for offering this context. Plume, which showcases original and translated poetry every month, runs a feature called “The Poets and Translators Speak” in which contributors briefly comment on their pieces. The editors note a fondness for prose poems and an interest in “a sense of the uncanny, foremost, and of the fineness of language, the huge absences to which it points and partakes of, and the urgency and permanence of its state of departure—the coattails forever—just now—disappearing around the corner.” Submissions are open each year from April 15 to May 15 and from October 15 to October 31.  

After receiving an encouraging rejection from Paula Deitz, editor of the Hudson Review, Rosenthal submitted a second batch of translations to the print quarterly, which then accepted “A Glass.” Rosenthal felt that Różycki’s formal yet inventive work suited the review, which publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and criticism. Founded in 1948, the review featured E. E. Cummings, W. S. Merwin, and Wallace Stevens, among others, in its inaugural issue. The editors accept submissions of fiction from September 1 to November 30 via their online submission system or by postal mail, nonfiction from January 1 to March 31 via postal mail, and poetry from April 1 to June 30 via postal mail. 

As a poet herself, Rosenthal says she sometimes has to choose between submitting her own poems or those of an author she has translated: Magazines often accept only one submission per author in a given genre and do not differentiate between original and translated work. “I’d love to send out a plea to editors to create a separate translation category,” she says.

 

Dana Isokawa is the editor in chief of the Margins and a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Mira Rosenthal, translator of Tomasz Różycki’s poetry collection, To the Letter.   (Credit: Slav Zatoka)

Literary MagNet: Cleo Qian

by

Dana Isokawa

8.16.23

In the first version of her debut story collection, Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go (Tin House, August 2023), Cleo Qian focused on girlhood while writing coming-of-age narratives about teenagers and early twentysomethings. As Qian wrote more pieces, though, her characters became older, and the book’s themes shifted to loneliness, fear, and technology. “There were more adult concerns about work, success, aging, keeping up with your peers, the consequences one starts to face, emotionally and physically, for choices and patterns from your youth,” she says. “The book became a bit darker and scarier.” With precise imagery and a voice both sharply observant and yearning, the final collection depicts the sometimes blurry lines between girlhood and adulthood, admiration and attraction within female friendship, and the surreal and real in online interactions.   

In crafting her stories, which predominantly feature characters from the East Asian diaspora, Qian sought to sidestep expectations to write narratives of immigrant trauma and Asian stereotypes in favor of “the freedom to just write about a normal human drama like the horrors of the internet or the wistfulness of a summer situationship.” She adds, “I felt that freedom and acceptance from POC, and particularly Asian, readers.” She also found this ease with Shenandoah in the editorial care of Jenzo DuQue, who was building a fiction portfolio for the online biannual as a 2021 recipient of the Shenandoah Fellowship for BIPOC Editors. Qian praises DuQue’s “insistence on stories that are trying anti-traditional techniques and which are transgressive, whether in content or in mode.” Qian’s story “Monitor World” appeared in the fall 2021 issue, alongside poetry by January Gill O’Neil, nonfiction by Tracy Lum, and comics by Aidan Claire Daniel. Shenandoah was founded in 1950 and is housed by the English department of Washington and Lee University. Submissions are currently closed; the $1,000 Graybeal-Gowen Prize for Virginia Poets, given for a single poem, opens in October. General poetry submissions will open in the spring.

Qian published her story “We Were There” in Witness, where she says then-editor Robert Ren understood the story’s dreamy tone and narrative structure inspired by East Asian manga and media. Qian says Witness publishes stories that have “a really great sense of the craft of storytelling.” The Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas publishes Witness biannually. The spring print issue focuses on a particular theme while the fall/winter issue appears online without a theme. The editors seek to showcase poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art that “highlights the role of the modern writer as witness to their times.” Submissions for the spring issue, on the theme of “Crush” open in September.

Qian was glad to place “The Virtuoso” with Hyphen, an online publication of Asian literature and culture writing. The story features a high school student and piano player who is preoccupied with getting into college; Qian felt Hyphen’s readership would “see the humanity and vulnerability of the character and empathize with the systems in which she is trapped, rather than using the story to confirm their own stereotypes of the model minority.” Hyphen, which is run by volunteers, publishes content about Asian American culture with “substance, style, and sass” online and sometimes in print. The magazine was established in 2002 after A. Magazine, a groundbreaking publication covering Asian American culture and politics, shuttered. Hyphen is currently on hiatus.

In 1997 filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and writer Adrienne Brodeur launched Zoetrope: All-Story, a print quarterly of fiction, one-act plays, and essays on film. Each issue includes only a few pieces and is designed by a different artist; a recent issue, designed by Aaron Rose, featured stories by Jamel Brinkley, Elizabeth McCracken, and Yiyun Li. The publication runs an annual fiction contest; the winner receives $1,000 and is considered for representation by major literary agencies. In 2022, Ling Ma selected Qian’s story “Chicken. Film. Youth.” for the second-place prize, although it was not ultimately published in the journal. Qian had submitted to the prize at least three times before and had admired the “real attention to freshness and craft in the winning pieces.” While not open for general submissions, Zoetrope is currently accepting entries to its short fiction competition, which requires a $30 entry fee, until October 2.

“I got the sense that the journal really nurtures young talent,” says Qian of the Adroit Journal. “It has published work by amazing authors and early work from authors who have gone on to have amazing careers.” Adroit published Qian’s “Zeros:Ones” in its forty-fifth issue, published in April and edited by Emily Cinquemani, a poetry editor. Peter LaBerge, the online quarterly’s editor in chief, started the journal in 2010 while he was a high school student; Adroit also administers a summer mentorship program for writers in high school or taking a gap year, annual writing contests for student writers, and annual scholarships for poets and fiction writers who have not yet published a book. Submissions open in September.

 

Dana Isokawa is the editor in chief of the Margins and a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Cleo Qian, author of Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go.   (Credit: Casper Yen)

Literary MagNet: Greg Marshall

by

Dana Isokawa

6.14.23

When Greg Marshall began writing the essays that would become his memoir, Leg: The Story of a Limb and the Boy Who Grew From It (Abrams Press, June 2023), he wanted to explore growing up in Utah and what he calls “the oddball occurrences in my oddball family.” He says, “I wanted to call the book Long-Term Side Effects of Accutane and pitch it as Six Feet Under meets The Wonder Years.” But in 2014 he discovered his diagnosis of cerebral palsy, information his family had withheld from him for nearly thirty years, telling him he had “tight tendons” in his leg. This revelation shifted the focus of the project, which became an “investigation into selfhood, uncovering the untold story of my body,” says Marshall. Irreverent and playful, Leg reckons with disability, illness, queerness, and the process of understanding our families and ourselves.

“Perhaps no literary magazine editor has done more to shape the course of Leg than Yi Shun Lai,” says Marshall. In 2017 in Tahoma Literary Review, Lai published Marshall’s essay “Lies My Mother Told Me,” about the newspaper column his mother wrote from 1997 to 2002; printed in community and business periodicals in the western U.S., the column covered her experience with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, people living with illness, and their family. Lai, who at the time was the journal’s nonfiction editor, urged Marshall to more rigorously research the column and confront familial and cultural narratives around illness and disability that are now central to Leg. The journal is committed to offering constructive feedback and paying for accepted work ($55 for shorter pieces or $135 for longer ones). Published three times a year in print and in e-reader format, the journal will open to submissions of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction via Submittable in August.

Marshall says he “figured out Leg’s playful, wistful, sharp-tongued tone” while writing “Suck Ray Blue” (a play on the French phrase “sacré bleu”). The essay, about a middle-school trip to Paris, was later published in a fiftieth anniversary issue of Tampa Review. Faculty members of the University of Tampa who edit the journal select poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translation, and cross-genre work for the print biannual as well as occasional online features. Marshall praises Tampa Review’s print edition as a “polished, artistic finished project,” which the editors describe as “a gallery space in print” that follows in the tradition of book arts and illuminated manuscripts. Submissions in all genres will be open via Submittable from September 1 to December 31.

Off Assignment is “a travel magazine that breaks the rules by making the rules: Contributors can respond to one of a handful of place- and travel-based prompts,” says Marshall, who is a contributor and advisory board member of the online publication. “The name of the magazine comes from the idea that some of the best stories come when we stray from the assigned article or story we’re reporting.” The magazine releases all of its work in themed columns; subjects include “words that resist translation into English”; “brief, ambient portraits of places at a specific time of day”; and “Letter to a Stranger,” the title of a regular column. Marshall commends the magazine’s collaborative and kind editing process as well as its “innovative, inclusive, fun-loving spirit.” Off Assignment has published writers such as Melissa Febos, Pico Iyer, and Lauren Groff. Submissions are open year-round via Submittable.

Marshall says that placing his essay “Secksi” with print biannual Foglifter made him a braver writer. “It showed me that there is a market for frank depictions of intimacy and sex from a disabled perspective. Especially when I’m writing about disability, I don’t want my work to feel neutered,” he says. Foglifter, which publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and hybrid work by queer and trans writers, encourages “transgressive, risky, challenging subject matter” and “innovative formal choices.” Foglifter Press also publishes anthologies and chapbooks and collaborates with the Rumpus on the “Queer Syllabus” project, through which writers publish short online posts about authors or books they believe represent a queer literary canon. Submissions to the magazine will be open in all genres from September 1 to November 1.

“In composing essays it can be important to occasionally get back to basics for me,” says Marshall. “In a genre that’s filled with nuance, it helps me to return to the idea of a simple arc, an epiphany: What’s the takeaway here? Remind me again why I just spent a thousand words with you?” Marshall asked these questions while revising an essay on marrying his husband, which he published in Transformations, an online magazine specializing in narrative nonfiction on life-changing experiences. Editor Steven Beschloss launched the journal at Arizona State University during the pandemic, noting how compelling personal stories can help drive social transformation. The editors are open to pitches and submissions year-round via e-mail.

 

Dana Isokawa is the editor in chief of the Margins and a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Greg Marshall, author of Leg: The Story of a Limb and the Boy Who Grew From It.   (Credit: Lucas Schaefer)

Literary MagNet: Candace Williams

by

Dana Isokawa

4.12.23

U .S. Supreme Court decisions on policing, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, death certificates, physics textbooks, property labels on books. In their debut poetry collection, I Am the Most Dangerous Thing, published in May by Alice James Books, Candace Williams reshapes all of these texts to reveal their underlying premises about power. Through erasures and forms that rely on repetition—such as the ghazal and Bop, a form created by poet Afaa Michael Weaver—Williams critiques capitalism and racism, documenting the realities of being “a poet exhausted and hurting from truth” while also celebrating moments of rest and queer love in poems that are formally dynamic, direct, and observant. “I have a voice / that cannot be / silenced,” writes Williams. “[B]etween whiles / I had to look / for the queer // patterns: witchcraft / full knowledge / transparent thirst.”

Several of Williams’s poems are set in New York City and developed during workshops they took there with the nonprofits Cave Canem and Brooklyn Poets. In 2016 they published “MEMO:,” satirizing corporate culture, in No, Dear, which features poetry by writers living in the five boroughs. No, Dear publishes twice a year as a slim, themed volume: “One can read it in a single bathroom visit or a day’s commute,” write the editors. “Their hand-sewn editions are beautiful,” Williams says. “And I love their approach to community-building.” No, Dear emerged from an informal poetry workshop in late-aughts Brooklyn, and the editors prioritize strengthening artistic connections and decentralizing editorial power: A poet previously published in No, Dear guest-edits every issue, and the contributors of each installment attend a launch reading, collaboratively curate a separate reading, and interview one another for publication on the journal’s website. Submissions are currently closed.

After reading Morgan Parker’s poem “MATT” in a 2015 issue of Sixth Finch and admiring editor Rob MacDonald’s curation and pairing of poetry with visual art, Williams felt inspired to submit to the online quarterly. A recent issue of Sixth Finch, for example, includes a photo of one of Cara Barer’s colorful book sculptures alongside two surreal poems by Lauren Shapiro and an uncanny still-life painting by Erin K. Wright that depicts a chess board, miniature houses, and peach slices. After publishing two poems with the journal, “THIS BOOK IS THE PROPERTY OF” and “Black Sonnet,” Williams went on to participate in a Sixth Finch reading and contribute poems to its tenth anniversary issue in 2018. Submissions are currently closed.

Throughout I Am the Most Dangerous Thing, Williams plays with the language of science and economics to critique how systems such as capitalism quantify human value in terms of labor. Williams published one such poem, “Principles of Value,” alongside the love poem “Quanta,” in Bennington Review. Edited at Bennington College in Vermont and published twice a year, Bennington Review features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translation, film writing, and cross-genre work. “In the spirit of poet Dean Young’s dictum that poets should be ‘making birds, not birdcages,’ we are particularly taken with writing that is simultaneously graceful and reckless,” write the editors. Last year the review won a literary magazine prize from the Whiting Foundation, with the judges citing its editorial vision as “razor-sharp and whimsical.” Submissions will open on November 15.

Many of the poems Williams published in journals stem from their engagement with artistic communities. While living in New York City, Williams was commissioned to write a poem on climate justice for an event organized by artist Modesto Flako Jimenez’s arts nonprofit, Oye Group. The resulting prose poem, “blackbody,” considers climate change and race by examining the physics behind light absorption. Williams eventually published that and two other poems in the poetry journal Prelude at the invitation of coeditor Stu Watson, who heard Williams give a reading in 2016 in Brooklyn. Appearing online quarterly and in print annually, Prelude has featured more than six hundred writers since releasing its first issue in 2015. The editors also occasionally publish books, including titles by Anthony Madrid, Jason Koo, and Lindsay Turner. Submissions are open via Submittable.

Williams used to submit to journals featuring writers they admired but now tends to send work only if solicited. When the online journal Wildness solicited Williams, for example, the poet sent “Panther Gets Loose,” an erasure of a New York Times article about a panther that escaped from the Bronx Zoo in 1902. The poem appeared alongside fiction by Cameron Green, nonfiction by Brianna Albers and Steffan Triplett, and an interview with Maggie Nelson. The editors of Wildness note that they gravitate toward nature- and place-based writing, citing journals such as Thrush, the Adroit Journal, and the Offing as inspiration. Housed by British publisher Platypus Press, Wildness is currently closed for submissions.

 

Dana Isokawa is a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine and the editor in chief of the Margins. 

Candace Williams, author of I Am the Most Dangerous Thing.   (Credit: Laimah Osman)

Literary MagNet: Jennifer Maritza McCauley

by

Dana Isokawa

2.15.23

In Jennifer Maritza McCauley’s story collection, When Trying to Return Home (Counterpoint Press, February 2023), characters search for belonging in people as well as places. Set in locations across Puerto Rico and the U.S., the stories present home as an elusive sense of kinship, love, and peace. In one tale a woman leaves the convent where she was a nun and reconnects with an old crush, prompting her to reconsider what and who will guide her life. In another, a woman weighs staying in Nashville for the woman she loves or protecting her independence by moving elsewhere. McCauley’s characters, who overlap across the collection, question right and wrong, trying to turn to themselves, not others, to find their way. “I had my own spirit, not the blue-eyed man in church paintings,” says one character. “My brain was mine.”

As an editor, poet, and fiction writer, McCauley sees publication as the chance to connect with a wider audience. “There’s a sacred bond between the reader and the writer, this amazing synergy that is created when someone ingests this world that’s largely in your head, that you transferred to the page,” she says. Her admiration for Jabberwock Review led her to submit “Bagmen” to the semiannual journal; the story follows a young Black boy attending a recently desegregated school in St. Louis. “Their stories are so full, rich, and lively, they stir the soul,” says McCauley of the journal. Edited by students and faculty at Mississippi State University, Jabberwock Review features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art. A recent issue included Tom Laichas’s vivid, sensory poem imagining the tornado in The Wizard of Oz, “Dorothy’s Twister Didn’t Stop in Munchkinland,” and Malka Daskal’s trenchant story about a preteen girl and her mother who marries into wealth, “Swim Lessons.” Submissions in all genres are open via Submittable until March 15.

Like “Bagmen,” McCauley’s story “Torsion” depicts complex family relationships tested by tough circumstances; in the latter, a mother and daughter attempt to kidnap the mother’s son from foster care. When seeking to publish the story, McCauley looked for journals “amenable to a piece that takes risks and doesn’t fit squarely into a box.” She found such a place in the Vassar Review, an annual magazine of art and writing edited at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Released both in print and online, the Vassar Review is an elegantly designed publication with striking, colorful art. Each year the editors select a theme; the 2023 issue will focus on “Interiors and Intimacies.” The editors consider all genres as well as “forms that often prove difficult to present, such as new media art, spoken-word poetry and performances, hypertext fiction, and others.” Submissions are currently closed.

McCauley has served as an editor with multiple publications, first as a reader for her high school journal, Tapestry, and then as a reader and interviewer for Gulf Stream Magazine. Published in Miami by Florida International University since 1989, the magazine publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, interviews, book reviews, and art twice a year online. During her time on the editorial team, McCauley says her colleagues would “edit pieces incredibly closely and have dialogues with writers as the pieces began to find their footing.” Submissions for a special zine on anti-racism are open until March 31.

While pursuing her PhD at the University of Missouri, McCauley worked on the editorial team of the Missouri Review as a reader, contest editor, and poetry editor. Edited by Speer Morgan, the quarterly showcases poetry, fiction, and nonfiction both in print and online. McCauley praises the editorial team’s collaborative nature and support of emerging writers. “I’ve watched Dr. Morgan reject stories by famous writers and in the same day accept stories by a young writer without any publications,” she says. “He also values the opinions of his staff; he’ll find a story he loves, but he won’t often make the final decision until the other staff members agree.” As for the journal’s editorial focus, she notes: “Speer Morgan says that at the end of the piece, we should be able to articulate, clearly, what it is about. He was also looking for a certain transcendence, that a piece should be technically well executed but also speak to our complicated human experience.” Submissions in all genres are open year-round via the review’s online submission manager.

After publishing “La Espera”—a story, told from multiple characters’ points of view, about family roles and romantic expectations—with Pleiades, McCauley eventually became the review’s fiction editor, a post she has held for the past three years. “I’m particularly drawn to works that have well-developed characters, memorable language, provocatively wrought subject matter, and immersive settings,” she says. Pleiades publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in a biannual print volume and online; the journal also publishes online book reviews. Submissions in all genres will open via the review’s online submission manager during the month of June.

 

Dana Isokawa is the editor in chief of the Margins and a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine

Jennifer Maritza McCauley, author of When Trying to Return Home (Credit: Jesse Biehn)

Literary MagNet: Katherine Indermaur

by

Dana Isokawa

12.14.22

“If I could only see more clearly my own seeing—” writes Katherine Indermaur in the first line of her book-length lyric essay, I|I (Seneca Review Books, November 2022). The book’s title is pronounced by repeating the pronoun “I,” with a pause after the first iteration. The word “I|I” also functions as a personal pronoun in the book, often signaling the speaker’s sense of self as both first and third person simultaneously. Throughout I|I, Indermaur seeks clarity about the mysteries of sight and selfhood. She focuses on the history, making, theory, and connotations of mirrors and weaves in meditations on dermatillomania, also known as skin-picking or excoriation disorder. By juxtaposing scraps of daily observation, etymology, and aphorisms, Indermaur explores how our understanding of ourselves can warp, shift, and fragment in the manner of light. “I|I want light to reveal, but it only travels—passive from the start,” she writes.

Describing her book as a “refutation of genre,” Indermaur notes the journals that published excerpts from I|I “embrace genre-bending and liminality of genre.” One such journal, New Delta Review, was the first to feature an excerpt from I|I; the editors also suggested Indermaur present it as nonfiction, not as poetry, as she had submitted it. “Their acceptance shocked me and gave legitimacy to my pursuit of the weird, unwieldy, experimental project that was I|I,” says Indermaur. Edited by graduate students at Louisiana State University, New Delta Review releases an issue of experimental poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translation, reviews, and art twice a year online. “Embrace the radical, the political, the bizarre, but do so with purpose,” write the poetry editors. The nonfiction editors encourage writers to send “compelling content with innovative structure.” Submissions are currently closed.

As with New Delta Review, Indermaur found that publishing with Ghost Proposal made “writing I|I and other audacious, world-building, and page-expanding poems possible.” She has read the online magazine ever since the editors published some of the “wildly experimental and fun pieces” of her classmates at the Colorado State University MFA program in creative writing. “Ghost Proposal feels like a more feral version of the Normal School or Black Warrior Review,” she says. “They exist as an outside-of-genre publication.” Established in 2012, Ghost Proposal is open to “poetry, intermedia work, visual and concrete poetry, essays, video poems, translation, hybrid forms, new media, hypertext works, poetry games, poetry in the expanded field, poets’ theater, sound.” Ghost Proposal also publishes chapbooks; chapbook and journal submissions are both currently closed.

“When you contribute to a literary journal—whether as a writer or editor—you join that community,” says Indermaur, who edits poetry for Sugar House Review and is a former editor of Colorado Review. “Each issue is its own community.” She found herself in good company at the online biannual Gasher, which ran an excerpt of I|I—a visually compelling section in which the text overlaps and is interspersed with images of eyes—alongside nonfiction by Marty McConnell, poetry by Kendall Morris, and fiction by W. T. Paterson, in the Spring 2021 issue. “The work they publish is expansive and stunning,” Indermaur says, praising its publisher, Gasher Press, for supporting emerging writers with its First Book Scholarship that helps poets pay fees to enter first-book contests. Submissions to Gasher are open via Submittable until February 1.

Indermaur printed a portion of I|I in 2021 as the chapbook Facing the Mirror: An Essay with COAST|noCoast a journal and micro press of experimental poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art. Each issue of the print annual, which is edited in Seattle and Cincinnati, includes writers from Southwest Ohio and the Puget Sound. Since starting the journal as Northside Review in 2014, the editors have published writers such as E. J. Koh, Sasha Steensen, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, and Tyrone Williams. “We seek work that is self-conscious (potentially experimental) in form and context,” write the editors. As of this writing, submissions are closed.

Kazim Ali selected I|I as the winner of the biennial Deborah Tall Lyric Essay Book Prize administered by editors of Seneca Review. After winning, Indermaur was delighted to publish part of the book in the biannual print review, which Hobart and William Smith Colleges have published since 1970. “The grandmother of a friend of mine was a Pulitzer Prize–winning poet, and when I told her about my Seneca Review acceptance, she said, ‘Oh, yes, my grandma had some poems published there,’ which just made me glow for days,” Indermaur says. The journal publishes poetry and essays and, since 1997, has been known for advancing the lyric essay, a genre that “give[s] primacy to artfulness over the conveying of information,” as former editor Deborah Tall and current advisory editor John D’Agata write on the website. “They forsake narrative line, discursive logic, and the art of persuasion in favor of idiosyncratic meditation.” Submissions to Seneca Review are open from February 1 to March 15 via Submittable and by mail; submissions to the 2024 book prize will open in June 2023.

 

Dana Isokawa is the managing editor of the Margins and a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Katherine Indermaur, the author of I|I.   (Credit: Diane Kelly)

Literary MagNet: Abigail Chabitnoy

by

Dana Isokawa

10.12.22

In her second poetry collection, In the Current Where Drowning Is Beautiful (Wesleyan University Press, November 2022), Abigail Chabitnoy offers what she describes as a “lyrical revisioning of violence against Indigenous women and the resilience of such women in the face of that violence.” In poems structured like waves, with recurring phrases and lines eddying across the page, Chabitnoy links the treatment of Indigenous women in the United States with harm toward migrants and the environment. The book is an act of unburying in which Chabitnoy refuses to let the government or media paper over this history. Chabitnoy, who is a Koniag descendant and member of the Tangirnaq Native Village in Kodiak, Alaska, shifts between English and Alutiiq in the poems, embracing the “untethered place” of longing and liminality.

In the two years Chabitnoy spent writing the book—in addition to two years of “meandering not-writing, which is in fact so valuable,” she says—she found that publishing in journals pushed her to “consider the larger conversations I want my work to engage in.” She placed some of the earliest poems from In the Current Where Drowning Is Beautiful in Peripheries as part of a folio of Indigenous poetry edited by Joan Naviyuk Kane. At the time, Chabitnoy didn’t see the poems as part of a coherent project. After reading her work, however, alongside poets such as Michaelsun Knapp and Monique Sanchez, she glimpsed a through-line for her book. Established in 2017 and published by Harvard Divinity School’s Center for the Study of World Religions, this annual journal, published in both print and digital editions, seeks work that explores “the tangential, the borderline, and particularly the metaxical spaces (that both attract and repel) between artistry, philosophical speculation, mystical experience, and religious traditions.” Peripheries features art, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and experimental texts; the latest issue showcased writers such as Robin Coste Lewis, Fred Moten, Kay Ryan, and Terry Tempest Williams. Submissions are open via e-mail.

After the Massachusetts Review included her poem “Girls Are Coming Out of the Water” in an issue titled “A Gathering of Native Voices,” Chabitnoy more clearly saw her work as contending with “Indigenous survival and questions of who is telling the (hi)stories.” Guest edited by Tacey M. Atsitty, Laura Furlan, and Toni Jensen, the 2020 issue convened more than thirty artists and writers, highlighting the many ways Indigenous communities fight for sovereignty and protection of their rights, lands, and waters. The political aims of that issue align with the print quarterly’s larger goal to promote social justice and equality. In print since 1959, the journal publishes original and translated poetry, fiction, essays, and art. Edited at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, the journal also features book reviews and interviews online and publishes “Working Titles,” a digital series of long prose pieces. Submissions are currently open.

After hearing Chabitnoy read at the launch for the Massachusetts Review’s “A Gathering of Native Voices” issue, an editor from Grub Street solicited her work. Drawn to the annual’s openness to visual work, Chabitnoy published several poems and linocut pieces in Grub Street, which offers a digital edition of each print issue as well as selections online. Edited by undergraduates at Towson University in Maryland, the magazine circulates poems, stories, essays, and art. Grub Street takes its name from the famed thoroughfare of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century London, which nurtured the field of magazine publishing despite being scorned for its “writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems,” as Samuel Johnson wrote in 1755. Submissions are open via Submittable.

Chabitnoy notes it can be hard to balance writing and reading poetry and the time it takes to submit work; she ended up publishing several other poems from In the Current Where Drowning Is Beautiful after connecting with writers and editors. For example, she sent poems to the Capilano Review on the invitation of Jordan Abel, a poet and Capilano editorial board member whom Chabitnoy met at a symposium on water and poetry at Columbia University in 2020. The Capilano Review, which this year celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art three times a year online and in print. Edited in Vancouver, British Columbia, the review also hosts contests, workshops, readings, and an annual writer-in-residence. As of this writing, submissions are closed.

Throughout her collection, Chabitnoy weaves in lines in Alutiiq—a decision that she notes was bolstered by first publishing poems in Alutiiq and English in Ariel, a semiannual print and online journal devoted to art and multilingual poetry and prose. A recent issue included an essay on the love affair between Russian poets Marina Tsvetaeva and Sophia Parnok, an interview with a German writer and art historian, and poems in Ukrainian, French, Hebrew, Spanish, and Macedonian. Edited in Würzburg, Germany, Ariel also publishes book reviews. Submissions are open year-round via e-mail.

Dana Isokawa is the managing editor of the Margins and a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Top: Abigail Chabitnoy, author of In the Current Where Drowning Is Beautiful (Credit: Daniel Kerstetter)

Literary MagNet: Talia Lakshmi Kolluri

by

Dana Isokawa

8.17.22

Animals narrate every story in Talia Lakshmi Kolluri’s debut collection, What We Fed to the Manticore (Tin House, September 2022). A blue whale searches for his beloved; a starving polar bear hunts a seal among melting Arctic ice. Across the book, animals struggle with loss—of their companions, their habitats, their ways of life—because of climate change or human intervention. In each story, Kolluri attempts to inhabit the consciousness of its animal narrator and stay true to their perceptual abilities; a pigeon, for example, tells time by consulting her inner “sun compass.” The resulting stories offer fresh observations of the world while evoking the common desire among living creatures to survive and protect what is precious.

When Kolluri started submitting to journals, she felt daunted by the idea of searching for magazines receptive to work narrated by animals. Kolluri instead submitted anywhere open to simultaneous submissions. “I understand now that this kind of approach really overwhelms the submissions queue readers and [that] the students and editors who often staff literary magazines do so primarily as a labor of love,” she says. “But I wanted to say yes to myself [and that] meant believing that every time a journal said, ‘Send us your best work,’ my story fit that definition.” With this strategy Kolluri published her story about a pack of sled dogs in Greenland, “The Hunted, the Haunted, the Hungry, the Tame,” with the Minnesota Review after it was rejected sixty-six times by other journals. Founded in Minnesota in 1960, the biannual journal features poetry and fiction, as well as critical work about the humanities. The last issue included Henry Ivry’s critical study of Black ecology alongside fiction by Emma Walkiewicz and poetry by Alexis Tyla Roberts. The editors accept submissions of critical work year-round and creative work until October 15.

Place plays a central role in Kolluri’s book, so her title story, which follows a tiger living in the Sundarbans, was at home in Ecotone, a print biannual that focuses on place-based writing. The editors write, “An ecotone is a transition zone between two adjacent ecological communities, containing the characteristic species of each. It is therefore a place of danger or opportunity, a testing ground. The magazine explores the ecotones between landscapes, literary genres, scientific and artistic disciplines, modes of thought.” Edited at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington since 2005, the magazine features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art. Submissions in all genres for Ecotone are open until September 2; upcoming issues include a volume themed on the ocean, another on labor.

Kolluri published “The Good Donkey,” about a donkey in a zoo in Gaza, in another place-based publication, the Common. Kolluri was drawn to the periodical’s emphasis on place and work in translation; a recent issue spotlighted a portfolio of Palestinian stories translated from the Arabic. Kolluri also praised editor Jennifer Acker. “She struck that perfect balance of ensuring that I felt I had authorial independence to write the story I wanted to write while still nudging me away from writing into the path of least resistance,” says Kolluri. “[It] resulted in more nuanced character development and a greater understanding of how to write a complex context for a story.” Edited in Amherst, Massachusetts, the Common publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art in a print biannual and on its website. The journal also offers readings and programs with educational and cultural institutions. Submissions in all genres are open via Submittable until December 1.

Kolluri’s admiration for poet and memoirist Rajiv Mohabir, a former features editor for Southern Humanities Review, led her to regularly read the quarterly. “They have such broad and wide-ranging taste,” she says. She eventually published her story about a wolf shot down by hunters, “A Level of Tolerance,” in the journal. Former editor Caitlin Rae Taylor encouraged Kolluri to “go a bit further in imagining how an animal might frame something both emotionally and intellectually in ways that are different from humans, and take more risks in structur[ing] paragraphs [so as] to build a greater emotional impact.” Housed at Auburn University in Alabama, Southern Humanities Review has showcased poetry, fiction, and nonfiction since 1967. Submissions are open via Submittable until November 1.

After working on What We Fed to the Manticore for ten years and widely submitting, Kolluri is now placing work in some of her dream publications, including Orion, which will publish a story of hers not from her debut. “Orion is a titan in the world of thoughtful nature writing, and I am all-in on their mission to publish work that explores the connection between nature and culture and why good stewardship of the planet is vital to our survival and to art,” she says. Celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year, the print quarterly has featured interviews, poems, stories, and essays by figures such as Jane Goodall and Barbara Kingsolver. As of this writing, Orion’s next submission period has not been set.

 

Dana Isokawa is the managing editor of the Margins and a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Talia Lakshmi Kolluri, author of What We Fed to the Manticore. (Credit: Sarah Deragon)

Literary MagNet: Raquel Gutiérrez

by

Dana Isokawa

6.15.22

In their debut essay collection, Brown Neon (Coffee House Press, June 2022), Raquel Gutiérrez (she/they) observes how tricky photographing neon signs can be: “[I] knew the ghostly streaks caused by moving your phone suddenly, or losing the legibility of the text without enough light.” In Brown Neon, Gutiérrez engages in an analogous task: depicting the complex, electric spaces and queer brown communities she has moved through. With thoughtful ambivalence and care, Gutiérrez describes the work of artists such as Sebastian Hernández and Jeanne Córdova as well as places and borderlands in the U.S. Southwest. In each essay, Gutiérrez searches for ways to theorize about art, class, and queerness that are not scripted by institutions but instead prioritize the witnessing of “the utmost distillation of liveness.”

Gutiérrez wrote the oldest essay that appears in Brown Neon, “Vessel Among Vessels: Laura Aguilar’s Body in Landscape,” after Aguilar, a photographer, died in 2018. Lou Cornum, an editor at the New Inquiry, invited Gutiérrez to write it after seeing her tweet about the artist, and during editing “asked the right questions and pushed the piece to its lyrical and critical muscularity,” says Gutiérrez. The piece juxtaposes Aguilar’s life with Gutiérrez’s reflections on the class tensions within the East Los Angeles lesbian bar scene. The essay was published on the New Inquiry’s website, which features essays, reviews, and interviews. The New Inquiry looks for “incisive writing to intervene in public debates” and, as the editors write, is “concerned with building a left that doesn’t reproduce what we critique.” The publication is open to essay submissions via e-mail for its next issue, which is themed “Assets.” 

Throughout Brown Neon, Gutiérrez probes the connection between land and art. In one essay, Gutiérrez responds to Swiss Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel’s positing that the prototypes of the U.S.-Mexico border wall commissioned under Donald Trump could be considered the land art of a conceptual artist. “I was provoked into seeing the prototypes myself and fell into a dynamic rabbit hole,” says Gutiérrez, who visited the structures in 2018. They went on to pitch an essay on the topic at the invitation of Lucas Iberico Lozada, an editor at Popula, an experimental news, arts, and culture online magazine started in 2018. “Lucas posed great questions as an editor from a publication unfamiliar with the brouhaha that in some ways felt very West Coast,” says Gutiérrez. Popula regularly publishes essays, commentary, journalism, and comics. The outlet is experimenting with blockchain technology to ensure posts can never be “altered, censored, or destroyed,” keeping Popula’s editors honest and its content safe from hackers. The editors accept nonfiction pitches via e-mail.

For the Spring 2020 issue of the Georgia Review, Gutiérrez turned her blog post about the U.S.-Mexico border into the essay “Do Migrants Dream of Blue Barrels?” The piece drew on her experience replenishing water stations in the Sonoran Desert intended for migrants on their way to the United States. Gutiérrez says, “The only way I could write about the border was to stress my proximities and distances as the child of people who had the experience of crossing—whether by foot or overstaying a visa—directly.” With its sensory descriptions of the desert and its commentary about solidarity and the “deep and complex matrices” of immigrants and migrants, the essay seems at home in the Georgia Review; the print quarterly seeks to gather imaginative poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that reconsiders tidy notions and ideas. The recent Spring 2022 issue celebrated the review’s seventy-fifth anniversary and featured diasporic writing from and about the southeastern United States. Submissions open on August 15.

Los Angeles plays a big part in Brown Neon, so it is apt that Gutiérrez wrote one of its essays for the Los Angeles Review of Books, which publishes criticism and interviews daily on its website and through its print quarterly. In 2018 the review ran a version of Gutiérrez’s piece about the L.A.-based artist Shizu Saldamando, a “meditation on aging and what it means for aging punks who’re straight women to find intellectual peers…in queer spaces,” which Gutiérrez says editor in chief Boris Dralyuk really “helped make sing.” The review features a wide range of criticism on all aspects of art, culture, and politics. The editors are open to pitches via e-mail. 

While much of Brown Neon first appeared online and was likely influenced by journal editors’ feedback, Gutiérrez credits a more underground, premodern Internet publication scene with shaping much of her writing—the nineties feminist DIY post-punk zine culture. Gutiérrez describes the zines of that time as “angry and critical and unfiltered sustained addresses to many young, queer, punk feminists of color from across the country starving for languages of rage and righteousness that spoke to the experience of outsider-ness and resistance to being commodified.” Gutiérrez singles out one compilation zine in particular, Evolution of a Race Riot, which is viewable on zine editor Mimi Thi Nguyen’s website.    

 

Dana Isokawa is the managing editor of the Margins and a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

 

Raquel Guitérrez (Credit: Thea Q. Tagle)

Literary MagNet: Hope Wabuke

by

Dana Isokawa

4.13.22

In her debut poetry collection, The Body Family (Haymarket Books, April 2022), Hope Wabuke potrays her family’s experiences fleeing Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda in 1976 and making a new life as refugees in the United States. In lyric and narrative poems that focus on different people—global leaders, figures from Christianity, her family members—Wabuke positions the traumas of the individual within the global legacy of colonialism and anti-Blackness. With their deft use of space and caesuras, the poems gesture at what is unspeakable about, and who can no longer speak for, this violent past while suggesting that a form of healing can be found through passing on one’s history. As Wabuke writes in “Refugee Mind”: “you must speak you must let yourself be known / by these new children in all your glorious // tangled mess of becoming.” 

While working on The Body Family for the past ten years, Wabuke says literary journal editors have often allowed her to “see more clearly the center of a poem or themes running through the poems.” When she sent a “sprawling four-page narrative poem” to the North American Review, for example, editor J. D. Schraffenberger replied that he saw a complete eleven-line poem within the sprawl. Wabuke happily agreed, and the print journal published the edited poem, “Rib,” in 2015. Wabuke says it changed how she thinks as a poet, teacher, and editor: “It was a pivotal learning experience about scope and resonance and finding the crystalline center of a poem.” Established in 1815, the North American Review is one of the country’s oldest literary magazines and claims writers such as Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Edith Wharton among its contributors. Currently housed at the University of Northern Iowa, the print review of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction comes out three or four times a year. Submissions are open during the academic year via Submittable. 

A series of poems reimagining religious figures is threaded throughout The Body Family, starting with “Figure 1: Portrait of Ruth Understanding What Became of Eve in the Garden as Her Own Body as War. Materials: Wind & Sand” and ending with “Figure 12: Self-Portrait as Fire and Oshun. Materials: Water.” A version of the latter originally appeared in 2018 as “Skin II: Firebird” in the Collagist, an online journal started by Matt Bell and affiliated with Dzanc Books. In 2019 the journal editors started operating independently as the Rupture, an online magazine of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and criticism committed to, as poetry editor Marielle Prince says, “[the] breaking of some kind of silence, refusing to leave something alone, troubling it, stressing it to see what happens.” Submissions to the Rupture, which publishes every two months, are open via Submittable until July 31.

Another of Wabuke’s poems on religious figures, “Figure 4: Pièta II, Black Body as Crucifix Patterned With a Field of Skittles Crossed with Seven-UP against a Blood Red Sky. Materials: White Concrete and Lead,” originally appeared as “The Nerve” in 2015 in Fjords Review. Wabuke says the poem was a way to mourn Trayvon Martin and “opened out to discuss anti-Blackness, grief, loss, and fear.” The piece appeared in a special edition of the journal that centered Black American authors and was edited by poet Geffrey Davis. Fjords Review publishes work online and in a print annual; a recent print issue featured interdisciplinary writer Rebecca Gayle Howell in conversation with Kelly McQuain, photos by Sean Yseult, and poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and translation from more than twenty writers. Starting this year the editors also plan to publish four to ten chapbooks and four to ten full-length titles in all genres. Submissions to Fjords Review are open via Submittable.

Wabuke was delighted for her poem “Judges” to appear in a poetry portfolio on love and justice curated by one of her favorite poets, Crystal Williams, for the Sun. The poem, which voices the disconnect between a Ugandan father and his American children (“he wonders how they can want him softer when there is no room for softness can they not see such a thing was death where he comes from”), ran alongside pieces by Anuradha Bhowmik, Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Ashley M. Jones, and Danez Smith, among others. Based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the Sun seeks to “evoke the splendor and heartache of being human” in its monthly issues of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and photography. Submissions are open online and via postal mail.

From 2020 to 2022, Wabuke served as poetry editor, along with Michael Mlekoday, of Ruminate, which had previously published her poems in Issues 34 and 38. “I enjoyed the ethos and outlook of the magazine,” notes Wabuke; Ruminate “invites slowing down and paying attention” and publishes poems, short stories, and essays. Wabuke adds that editing there helped her “think of the poem as process, to think about the collaborative aspect between poet and editor.” Under her and Mlekoday’s tenure, the print quarterly published poets such as Hajjar Baban, Janine Certo, and Susannah Lodge-Rigal. Ruminate also publishes an online journal, the Waking, which focuses on short prose and image-text work. Submissions to Ruminate and the Waking are open via Submittable.    

 

Dana Isokawa is a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine and the managing editor of the Margins.

Hope Wabuke.

Literary MagNet: Sara Lippmann

by

Dana Isokawa

2.16.22

I see these stories as quiet rebellions, flawed protests,” says Sara Lippmann about Jerks (Mason Jar Press, March 2022), her second story collection. The characters in Jerks search for a release from the confines of modern life—the demands of motherhood, the waning of desire in marriage, the perils of environmental destruction, the awkwardness of youth, and the disconnect between our social and private selves. Visceral and rich with sensory detail, the stories swerve from humorous to cutting to irreverent. As for publishing, Lippmann—who placed all eighteen stories in magazines—says, “All the journals I’ve been lucky enough to publish with celebrate nervy writing.” She adds, “The older I get the less patience I have for safe, competent, well-crafted fiction. I’m interested in the messy.”

Lippmann also looks for journals that prioritize making their content free to read, respond to submissions in a timely fashion, support their contributors beyond publication, and prize voice in writing. “I apply the same litmus test to journals as I do my own stories,” she says. “What are they imparting to the reader? Where does the risk lie? How much skin is in the game?” These criteria led her to storySouth, an online biannual that has published poetry, fiction, nonfiction, interviews, and reviews by “writers from the new South” since 2001. Drawn to their track record of championing risk-taking work by writers such as Tyrese L. Coleman and Kyle Coma-Thompson, Lippmann sent storySouth a piece about breastfeeding, infidelity, and loneliness in marriage (“probably the squirmiest and most graphic story I’d ever written” she says), which the journal ran in 2016. Since then Lippmann notes the editors continue to support her via retweets and their blog. Submissions in all genres open on June 15.

“One of the most generous, menschy publications I’ve ever had the privilege of working with,” says Lippmann of Split Lip Magazine, which, like storySouth, regularly celebrates its contributors’ accomplishments via social media and “Fam roundup” posts on its website. Split Lip features poetry, flash fiction, short fiction, nonfiction, reviews, and art through a print annual and an online monthly. The editors write they are “totally bonkers-in-love with voice-driven writing, pop culture, and the kind of honesty that gets you right in the kidneys.” Lippmann delivered on voice-driven writing with “Har-Tru,” a story featuring an earnest young tennis instructor, a pack of chatty mothers obsessed with a TV show about polyamory, and a self-aware, wry narrator; Split Lip published it in 2018. Submissions are open year-round except for during July and the last two weeks of December.

Lippmann wrote many stories in Jerks in response to invitations from editors. “Solicitations light a fire under me,” she says. “I love a good deadline. And limits. As a flash junkie I also believe we often can really startle ourselves from within confines.” After Jason Teal, the editor in chief of Heavy Feather Review, approached her for a piece, Lippmann—who praises the review’s beautiful print issues and celebration of “singular voices like W. Todd Kaneko and Anne Valente”—wrote “Runner’s Paradise,” a story she says “goes all in with the surreal, with a sharp turn into a [Hieronymus] Bosch–like joggers’ bacchanal.” Heavy Feather Review publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art online as well as in a print annual that also appears online. Online themed columns include Flavor Town USA, Bad Survivalist, and Haunted Passages. Submissions for the review’s website are currently open.

Lippmann often finds magazines to submit to via the online journal Wigleaf, which releases an annual Top 50 Very Short Fictions list featuring flash published in various other journals during the previous year. Reading the 2017 selections, she was astounded by Justin Reed’s story “Icarus Is a Black Man,” which originally appeared in Gone Lawn, an online quarterly of poetry, fiction, and art. She submitted her story “Neighbors” to Gone Lawn, which published it in 2019; the story in turn was selected for Wigleaf’s 2020 list. Gone Lawn’s editors write that they want “sincere, well-written, imaginative, unusual, and/or innovative works that charm and displace us.” Submissions are open year-round.

The online magazine Midnight Breakfast aims to re-create the feeling of “late-night talks with friends over greasy food” with fiction, essays, cultural criticism, and interviews that are both serious and playful. Since its inception in 2014, the journal has published nineteen issues. “Visually I just love their look…and how they only publish a handful of pieces each issue, so you can settle in and spend time with each of them,” Lippmann says. Her story “Let all the Restless Creatures Go” appeared alongside works by T Kira Mahealani Madden and Bryan Washington in Midnight Breakfast’s thirteenth issue; Lippmann describes it as a story about “conservation and shitty humanity and perseverance (and turtles! And the Jersey Shore!).” Journal submissions are currently closed. 

 

Dana Isokawa is a writer and editor living in New York City. She is the managing editor of the Margins and a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Sara Lippmann (Credit: Tamara Plener)

Literary MagNet: Hasanthika Sirisena

by

Dana Isokawa

12.15.21

I like to think of myself as someone who continually questions truths,” writes Hasanthika Sirisena in their essay collection, Dark Tourist (Mad Creek Books, December). Sirisena does so, in part, by telling their own stories alongside those of other people whose lives do not fit neatly into hegemonic narratives. An essay about John Milton’s blindness and Sirisena’s experiences living with amblyopia, also known as lazy eye, probes assumptions about disability and beauty; a piece about a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth I and Sirisena’s father’s secret wife draws out the tension between the public and private in marriage. Sirisena portrays how lives that do not conform to accepted standards can drive original art and a keener understanding of “the vastness of whatever it is that unfurls out of us: culture, history, time.”

Dark Tourist is formally playful and draws on letters, lists, poetry, and visual art. In placing their essays, Sirisena, who is also a visual artist, appreciated journals that support multimodal work, such as the New York City–based Epiphany, which published Sirisena’s graphic essay “Abecedarian for the Abeyance of Loss.” Noting how rare it is for a print journal to take on the cost of reproducing art, Sirisena says director Rachel Lyon “took care with the visual images, invested in beautiful reproduction of what were elaborate drawings, and really showcased the work.” Epiphany publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in its print biannual as well as on its website. Sameer Pandya guest-edited a recent issue on the theme of empire, featuring work by Kendra Allenby, nicole v basta, and Celia Bland, among others. The journal’s website is seeking submissions of poetry, short fiction, and essays on poetry, books, and/or music. Print submissions are currently closed.

When switching to writing nonfiction, Sirisena—who in 2016 published the story collection The Other One with the University of Massachusetts Press—was heartened to publish their essay “Lady” in the second issue of the Arkansas International. “I remember being impressed with the gorgeous first issue and the extraordinary care the editorial team was taking in soliciting work from established, midcareer, and emerging writers,” Sirisena says. Established in 2016 by the University of Arkansas Program in Creative Writing and Translation, the print biannual has published writers from more than sixty countries to “challenge notions of what counts as international and regional U.S. literature.” Submissions in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, comics, and translation open on January 20.

Sirisena published the first essay they ever wrote, “Pretty Girl Murdered,” which shuttles between personal narration and cultural and historical analysis of Sri Lankan feminism and ideas of femininity, in Women Studies Quarterly, a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal that features scholarship as well as poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, book reviews, and art. Sirisena notes it was exciting to see their piece beside work by scholars and writers such as Grace M. Cho, Laura Kipnis, Marjane Satrapi, and Gill Valentine. Published by the Feminist Press since 1972, the print biannual will release a special fiftieth anniversary edition in fall 2022 examining its history as a space for thinking on women, gender, and sexuality. Submissions for the spring 2023 issue are currently open.

After receiving a “brutal rejection” for an essay about marriage, Sirisena admits they were shaken and uncertain about continuing to write essays. But a couple of days after submitting the same essay to the Kenyon Review Online, senior editor Geeta Kothari accepted the piece. Sirisena credits Kothari with encouraging them to keep writing nonfiction and notes that the piece raised their profile as an essayist. Published in print since 1939, the Kenyon Review also releases a separate online edition every two months; both the print and online editions feature poetry, fiction, nonfiction, drama, and translation. In 2022 the editors will release a print issue focused on work, another on climate; Emily Raboteau as well as Laura van den Berg and Paul Yoon will edit fiction portfolios. Submissions are currently closed.

After meeting Joanna Luloff, the coeditor of Copper Nickel, at the AWP conference and book fair, Sirisena submitted “Broken Arrow,” which braids together the narrative of Sirisena’s father working as a doctor in the American South with that of a plane carrying two nuclear bombs that crashed in North Carolina in 1961. “Joanna stuck with the essay all the way through,” says Sirisena, who published the piece in the print biannual’s fall 2017 issue. “She pushed me to reflect more deeply on the connections between the disparate strands while always believing essentially in the essay.” Edited at the University of Colorado in Denver by Luloff and poet Wayne Miller, Copper Nickel publishes original and translated poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Founded by poet Jake Adam York in 2002, Copper Nickel champions work that “considers sociohistorical context.” Submissions will open on January 15.

 

Dana Isokawa is a writer and editor living in New York City. She is the managing editor of the Margins, the literary journal of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and a former senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Top: Hasanthika Sirisena (Credit: Julie Louisa Hagenbuch)

Literary MagNet: Ye Chun

by

Dana Isokawa

10.13.21

What words were turning inside her, as she cooked, waited for us to come home from work, from school, as she ate, slept?” asks a character about her grandmother in Ye Chun’s story “To Say.” Versions of this question thread throughout Ye’s story collection, Hao (Catapult, September 2021), which depicts Chinese women, particularly mothers, as they struggle to be heard and find the language to express their realities. In “Stars” a student loses her ability to speak after a stroke; in “Crazy English” a Chinese immigrant faces disbelief from her white American husband about the dangerous attention of another man; in “A Drawer” an illiterate woman takes up drawing when her husband abandons her. Ye writes precise and lyric prose (“her heart feels like a scroll of moon-white space that opens, and is edgeless”) and in each story shows how language can be a refuge for those whose circumstances threaten to erase them.

“I have tremendous respect for publishers and editors of independent journals,” says Ye, who also pens poetry and translation and has won three Pushcart Prizes. “They’re people dedicated to pursuing their aesthetic visions, supporting new voices, connecting readers and writers—and doing all this against many odds.” Ye found such an editor in Paul B. Roth at the Bitter Oleander, a poetry press and biannual print journal based in Fayetteville, New York. Ye has called the publisher her literary home for the past fifteen years; the press released her debut poetry collection, Travel Over Water, in 2005. Ye notes that Roth is a “sharp and compassionate editor” who made smart cuts to “Wings,” her story in Hao about a woman with a lackluster job and marriage who starts to see a winged child no one else can see. “Paul doesn’t just publish a writer’s work; he cares about who and how they are,” adds Ye. After publishing for more than twenty-five years, the Bitter Oleander released its final issue this fall. The press will now focus on poetry in translation and is open to proposals for translated books through March 2022.

When Ye started experimenting with short fiction—she cites Lydia Davis, Louise Erdrich, and Denis Johnson as inspirations—she was greatly encouraged to keep going by her experience with the Threepenny Review. After she submitted to the print quarterly, she received a personal note from editor Wendy Lesser asking to see more. In 2016, Lesser published Ye’s story about motherhood and the spectatorship of poverty, “Milk,” which went on to win a Pushcart Prize. Founded in 1980 in Berkeley, California, the Threepenny Review brings together poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and criticism, and counts Louise Glück and Javier Marías, among others, as regular contributors. Submissions in all genres open on January 1, 2022. 

Ye published “To Say,” which she describes as a “hybrid of prose poetry, memoir essay, and short fiction,” with the experimental journal Denver Quarterly in 2017. Founded in 1966 by novelist John Edward Williams, the print journal champions avant-garde poetry and prose and is edited at the University of Denver. In 2020 the editors launched a digital arm, Fives, which features on a rolling basis “audioscapes, visual work, short films, digitally inclined prose, poetry, and criticism, and artistic experiments.” Submissions in all genres for both the print quarterly and Fives are currently open via Submittable.

Hao’s title story takes place during the Cultural Revolution and revolves around a widow and former teacher who, despite being regularly humiliated and beaten by Red Guards, manages to care for her young daughter by teaching her Chinese characters and their oracle-bone sign antecedents. Ye published the story in the Georgia Review, where the print quarterly’s editors treated the story with care. “The then longtime editor, Stephen Corey, and the managing editor, C. J. Bartunek, provided me with attentive line-edit suggestions, and the design manager, Scott LaClaire, beautifully reproduced the oracle-bone signs in the story,” she says. The review, which is now led by editor Gerald Maa, is based at the University of Georgia in Athens and publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, reviews, and art. The editors write, “Convinced that communities thrive when built on dialogue that honors the difference between any two interlocutors, we publish imaginative work that challenges us to reconsider any line, distinction, or thought in danger of becoming too rigid or neat.” Submissions in all genres are open until May 15, 2022.

“I was tremendously impressed by fiction editor Polly Rosenwaike’s editorial acuity,” says Ye about publishing work with Michigan Quarterly Review. “My story ‘Anchor Baby’ had gone through many rounds of edits before Polly looked at it, yet she was still able to catch moments of linguistic imprecision. I love that kind of perfectionism with words.” Ye’s piece appears in the review’s summer 2021 fiction issue alongside stories by writers including Farah Ali and Elizabeth McCracken. In addition to fiction, the journal, which is edited at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, publishes poetry, nonfiction, translation, and criticism in print and online. General submissions will open on January 15, 2022.    

 

Dana Isokawa is a writer and editor living in New York City. She is the managing editor of the Margins, the literary journal of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and a former senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

We Build It Ourselves: A Roundtable on Race, Power, and the Writing Workshop

by

Namrata Poddar

8.18.21

Since the rise of European empires, BIPOC writers around the world have created a strong legacy of literary works that resist a Euro-American aesthetic of “good” storytelling. In more recent history, with the institutionalization of writing in the United States, or the MFA—one of the country’s fastest growing graduate degrees, a key incubator of winners of the most prestigious literary awards, and, slowly but surely, a global pedagogical export—American literary culture has developed its distinctive trademark, full of silent assumptions and legitimizing power toward what constitutes good storytelling. 

I spoke with three writers—Felicia Rose Chavez, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Matthew Salesses—who have been very vocal about how this literary scene has stifled historically oppressed writers, especially via the writing workshop, and of ways to decolonize art-making. Chavez and Salesses recently published books on the subject, The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom (Haymarket Books, 2021) and Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping (Catapult, 2021), respectively, and Nguyen has critiqued the workshop in pieces such as his 2017 op-ed for the New York Times, “Viet Thanh Nguyen Reveals How Writers’ Workshops Can Be Hostile.” Through his Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, The Sympathizer (Grove Press, 2015), and its 2021 sequel, The Committed, both anticolonial fiction about American and French empires, Nguyen also circles back to that BIPOC legacy of storytelling that proactively questions what one is taught within a traditional American writing workshop.

Felicia Rose Chavez is an award-winning educator with an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Iowa. She is author of The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom (Haymarket Books, 2021) and coeditor of The BreakBeat Poets Volume 4: LatiNEXT (Haymarket Books, 2020). Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, she currently serves as the Creativity and Innovation Scholar-in-Residence at Colorado College. For more information about The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop, and to access and add to a multi-genre compilation of contemporary writers of color, visit www.antiracistworkshop.com.

Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in the United States. He is the author of The Committed (Grove Press, 2021), which continues the story of The Sympathizer (Grove Press, 2015), which was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction alongside seven other prizes. He is the editor of the anthology The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives (Abrams, 2018), and also the author of the story collection The Refugees (Grove Press, 2017) and the nonfiction book Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (Harvard University Press, 2016). He is the Aerol Arnold Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California.

Matthew Salesses was adopted from Korea. He is the author of, among other titles, the PEN/Faulkner finalist Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear (Little A, 2020), the best-sellers Craft in the Real World (Catapult, 2021) and The Hundred-Year Flood (Little A, 2015), and two forthcoming books from Little, Brown. He is an assistant professor of creative writing in the MFA/PhD program at Oklahoma State University.

 

Namrata Poddar: All of you have compared U.S. workshops in creative writing to a form of colonization, a “literary imperialism” [Salesses] that’s spreading abroad, a primer in “how power propagates and conceals itself” [Nguyen]. With a fixation on elements of “craft” like “show, don’t tell,” style, point of view, conflict, and an “apolitical writing” that camouflages a politics of white masculinity—more specifically, cis, straight, able, upper or middle class, Western, Judeo-Christian—you’ve reiterated how most U.S. workshops perpetuate a “politics of domination” meant to “dehumanize, pacify, assimilate, and control people of color” [Chavez]. Other writers have also talked or written about craft and a white imperial politics of American writing workshops for a while now; these include Junot Díaz, Claudia Rankine, David Mura, Bich Minh Nguyen, Gish Jen, Joy Castro, and, um, me. Since you teach creative writing as well, do you see a change in the way writing is taught in the United States including MFA programs? Or is change restricted to the role BIPOC gatekeepers play within these overwhelmingly white literary spaces? As important, what does change look like for you as we talk now, in 2021?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: I actually don’t teach “creative writing,” also a term that I do not like, since the “creative” seems redundant or overexplaining, and aren’t we as writers supposed to avoid the unnecessary and too explicit? My reluctance to lead writing workshops stems from my distrust of that form of pedagogy—see Flannery O’Connor, Iowa graduate, on the workshop as “composed in equal parts of ignorance, flattery, and spite”—and my belief that perhaps writing can be taught otherwise. I do supervise writers at the undergraduate and graduate level when it comes to theses and dissertations, whether that is poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. When it comes to writing I prefer a pedagogy that is one-on-one, since writing is by nature so idiosyncratic and individual. If writers want to think about shared problems, challenges, and techniques, there are plenty of books and essays that talk about them, as you point out. If “BIPOC gatekeepers” exist, and I suppose they do, then they are also part of the problem if they think of their function as opening a gate. The conventional literary world, from professionalized creative writing to the publishing industry, functions through a series of gates, and we have to live in the world as it is, but we should also be thinking about the world as it could be. A world without gates and gatekeepers. So while we need BIPOC faculty and role models, hopefully they are not just pragmatic and accepting of a system of professional and aesthetic exclusion and narrowness, but are interested in knocking down gates and eroding genre conventions, including the conventions of the genre of literary fiction. Change today does include the books by Felicia and Matt and David Mura that bring attention to how the writing workshop operates, but change also comes from outside the “overwhelmingly white literary spaces.” I think of small presses and community arts organizations and online writing, including Kaya Press and the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network and its blog, diacritics.org, all of which I am involved with or helped start, in reaction to the norms of whiteness in mainstream publishing and literature. We have to make our own change, collectively, as well as imagine how we, individually, as writers can challenge conventional aesthetics. 

Matthew Salesses: I can’t say what’s happening within other MFA programs, but I can say that there probably wouldn’t have been a need for Craft in the Real World if change was happening at the pace it should be. I wouldn’t have had to write it, I mean. Everything Viet is saying seems right to me. I’ve been trying to do the thing that I can do, to contribute the thing that I can contribute, which is write and teach writing and write about writing and teaching writing. I do teach workshops, though, and I think it’s pedagogically useful if we challenge how power usually operates in a workshop. I think the problem is this idea of leading. The workshop can potentially be a real place of possibility, an imaginative opportunity, if the writer isn’t being led.

Felicia Rose Chavez: Change is coming. I believe that. It’s a matter of confessing to and pushing past fear. I facilitate these anti-racist pedagogy workshops with MFA faculty across the country, and we talk about what scares us. Because no matter our desire to avoid replicating harm, change is risk. It necessitates that we name how we reinforce individual, institutional, and internalized racism in each and every one of our classrooms. We all play gatekeeper in one way or another. I tell teachers the same thing I tell myself: “Break the silence. You are contributing to the conversation for the love of your students. Speak up when you need to speak up. Do it to be free of the fear of what will happen when you release the truth.” To reorient from passive to active behavior—to be actively anti-racist—we have to exercise risk. What if my (white) department chair doesn’t approve of an anti-racist pedagogy? What if my (white) students don’t accommodate an anti-racist pedagogy? Enough with holding ourselves accountable to white supremacy! Academia breeds it, normalizes it—hierarchy, authority, ego, control—whiteness as neutral and objective. But Adrienne Marie Brown teaches us that art is not neutral, that it either upholds or disrupts the status quo, advancing or regressing justice. It’s up to all of us, not just our faculty of color, to pry our fingers off the gates of literacy. Instead, let’s take risks for the sake of progress, exposing art’s roots of race, power, privilege. Let’s say it aloud: “I teach an anti-racist workshop.” Let’s talk openly with our students about our pedagogical choices—a reorientation from authority over our students to ally to our students, from speaking at them to listening to them, from valuing a high-stakes final product to nurturing a healthy working process. Let’s involve them in our course content creation and then step back and access together: How might we adapt, moving forward? In doing so, we model real learning in real time: uncertainty, experimentation, growth, and change. 

Poddar: I agree with all you have shared here on the system and ways of getting past it. To linger a bit on this notion of gatekeeping, though, the heads of Big Five publishing houses—now Big Four—are white, as are 85 percent of the people who acquire and edit books in U.S. publishing. After twenty years of working toward decolonizing literature in my writing and teaching, and practicing the same within my forthcoming debut novel, I remember the challenges in finding a home for my book in the United States, the countless “encouraging rejections” alongside nominations for literary awards. I feel very lucky to have found a home for my fiction with an indie press run by Asian American editors, although like many smaller presses, the advance I was offered here is nominal. I share this as it’s too familiar a story for many fresh-off-the-MFA debut writers from marginalized communities. My question then: How do you teach BIPOC to practice a nonwhite craft of writing and equip them to publish within a market that’s decisively white, without students giving away their labor of years for free?  

Nguyen: I think we can teach BIPOC—and white—students to recognize aesthetic norms that are dictated or heavily influenced by whiteness and to try and write differently. That’s within our power as individual teachers. But I’m not sure how to answer the second part of your question about surviving as a writer. The options seem to range from limited to bad—become a creative writing teacher or find a paying job with writing as yet another job—but I’m wondering if there was ever a time when things were different for writers who were not wealthy or privileged. The burden is worse for BIPOC writers in a white publishing world, of course. For this reason I don’t see the problems you indicate as being much different from other pressing problems, from discriminatory police violence to prisons overcrowded with people of color and the poor to a faulty education system that is deeply unequal. Short-term solutions to any of these problems are actually not solutions, since these problems exist in a web of inequality produced from centuries of racial, class, and gendered exploitation and division. Unless we as a society can address systemic inequity, we can’t solve local inequity, including the inequity of how writers and artists are treated. This is why, for me, writing and everything around it is inherently political in practice, and often political in aesthetic, whether that is an acceptable, implicit politics that doesn’t announce itself as politics—and accepts the unequal world as it is—or an explicit politics that will be demeaned by those who believe that art should not be political because they benefit from the implicit politics of an unequal world. I equip myself for the situation you describe by making my writing as political as I can and by imagining myself as a writer within a genealogy of literary, cultural, and political struggle, including Asian American writers and the Asian American movement, Black writers and Black efforts for emancipation and liberation, and decolonizing thinkers, writers, artists, activists, and revolutionaries all across the world. Thinking of myself in relation to this genealogy and network, thinking of my writing as existing not only in a white-defined literary world, but in a world outside of the text, a world struggling for justice and freedom, empowers me and lets me know that I am not alone and that I am not defined by white people invested in their own whiteness. Instead, I stand in relation to all kinds of people who see the relation between art and politics and the importance of solidarity to overcome the false divisions designed to drive us apart and weaken our efforts to decolonize. 

Salesses: I agree that the first part is what we’ve been working toward in craft essays and books—how to recognize where the “craft” we are taught comes from and whom it serves, where the money comes from, and then how to reorient toward speaking to and within a literary history and tradition that actually serves us and our stories and our audiences—and I also agree that the second part is a systemic issue. Equipping students to actually get their work published within this system—it’s about equipping students to do work in the real world to resist the system and take it down. I guess that’s what Viet already said. I think the way this often gets spun, though, is to make it about our feelings. Like: We should get used to rejection, toughen up, have thicker skin, etc. We do have to deal with our feelings, of course, but I think we can do more to give our students some practical help to deal with the system itself, like connecting them with BIPOC agents and editors, reminding them that it takes only one agent, one editor, and teaching them that audience is specific and that they don’t need to write for everyone. 

Chavez: White hegemony aims to erase, capitalism aims to exploit, and yet we exist, still we thrive. Richard Jean So points to the dominance of white narcissism in the publishing industry, the pervasive racial inequality that’s staunchly anti-Black. And so we build it ourselves, just like we’ve always done. I start by teaching my students to listen to themselves. In my book I give it a name: a pedagogy of deep listening. I might coin the outcome as confidence. To start, students tune inward to confront their psychological and emotional relationships to writing, naming fear, perfectionism, competition, jealousy, and a belief in their own worthlessness as everyday barriers to creativity. We speak these unspeakable things aloud. Too often writers feel alone in their private suffering. Together we affirm that our inner critic is nothing more than fear. Name it and move on. Students tune inward again, this time to summon their mentors as guide. Allow them to love what they love, honor that genealogy that Viet speaks of, invite it into the classroom, legitimize it. In my workshop students craft sculptural “family trees,” tributes to their artistic lineage. I ask, “How might you extend the moves of your mentors?” Finally, students tune inward to write artist statements, tracking their writing process, articulating craft-based questions to guide discussion of their work, and communicating a vision for future drafts. In listening to themselves again and again, students cultivate artistic intuition. They grow into their own ideal reader. They write to please themselves. They workshop so as to witness themselves what needs fixing. When a peer, a professor, an agent, or an editor questions their moves on the page, I want them to be so emboldened as to own their words. No, you cannot use me, tokenize me, reject and destroy me. No, you cannot supersede control and manipulate my voice on the page to sound like you. No, thank you, this partnership is unhealthy. “Tune inward and listen to yourselves, trust yourselves,” I tell my students, so that they might go on to serve as their own authority. It’s a long game, but our publishing allies are out there, they’re growing day by day, just look to Roxane Gay’s imprint. In the meantime: Write for you, your mentors, your ancestors.

Poddar: I love how you’re all pointing here, in different ways, to knowing one’s lineage and reader as key elements of craft. Although knowing this well is one of the biggest challenges, too, I think, especially for writers who come from a legacy of white colonial rule—meaning, for about 90 percent of the planet that was colonized by Europe by the early 1900s—that brutally erased and supplanted native languages and cultures with white ones. Add to it writers who come from multiple histories of imperial rule (white and nonwhite), hetero-patriarchy, caste hegemony, and other reasons we’ve mentioned above, and we have lineages that can get even more fragmented and paradoxical when not erased. So I’m curious what this journey of discovery was like for you. From your earliest efforts to write for an audience to your work today, when did you know your lineage and your reader?

Nguyen: I have multiple lineages, and I don’t think that’s problematic. I grew up immersed in the Anglo-American canon as found in the public library and my Catholic school education, and I loved the classics of English and American literature, even if, in retrospect, I can identify how much of these traditions could also be classified under what Edward Said called “culture and imperialism.” Being steeped in these classics gave me a rich sense of the English language and a sense of Anglo-American and Western European literary history that was deepened by my time doing a PhD in English at UC Berkeley. That was a conservative program that had heavy historical requirements from Beowulf onward through Chaucer and Shakespeare and the Romantics and the Victorians and the American Renaissance and so forth. It wasn’t always fun to read the works in this tradition, but I’m glad I did, because it is my tradition, too, even as it is a tradition that resists me and rejects me. I believe that writing is fighting, like Ishmael Reed said, and the deeper and wider in literary traditions a writer is versed, the more equipped the writer is for such a task. I wrote The Sympathizer with an eye toward how that novel could be situated in relation to this canonical tradition. But I also write with other lineages. The so-called genres of detective, crime, and spy writing. And most important, the writings of U.S. peoples of color and the decolonizing writers from around the world, as well as the philosophers and theorists of these writings and of colonized experiences. Encountering Black, Asian American, and decolonizing and theoretical writing at Berkeley was especially crucial in making me understand what was lacking in the Western tradition and that my task was not to fill in that gap—not to claim a space for representation and inclusion—but to demonstrate how that tradition was built on power and, when it came to people like me, exploitation and conquest. All of this animates The Sympathizer and its sequel, The Committed. I believe it’s possible and necessary to borrow and steal from dominant culture—which borrowed and stole from the peoples it conquered—and to speak from the perspective of one’s own community at the same time. Finally, not just to speak from that perspective, but to speak first and foremost to…who? For me, my first reader is me. But the second reader or readers are people like me. People to whom I do not need to translate. Everyone else can listen in.

Chavez: When I was a little girl, I had this diary that I sealed in a ziplock bag and buried underground. I’d dig it up when I wrote, then bury it again in hot New Mexico dirt when I was done. Stories were in the air all around me—family members talking and talking over afternoon coffee at the kitchen counter, rancheros blasting from the garage—and yet I had this terror of sharing my own words. Reading was no relief. The page was white space: Publishers, authors, characters, even the teachers who pointed me to my beloved texts, were all white. I remember one of those white teachers recommended me to a summer writing camp when I was in seventh grade. I worked on this nonfiction project for weeks, only to be told that my characters’ grammar was incorrect, that “no one sounds like this, it’ll never get published.” Too many years later, I found Sandra Cisneros and Ana Castillo and June Jordan and Cherrie Moraga and Toni Cade Bambara and bell hooks and Rosario Castellanos and Octavia Butler and Gloria Anzaldúa and Donna Kate Rushin. Their writing spoke to my writing, said it was okay to sound like me. And the students at Young Chicago Authors, too, where I served as teaching artist in the early 2000s, exposed me to stories in the air, not secret and suffocated underground, but spoken word, vibrating with the language of home. Hip-hop, essentially. When I wrote my own book, I knew I had to step up, speak up, lean into the swag of my people. I consider The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop a memoir. It reflects on myself as writer and student and looks toward the future as writer and teacher: What sounds do our words make when we’re allowed to love what we love, and how do we extend that same love to ourselves? 

Salesses: Like Felicia, I lived and am living the change from telling stories for the white gaze, engaging with white expectations, including about and to myself, to telling stories that reach beyond or apart from those expectations. Who your reader is, what your lineage is, is about what expectations you’re working with and why. For a long time I was writing toward expectations of what success could mean for me within a white literary landscape—how to write the kind of story that is easily consumable by white readers and how to accept and even prize that consumption as acceptance. Eventually it wasn’t even self-awareness that saved me; it was realizing that my writing was doing nothing in this space. I remember I had written yet another essay explaining the transracial adoptee experience for white people, and my own white adoptive father commented on my Facebook wall that he had read the essay and still didn’t see me as any different from him; he didn’t see my difference, which is to say my life. The essay was literally about recognizing difference as a kind of definition. If my writing couldn’t even do something for the audience of my own parents, then it was doing nothing at all. Readers create meaning. I wanted, and still want, my writing to do something in the real world, and doing something is about doing it within a certain context and for certain people. After that I made a conscious decision to write for adoptees instead.

Poddar: Lastly, all of you have written or edited in more than one form of writing—fiction, nonfiction, poetry. When it comes to innovation or pushing against established conventions within your work, is there a form you prefer over another? Why?  

Nguyen: I love fiction first and foremost because it’s through fiction that I became entranced by the power of the word and saved by it. As a young, lonely refugee with no books in his house, no friends, and parents too busy struggling to survive to spend time with me, I would have died a spiritual death if it hadn’t been for the public library and the world of fiction within it. I tried to write poetry, and I was terrible at it, but I loved poetry at a young age, and I can appreciate everything from Shakespeare and the Romantics to what so many powerful poets are doing today. Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem and Don Mee Choi’s DMZ Colony come to mind. What the poets do with language and form, typography and white space, rhythm and sound, language and the refusal to translate is absolutely crucial to how I write fiction and try to push against conventions there. As for nonfiction, The Sympathizer and The Committed are novels written in the guise of nonfiction, as confessions. That liberated me to do a lot of things that realist novels aren’t supposed to do, like telling and showing at the same time, rather than “show, don’t tell,” a perfectly decent literary tactic that has become a dogmatic mantra of the writing programs that too often justifies aesthetic and ideological conservativeness. Deploying poetry and nonfiction against the normalized constraints of mainstream contemporary American fiction has been absolutely important to me. 

Chavez: I’m of the school that all forms are one form: story. That goes for history, science, politics, and pedagogy as well as poetry, plays, lyrics, and prose. Whether it’s in the classroom or on the page, I draw inspiration from across the storytelling spectrum: queer feminist theory alongside a breakbeat play alongside Susie Yang and Jamila Woods. My students know this well, as the whole point of my course The Inspiration Lab is to shake off our reliance on authority to assign pages. Let’s do it ourselves! Let’s seek out our own inspiration and make the weird hybrid stuff that we want to enjoy. In my own practice I’ve experimented with digital collage, graphic essay, and audio storytelling. I’ve adapted comic books and news stories into nonfiction that reads as fiction, social media threads into experimental podcast scripts. Sure, Robert Frost’s cool and all, but what’s now, what’s new, what’s relevant to me? People of color have long been innovating, taking risks. Our daily survival is an act of imagination, from the way we code-switch to the way we hustle to the way we peace-make. Kiese Laymon is on point when he wonders “what Black writers weren’t writing when we spent so much creative energy begging white folk to change.” I’m dying to know too.

Salesses: It’s exhausting to try to sound smart here. Maybe what our answers speak to is that breaking down expectations is also about expectations of genre, separations between genres, etc. I prefer fiction. I like to read fiction. Fiction is already about resisting official narratives, or at least it is in some cultures. But there’s a lot of nonfiction and poetry like that too. Personally, I like the challenge of making everything up and the reminder that even then the symbols I’m using to build something make-believe already have received meanings of their own. How do you resist even the tools of your own resistance and the things you create with those tools? It’s like trying to make air out of Lego pieces. 

 

Namrata Poddar writes fiction and nonfiction, serves as interviews editor for Kweli, and teaches literature as well as creative writing at UCLA. Her work has appeared in several publications including Literary Hub, Longreads, the Kenyon Review, Electric Literature, and The Best Asian Short Stories. Her debut novel, Border Less, is forthcoming from 7.13 Books. She holds a PhD in French studies from the University of Pennsylvania, an MFA in fiction from Bennington College, and a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Transnational Cultures from UCLA. Find her on Twitter, @poddar_namrata, and on Instagram, @writerpoddar.

From left: Namrata Poddar, Felicia Rose Chavez, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Matthew Salesses. (Credit: Nguyen: Bebe Jacobs; Salesses: Grace Salesses)

Return to the MFA: A Call for Systemic Change in the Literary Arts

by

Namrata Poddar

8.12.20

I remember a story I last workshopped in my MFA program. It’s a story about Soma, a call-center agent in India who has to ignore daily encounters with American racism. In my story’s climax she has to empathize with a white woman accusing Indians of being lazy and stealing American jobs; it’s the only way for Soma to retain her job and ensure her family’s survival. 

In workshop we followed the classic “Iowa model” of feedback through which each of my peers would comment on my story while I’d stay quiet and listen. My peers talked about the good or poor execution of craft in the story—sentences, style, use of details, and so forth—but no one commented directly on the story’s climactic moment or mentioned the word racism even though it was at the heart of my story. A white male peer sighed and said he had nothing to offer me as feedback; he couldn’t relate to my brown protagonist who goes through too much. Another peer nodded, a white woman. Soon thereafter one of the two workshop leaders stopped the peer discussion and reminded the group of its racial majority before steering it toward a more helpful conversation. It didn’t escape me then that the white man speaking up about race in my workshop was a Jewish writer married to a Black woman. 

This isn’t yet another story about how rough I had it in my MFA program as a brown immigrant woman. It is, instead, a story about a greater reality of MFA programs that begs for a reevaluation.

In recent years the U.S. literary world has established what a traditional MFA—seen as a white nationalist, Judeo-Christian, hetero-patriarchal space in its aesthetic ideology—does to Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC); women; LGBTQIA+ or immigrant writers; or those with disabilities. My experience, à propos, wasn’t much of an exception. Besides, contemporary American writers, mostly of color, have talked at length about this: Junot Díaz, David Mura, Joy Castro, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Matthew Salesses, and Bich Minh Nguyen, to name a few. In her incisive keynote at the 2016 AWP Annual Conference & Book Fair, poet Claudia Rankine reiterated how creative writing programs, with their white majority faculty and students, work to maintain whiteness as the workshop’s unspoken norm. “The insistence that white supremacy doesn’t continue to be our dominant frame takes work,” she said. “The belief that white lives are not political lives with political privilege and protections takes work. The failure to push back against systems that subjugate others takes work. The constant unwillingness or inability to retain diverse faculty takes work.” 

I chose to pursue creative writing after a doctoral and postdoctoral tenure in transnational literature as a non-Christian, non-passing brown woman who grew up in a “Third World” country that, thanks to a white colonial rule, went from being one of the world’s most prosperous economies to a poster child for global poverty, a country now flexing its own imperialist agenda in South Asia: India. On this personal and professional path, I learned something about power in a world of “high art,” including literature. By the time I became a U.S. citizen, I also learned the education that gave me a language to talk about systemic oppression was delivered in institutions built by Black labor on stolen Indigenous land. So before I talk more about the MFA, race, and power, I acknowledge my own privilege within the system—my cishet, able-bodied privilege; my educational privilege; the privilege of my lighter skin and brown ancestry that wasn’t subject to the same degree of white brutality as Black and Indigenous communities who survived a history of slavery, mass genocide, or forced displacement, and its aftermath in the United States. I acknowledge the privilege of my current citizenship in one of the world’s richest countries, too, an imperial power known in recent history to bomb people of my skin color elsewhere on the planet. 

I pause here to affirm strands of my intersectional identity—vast, complex, and ever-evolving as anyone else’s—and privilege because it is through a denial of one’s racial identity and position within the system, denial often practiced in favor of an allegedly universal humanity, that systems of oppression perpetuate their status quo; this includes a reign of white supremacy in the literary arts. A disclosure of one’s identity and privilege within white or non-Black communities of color seem to me even more important in this current historic moment, in our ongoing national and global conversations on race, since they’re rekindled—yet again—at the expense of countless Black lives. Lastly, a term like BIPOC—an important revision to POC—stands for a majority of our planet and encompasses a multitude of histories, contexts, traumas, as well as hierarchies within and across each ethno-racial subgroup. I’ll be using BIPOC hereafter in a broad way, yet I do so aware that any use of the acronym as a facile, monolithic opposition to white reenacts a history of erasure toward communities of color that a “woke” literati is trying to redress. 

It is time to rethink the MFA because the U.S. literary world seems to be on the precipice of change once again—in theory if not in practice. In June the Black Lives Matter movement spread across the United States to protest a long-standing history of racialized violence and police brutality against Black Americans, including the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks, to name a few in a very long list. The protests soon spread across the globe to reckon with other forms of systemic oppression in other historical contexts—colorism, casteism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, or heteronormativity as they often intersect with racism; the social inequalities within a global landscape were further exacerbated and unmasked by COVID-19. As if to catch up with a national and global movement of resistance, the U.S. literary world professed reawakening to its white supremacist realities. Arts and cultural organizations, colleges and universities, literary magazines, and publishing houses sent out statements of solidarity with Black Americans, pledging to fight racism and systemic oppression at large. On June 3, 2020, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs stated its intent “to amplify Black voices” and its mission “to champion diversity” in the field of creative writing. In the next few days the president and board chair of the Poetry Foundation both resigned after writers criticized the organization for its measly response to Black Lives Matter protests. Less than a week later, more than half of the National Book Critics Circle’s twenty-four board members, which included six people of color, resigned over internal conflicts about racism, privacy concerns, and political correctness. If a fiercely defended ideal of literature as the realm of “the personal” became “political” for a white liberal world in November 2016, the same coterie seemed to march toward wokeness in June 2020, talking art and social justice with a fervor it used for years to divorce the two. 

I return to the MFA within this scene because it’s a key incubator for current citizens of the U.S. literary world, including winners of several prestigious awards. The MFA is the degree writers use as their calling card for the publishing world; it’s what gatekeepers like editors and agents often consider when reading a piece of writing from the slush pile; it’s what you need to get a teaching job in the academy; it’s what can give you time to work on your craft and book. Elif Batuman echoes the degree’s status in her controversial essay “Get a Real Degree,” published in 2010 in the London Review of Books, calling the MFA “the single most determining influence on postwar American literary production.” Richard Jean So and Andrew Piper further show how the degree is a big business. They reported in 2016 for the Atlantic that there are more than 350 graduate creative writing programs in the United States, which together bring in more than $200 million a year in revenue. In his 2017 New York Times piece “Viet Thanh Nguyen Reveals How Writers’ Workshops Can Be Hostile,” Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen further stated how the U.S. writing workshop—the MFA’s key component—is a form of empire spreading globally to legitimize “good” storytelling, “an object lesson in how power propagates and conceals itself.” 

In short, the MFA is so interlocked with how many contemporary writers publish and earn a living in the United States and who gatekeepers herald as the next rising star that it needs to be put on the spot if the literary world is serious about examining and redistributing institutional power. 

I quit an academic path in literary criticism for a long-deferred dream of creative writing once I could afford the choice; unlike MFAs most PhD programs offer their students full funding. Although my PhD gave me a rigorous training in reading power within the world of stories—a skill I owe first to my Black woman mentor—I chose an MFA because I wanted to break up with academic English and write for a broader audience. I was eager to learn what a traditional MFA is best known to sell—craft, even though I knew it’s a tradition rooted in Eurocentrism, like most of “canonical” literature and literary criticism. When it comes to craft I remain indebted to my MFA mentors for making me a better writer, including the rare privilege I had to work with a superb brown woman writer, a visiting faculty member. My MFA mentors attuned me better to language; they shared valuable insights on scene-building and story structure, steered me toward reading intuitively and trusting the organic unfolding of a story—foundational lessons on any writer’s path. Most of all it’s my MFA community across the racial spectrum who cheered me on the path of becoming a writer when my brown American family with a working-class background belittled my creative aspirations, perceiving the latter as lazy or pretentious life choices.

My intention here isn’t to dismiss the lessons on craft I learned throughout my MFA from which I undeniably grew. But I share the experience of workshopping my story about Soma now—as the U.S. literati continues to confront the intersection of art and power—because what struck me wasn’t the palpable discomfort a conversation on race generates within white institutional spaces, something I knew well from my long tenure in the Western academy. What struck me about that workshop moment in one of our country’s most elite writing programs was the degree of silence on racism even when it was at the core of my story. As we talked about the execution of craft in my story, I don’t remember craft-based questions specifically on the story’s climax coming up in my workshop’s peer discussion. Was my depiction of the scene convincing when Soma deals with her racist client? Was the point of view effective? What about dialogue between characters in that charged encounter? When I processed my experience while thinking through story revisions, the chasm separating two siblings of the literary arts became clear to me, or rather, the bitterly divorced couple of most English departments in the American academy—“literature” versus “creative writing.” 

An ideological split in an American literary world struck me because, as shared earlier, I came to the MFA after a long tenure in studying and teaching contemporary multiethnic literature in which my mentors and peers—across the racial spectrum—could have a fruitful conversation on systemic oppression that included racism and xenophobia within a world of stories. Moreover, at UCLA, where I was teaching while pursuing my MFA, my undergraduate students across the racial spectrum seemed more adept at talking about a story’s relationship to social justice than most of my white MFA community ranging in age from twenties to eighties. 

My point here isn’t to idealize literature programs over MFA programs, as if critical thinking and creative writing are mutually exclusive endeavors, except that they do seem mutually exclusive in U.S. workshop culture. Neither is my point to gloss over the daily encounters with institutional racism I experienced as a literature student or faculty member of color. White allyship, however genuine, isn’t free of white privilege or white fragility, and this includes a “woke” world of arts and humanities in the U.S. academy, something scholars of color constantly write about and must navigate. That said, the stark silence over race that I encountered in my workshop has a lot to do with the workshop’s history itself, I believe, in addition to its ethno-racial demography.  

Viet Thanh Nguyen cites Eric Bennett’s Workshops of Empire: Stegner, Engle, and American Creative Writing During the Cold War (University of Iowa Press, 2015) to remind us how the traditional U.S. writing workshop originates from the country’s midcentury fear of Communism, a historic moment that promoted creative writing “as a defense of the individual and his humanistic expression.” This freedom of self-expression is perpetuated in most MFAs through a fetishization of craft, often associated with a toolbox of skills, with, as Nguyen says, “physical (not intellectual) labor—and masculinity.” Here individual freedom of expression is defended at the detriment of collective responsibility; it’s defended in order to dismiss politics in general and the so-called “identity politics” of BIPOC in particular. Elif Batuman argues that, due to a pedestalization of craft, the MFA is trapped in time and emblematic of a writing culture “produced in a knowledge vacuum” where the “right” use of adverbs, adjectives, and individual perspectives are considered way more important to a writer’s formation than an understanding of their relationship to the world and history. 

To me what’s truly dangerous about this ahistorical, apolitical ideology and pedagogy of storytelling is that it exempts white writers from confronting whiteness in any way, including their recent racial history of colonizing 90 percent of the planet’s land surface through the power of white storytelling speaking for the other—an amnesia in favor of a white literary world, an omnipotent memory for BIPOC dealing with the aftermath of this amnesia on a daily basis. It is this battle over amnesia versus memory that reignites, it seems to me, the tired debate on cultural appropriation and freedom of self-expression, dividing the literary world every few months into two implacable teams: white versus BIPOC. Think white writers publishing under an Asian pseudonym to benefit from “diversity,” or donning a sombrero to promote artistic freedom, or calling sensitivity readers “a cottage industry”; think publishers celebrating the rigging of a white author’s best-seller on brown undocumented migration over party decor of barbed wire evoking the U.S.–Mexico border—to reference a few in a long list of recent literary wars. 

Thankfully there’s more to our U.S. literary family than the grim picture I paint above. During the midcentury rise of the writing workshop, another history marked a turning point in the reading of literature, here in the United States. The civil rights movement, the decolonization of Asian and African countries, and the student activism of the sixties led to the establishment of area, ethnic, and postcolonial studies, followed soon by LGBTQIA+ and disability studies in the American academy, all of which challenged Eurocentric assumptions in the production and consumption of knowledge, especially in the humanities and the social sciences. These newer disciplines brought an overdue comparative perspective that decentered the able-bodied, straight white male or Western “narrator” who spoke as the unquestioned norm in most forms of Knowledge including Literature (emphasis on capital K and L). Many of my pre-MFA peers and undergraduate students across the racial spectrum learned how to read and understand stories within this interdisciplinary legacy, one that isn’t devoid of Eurocentrism yet offers a necessary shift in point of view—that revered darling of lessons in craft.

In June, when my inbox was inundated with solidarity statements by literary institutions pledging to break the silence on race and systemic oppression, I received another e-mail informing me that Soma’s story was going into print in the Kenyon Review. Staring at my mailbox and recalling my workshop experience, I wondered just how will the administrators, faculty, and students of the traditional MFA hereafter confront their legacy of silence, if not their proactive resistance to questions of race and social justice? This, especially when core—not visiting or adjunct—Black, Indigenous, and other faculty and students of color continue to be an obvious minority in most MFA programs, where chairs or directors, unlike those of literature departments, continue to be overwhelmingly white. What would action toward systemic change in the MFA—beyond statements and diversity committees—actually look like? 

Here I could list concrete ways to dethrone white nationalism in the literary arts, as if BIPOC across the world haven’t been sharing this labor since the planet’s decolonization—literal if not figurative—in the mid-twentieth century. Historicize, contextualize, decolonize art, de-provincialize the workshop, embrace interdisciplinarity in teaching. And, of course, in the obvious drill of immediate “solutions” toward structural change, I could recycle the persistent BIPOC plea to add color: color in the student population and the core faculty of MFA programs, none of whom need a PhD to write or teach about a lived experience of marginalization; color in leadership and gatekeeping positions at every level of the literary world, including publishing, literary award juries, editorial mastheads, and academic departments.

The question here isn’t what the “solutions” are for ending structural inequality. Although change requires all of us to actively do our part—in learning, unlearning, and addressing our own blind spots, in taking action every day within our sphere of influence—key questions at the heart of systemic change are those of power: Who holds power in major leadership or gatekeeping positions? Would they be willing to share it in a fair—not tokenist—way? And if they’ve held it for too long, would they consider relinquishing it, or redistributing it in an effective way?

As for the traditional MFA, any revised pedagogical focus on BIPOC or “diverse” points of view will falter yet again if the institution refuses to confront its racial pandemic—a long-standing history of whiteness masquerading as the essence of art, transcendence, humanity, universality, or, the most American of ideals, freedom. 

 

Namrata Poddar writes fiction and nonfiction and serves as interviews editor for Kweli, where she curates the series Race, Power, and Storytelling. Her work has appeared in Longreads, Literary Hub, the Kenyon Review, Transition, Electric Literature, VIDA Review, The Best Asian Short Stories 2019, and elsewhere. She holds a PhD in French Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, an MFA in fiction from Bennington College, and a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Transnational Cultures from UCLA. Find her on Twitter, @poddar_namrata, and on Instagram, @writerpoddar.

We Need New Metaphors: Reimagining Power in the Creative Writing Workshop

by

Rachelle Cruz

8.12.20

I’ve taught creative writing at the college and university level for seven years. I’ve taught all-ages poetry, creative writing, and performance workshops with nonprofits and community centers for the past thirteen years. I’ve experienced trauma during my undergrad and graduate writing workshops, when I was asked to translate myself and cultural backgrounds as a Filipinx woman and first-generation college student, and to clarify my experiences with sexual abuse and more. I was asked to perform whiteness through “imitating” white poets. I was also asked to perform my brownness and “foreign exoticness” to a white audience. I’ve been in “dead author” workshops (also known as the traditional workshop) for my entire education. Through this model, the writer is silent while the professor, or a classmate, clumsy or emboldened by the professor’s lack of guidance, begins to eviscerate the work. Everyone else then joins in.

Today I teach my classes and workshops with a very different approach. We begin with creating community guidelines (notice how I wrote “we”—I offer but don’t dictate) on how to interact with one another, the texts we’re reading, and one another’s work. We check-in at the start of each class—everyone says their name then shares a highlight of the week. Folks actually start to care about, or at the very least are interested in, one another. We also talk about how to handle involuntary racism and discrimination in our work. I’m a supporter of “calling in”—or addressing harmful behavior by first talking it through in an open, respectful fashion that does not call out or shame people—as a method and sometimes the whole class feels comfortable enough to do this as a collective conversation.

Regarding workshop I share my own experiences. I tell them how much I hated workshop for the reasons I listed earlier. I ask them about their own experiences, and we unpack them. No surprise—they, too, have experienced trauma, racism, sexism, transphobia, and more. We read “Viet Thanh Nguyen Reveals How Writers’ Workshops Can Be Hostile,” a short, accessible, and informative history on writing workshops from a Vietnamese refugee writer’s point of view published in the New York Times in 2017. We unpack the “invisible origins” of the writing workshop—Nguyen cites Eric Bennett’s book Workshops of Empire: Stegner, Engle, and American Creative Writing During the Cold War (University of Iowa Press, 2015) in tracing it to a midcentury American fear of Communism—and how it’s marked by whiteness. We talk about how today’s writing workshop format was informed by this fear and a move toward individualism and individual art-making. We talk about how the “gruff” (read: toxic, masculine) style of communicating feedback to students was informed by the militaristic settings familiar to World War II veterans, who were the predominant workshop attendees during this time.

Then I ask my students, “So, what kind of workshop do you want?” I tell them that a workshop is a form like any other—a TV show, a film, a poem. It can have varied yet specific uses, depending on the writer and the piece. For example, do you have a rough draft of a poem or story that you feel uncertain about? Maybe you want to be inspired by other works similar to your draft. In the Gift Method of workshop, students bring in art, poems, films, and other media that speak to the craft and content of the workshop poem or story. Students share why their “gift” reminds them of the piece. Or maybe the student has a poem or story in response to queer feminist theory. The student can assign an article alongside their piece. The workshop then discusses the workshop text alongside this article, foregrounding queer feminist theory.

Students brainstorm other workshop formats depending on what they need, and of course this varies depending on the piece. Here are some of these format titles (if you want descriptions, e-mail editor@pw.org with the subject line “Workshop Formats”): the Oprah Method, the Mix-Up, In the Dark, and the Exquisite Corpse. In my classroom each writing workshop format changes from student to student, depending on personal preferences. I tell them a format might fail, but we’ll all learn something from it.

The writing workshop and the creative writing classroom suffer from a lack of imagination. They suffer from cyclical trauma, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and classism. It’s our job, alongside our students, to change this.

In his New York Times piece, Nguyen writes that “the ‘workshop’ invokes the nobility of craftsmanship, physical (not intellectual) labor—and masculinity.” We need new metaphors. In the workshops I’ve facilitated, I’ve witnessed students create tremendous joy as they center themselves and their stories in the curriculum. The workshop is no longer a “workshop” but a greenhouse, a director’s cut and commentary version of a favorite film, or a boba tea shop. Over the years students have agreed upon a wide variety of new models, but the following guiding principles recur in our classroom conversations—community, accountability, rigor, and joy. The workshop is no longer an instructor-centered space where individualism and scarcity models of “genius” and publishing reign. The workshop no longer serves an invisible history of whiteness, a history made invisible because of whiteness. The workshop space becomes a community, an extension of students’ lived realities, rather than just another institutional space where they are asked to check themselves at the door. I admit that this tension persists as I teach workshops at a university, but the power of the academy is one more thing to make visible, to question, and to resist. Here, in this reimagined workshop space, students create literary magazines centering BIPOC trans and queer writers. Here students break bread and make fun and call in or out. Here students already know that they are writers and poets. We listen to one another with authenticity and verve. 

When developing classes and curricula, I consider the following questions.* But before we get to them: If you’re a white educator, or an educator with privilege, stop. Have you read books on whiteness and your own role in it—even or especially if you’re a non-Black POC? Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor (Sourcebooks, 2020) by Layla F. Saad and How to Be an Antiracist (One World, 2019) by Ibram X. Kendi are great starts. (Remember, this is a start. Read the bibliographies in those books and keep going.)

1. Have you read “A Talk to Teachers” by James Baldwin? If not, read it.

2. Are you reading widely? How often do you read white writers versus Black writers and other POC writers? And are you reading a wide range of work by Black writers and writers of color, e.g., speculative fiction, poetry, nature memoirs, science and food writing? Are all of the books you read about Black people and people of color centered around violence and trauma?

3. What is your own writing’s relationship with white supremacy? Anti-Blackness? Anti-racism? Queerness? Intersectionality? Are forms of white supremacy, misogyny, anti-queerness, and/or anti-disability perpetuated in your work? (Read, read, and read to learn about your own biases. Do the work. Journal it out, if you need to. Please don’t burden your colleagues of color with this.)

4. What is your own relationship with the writing workshop or the creative writing classroom? What trauma did you experience as a result of this exchange? What privilege did you experience? How have writing workshops failed you? How have you benefited from them (like one-on-one mentorship with a professor, a publishing deal, an exclusive workshop for a small subset of students)? Which privileges allowed you to reap these benefits?

5. In the past, when students have come to you with troubles in the workshop, how did you deal with the situation? Did it lead to a safer workshop environment? Do students feel safe coming to you with issues in the first place? 

6. What kind of emotional labor do you expect students to perform?  Do you ask students to explain their ancestry and history to the class?

7. What does an ideal writing workshop look like to you? A robust conversation or a quiet creative exchange? Other possibilities?

8. Consider your own learning and teaching style. Which students will succeed from this? Which students will be left out and how can you reach them?

The following are pedagogical questions* to ask yourself about the work of leading your own anti-racist creative writing class. I also recommend reading Dena Simmons’s “How to Be an Anti-Racist Educator,” which includes more valuable questions to consider, and checking out Neil Aitken and Dao Strom’s De-Canon project (www.de-canon.com), which showcases work by writers of color and information and essays on how to navigate the creative writing classroom.

1. Have you and your students set up community guidelines for class discussions? Workshops?

2. Which guidelines have you and your students set for student participation and your participation? Do you set the tone for discussions and workshops, or do students?

3. Which guidelines have you and your students set for instances of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in the classroom and in student work?

4. Which texts are you teaching?

5. Whose work is considered “in the canon” or universal in your genre? Why? (Are you having this conversation with your students?)

6. Are marginalized writers—Black, Indigenous, and people of color—on your syllabus and reading list? Remember “inclusive” or “diverse” doesn’t mean anti-racist. How can you, as an educator, highlight craft and context in these conversations?

7. If you are teaching the work of writers of color, are you just teaching “voice” and content, or are you also teaching craft (or how these writers challenge craft)?

8. Are narratives by writers of color you teach centered only on trauma? If so, why?

9. Are narratives by writers of color you teach already in the canon? Are you teaching contemporary writers as well?

10. Are students of color expected to “show, not tell” in their work?

11. Are students of color asked to translate easily Googled cultural artifacts? Are these students expected to give an entire history of their cultural backgrounds?

12. Which protocols do you have set in place in your syllabus or in community guidelines to avoid placing this emotional labor on students?

13. What is the environment of your writing workshop? Is it hostile toward marginalized writers as Viet Thanh Nguyen argues in his article “Viet Thanh Nguyen Reveals How Writers’ Workshops Can Be Hostile”? 

14. Does your writing workshop take on a “dead author” format? Why? Whose voices are silenced here? Whose are amplified?

15. Do you have accessible office hours in person and online? Do students of color feel comfortable talking to you? If not, examine why. 

*If you use these questions in public, please cite me.

 

Rachelle Cruz is the author of the poetry collection God’s Will for Monsters, winner of an American Book Award and the 2016 regional winner of the Hillary Gravendyk Prize. She also wrote and edited Experiencing Comics: An Introduction to Reading, Discussing, and Creating Comics. (Cognella Academic Publishing, 2018). She lives in southern California.

The Boat We Are Building: A New MFA Program Makes Diversity Its Mission

by

Rigoberto González

9.12.18

Two years ago, Gary Dop was about to enter his tenure year as a professor of English at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia. His debut poetry collection, Father, Child, Water, had recently been published by Red Hen Press and would help him secure a comfortable future as an academic. Dop grew up in a conservative military family, bouncing from Tennessee to Germany to Texas, and his goal to provide a different kind of upbringing and stability for his three daughters was now close to reality. It helped that he enjoyed teaching and had fallen in love with the natural landscape of the region—the college sits along the James River, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And yet he felt incomplete. If he was going to stay in this location for years to come, he realized he needed to continue to enrich it by inviting an entire writing community to join him. So he decided to build a low-residency MFA program. 

The product of a low-residency graduate writing program himself (he received his MFA at the University of Nebraska in Omaha), Dop appreciated the flexibility that the low-residency model allowed—a community that came together in the spirit of mentorship but then dispersed, the writers pursuing their own individual, independent  journeys. Dop joined forces with Laura-Gray Street, the English department chair at Randolph, who  holds a degree from Warren Wilson College’s low-residency MFA program near Asheville, North Carolina. Street and Dop held initial conversations with Randolph president Bradley W. Bateman to get the new program off the ground.  

“We’re at a small college, so we were able to have all those conversations within a few days,” Dop says. “At every turn the idea was met with enthusiasm and support.” 

In many ways it made sense that Randolph College should spearhead Virginia’s first and only low-residency MFA program. Founded in 1891 as Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, the institution, with its hundred-acre campus, boasts Nobel laureate Pearl S. Buck as a notable alumna. In 1906 it became the first women’s college to be admitted to the Association of Colleges and Preparatory Schools of the Southern States, and in 1916 it became the first women’s college south of the Potomac River to receive a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. The college became coeducational in 2006 and was renamed a year later, though it has sustained its commitment to women and has been home to a strong undergraduate creative writing curriculum since the 1980s.

The Randolph MFA in Creative Writing—which held its first residency in July—is yet another watershed moment for the college, which has nearly doubled its graduate student population with the inauguration of the new program. But simply creating yet another low-residency MFA program (there are sixty-four included in this year’s MFA Index on page 94) was not enough for its creators. This one had to be different. 

“We wanted to put together a program that educates students for the current landscape of literature,” Dop says. “This begins with faculty who are shaping literary culture and challenging us to be a program willing to take risks and remain relevant to the social and political climates.” 

“We had an extraordinary opportunity with this new program, at this college, in this city,” Street adds, “to bring together an energetic and diverse faculty in a way never seen before.” 

To begin recruiting faculty, Dop sought the advice of a distinguished advisory board, which includes Jeff Shotts, the executive editor of Graywolf Press, as well as writers Julie Schumacher, Eduardo C. Corral, Erika Meitner, Stephanie Burt, and Gregory Pardlo, who was the Emerging Writer in Residence at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in 2003. The advisory board made informed recommendations according to Dop’s wish list. In addition to faculty members who represented significant social diversity and literary excellence, he asked his advisers to consider one other stipulation: “Is this person kind?”

“This might seem like an odd question,” Dop says, “but when faculty spend ten days, twice a year, with students and you’re asking them to help shape the environment of a new program, you really want people who have a generous spirit.” So Dop and his colleagues did more than read each candidate’s work and assess résumés; they also scoured interviews, online and in print, and spoke to people who could provide meaningful insights into each candidate’s character. The reputation of the new program would be buoyed by the reputations of its faculty. 

And indeed the inaugural faculty is composed of early-career writers who are already reshaping the literary landscape. The impressive list includes poets Kaveh Akbar, Layli Long Soldier, and Phillip B. Williams; novelists and nonfiction writers Kaitlyn Greenidge, Mira Jacob, and Wayétu Moore; poet and novelist Erika L. Sánchez; and nonfiction writer Aviya Kushner. Street credits Camille T. Dungy, who held various faculty and administrative positions at Randolph College from 1999 to 2006, for demonstrating the level of creative energy that writers still early in their career were capable of bringing to a program. While she worked at Randolph, Dungy—who is now the author of four books of poetry and an essay collection, Guidebook to Relative Strangers (Norton, 2017)—was a Cave Canem fellow and had yet to release her first book. But through her planning of literary events and programming, she invited then-emerging writers such as Terrance Hayes, Tyehimba Jess, Tayari Jones, and A. Van Jordan to the college, impressing upon the department the benefits of a varied and inclusive literary education. 

“Camille brought a range of outstanding up-and-coming writers to the college,” Street says. “I feel this new MFA is Camille’s legacy or certainly a tribute to her presence and ongoing influence.”

That legacy can be clearly seen in the MFA program’s faculty—whose faces, when gathered together, make for a powerful image, providing an immediate understanding of Randolph College’s dedication to diversity. Williams, who is on the poetry faculty, is unequivocal about the new program’s mission. 

“We will be diverse in race, gender, sexuality, religion, and aesthetic interests,” he says, “and that diversity will be the foundational stone from which we build each other up in letters and in camaraderie.”

Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia.

(Credit: Randolph College)

Other faculty members duly note the strategic selection of young, notable  literary figures. “The opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a singular new program, to be among this faculty, to help build something truly original with students who are as excited as I am—it’s a profound honor, a major occasion for gratitude,” says Akbar, who is also on the poetry faculty.  

“I’m so lucky to work with so many writers that I admire,” adds Sánchez, who will be teaching both fiction and poetry. “I expect that together we will foster a dynamic, compassionate, and rigorous writing community.” 

For Kushner, who is teaching fiction and nonfiction, joining the Randolph College faculty is also a bit personal. “I grew up in a Hebrew-speaking home in a Yiddish-speaking town in New York,” she says. “I often write about the experience of living between languages and crossing borders of faith, language, and culture. Low-residency programs offer essential access to writers who might otherwise not be able to earn an MFA, and increasing access is a key element of increasing diversity.” 

Dop understands that the culture and energy of a community has to take place organically, but he is also committed to guiding the tone of the program. He hopes to accomplish this through a series of talks, readings, and conversations about the complicated and troubling social and political climates that artists currently inhabit. “One of our panel discussions will be about the mental health of the artist,” he says. LuAnn Keener-Mikenas, a therapist and poet on staff at Randolph’s counseling center, will participate. 

“A writing program should not only invest in teaching students how to write better, but it must also provide guidance for the artist’s life, including and especially the mental and emotional health of artists,” Dop says. “It is a hollow reward to have a student who becomes an award-winning writer but feels alone and unable to find emotional and relational health. We can’t expect that we’ll be the source of a student’s holistic health, but we can expect that we’ll regularly create conversations within our community about belonging and psychological health and the way in which our program can do better to provide a safe space for all our students.”  

Dop doesn’t believe that creating a safe space means building a protective and insular bubble around the MFA community. On the contrary, it means coming to terms with one’s place in multiple environments, some of which are hostile. For such complexity of experience, Dop points out that the college’s location, in Lynchburg, might serve an asset. “Historically and presently, Virginia has been a space of conflict, embodying the worst and best of human choices,” he says. “Virginia knows democracy and genocide, slavery and freedom, racism and compassion, war and art. As we come together as writers, we won’t neglect what is still a very real part of life in the South. This is something our students can artfully engage with, if they so wish.”

Dop’s hope is that a diverse faculty will attract a diverse group of students and that a faculty of writers whose work is socially conscious will draw a particular type of student. “We want to welcome writers who are seeking to contribute meaningfully to our world,” Dop says. So far the applicant pool has yielded positive results, and the inaugural class of fourteen graduate students—among them poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers from throughout the United States—marks a promising beginning. Dop hopes the number of students will eventually grow to a robust community of forty-five to sixty writers across all three genres at each residency. “We can’t control all of the variables for who decides to attend Randolph,” Dop says. “But we can choose faculty who will signal the presence of a safe and productive environment for all writers—we want to be a community where all writers, including writers of color and LGBTQ writers, can thrive.”

Among the inaugural class is Jason Mendez, a nonfiction writer and interdisciplinary theater artist from the Bronx, New York. He was pleasantly surprised to find an MFA program with the kind of faculty he was looking for. “As a Puerto Rican writer, I need a community that I can fully trust with my work. I felt Randolph College’s faculty could resonate with my lived experiences and help me share my stories more creatively and effectively,” he says. 

For Amelia Harrington, a Georgia native raised in Virginia who is also a musician and a graduate of Randolph College’s undergraduate program, the new MFA program is exciting. “I want to be a part of its becoming,” she says. “I want to know and love and support the other writers who were chosen for this adventuresome undertaking.” As for Joseph Capehart, a Liberian American poet living in Brooklyn, New York, his interactions with both the faculty and administration have thus far been encouraging. “Their commitment to us promises to extend beyond the two-year program and into our futures as professionals and people,” he says. 

Apart from the obvious desire to mentor students who will go on to publish regularly and receive critical acclaim, Dop hopes this program will be known for nurturing literary citizenship. “I hope our faculty and students think of our program as belonging to them,” he says, “as one of the central communities of their lives.” 

Only time will tell whether the new program at Randolph College will live up to its creators’ hopes. If it succeeds it has the potential to offer a concrete solution to the perennial problem posed at institutions and academic conferences about achieving and sustaining diversity in the MFA classroom. What’s more, it could become a model for other programs—one that creates and sustains a community of writers that is truly representative of the myriad identities and voices of the United States. 

With the program’s inaugural year just under way, Dop is eager to assess the challenges and opportunities that present themselves and believes he can best serve the program by being its custodian. 

“I like that word,” he says. “It implies guardian, curator, caretaker of a vision to empower these talented, amazing writers to teach and write. I’ve learned enough now to know that belonging begins within and eventually grows to become a gift we give each other. I belong to this new community in as much as I care for myself and our students and faculty. What a joy this will be.” 

Part of that ongoing joy will be in selecting visiting writers to accompany the regular faculty during each residency (students attend five ten-day residencies, each held on the Lynchburg campus in the summer and winter throughout the two-year program, in addition to one-on-one faculty mentorship). Guest writers for upcoming residencies include advisory board members Stephanie Burt and Gregory Pardlo, as well as poet Tiana Clark, novelist and essayist Alexander Chee, novelist Nicole Dennis-Benn, and poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib. 

“It’s a thrilling time,” Dop says. “There’s a line at the end of Kaveh’s book that closes the last poem, and I’ve held on to it as it relates to our new program: ‘The boat [we are] building / will never be done.’ We’re just getting started!” 

 

Rigoberto González is a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Clockwise from far upper left: faculty members Kaitlyn Greenidge, Erika L. Sánchez, Kaveh Akbar, Mira Jacob, Layli Long Soldier, Philip B. Williams, and Wayétu Moore. (Credit: Sánchez: Robyn Lindemann; Williams: Rachel Eliza Griffiths; Akbar: Marlon James; Jacob: In Kim)

Degrees of Diversity: Talking Race and the MFA

by

Sonya Larson

8.19.15

It is no secret that MFA programs across the country have a way to go to ensure that their workshops are filled with racially and ethnically diverse faculty and students. Junot Díaz’s account of being a lone writer of color in his MFA program at Cornell University, “MFA vs. POC,” which appeared on the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog in April 2014, drew a flood of stories from writers who face similar frustration. The recent deaths of unarmed African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina; Ferguson, Missouri; New York City; Sanford, Florida; and in communities throughout the United States have stirred in many writers an urgent desire to examine the ways in which a racialized culture informs our art—in the way we write, read, and respond to racial complexities observed in the world. 

MFA programs are uniquely positioned to address such topics. But for many the path forward—if pursued at all—remains murky, contested, and fraught. In “The Student of Color in the Typical MFA Program,” published this past April in Gulf Coast, David Mura writes, “The divide between the way whites and people of color see the social reality around them is always there in our society…. Creative writing involves the very description of that reality, and so the gulf between the vision of whites and people of color is very present right there on the page. And so, conflict ensues.”

One program currently exploring these questions is the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, near Asheville, North Carolina. Founded in 1971 by poet Ellen Bryant Voigt, the country’s first low-residency program is known for its rigorous standards of textual examination and artistic integrity. Its pedagogical model, by now well refined, is nonetheless exercising its flexibility to welcome a more direct conversation among faculty and students about the intersection of culture and craft.

“The MFA landscape has altered considerably over the forty years of our existence,” says director Debra Allbery. “Our strategies must necessarily shift too—as literature changes, and as the culture changes.”

Voigt agrees. “We’ve certainly seen an increased urgency among individual student writers to locate themselves and their work within the evolving culture,” she says. For some, that urgency comes from self-identification with a particular ethnic or racial heritage. Others want to explore race as a means, as Voigt says, “to expand imaginative empathy without encroachment or appropriation.”

The program seeks to explore these questions the way it explores nearly all questions that arise for the writer: through rigorous study of craft. “Craft provides the language and tools through which we identify, articulate, and address all challenges we face in our poetry and fiction,” says Allbery. “As our program becomes more diverse, we’ve also been addressing these questions, during the residency when the community gathers, in multiple formats.”

During the program’s residency this past July, Warren Wilson MFA faculty members Lan Samantha Chang, David Haynes, A. Van Jordan, Monica Youn, and C. Dale Young presented “Shadowboxing: A Faculty Panel on the Intersections of Culture and Craft.” Chang, who is also the director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop; Haynes, the director of the creating writing program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas; Jordan, who teaches at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey; Youn, who teaches at Princeton University; and Young, who currently administers his own medical practice and practices medicine full-time, discussed their personal struggles regarding writing and identity, as well as the role of literary institutions in addressing (or perpetuating) these problems.

For many students, the mere occasion of the faculty panel sends a powerful message. “Knowing that we have the institutional support to engage with these thorny questions makes me feel that there is more possibility for dialogue, vulnerability, risk, and learning,” says poet and Warren Wilson student Sarah Pemberton Strong.

Fiction student Chantal Aida Gordon agrees. “The lack of diversity we see in MFA programs and in what gets published—and the often flat, cliché treatment of characters of color in contemporary literature—are truly scandalizing,” she says. “Student and faculty panels like the ones at Warren Wilson are a step in the right direction. But we have a long way to go.”

In a separate discussion led by students, writers were asked to speak frankly about their concerns, anxiety, or guilt. “I worry that my ignorance will get in the way of my intent to do no harm,” wrote one student in an anonymous prompt. Another wrote, “I worry that I don’t know how to write about my own people.” The message was clear. No one—faculty or students, white writers or writers of color—is immune to these struggles.

Meanwhile, recruiting more faculty and students of color to the program remains “a high priority,” says Allbery, who admits that that reality has been slow in coming. A reception sponsored by the Warren Wilson MFA program at the 2015 Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Minneapolis specifically sought prospective students of color (a reception it plans to repeat at the 2016 conference in Los Angeles), and the program’s Holden Fund for Diversity has recently expanded to offer more grants for admitted students of color who demonstrate financial need.

What advice does Allbery have for other programs wanting to address these questions? “Listen,” she says. “An MFA program is a living thing, and a constantly adaptive organism. We invite feedback from our students. We respond. Mutual respect and aligned aims fuel every conversation. An MFA program dedicated to its students’ development has to keep channels of communication open.”

With practice, many in the program hope that these conversations will become easier—both to engage in as a community and to apply to one’s own work. In the meantime, many welcome the necessary difficulty. “I want more conversations like this,” one student wrote following the panel. “I want discussions to be honest and truthful and hard.”

Shadowboxing: A Faculty Panel on the Intersections of Culture and Craft

What follows is a curated selection of the most salient topics of the discussion, organized by the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, which took place on the campus near Asheville, North Carolina, on Friday, July 3, 2015.

POC in the MFA: Responding to Junot Díaz’s post

C. Dale Young: Nothing that Junot says in his post is remotely new to a writer of color—it is not, sadly, revolutionary; it is not shocking. For me, reading it, one thing that struck very close to home was how many things he brought up to which I could so easily say, “Well, yeah, of course.” And yet I had so many white friends who seemed completely shocked and flabbergasted by the article. I never read a writer of color in graduate school. And even now, when I open an anthology, I rarely ever find a Latino writer or an Asian American writer or an African American writer.

[The article] reinforced for a lot of writers of color this sensation that we live in two worlds: a world that we know, and a world where people have no concept of the actual things that we see all the time. It became very clear to me that the world writers of color live in is unseen.

Lan Samantha Chang: I think Junot and I are in almost the exact same generation. When we were kids, there weren’t many people of color in MFA programs. When I asked about it in my own program, someone said to me, “Oh, I don’t count these things.” But I counted.

A. Van Jordan: [As] you’re reading as a student you’re constantly trying to identify yourself…in terms of race, or just simply through experience…. If you don’t see yourself in the literature, you think, “Why am I here? Why am I trying to do this?” If you don’t see someone who’s had the same experience—whether it’s being an affluent African American, or from a poor rural Appalachian white community—you still want to see yourself.

Grappling With Craft and Culture

David Haynes: For me, it’s moments like Ferguson. People are being shot down in the street. I would describe what I do—for a long, long time—is write these comedies of manners that expose the foibles of daily lives of ordinary African Americans. Do I continue doing that when people are being shot down in the street?

Monica Youn: There’s this sense that if I mention kimchi in my poem, all of a sudden, I’m an ethnic writer. I myself have been trying to resist the impulse to “whitewash” my work. Do I take kimchi off the table? It’s hard for me to divorce form from subject matter, or at least image. The idea that there’s a refuge from politics in the poem is strange.

I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to “write Asian American.” If I don’t include markers, does it mean that I’m “writing white”? How do I write about Asian characters without specific markers? If I don’t do that, am I “writing white”?

Young: I get shoved into lots of boxes. I come from a very not-odd background if you’re from Latin America or the Caribbean: I’m part Indian (South Asian), part Chinese, and I’m also Hispanic. My mother’s English—as white as you can get. It’s hard for me to be against white people or reactive to anything, because then I’d feel reactive to some part of myself. There can be a sense that I’m not Asian enough, I’m not Latino enough.

This doesn’t come up much when I’m in the process of writing, when I’m actually drafting, but where it comes back up is in the revising. Do I want to highlight that, do I want to revise that?

Haynes: For me, it’s the “black enough” question. For the very first story I published, the editor…called me up on the phone and said, “I really like this story…but before I accept it I need to ask about your culture.” It was pretty clear in the conversation that if I gave the wrong answer, he wasn’t going to publish it. Because the characters in the story were African American, I think that if it [had been] written by a white writer, he wouldn’t have published it.

Everybody has an identity—we all have to think about it. But there’s this imposed voice up here, outside of me, that I have no control over, that’s doing this additional defining. How do I interact with it? Do I ignore it? Do I engage it? How do you do that and still get the work done?

Historical Origins of the “Identity vs. Text” Debate

Haynes: The whole idea of being cautious and careful about who you speak for, and not trespassing on other people’s cultural territories, comes out of [historical] changes in cultural anthropology. Simultaneously there were the influences of Marxist analysis in terms of capital and control of cultural products, in terms of who owns what story, and also the profits and cultural capital, and the idea that “since that belongs to that community, I can’t have a part of it. That’s their cultural capital, and it’s hands-off.”

These ideas became very deeply entrenched in literary studies. [Over] here we have writers who say it’s all about text and what’s on the page only. And writers over here saying that it’s all about identity and experience. That conversation has never been reconciled. So we see that tension present in how work is reviewed and discussed—“This isn’t poetry, it’s identity politics.” Or, “If I’m going to be taken seriously as a poet or a fiction writer, I’ve got to abandon identity and focus on other things.”

The “Closed Loop” of Publishing, Hiring, and Teaching

Young: In order to get a book published, you either have to embrace your diversity aspect or you have to go the complete opposite and write white. And then, once you publish, you must continue to publish the same kinds of books, over and over. So you can see how this ties in to the academic world. You need books to get hired, but if the same kinds of books are being published, then there can form a kind of closed loop.

Haynes: The issue for African American fiction writers is not the first book—it’s the second book. Because the first book, often, even if it’s well received, it rarely becomes a big best-seller. And that’s probably true of a lot of writers—it’s an impediment for literary fiction and, in particular, writers of color.

Writers of color often publish into a critical vacuum, meaning that the reviewers and the scholars have not been responding to the work. And in academia…you do not get promoted in African American Studies by writing about contemporary literature. And actually, you don’t get promoted in literary studies at all by writing about contemporary literature of any kind.

That’s a problem in terms of the ongoing development of the writer, because there’s no conversation being had about the aesthetic, about where the work is going. When that conversation becomes closed inside a community…it can be successful, but it can also become insular.

Navigating Identity In the Workshop

Young: There’s a word that I absolutely despise: universal. That almost invariably means “the majority culture.” It doesn’t mean “universal,” as in everyone. What it means is, “make it more like this, in order to be universal.” 

It’s a setup for students of color, who are also told to be authentic…you’re being told to be authentic, but if the detail you include is too specific, it’s not “universal.” So that sets up a weird binary that’s not useful.  If for me to be universal I have to be white, I can never be universal.

Haynes: [Let’s say] I’m the workshop leader, and I have a student who’s bringing very specific cultural material to the table. And the conversation comes up: “Well, I don’t understand what that means, so there needs to be a sentence in this story to explain it or to translate that.” Is it the institution’s job to have instructors in place who can help that student of color navigate that, or is that a personal problem?

The “given” response is, “Well, you’ve got to make that ‘accessible’ to ‘everybody.’” But should the institution be prepared to instead say, “Let’s talk about these broader issues of translation”? And if you do it, how to do it?

If the institution isn’t prepared to help that student navigate these questions of translation, the institution has not only failed that student but also all the other students in the program who they are supposedly preparing to go out and teach other students.

Jordan: I would want the institution to create a safe space for students to talk about whatever their subject is in their poem or story, and for them to be able to express their identity. Lorraine Hansberry talks about “the universality of specificity.” She’s saying that you don’t have to be poor, black, and on the South Side of Chicago in 1959 to experience what’s happening in Raisin in the Sun. When I read Chekhov, Joyce, Faulkner—people who have a very specific cultural identity in their work—that’s “the other” to me. [I’m] reading it through this lens of “the other,” but we’re considering it from the standpoint that it’s valid. That’s what’s important—that when [a student] brings work to the workshop, and it has that cultural identity within it, it still has to be seen as valid.  

Rage and Fear in Challenging Institutions

Haynes: One of the striking things about Junot’s post was the level of rage. The rage is about the difficulty of institutional change. Institutions—and particularly academic institutions—are by their nature conservative entities.

Youn: I think there is a space for rage in the wider culture that doesn’t necessarily translate into the academic culture. No one wants to be the “angry ethnic person.” It’s not going to help you get jobs and it’s not going to help you make friends. It takes writers with international stature or tenure in order to have the privilege to exert rage.

Haynes: My inner response to last summer’s student meeting was, “Be careful. Don’t get yourselves in trouble.”

Chang: Which is interesting, because there’s a huge emphasis on collegiality in academia. It’s a mentoring instinct. I’ve always felt that MFA programs are the opportunity to make representation more diverse. It’s a time in the life and artistic development of writers when these ideas are especially important. [The students] are sort of “fighting against the father,” and they’re going to “kill the father.” So it’s a great time to start these conversations. If it’s going to change, it’s going to change here.

Sonya Larson is a writer whose short fiction has appeared most recently in West Branch, Del Sol Review, the Red Mountain Review, and the Hub. She is at work on a novel about Chinese families living in the swamps of 1930s Mississippi. She is assistant director of the Muse and the Marketplace conference and is studying fiction at Warren Wilson College.

 

 

 

Small Press Points: Kaya Press

by

Staff

6.16.21

The name of Kaya Press comes from a confederation of city-states in ancient Korea where the arts flourished at the confluence of several cultures. For more than twenty-five years, the press has served as a similar nexus of experiment, abundance, and cross-pollination: “Kaya occupies a unique place in publishing both Asian Pacific American and Asian diasporic literature,” says managing editor Neelanjana Banerjee. Founded in 1994 by writer Soo Kyung Kim, Kaya originally set out to produce a journal of Korean translation “but quickly became known for being a space for Asian American and Asian diasporic literature that ignored genre and identity as defining boundaries,” Banerjee says. Today the press operates as a nonprofit, housed by the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and is steered by publisher Sunyoung Lee (“a true book whisperer,” says Banerjee).

The four to six titles Kaya publishes each year traverse and often defy the categories of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction and include works in translation and recovered works, like Andrew Leong’s translations of Shoson Nagahara’s novellas first published in the 1920s in L.A.’s Little Tokyo. Upcoming titles include Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik’s book Archive of Dreams, in which Bhaumik “maps her artistic and activist journey and documents the stories of her parents,” and Truong Tran’s book of the other, “a provocative collection of poems, prose, and essays that voice the rage and hurt of institutional racism against Asian Americans.” Kaya is open for submissions of Asian diasporic literature year-round through its website and does not charge a reading fee.

Small Press Points: Black Ocean

by

Staff

4.14.21

I wanted to create a press that would bring the attention of a major publishing house to quality and design and treat poetry as a genre with frontlist potential,” says Janaka Stucky of Black Ocean, an independent press based in Boston and Chicago whose striking volumes have been captivating readers for more than fifteen years. As an emerging poet with roots in the DIY zine scene, Stucky longed to see publishers more energized about the poetry titles on their lists. Together with two friends, Stucky founded Black Ocean in 2004 to address this need. “We set out with a strong, simple visual identity and attention to detail,” he says. “I think our belief and commitment in the work, and a little luck, helped us quickly build an enthusiastic and dedicated readership.”

Today Black Ocean publishes fiction, nonfiction, and literature in translation alongside its poetry titles. Its Moon Country series “aims to widen the field of contemporary Korean poetry available in English translation, but also to challenge orientalist, neocolonial, and national literature discourses,” and an essay collection series titled Undercurrents brings a poet’s “lyric attention to language” to the form. This year Black Ocean will release three works in translation, as well as Kristina Marie Darling’s Silent Refusal: Essays on Contemporary Feminist Writing, Nathan Hoks’s poetry collection Nests in Air, and Zachary Schomburg’s Fjords, vol. II. Because of the press’s focus on new voices, “many people simply seek out ‘the next Black Ocean book,’” says Stucky. “It’s incredible that people trust us to help them discover their next favorite poetry title.” Black Ocean accepts submissions year-round via e-mail and does not charge a reading fee.

 

 

Small Press Points: Clash Books

by

Staff

2.17.21

The titles of Clash Books are by turns Gothic and playful and nervy, but they all share one quality: They must be spellbinding. Based in Troy, New York, and founded as a media website that evolved into a book publisher in 2017, Clash Books issues about twenty titles a year, an eclectic mix of art books, poetry, nonfiction, and fiction—“really, anything that excites us,” say editor in chief Leza Cantoral and managing editor Christoph Paul. “A big mission is to challenge genre expectations as well as to bring together a diversity of voices.”

This year the press will release titles as varied as Aaron Carnes’s pop-criticism apologia In Defense of Ska and Kevin Sampsell’s collage and poetry book I Made an Accident, alongside literary fiction and “a novel about waterfall goddesses, a trans fairy tale young adult novella, lots of fun and dark poetry, and some quality literary horror,” say the editors. Paul says he knows he has found the next Clash book when reading a submission if he has that “feeling you get when you hear a new song that you have to listen to again right away.” He adds, “I know it’s the next book when the middle is as strong as the beginning.” Clash is open for submissions year-round via e-mail and does not charge a reading fee. 

Small Press Points: Threadsuns

by

Staff

12.16.20

A new teaching press based at High Point University in North Carolina, Threadsuns draws its name and its vision from the title of a poem by Paul Celan. In the poem as translated by Pierre Joris, “Threadsuns” refers to “songs to sing beyond / mankind,” and it is to those songs that editor and publisher Michael Flatt hopes the press can offer a home. Flatt, who teaches creative writing at High Point, launched the press in early 2020 with the vision of providing student assistants with the kind of hands-on publishing experience that so inspired him as an MFA student—and that expanded his sense of global literature and the literary community. The press plans to publish three volumes a year, one each in the genres of poetry, prose, and work in translation.

“Our inclinations lean toward experimental work that maintains a connection to human experience,” says Flatt. Threadsuns released its first title, Brian Henry’s collection Permanent State, in October, and Ryoko Sekiguchi’s lyric essay The Present Voice, translated by Lindsay Turner, will follow. While getting Threadsuns off the ground amid the pandemic has been challenging, it has also underscored the press’s ambitions to engender connection and inspire a new generation of editors. “Permanent State, while not written during the pandemic, really speaks to the dynamics of power and powerlessness that one feels right now. The press itself is like that for me,” says Flatt. “I’m doing something, which is great, but also, you have to question what it actually does in the world. How can you make it more effective, more significant? And for me, that’s where the teaching comes in. If I can pass on this practice to others, teach them how to create community through publishing, then the project has some meaningful agency.” Threadsuns is open for submissions via e-mail year-round.

Small Press Points: FlowerSong Press

by

Staff

10.7.20

Edward Vidaurre, publisher and editor in chief of FlowerSong Press, describes the press’s authors as “an all-star team of healers” who are “not only invested in self but also community.” Founded in 2011 in McAllen, Texas, as VAO Publishing, FlowerSong “nurtures essential verse from, about, and through the borderlands,” championing writers from the United States, Latin America, and beyond. The press publishes poetry and prose, as well as titles for children and young adults in partnership with Juventud Press. New releases from FlowerSong include Dreaming With Mariposas by Sonia Gutiérrez, a magical bildungsroman in vignettes, and Luz at Midnight by Marisol Cortez, the “story of an ill-timed love that unfolds in the time of climate change.” Good Cop/Bad Cop, an anthology of art and writing responding to police brutality, is among the titles set for publication in 2021. An abiding commitment to both its readers and writers steers all facets of the press’s work. “The authors of FlowerSong know I push hard for them,” says Vidaurre. “For those who pick up a book from us, I want them to feel that these living words have been custom-made just for them in a beautiful book.” Vidaurre and his team also prioritize timely responses to submitters. “I read for the future of my community, my people that have been underrepresented,” says Vidaurre of seeking out new work for the press. “I want to read and say, ‘I see influences of Julio Cortázar, Allen Ginsberg, Miguel Hernández, Amiri Baraka, Gloria Anzaldúa,’ and then say, ‘But…this feels original, and there’s a truth here I haven’t read before.’” Submissions are open year-round through the press’s website.

Small Press Points: Vegetarian Alcoholic Press

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Staff

8.12.20

What makes a book a Vegetarian Alcoholic Press book? “Connectivity and transcendence,” says Freddy La Force, the editor behind the Milwaukee press. Inspired by the city’s vibrant poetry scene, La Force started Vegetarian Alcoholic Press in 2014. “The writers I found myself admiring didn’t have MFAs or literary connections,” says La Force, “and it seemed like there should be more outlets for their work.” More than sixty-five books later, he remains committed to seeking talent outside entrenched hierarchies. La Force prefers that writers forgo cover letters when sending work, and submitting is always free. “You wouldn’t charge someone to apply for a job, and writing is work,” he says. Vegetarian Alcoholic produces twelve books a year, primarily poetry as well as some fiction, drama, art, and comics. The press recently published travis tate’s Maiden, which La Force describes as “insanely cerebral, sexy poems serving common themes . . . through a very playful, loving, queer, Black lens.” And Kelsey Marie Harris’s collection Spit (Verb) in My Mouth, a “singular treasury of gorgeous foul-mouthed gospels,” was released in August. Submissions are open year-round via e-mail. “The name of the press seems to make people want to submit stuff that attempts to be edgy or abrasive for its own sake,” says La Force. “What I’m really looking for are new forms of expression and new concepts of beauty. I think the best way to uplift people, whether from a personal or revolutionary standpoint, is to instill infinite imagination. Send the work you love. The stuff you felt like you had to write, regardless of your confidence in it.”

Small Press Points: A3 Press

I like to think that each chapbook is a journey,” says editor Shaun Levin of the immersive, imaginative volumes he publishes at the A3 Press. Founded in 2019 as an offshoot of the A3 Review and based in London and Madrid, the A3 Press produces between six and ten chapbooks each year, in a mix of prose, poetry, and art.

The press’s trademark is the unusual design of its chapbooks: Each is printed on a single sheet of paper that folds in the style of a map. “I like the fluidity that comes with the map fold, the sense of randomness and serendipity as you move through the chapbook,” says Levin. “You can move through the chapbook any way you want, start anywhere you want. It’s an adventure, a discovery.” Levin recently published poet Sara Eddy’s Tell the Bees, about “beekeeping and dealing with cancer,” and will release Elizabeth Briggs’s Made to Order and Mark Adams’s Peregrinus [Bede’s Walk] later this year. Submissions are open through October 1 via Submittable with a $20 reading fee, which goes toward production and paying the press’s authors. “Send us work that you feel only you could have written,” says Levin. “Deeply personal work that overshares and doesn’t hold back is particularly appealing to us.” 

Small Press Points: Dottir Press

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Staff

4.8.20

Even though millions of books are published each year, many stories remain either silenced or mistold,” says Jennifer Baumgardner, founder of Dottir Press. A journalist and author for more than two decades, Baumgardner established the press in 2017 on the heels of her tenure as executive director of the Feminist Press, where she “discovered she liked the business side of books as much as she liked the writing side.” When Baumgardner saw that a politically charged children’s book she believed in might not find a home, she created Dottir Press to provide one. (That book, Anastasia Higginbotham’s Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness, is now a Dottir best-seller.) Located in New York City, the press publishes between six and eight works of fiction and nonfiction a year, including both adult and children’s titles. All are “books by feminists, for everyone,” as Dottir’s slogan declares.

“I believe in creating space for people to tell the truth about what has happened to them and to be vulnerable,” says Baumgardner. Forthcoming titles include transgender activist Cooper Lee Bombardier’s debut, Pass With Care (May 2020), a collection of autobiographical writings that explore masculinity, identity, and the body as systems habitually in flux; and Bett Williams’s memoir The Wild Kindness: A Psilocybin Odyssey (September 2020), which Baumgardner says is “funny and a real challenge to those who might colonize Indigenous knowledge of mushrooms.” The press is open for submissions by e-mail year-round. Baumgardner reads manuscripts with an eye for work that is politically engaged and will change its readers: “I love getting behind a book that truly could influence culture in positive ways.”

Small Press Points: The Cupboard Pamphlet

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Staff

2.12.20

Consider the Cupboard Pamphlet your source for misfit books. “The Cupboard Pamphlet was formed to address the lack of publishing venues for prose chapbooks that are formally strange or conceptually bizarre,” say editors Kelly Dulaney and Todd Seabrook. Founded in 2008 by Adam Peterson and Dave Madden, the press originally printed free, anonymous pamphlets and evolved to concentrate on single-authored chapbooks. “The first of these were tape-bound, designed to be inexpensive and mobile—pocketable,” say Seabrook and Dulaney. Today this feeling of experiment and nerve continues to guide the press as it publishes four prose chapbooks a year by authors including Chanelle Benz, Brian Evenson, and Courtney Maum. Most of these works are thirty to seventy pages in length, although Dulaney and Seabrook avoid placing strictures on submissions.

“We like works that provide play and surprise in terms of form, structure, and language in addition to a sense of emotional sincerity,” they say. Seabrook is based in Cleveland, and Dulaney in Denver; they collaborate via phone calls and e-mail. Dulaney relishes one-on-one work with authors, while Seabrook “enjoys the physicality of the chapbook—designing it, printing it, and seeing it develop on the page.” All of the titles produced by the Cupboard Pamphlet are selected through an annual online contest with a submission fee of $20; the 2020 contest will run March 1 through May 1. This year Cupboard will publish 2019 contest winner Lia Woodall’s Remove to Play, “a game-based, nonfiction work about the spaces left open in the wake of a suicide” as well as books by J. S. DeYoung and Thomas Israel Hopkins and a coauthored work by Kara Dorris and Gwendolyn Paradice.

Small Press Points: Trembling Pillow Press

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Staff

12.11.19

Poetry can change your life, and it doesn’t happen on the page; it happens in the rooms and places where poetry connects you to people who change how you are in the world,” says Megan Burns, publisher of Trembling Pillow Press in New Orleans. This sense of poetry as a means of community animates all of the press’s work. Trembling Pillow was established in the late nineties with an initial focus on making broadsides and occasional chapbooks but turned to producing full-length poetry books in 2006. Today Trembling Pillow publishes four or five poetry titles a year, about half of which are debut collections.

Burns approaches these editorial collaborations with first-time authors with particular care. “I am giving someone an experience that becomes the basis for future relationships in the writing world, and I want them to have a high bar,” she says, noting the years of devoted work that goes into a project before it ever reaches the press and a publisher’s obligation to treat a work with that same devotion. Trembling Pillow’s sensibility is eclectic—its titles vary from “feminist manifesto to punk rock memoir to collaborative eco-poetics to lyrical experimentation or rural horror manifestations”—but its poets share a willingness to take risks and to surprise. Among the press’s 2020 titles are Marty Cain’s The Wound Is (Not) Real: A Memoir, a hybrid text that mines the experiences of the author’s adolescence in Vermont; Erin M. Bertram’s It’s Not a Lonely World, about queerness and cancer; and Jenny Sadre-Orafai and Anne Champion’s Book of Levitations, a “modern-day poetic spell book.” Trembling Pillow is open for submissions year-round via Submittable; a $15 reading fee goes directly into producing more books and is waived in the month of December.

Small Press Points: Unnamed Press

by

Staff

10.9.19

Unnamed Press is an object lesson in thinking globally, acting locally. C. P. Heiser and Olivia Taylor Smith, two former staffers at the Los Angeles Review of Books, founded the press in 2014, drawing inspiration from the flourishing independent publishing scene in L.A.—and a sense that there was more work to do. “We saw that we could bring something different to the table, particularly through our initial focus on international voices and debut authors,” says Smith. Today the press publishes ten to twelve books each year, about half fiction and half nonfiction. Notable recent titles include Adam Popescu’s Nima (2019), in which a young Sherpa woman disguised as a man leads journalists to the foot of Mount Everest, and Man Booker Prize–winning translator Jennifer Croft’s memoir of sisterhood, Homesick (2019). Esmé Weijun Wang’s debut novel, The Border of Paradise (2016), remains a best-seller.

What does it take to curate such a dynamic, international list? “We travel a lot!” says Heiser. Favorite venues for connecting with new talent include the Dhaka Lit Fest in Bangladesh, the Frankfurt Book Fair, and the American Literary Translators Association’s annual conference. “We are a story-driven press that’s attracted to underrepresented or marginalized voices—not as a rule, but simply because, as editors, that’s what excites us,” says Heiser, pointing to Nima and The Border of Paradise as good examples. “Both explore important issues through some really surprising and refreshing points of view, which for lots of reasons bigger publishers found too challenging or risky.” Unnamed Press accepts queries and submissions via e-mail, and is open year-round.

Small Press Points: Acre Books

by

Staff

8.14.19

As the founding editor of the Cincinnati Review, Nicola Mason has a strong track record of spotting talented writers early in their careers. Under her leadership the review published the early work of fiction writers Caitlin Horrocks and Jamie Quatro and poets Jill Osier and Mai Der Vang. As Mason explained to Cincinnati magazine in June, after watching these writers and other contributors go on to win prestigious prizes and publish books, she thought, “We’re becoming talent scouts for everyone else; why can’t we become talent scouts for ourselves?”

So in 2017 Mason founded Acre Books, an imprint of the University of Cincinnati Press, where, along with poetry series editor Lisa Ampleman, she publishes two poetry collections, two novels, and two story collections each year. The press also welcomes hybrid forms. “I’ve always felt the boundaries separating genres and disciplines to be artificial,” says Mason. “Why shake one’s finger at innovation?” Mason also hopes to publish literary nonfiction but hasn’t yet found a book that’s the right fit. “I find a lot of creative nonfiction has an ‘all about me’ quality,” she says. “We want work that is grounded in self but that travels beyond it.” In October, Acre will publish Faylita Hicks’s poetry debut, HoodWitch, which Mason describes as “an absolute knockout full of power, pain, beauty, and magick.” Submissions in all genres are open via the press’s website; writers should include a brief description of the manuscript and ten sample pages. There is no reading fee.

 

 

Small Press Points: Cooper Dillon Books

by

Staff

6.12.19

A poem can exist in a specific cultural or emotional moment, but it can also sustain and be revisited over and over again,” says poet Adam Deutsch, the publisher of Cooper Dillon Books (www.cooperdillon.com), a ten-year-old press dedicated to “the values that make poetry timeless.” Deutsch and assistant editor Christine Bryant Cohen run the press from San Diego and Seattle, publishing one or two books a year. So far they have released six full-length poetry collections and eight chapbooks by writers such as Jill Alexander Essbaum, Melody S. Gee, and William Matthews.

Cooper Dillon’s most recent titles are Linda Dove’s chapbook Fearn (2019), a meditation on fear, and Mónica Gomery’s debut collection, Here Is the Night and the Night on the Road (2018), which Lillian-Yvonne Bertram says is “an exquisite study in the suddenness of numbered days and the radiant pain of living with love ‘tumbling forth.’” The press eschews contests and instead welcomes submissions year-round via Submittable with a $10 reading fee, which is waived if you purchase one of the press’s titles. Deutsch believes standard book-contest entry fees, typically $20 or $25, are too high and prefers the press to “remain open for when a writer feels that the time is right to submit.” He adds, “We see poetry as community, not competition.”

Small Press Points: BkMk Press

by

Staff

4.10.19

In the hardscrabble world of small presses, a ten-year anniversary is a major achievement, so BkMk Press, which is approaching its fiftieth, has much to celebrate. Founded in 1971 as an outlet for Midwestern writers, the press first published poetry chapbooks out of a local branch of the Johnson County Library in Kansas. Today BkMk’s office is located at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, where editor in chief Robert Stewart also oversees the press’s affiliated magazine, New Letters, and the radio show New Letters on the Air. BkMk annually releases about six full-length collections of poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction; it has published more than eighty titles by local, national, and international writers. “Book publishing continues to be dominated by the East Coast, but BkMk gives Missouri and the Midwest a seat at the publishing table,” says managing editor Ben Furnish. In July BkMk will publish Lorraine M. López’s story collection Postcards From the Gerund State, and in the fall it will release Beverly Burch’s poetry collection Latter Days of Eve and Jennifer Wisner Kelly’s story collection, Stone Skimmers. In honor of BkMk’s origins as a chapbook publisher, the editors plan to launch a chapbook competition in 2020. The press currently hosts two other annual contests: the John Ciardi Prize and the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize, given for a poetry collection and a story collection, respectively. Both competitions open on June 1 and include a $1,000 prize and publication. General submissions are open via Submittable and postal mail until June 30.

 

 

Small Press Points: BOAAT Press

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Staff

2.13.19

When poet Sean Shearer started BOAAT Press in 2014, he wanted to combine his two loves: poetry and book arts. “Our aim was to create something beautiful as well as meaningful by publishing emerging writers and housing their words inside our signature books,” says managing editor Catherine Bresner, who joined the staff in 2015. That signature style is part of what has set BOAAT apart from the beginning: The press’s first titles, all chapbooks made from materials such as banana peels, seaweed, Spanish moss, cotton linters, and construction paper, resemble tidal waves, the seashore, or other nautical scenes. The editors even constructed some books out of wood to look like miniature docks, complete with fishing net and seashells. “These books don’t belong on bookshelves,” writes Shearer on the press’s website. “They belong out in the open, plopped on desks and coffee tables to turn heads and wow anyone in the room.” Today, in addition to handmade books, BOAAT publishes one traditionally bound chapbook and up to two full-length books each year through its two annual contests. The press also publishes BOAAT Journal, edited by poet sam sax, which has published up-and-coming poets including Cortney Lamar Charleston, Jameson Fitzpatrick, Emily Skaja, and Chelsea Dingman. The press’s forthcoming titles include Alison Stagner’s The Thing That Brought the Shadow Here, which Nick Flynn selected as winner of the 2018 book prize, and Alycia Pirmohamed’s Faces That Fled the Wind, which Camille Rankine chose as winner of the 2018 chapbook prize. Submissions to BOAAT Journal are open year-round; submissions for both the chapbook prize and book prize are open during the month of April.

Small Press Points: Spork Press

by

Staff

12.12.18

“To feature the work that amazed us,” Richard Siken says when asked why he and Drew Burk started the literary magazine Spork in 2000. “A parallel goal was to show that it was possible to start and run a magazine, and eventually a press, without external or institutional support and to maybe start chipping away at the notions of gates and gatekeepers. If you’re not asking for money or permission, then nobody can tell you no.” For the past nineteen years Siken and Burk have thus forged their own path through the literary landscape and in 2010, with the help of Jake Levine, Andrew Shuta, and Joel Smith, expanded the magazine into Spork Press, which now publishes chapbooks and full-length books of poetry and fiction. The editors, who are “invested in voice-driven work that evokes rather than recounts,” make all the press’s books by hand in Tucson, Arizona. “We’re looking for narrators that inhabit and enact,” the editors say on the website. “We want speakers that can render their investment in the subject matter.” Spork has published books of poetry by Kazim Ali, Sophia Le Fraga, and Ariana Reines, as well as books of fiction by Casey Hannan, Kathleen Rooney, and Colin Winnette. Recent titles include Jennifer Juneau’s novel, ÜberChef USA, and two poetry collections, Rae Gouirand’s Glass Is Glass Water Is Water and David Welch’s Everyone Who Is Dead. Looking ahead, the editors are experimenting with new production techniques—blind stamping, full-bleed wraparound covers, and designs that use overlapping transparent inks, for example—and are considering printing machine-made editions to meet demand. Spork will be open for submissions in the summer.

Small Press Points: Unicorn Press

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Staff

10.10.18

After four years as an apprentice at poetry publisher Unicorn Press, Andrew Saulters took the reins from Alan Brilliant in 2016, fifty years after Brilliant founded the press in Santa Barbara, California. Saulters, who edits and binds the press’s books himself in Greensboro, North Carolina, seeks to carry on the editorial vision of Brilliant and his longtime partner, Teo Savory, who died in 1989. “I’ve tried to follow Al’s editorial spirit in looking at publishing as a way that work enters the cultural commons,” says Saulters. “It’s not enough that the publisher like the work, but the work should also add something to what is already available to readers.” Unicorn Press publishes four to six books of poetry each year, at least two of which are full-length collections, and counts Robert Bly and Muriel Rukeyser among its many authors. The press recently published a haiku collection by the Carolina African American Writers Collective, One Window’s Light, edited by Lenard D. Moore, and in November will release Lynn Otto’s first book, Real Daughter, and Wayne Johns’s Antipsalms. Otto and Johns were selected from the press’s first-book competition, held annually in the spring; the press is open to general submissions of full-length and chapbook-length poetry collections from October through December.

Small Press Points: 7.13 Books

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Staff

6.13.18

July 13 holds special importance for writer and publisher Leland Cheuk. Not only is it the day that, in 2014, he found out his life had been saved by a successful bone marrow transplant from a stranger, but it’s also the day that his first novel, The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong, was picked up by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography. Two years later, on the same day, Thought Catalog sent him an offer for his first story collection, Letters From Dinosaurs. So when Cheuk decided to start his own small press in 2016, he didn’t hesitate to name it 7.13 Books (713books.com). Publishing four to five fiction titles a year from debut writers, the press seeks to offer “a publishing experience that’s respectful to and even reverent of first-time authors.” Cheuk wants the press, which is located in New York City, to avoid the pitfalls of both traditional publishing houses—which he describes as elitist and at risk of publishing the same kinds of books—and indie presses, which he admits are often understaffed and unresponsive. Cheuk replies to each submission within four to eight weeks and offers brief constructive feedback even for those he rejects. The writing—not a writer’s pedigree—matters to him most. In July, 7.13 Books will publish Willie Davis’s Nightwolf, about a seventeen-year-old dropout whose brother has gone missing, and in the fall the press will release Jenn Stroud Rossmann’s The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh, about a working-class family in California’s Silicon Valley. Cheuk says both novels have wit and humor, noting that his own taste leans toward literary comedies. Submissions of story collections and novels are open until November 1 via Submittable.

Small Press Points: Bottlecap Press

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Staff

4.11.18

“To put it in Hollywood terms,” says Bottlecap Press (bottlecap.press) founder and editor C. A. Mullins, “we think of ourselves more as producers than directors.” Established in Skagway, Alaska, in 2014, the self-described “millennial publishing outfit,” now based in central Missouri, is dedicated to putting its authors first by allowing them more creative control over their books.“Our philosophy is that we’re the ones working for the authors, not the other way around,” says Mullins. The press, which publishes one to two chapbooks and full-length books of poetry and fiction every month, offers editorial and design guidance more as “suggestions rather than mandates,” says Mullins. The resulting books, hand-printed by the editors, are diverse in design and aesthetic. Recent and forthcoming titles include Sarah Kennedy’s debut poetry collection, How to Find a Husband (April) and Andrew Duncan Worthington’s story collection A Very Small Forest Fire (June). In addition to traditional books, Bottlecap Press also welcomes mixed-media work: Kennedy’s collection, for example, incorporates photographs from her parents’ personal archives and is part of a larger performance project in conversation with Wendy Stehling’s 1985 book, How to Find a Husband in 30 Days. Mullins also plans to launch digital multimedia projects in the future, including a YouTube channel that will feature poetry, music, film, storytelling, performance art, and animation, and the editors have recently begun looking for artists to illustrate some of the press’s older chapbooks. The press accepts submissions in poetry, fiction, art, and video year-round via e-mail at bottlecappress@gmail.com.

Small Press Points: Gold Wake Press

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Staff

2.14.18

Every small press faces the choice of whether or not to charge submission fees, which can help keep a press afloat but can also exclude writers who don’t have the money to submit. Some publishers, such as Atelier26, Sundress Publications, and Gold Wake Press (goldwake.com), offer an alternative: A writer can submit a manuscript after purchasing a book from the press’s catalogue. While the cost of purchasing a book will surely still prohibit some writers from submitting, the model not only ensures that writers will get something in return for their submissions, but that they will be more familiar with the press’s aesthetic before sending their work. “We found the usual model of requiring a submission fee to be unethical,” says Nick Courtright, who runs Gold Wake Press with writer Kyle McCord. “We’d also heard so many stories of presses not really doing much to sell books once they were published, as if the whole point of the press enterprise was not to sell books but to elicit submission fees. Because we want to support our authors, this is a great way to get their books into the hands of prospective readers.” Located in Austin, Texas, and Des Moines, the press publishes about eight titles a year across genres. “We’ve done crazy poetry books, serious poetry books, novels, illustrated memoirs, short story collections, and flash fiction,” says Courtright. The editors look for work that combines “daring content with meticulous attention to form.” Recent titles, such as Erin Stalcup’s novel, Every Living Species, and Frances Cannon’s graphic memoir, The Highs and Lows of Shapeshift Ma and Big-Little Frank, have blurred the line between image and word, while others, such as Glenn Shaheen’s short story collection, Carnivalia, have combined poetry and prose. In the fall the press launched a triannual journal, Gold Wake Live, which is open for submissions in all genres year-round via Submittable. For those who have purchased a Gold Wake Press title, the press is open to full-length manuscripts via Submittable from March 1 to April 15.

Small Press Points: Saddle Road Press

by

Staff

12.13.17

On a plateau at the center of the island of Hawai’i, Saddle Road runs between two nearly fourteen-thousand-foot volcanoes, one of which is active. “It is a strange, isolated, and terribly beautiful land of black lava and vast light,” says Ruth Thompson, the publisher of Saddle Road Press (saddleroadpress.com), founded in Hilo, Hawai’i, in 2011. A similar description might apply to the style of work that Thompson and her team of editors look to publish at Saddle Road Press. Michael Collins’s poetry collection Appearances (November 2017), for example, is a meditation on nature not as “some place you visit / some museum to nostalgia through,” but rather, Thompson says, as “a place of meeting and confrontation between nature and civilization, art and subject, consciousness and the unconscious, life and death.” Jessamyn Smith’s hybrid prose and poetry collection Gilgamesh/Wilderness (March 2018), a follow-up to her 2016 novel-in-stories The Inugami Mochi, addresses mythology, nature, and grief. Gillian Barlow’s essay collection, Nomad’s Home (February 2018), “interweaves the author’s experience in designing aboriginal housing with the ancient Japanese text ki, aikido, thoughts on the idea of ‘house,’ a long-buried family secret, Australian bars, racism, and the idea of translation,” says Thompson. The press publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, though the editors are specifically seeking collections of lyric essays and hybrid prose and poetry. The editors also plan to launch a chapbook series of work from or about islands in the Pacific. Submissions of full-length manuscripts are open until January 31 via Submittable.

Small Press Points: Holy Cow! Press

by

Staff

8.16.17

The name Holy Cow! Press, complete with exclamation point, came to publisher Jim Perlman in a dream. Forty years ago that dream became an independent press, which today boasts a catalogue of more than 125 poetry collections, novels, story collections, memoirs, biographies, and anthologies. Perlman, who runs the press out of his home in Duluth, Minnesota, is committed to publishing the work of writers living in the Midwest, a “territory traditionally ignored by larger indie publishers,” he says. The press has published the work of writers such as Minnesota poet laureate Joyce Sutphen, poet Louis Jenkins, young adult writer Jane Yolen, and the late Brenda Ueland. Holy Cow! Press releases three to five books each year, 40 percent of which Perlman estimates are poetry collections. To celebrate the press’s fortieth anniversary this year, Perlman has organized readings in Duluth; in October the press will also participate in the Iowa City Book Festival and the Twin Cities Book Festival, where Rain Taxi will hold a tribute event for the press with readings, a Q&A, and a book signing. Holy Cow! Press will also publish two new titles this fall: Subtle Variations and Other Stories (October) by Minneapolis author Miriam Karmel and Winds & Currents (November), a book of retold and illustrated Native American stories by Duluth author and artist Joan Henrik. Submissions are open year-round; send a query via e-mail or postal mail.

 

Small Press Points: Sibling Rivalry Press

by

Staff

2.15.17

“Our mission is to publish work that disturbs and enraptures,” says Bryan Borland, publisher of the Little Rock, Arkansas–based Sibling Rivalry Press (siblingrivalrypress.com). “The press has always positioned itself as a stage and a microphone for anyone who is ‘other’…. Any time we’ve been tempted to move toward more mainstream projects, the world has always had a way of reminding us that our purpose is to build bridges. I know firsthand that when you find someone whose voice makes you feel less alone, it can save your life.” Since founding Sibling Rivalry Press in 2010, Borland has consistently delivered on that mission. He and editor Seth Pennington have championed the work of many LGBTQIA authors, publishing the early work of up-and-coming poets such as Ocean Vuong, sam sax, Christopher Soto, and Saeed Jones, and also recently launched the Undocupoets Fellowship, given to undocumented or previously undocumented poets, to help defray the cost of poetry-related submission fees. And in January the press published If You Can Hear This: Poetry in Protest of an American Inauguration, an anthology of work by seventy poets responding to the recent presidential election. The press also publishes three literary magazines: Adrienne, a journal of poetry by queer women; Assaracus, a journal of poetry by gay men; and Callisto, a journal of queer fiction. The press recently published Kaveh Akbar’s chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic, and will also put out books from poets Franny Choi and Sarah Browning later this year. While Borland and Pennington publish work mostly by LGBTQIA authors and focus primarily on poetry, they are open to work of all genres from writers of all identities and sexual orientations. Manuscripts of any length can be submitted from March 1 through June 1.

Small Press Points: Aunt Lute Books

by

Staff

6.14.17

We’ve been publishing revolutionary queer women of color for thirty-five years,” write the editors of Aunt Lute Books on their website, “and we don’t plan to stop any time soon.” Editors Barb Wieser and Joan Pinkvoss founded Aunt Lute in Iowa City in 1982 to create opportunities for writers who they believed were excluded from mainstream publishing and feminism in the eighties. They have since published more than fifty books by over thirty writers, nearly all women of color, including feminist activists and writers Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and Judy Grahn. The press has also published several anthologies of work by marginalized communities, including Filipina and Filipina American writers (Babaylan, 2000) and South Asian women in the United States (Our Feet Walk the Sky, 1993). Now based in San Francisco, the nonprofit press publishes two to four books each year of mostly fiction and nonfiction. Forthcoming titles include a reprint of Juliana Delgado Lopera’s Cuéntamelo: Oral Histories by LGBT Latino Immigrants in the fall and a critical edition of Gloria E. Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza next spring. Although the editors are particularly interested in work by queer women of color, submissions of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by women of all backgrounds (to be considered for inclusion in future anthologies) are open year-round via postal mail. 

Small Press Points: Twisted Road Publications

by

Staff

4.12.17

The whole truth requires complex, multilayered stories,” says Joan Leggitt, publisher of Twisted Road Publications, “and not just stories relating the known world as the author sees it, but also stories of what might be, as we imagine our best and worst selves.” Guided by this principle, Leggitt founded Twisted Road in 2014 with the financial backing of a friend who was going through the final stages of a terminal illness. Based in Tallahassee, Florida, the press publishes three to four titles of fiction and nonfiction each year. Leggitt, who has worked as a book distributor and editor, finds few books challenge mainstream culture, and says Twisted Road favors “books that depict the shadowy places where the disenfranchised dwell.” She adds: “It seems as though corporate media is convinced that no one wants to hear from people with lower incomes and less education because it is generally assumed they have nothing interesting to say, nothing to teach us.” The press has published books that push against that stereotype, including Connie May Fowler’s memoir A Million Fragile Bones (April) about the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in 2010; Tricia Booker’s memoir, The Place of Peace and Crickets (March), about her experience adopting children from Asia and Central America; and James Carpenter’s novel, No Place to Pray (September 2016), about two homeless alcoholics. Twisted Road is currently open to submissions via e-mail (submissions@twistedroadpublications.com). 

Small Press Points: Phoneme Media

After noticing that a lot of exciting international literature wasn’t reaching English-language readers—particularly books from lesser-known countries like Burundi and Mongolia, and those written in languages like Isthmus Zapotec and Uyghur—translators David Shook and Brian Hewes decided to do something about it. In 2013 they launched Phoneme Media (phonememedia.org), a nonprofit publisher “dedicated to promoting cross-cultural understanding, connecting people and ideas through translated books and films.”  Phoneme MediaBased in Los Angeles and funded by PEN Center USA, the press publishes twelve books of translated poetry and fiction each year, and also produces literary films—video poems, paratextual films, and short documentaries—that feature the press’s authors and translators. A look at just two months’ worth of Phoneme titles is a trip across several continents: In December the press released Smooth-Talking Dog, a poetry collection by Mexican writer Roberto Castillo Udiarte—also known as “the Godfather of Tijuana’s counterculture”—translated from the Spanish by Anthony Seidman. Richard Ali A Mutu’s novel Mr. Fix-It, translated from the Lingala language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by Bienvenu Sene Mongaba and Sara Sene, was also released in December. This month the press publishes its first Icelandic translation, Cold Moons by Magnús Sigursson, translated by Meg Matich; as well as The Conspiracy, a thriller by exiled Venezuelan novelist Israel Centeno, translated from the Spanish by Guillermo Parra. The Conspiracy is the second book in Phoneme’s City of Asylum series, which features works by exiled writers receiving sanctuary in the United States. Phoneme’s general submissions are open year-round, and can be sent via e-mail to submissions@phonememedia.org. The press is particularly interested in books by women and those translated from non-Indo-European languages.

Small Press Points: Platypus Press

by

Staff

10.11.17

When Michelle Tudor and Peter Barnfather started Platypus Press in 2015, they considered themselves a bit of an odd fit, since neither had worked at a press or published much of their own work. But with a love of reading and a willingness to improvise and learn on the job, the pair launched the independent press to “unearth innovative contemporary poetry and prose from a broad variety of voices and experiences.” Two years later, Platypus Press has already released more than a dozen books, launched the online literary journal Wildness, and published a chapbook series through which it put out a poetry chapbook every day for twenty-four days. The press publishes mostly poetry but also nonfiction and fiction—next year Tudor says Platypus will make its “first proper lunge into the world of fiction” with a series of digital-only stories from five thousand to fifteen thousand words each. Based in Shropshire, England, Platypus mostly publishes writers from the United States and United Kingdom but has also released books by authors from Singapore, New Zealand, and India. The press’s first titles showcased the work of younger poets, many of whom are active on Tumblr, but Tudor and Barnfather have since expanded their catalogue. “As a press we are interested in all aspects of a poet’s career,” says Tudor. “We believe in giving a voice to poets at all stages of their writing journey.” Recent titles show this range, such as Shuly Cawood’s debut memoir, The Going and Goodbye, and a book of selected poems by L. G. Corey, who has been writing poetry for more than seventy years. In November Platypus will release A Portrait in Blues: Poems of the Body, an anthology that explores gender, identity, and the nature of the body. Submissions of full-length manuscripts and stories for the digital fiction shorts series are open year-round via e-mail.

Small Press Points: Platypus Press

by

Staff

10.11.17

When Michelle Tudor and Peter Barnfather started Platypus Press in 2015, they considered themselves a bit of an odd fit, since neither had worked at a press or published much of their own work. But with a love of reading and a willingness to improvise and learn on the job, the pair launched the independent press to “unearth innovative contemporary poetry and prose from a broad variety of voices and experiences.” Two years later, Platypus Press has already released more than a dozen books, launched the online literary journal Wildness, and published a chapbook series through which it put out a poetry chapbook every day for twenty-four days. The press publishes mostly poetry but also nonfiction and fiction—next year Tudor says Platypus will make its “first proper lunge into the world of fiction” with a series of digital-only stories from five thousand to fifteen thousand words each. Based in Shropshire, England, Platypus mostly publishes writers from the United States and United Kingdom but has also released books by authors from Singapore, New Zealand, and India. The press’s first titles showcased the work of younger poets, many of whom are active on Tumblr, but Tudor and Barnfather have since expanded their catalogue. “As a press we are interested in all aspects of a poet’s career,” says Tudor. “We believe in giving a voice to poets at all stages of their writing journey.” Recent titles show this range, such as Shuly Cawood’s debut memoir, The Going and Goodbye, and a book of selected poems by L. G. Corey, who has been writing poetry for more than seventy years. In November Platypus will release A Portrait in Blues: Poems of the Body, an anthology that explores gender, identity, and the nature of the body. Submissions of full-length manuscripts and stories for the digital fiction shorts series are open year-round via e-mail.

Small Press Points: Saddle Road Press

by

Staff

12.13.17

On a plateau at the center of the island of Hawai’i, Saddle Road runs between two nearly fourteen-thousand-foot volcanoes, one of which is active. “It is a strange, isolated, and terribly beautiful land of black lava and vast light,” says Ruth Thompson, the publisher of Saddle Road Press (saddleroadpress.com), founded in Hilo, Hawai’i, in 2011. A similar description might apply to the style of work that Thompson and her team of editors look to publish at Saddle Road Press. Michael Collins’s poetry collection Appearances (November 2017), for example, is a meditation on nature not as “some place you visit / some museum to nostalgia through,” but rather, Thompson says, as “a place of meeting and confrontation between nature and civilization, art and subject, consciousness and the unconscious, life and death.” Jessamyn Smith’s hybrid prose and poetry collection Gilgamesh/Wilderness (March 2018), a follow-up to her 2016 novel-in-stories The Inugami Mochi, addresses mythology, nature, and grief. Gillian Barlow’s essay collection, Nomad’s Home (February 2018), “interweaves the author’s experience in designing aboriginal housing with the ancient Japanese text ki, aikido, thoughts on the idea of ‘house,’ a long-buried family secret, Australian bars, racism, and the idea of translation,” says Thompson. The press publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, though the editors are specifically seeking collections of lyric essays and hybrid prose and poetry. The editors also plan to launch a chapbook series of work from or about islands in the Pacific. Submissions of full-length manuscripts are open until January 31 via Submittable.

Small Press Points: Gold Wake Press

by

Staff

2.14.18

Every small press faces the choice of whether or not to charge submission fees, which can help keep a press afloat but can also exclude writers who don’t have the money to submit. Some publishers, such as Atelier26, Sundress Publications, and Gold Wake Press (goldwake.com), offer an alternative: A writer can submit a manuscript after purchasing a book from the press’s catalogue. While the cost of purchasing a book will surely still prohibit some writers from submitting, the model not only ensures that writers will get something in return for their submissions, but that they will be more familiar with the press’s aesthetic before sending their work. “We found the usual model of requiring a submission fee to be unethical,” says Nick Courtright, who runs Gold Wake Press with writer Kyle McCord. “We’d also heard so many stories of presses not really doing much to sell books once they were published, as if the whole point of the press enterprise was not to sell books but to elicit submission fees. Because we want to support our authors, this is a great way to get their books into the hands of prospective readers.” Located in Austin, Texas, and Des Moines, the press publishes about eight titles a year across genres. “We’ve done crazy poetry books, serious poetry books, novels, illustrated memoirs, short story collections, and flash fiction,” says Courtright. The editors look for work that combines “daring content with meticulous attention to form.” Recent titles, such as Erin Stalcup’s novel, Every Living Species, and Frances Cannon’s graphic memoir, The Highs and Lows of Shapeshift Ma and Big-Little Frank, have blurred the line between image and word, while others, such as Glenn Shaheen’s short story collection, Carnivalia, have combined poetry and prose. In the fall the press launched a triannual journal, Gold Wake Live, which is open for submissions in all genres year-round via Submittable. For those who have purchased a Gold Wake Press title, the press is open to full-length manuscripts via Submittable from March 1 to April 15.

Small Press Points: BatCat Press

by

Staff

8.15.18

“In the beginning BatCat was truly an experiment,” says Deanna Baringer, the managing editor and supervising teacher of BatCat Press. “I didn’t know if high school kids would be capable of, let alone interested in, publishing and bookmaking.” Nearly ten years later BatCat is no longer an experiment but a full-fledged indie press run by a group of about ten students at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland, Pennsylvania. The students do all the editing, printing, and binding by hand and publish two or three books per year, mostly poetry with some fiction and nonfiction titles, by debut and established writers alike. In June the press released Dustin Nightingale’s poetry chapbook, Ghost Woodpecker—which Baringer calls a “terse but punchy collection”—that was printed entirely via a handset letterpress, and Jessica Poli’s poetry collection Canyons. “The poems are quirky little lines that stick with you and make you think,” says Alexa Bocek, a BatCat editor from the class of 2019. The students work together to select the final manuscripts, a process they approach with great care. “Not only does it come down to whether or not the piece is good, but a lot of it is also whether it works for our audience and if there are aspects we can draw from to create design elements,” says Sarah Bett, who graduated in the spring. “Going through hundreds of manuscripts, it could become easy to just skim them and quickly decide that you didn’t like it. I had to grow more patient and able to look at each piece through a new perspective.” BatCat is open to submissions of full-length and chapbook-length manuscripts in any genre year-round via Submittable, though the editors read mostly in the fall. There is no age minimum to submit.

Small Press Points: Bottlecap Press

by

Staff

4.11.18

“To put it in Hollywood terms,” says Bottlecap Press (bottlecap.press) founder and editor C. A. Mullins, “we think of ourselves more as producers than directors.” Established in Skagway, Alaska, in 2014, the self-described “millennial publishing outfit,” now based in central Missouri, is dedicated to putting its authors first by allowing them more creative control over their books.“Our philosophy is that we’re the ones working for the authors, not the other way around,” says Mullins. The press, which publishes one to two chapbooks and full-length books of poetry and fiction every month, offers editorial and design guidance more as “suggestions rather than mandates,” says Mullins. The resulting books, hand-printed by the editors, are diverse in design and aesthetic. Recent and forthcoming titles include Sarah Kennedy’s debut poetry collection, How to Find a Husband (April) and Andrew Duncan Worthington’s story collection A Very Small Forest Fire (June). In addition to traditional books, Bottlecap Press also welcomes mixed-media work: Kennedy’s collection, for example, incorporates photographs from her parents’ personal archives and is part of a larger performance project in conversation with Wendy Stehling’s 1985 book, How to Find a Husband in 30 Days. Mullins also plans to launch digital multimedia projects in the future, including a YouTube channel that will feature poetry, music, film, storytelling, performance art, and animation, and the editors have recently begun looking for artists to illustrate some of the press’s older chapbooks. The press accepts submissions in poetry, fiction, art, and video year-round via e-mail at bottlecappress@gmail.com.

Small Press Points: BatCat Press

by

Staff

8.15.18

“In the beginning BatCat was truly an experiment,” says Deanna Baringer, the managing editor and supervising teacher of BatCat Press. “I didn’t know if high school kids would be capable of, let alone interested in, publishing and bookmaking.” Nearly ten years later BatCat is no longer an experiment but a full-fledged indie press run by a group of about ten students at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland, Pennsylvania. The students do all the editing, printing, and binding by hand and publish two or three books per year, mostly poetry with some fiction and nonfiction titles, by debut and established writers alike. In June the press released Dustin Nightingale’s poetry chapbook, Ghost Woodpecker—which Baringer calls a “terse but punchy collection”—that was printed entirely via a handset letterpress, and Jessica Poli’s poetry collection Canyons. “The poems are quirky little lines that stick with you and make you think,” says Alexa Bocek, a BatCat editor from the class of 2019. The students work together to select the final manuscripts, a process they approach with great care. “Not only does it come down to whether or not the piece is good, but a lot of it is also whether it works for our audience and if there are aspects we can draw from to create design elements,” says Sarah Bett, who graduated in the spring. “Going through hundreds of manuscripts, it could become easy to just skim them and quickly decide that you didn’t like it. I had to grow more patient and able to look at each piece through a new perspective.” BatCat is open to submissions of full-length and chapbook-length manuscripts in any genre year-round via Submittable, though the editors read mostly in the fall. There is no age minimum to submit.

Small Press Points: 7.13 Books

by

Staff

6.13.18

July 13 holds special importance for writer and publisher Leland Cheuk. Not only is it the day that, in 2014, he found out his life had been saved by a successful bone marrow transplant from a stranger, but it’s also the day that his first novel, The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong, was picked up by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography. Two years later, on the same day, Thought Catalog sent him an offer for his first story collection, Letters From Dinosaurs. So when Cheuk decided to start his own small press in 2016, he didn’t hesitate to name it 7.13 Books (713books.com). Publishing four to five fiction titles a year from debut writers, the press seeks to offer “a publishing experience that’s respectful to and even reverent of first-time authors.” Cheuk wants the press, which is located in New York City, to avoid the pitfalls of both traditional publishing houses—which he describes as elitist and at risk of publishing the same kinds of books—and indie presses, which he admits are often understaffed and unresponsive. Cheuk replies to each submission within four to eight weeks and offers brief constructive feedback even for those he rejects. The writing—not a writer’s pedigree—matters to him most. In July, 7.13 Books will publish Willie Davis’s Nightwolf, about a seventeen-year-old dropout whose brother has gone missing, and in the fall the press will release Jenn Stroud Rossmann’s The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh, about a working-class family in California’s Silicon Valley. Cheuk says both novels have wit and humor, noting that his own taste leans toward literary comedies. Submissions of story collections and novels are open until November 1 via Submittable.

Small Press Points: Unicorn Press

by

Staff

10.10.18

After four years as an apprentice at poetry publisher Unicorn Press, Andrew Saulters took the reins from Alan Brilliant in 2016, fifty years after Brilliant founded the press in Santa Barbara, California. Saulters, who edits and binds the press’s books himself in Greensboro, North Carolina, seeks to carry on the editorial vision of Brilliant and his longtime partner, Teo Savory, who died in 1989. “I’ve tried to follow Al’s editorial spirit in looking at publishing as a way that work enters the cultural commons,” says Saulters. “It’s not enough that the publisher like the work, but the work should also add something to what is already available to readers.” Unicorn Press publishes four to six books of poetry each year, at least two of which are full-length collections, and counts Robert Bly and Muriel Rukeyser among its many authors. The press recently published a haiku collection by the Carolina African American Writers Collective, One Window’s Light, edited by Lenard D. Moore, and in November will release Lynn Otto’s first book, Real Daughter, and Wayne Johns’s Antipsalms. Otto and Johns were selected from the press’s first-book competition, held annually in the spring; the press is open to general submissions of full-length and chapbook-length poetry collections from October through December.

Small Press Points: BatCat Press

by

Staff

8.15.18

“In the beginning BatCat was truly an experiment,” says Deanna Baringer, the managing editor and supervising teacher of BatCat Press. “I didn’t know if high school kids would be capable of, let alone interested in, publishing and bookmaking.” Nearly ten years later BatCat is no longer an experiment but a full-fledged indie press run by a group of about ten students at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland, Pennsylvania. The students do all the editing, printing, and binding by hand and publish two or three books per year, mostly poetry with some fiction and nonfiction titles, by debut and established writers alike. In June the press released Dustin Nightingale’s poetry chapbook, Ghost Woodpecker—which Baringer calls a “terse but punchy collection”—that was printed entirely via a handset letterpress, and Jessica Poli’s poetry collection Canyons. “The poems are quirky little lines that stick with you and make you think,” says Alexa Bocek, a BatCat editor from the class of 2019. The students work together to select the final manuscripts, a process they approach with great care. “Not only does it come down to whether or not the piece is good, but a lot of it is also whether it works for our audience and if there are aspects we can draw from to create design elements,” says Sarah Bett, who graduated in the spring. “Going through hundreds of manuscripts, it could become easy to just skim them and quickly decide that you didn’t like it. I had to grow more patient and able to look at each piece through a new perspective.” BatCat is open to submissions of full-length and chapbook-length manuscripts in any genre year-round via Submittable, though the editors read mostly in the fall. There is no age minimum to submit.

Small Press Points: Spork Press

by

Staff

12.12.18

“To feature the work that amazed us,” Richard Siken says when asked why he and Drew Burk started the literary magazine Spork in 2000. “A parallel goal was to show that it was possible to start and run a magazine, and eventually a press, without external or institutional support and to maybe start chipping away at the notions of gates and gatekeepers. If you’re not asking for money or permission, then nobody can tell you no.” For the past nineteen years Siken and Burk have thus forged their own path through the literary landscape and in 2010, with the help of Jake Levine, Andrew Shuta, and Joel Smith, expanded the magazine into Spork Press, which now publishes chapbooks and full-length books of poetry and fiction. The editors, who are “invested in voice-driven work that evokes rather than recounts,” make all the press’s books by hand in Tucson, Arizona. “We’re looking for narrators that inhabit and enact,” the editors say on the website. “We want speakers that can render their investment in the subject matter.” Spork has published books of poetry by Kazim Ali, Sophia Le Fraga, and Ariana Reines, as well as books of fiction by Casey Hannan, Kathleen Rooney, and Colin Winnette. Recent titles include Jennifer Juneau’s novel, ÜberChef USA, and two poetry collections, Rae Gouirand’s Glass Is Glass Water Is Water and David Welch’s Everyone Who Is Dead. Looking ahead, the editors are experimenting with new production techniques—blind stamping, full-bleed wraparound covers, and designs that use overlapping transparent inks, for example—and are considering printing machine-made editions to meet demand. Spork will be open for submissions in the summer.

Small Press Points: Unicorn Press

by

Staff

10.10.18

After four years as an apprentice at poetry publisher Unicorn Press, Andrew Saulters took the reins from Alan Brilliant in 2016, fifty years after Brilliant founded the press in Santa Barbara, California. Saulters, who edits and binds the press’s books himself in Greensboro, North Carolina, seeks to carry on the editorial vision of Brilliant and his longtime partner, Teo Savory, who died in 1989. “I’ve tried to follow Al’s editorial spirit in looking at publishing as a way that work enters the cultural commons,” says Saulters. “It’s not enough that the publisher like the work, but the work should also add something to what is already available to readers.” Unicorn Press publishes four to six books of poetry each year, at least two of which are full-length collections, and counts Robert Bly and Muriel Rukeyser among its many authors. The press recently published a haiku collection by the Carolina African American Writers Collective, One Window’s Light, edited by Lenard D. Moore, and in November will release Lynn Otto’s first book, Real Daughter, and Wayne Johns’s Antipsalms. Otto and Johns were selected from the press’s first-book competition, held annually in the spring; the press is open to general submissions of full-length and chapbook-length poetry collections from October through December.

Small Press Points: BOAAT Press

by

Staff

2.13.19

When poet Sean Shearer started BOAAT Press in 2014, he wanted to combine his two loves: poetry and book arts. “Our aim was to create something beautiful as well as meaningful by publishing emerging writers and housing their words inside our signature books,” says managing editor Catherine Bresner, who joined the staff in 2015. That signature style is part of what has set BOAAT apart from the beginning: The press’s first titles, all chapbooks made from materials such as banana peels, seaweed, Spanish moss, cotton linters, and construction paper, resemble tidal waves, the seashore, or other nautical scenes. The editors even constructed some books out of wood to look like miniature docks, complete with fishing net and seashells. “These books don’t belong on bookshelves,” writes Shearer on the press’s website. “They belong out in the open, plopped on desks and coffee tables to turn heads and wow anyone in the room.” Today, in addition to handmade books, BOAAT publishes one traditionally bound chapbook and up to two full-length books each year through its two annual contests. The press also publishes BOAAT Journal, edited by poet sam sax, which has published up-and-coming poets including Cortney Lamar Charleston, Jameson Fitzpatrick, Emily Skaja, and Chelsea Dingman. The press’s forthcoming titles include Alison Stagner’s The Thing That Brought the Shadow Here, which Nick Flynn selected as winner of the 2018 book prize, and Alycia Pirmohamed’s Faces That Fled the Wind, which Camille Rankine chose as winner of the 2018 chapbook prize. Submissions to BOAAT Journal are open year-round; submissions for both the chapbook prize and book prize are open during the month of April.

Small Press Points: Spork Press

by

Staff

12.12.18

“To feature the work that amazed us,” Richard Siken says when asked why he and Drew Burk started the literary magazine Spork in 2000. “A parallel goal was to show that it was possible to start and run a magazine, and eventually a press, without external or institutional support and to maybe start chipping away at the notions of gates and gatekeepers. If you’re not asking for money or permission, then nobody can tell you no.” For the past nineteen years Siken and Burk have thus forged their own path through the literary landscape and in 2010, with the help of Jake Levine, Andrew Shuta, and Joel Smith, expanded the magazine into Spork Press, which now publishes chapbooks and full-length books of poetry and fiction. The editors, who are “invested in voice-driven work that evokes rather than recounts,” make all the press’s books by hand in Tucson, Arizona. “We’re looking for narrators that inhabit and enact,” the editors say on the website. “We want speakers that can render their investment in the subject matter.” Spork has published books of poetry by Kazim Ali, Sophia Le Fraga, and Ariana Reines, as well as books of fiction by Casey Hannan, Kathleen Rooney, and Colin Winnette. Recent titles include Jennifer Juneau’s novel, ÜberChef USA, and two poetry collections, Rae Gouirand’s Glass Is Glass Water Is Water and David Welch’s Everyone Who Is Dead. Looking ahead, the editors are experimenting with new production techniques—blind stamping, full-bleed wraparound covers, and designs that use overlapping transparent inks, for example—and are considering printing machine-made editions to meet demand. Spork will be open for submissions in the summer.

Small Press Points: BkMk Press

by

Staff

4.10.19

In the hardscrabble world of small presses, a ten-year anniversary is a major achievement, so BkMk Press, which is approaching its fiftieth, has much to celebrate. Founded in 1971 as an outlet for Midwestern writers, the press first published poetry chapbooks out of a local branch of the Johnson County Library in Kansas. Today BkMk’s office is located at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, where editor in chief Robert Stewart also oversees the press’s affiliated magazine, New Letters, and the radio show New Letters on the Air. BkMk annually releases about six full-length collections of poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction; it has published more than eighty titles by local, national, and international writers. “Book publishing continues to be dominated by the East Coast, but BkMk gives Missouri and the Midwest a seat at the publishing table,” says managing editor Ben Furnish. In July BkMk will publish Lorraine M. López’s story collection Postcards From the Gerund State, and in the fall it will release Beverly Burch’s poetry collection Latter Days of Eve and Jennifer Wisner Kelly’s story collection, Stone Skimmers. In honor of BkMk’s origins as a chapbook publisher, the editors plan to launch a chapbook competition in 2020. The press currently hosts two other annual contests: the John Ciardi Prize and the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize, given for a poetry collection and a story collection, respectively. Both competitions open on June 1 and include a $1,000 prize and publication. General submissions are open via Submittable and postal mail until June 30.

 

 

Small Press Points: BOAAT Press

by

Staff

2.13.19

When poet Sean Shearer started BOAAT Press in 2014, he wanted to combine his two loves: poetry and book arts. “Our aim was to create something beautiful as well as meaningful by publishing emerging writers and housing their words inside our signature books,” says managing editor Catherine Bresner, who joined the staff in 2015. That signature style is part of what has set BOAAT apart from the beginning: The press’s first titles, all chapbooks made from materials such as banana peels, seaweed, Spanish moss, cotton linters, and construction paper, resemble tidal waves, the seashore, or other nautical scenes. The editors even constructed some books out of wood to look like miniature docks, complete with fishing net and seashells. “These books don’t belong on bookshelves,” writes Shearer on the press’s website. “They belong out in the open, plopped on desks and coffee tables to turn heads and wow anyone in the room.” Today, in addition to handmade books, BOAAT publishes one traditionally bound chapbook and up to two full-length books each year through its two annual contests. The press also publishes BOAAT Journal, edited by poet sam sax, which has published up-and-coming poets including Cortney Lamar Charleston, Jameson Fitzpatrick, Emily Skaja, and Chelsea Dingman. The press’s forthcoming titles include Alison Stagner’s The Thing That Brought the Shadow Here, which Nick Flynn selected as winner of the 2018 book prize, and Alycia Pirmohamed’s Faces That Fled the Wind, which Camille Rankine chose as winner of the 2018 chapbook prize. Submissions to BOAAT Journal are open year-round; submissions for both the chapbook prize and book prize are open during the month of April.

Small Press Points: Cooper Dillon Books

by

Staff

6.12.19

A poem can exist in a specific cultural or emotional moment, but it can also sustain and be revisited over and over again,” says poet Adam Deutsch, the publisher of Cooper Dillon Books (www.cooperdillon.com), a ten-year-old press dedicated to “the values that make poetry timeless.” Deutsch and assistant editor Christine Bryant Cohen run the press from San Diego and Seattle, publishing one or two books a year. So far they have released six full-length poetry collections and eight chapbooks by writers such as Jill Alexander Essbaum, Melody S. Gee, and William Matthews.

Cooper Dillon’s most recent titles are Linda Dove’s chapbook Fearn (2019), a meditation on fear, and Mónica Gomery’s debut collection, Here Is the Night and the Night on the Road (2018), which Lillian-Yvonne Bertram says is “an exquisite study in the suddenness of numbered days and the radiant pain of living with love ‘tumbling forth.’” The press eschews contests and instead welcomes submissions year-round via Submittable with a $10 reading fee, which is waived if you purchase one of the press’s titles. Deutsch believes standard book-contest entry fees, typically $20 or $25, are too high and prefers the press to “remain open for when a writer feels that the time is right to submit.” He adds, “We see poetry as community, not competition.”

Small Press Points: BkMk Press

by

Staff

4.10.19

In the hardscrabble world of small presses, a ten-year anniversary is a major achievement, so BkMk Press, which is approaching its fiftieth, has much to celebrate. Founded in 1971 as an outlet for Midwestern writers, the press first published poetry chapbooks out of a local branch of the Johnson County Library in Kansas. Today BkMk’s office is located at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, where editor in chief Robert Stewart also oversees the press’s affiliated magazine, New Letters, and the radio show New Letters on the Air. BkMk annually releases about six full-length collections of poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction; it has published more than eighty titles by local, national, and international writers. “Book publishing continues to be dominated by the East Coast, but BkMk gives Missouri and the Midwest a seat at the publishing table,” says managing editor Ben Furnish. In July BkMk will publish Lorraine M. López’s story collection Postcards From the Gerund State, and in the fall it will release Beverly Burch’s poetry collection Latter Days of Eve and Jennifer Wisner Kelly’s story collection, Stone Skimmers. In honor of BkMk’s origins as a chapbook publisher, the editors plan to launch a chapbook competition in 2020. The press currently hosts two other annual contests: the John Ciardi Prize and the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize, given for a poetry collection and a story collection, respectively. Both competitions open on June 1 and include a $1,000 prize and publication. General submissions are open via Submittable and postal mail until June 30.

 

 

Small Press Points: Acre Books

by

Staff

8.14.19

As the founding editor of the Cincinnati Review, Nicola Mason has a strong track record of spotting talented writers early in their careers. Under her leadership the review published the early work of fiction writers Caitlin Horrocks and Jamie Quatro and poets Jill Osier and Mai Der Vang. As Mason explained to Cincinnati magazine in June, after watching these writers and other contributors go on to win prestigious prizes and publish books, she thought, “We’re becoming talent scouts for everyone else; why can’t we become talent scouts for ourselves?”

So in 2017 Mason founded Acre Books, an imprint of the University of Cincinnati Press, where, along with poetry series editor Lisa Ampleman, she publishes two poetry collections, two novels, and two story collections each year. The press also welcomes hybrid forms. “I’ve always felt the boundaries separating genres and disciplines to be artificial,” says Mason. “Why shake one’s finger at innovation?” Mason also hopes to publish literary nonfiction but hasn’t yet found a book that’s the right fit. “I find a lot of creative nonfiction has an ‘all about me’ quality,” she says. “We want work that is grounded in self but that travels beyond it.” In October, Acre will publish Faylita Hicks’s poetry debut, HoodWitch, which Mason describes as “an absolute knockout full of power, pain, beauty, and magick.” Submissions in all genres are open via the press’s website; writers should include a brief description of the manuscript and ten sample pages. There is no reading fee.

 

 

Small Press Points: Cooper Dillon Books

by

Staff

6.12.19

A poem can exist in a specific cultural or emotional moment, but it can also sustain and be revisited over and over again,” says poet Adam Deutsch, the publisher of Cooper Dillon Books (www.cooperdillon.com), a ten-year-old press dedicated to “the values that make poetry timeless.” Deutsch and assistant editor Christine Bryant Cohen run the press from San Diego and Seattle, publishing one or two books a year. So far they have released six full-length poetry collections and eight chapbooks by writers such as Jill Alexander Essbaum, Melody S. Gee, and William Matthews.

Cooper Dillon’s most recent titles are Linda Dove’s chapbook Fearn (2019), a meditation on fear, and Mónica Gomery’s debut collection, Here Is the Night and the Night on the Road (2018), which Lillian-Yvonne Bertram says is “an exquisite study in the suddenness of numbered days and the radiant pain of living with love ‘tumbling forth.’” The press eschews contests and instead welcomes submissions year-round via Submittable with a $10 reading fee, which is waived if you purchase one of the press’s titles. Deutsch believes standard book-contest entry fees, typically $20 or $25, are too high and prefers the press to “remain open for when a writer feels that the time is right to submit.” He adds, “We see poetry as community, not competition.”

Small Press Points: BkMk Press

by

Staff

4.10.19

In the hardscrabble world of small presses, a ten-year anniversary is a major achievement, so BkMk Press, which is approaching its fiftieth, has much to celebrate. Founded in 1971 as an outlet for Midwestern writers, the press first published poetry chapbooks out of a local branch of the Johnson County Library in Kansas. Today BkMk’s office is located at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, where editor in chief Robert Stewart also oversees the press’s affiliated magazine, New Letters, and the radio show New Letters on the Air. BkMk annually releases about six full-length collections of poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction; it has published more than eighty titles by local, national, and international writers. “Book publishing continues to be dominated by the East Coast, but BkMk gives Missouri and the Midwest a seat at the publishing table,” says managing editor Ben Furnish. In July BkMk will publish Lorraine M. López’s story collection Postcards From the Gerund State, and in the fall it will release Beverly Burch’s poetry collection Latter Days of Eve and Jennifer Wisner Kelly’s story collection, Stone Skimmers. In honor of BkMk’s origins as a chapbook publisher, the editors plan to launch a chapbook competition in 2020. The press currently hosts two other annual contests: the John Ciardi Prize and the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize, given for a poetry collection and a story collection, respectively. Both competitions open on June 1 and include a $1,000 prize and publication. General submissions are open via Submittable and postal mail until June 30.

 

 

Small Press Points: BOAAT Press

by

Staff

2.13.19

When poet Sean Shearer started BOAAT Press in 2014, he wanted to combine his two loves: poetry and book arts. “Our aim was to create something beautiful as well as meaningful by publishing emerging writers and housing their words inside our signature books,” says managing editor Catherine Bresner, who joined the staff in 2015. That signature style is part of what has set BOAAT apart from the beginning: The press’s first titles, all chapbooks made from materials such as banana peels, seaweed, Spanish moss, cotton linters, and construction paper, resemble tidal waves, the seashore, or other nautical scenes. The editors even constructed some books out of wood to look like miniature docks, complete with fishing net and seashells. “These books don’t belong on bookshelves,” writes Shearer on the press’s website. “They belong out in the open, plopped on desks and coffee tables to turn heads and wow anyone in the room.” Today, in addition to handmade books, BOAAT publishes one traditionally bound chapbook and up to two full-length books each year through its two annual contests. The press also publishes BOAAT Journal, edited by poet sam sax, which has published up-and-coming poets including Cortney Lamar Charleston, Jameson Fitzpatrick, Emily Skaja, and Chelsea Dingman. The press’s forthcoming titles include Alison Stagner’s The Thing That Brought the Shadow Here, which Nick Flynn selected as winner of the 2018 book prize, and Alycia Pirmohamed’s Faces That Fled the Wind, which Camille Rankine chose as winner of the 2018 chapbook prize. Submissions to BOAAT Journal are open year-round; submissions for both the chapbook prize and book prize are open during the month of April.

Small Press Points: Unnamed Press

by

Staff

10.9.19

Unnamed Press is an object lesson in thinking globally, acting locally. C. P. Heiser and Olivia Taylor Smith, two former staffers at the Los Angeles Review of Books, founded the press in 2014, drawing inspiration from the flourishing independent publishing scene in L.A.—and a sense that there was more work to do. “We saw that we could bring something different to the table, particularly through our initial focus on international voices and debut authors,” says Smith. Today the press publishes ten to twelve books each year, about half fiction and half nonfiction. Notable recent titles include Adam Popescu’s Nima (2019), in which a young Sherpa woman disguised as a man leads journalists to the foot of Mount Everest, and Man Booker Prize–winning translator Jennifer Croft’s memoir of sisterhood, Homesick (2019). Esmé Weijun Wang’s debut novel, The Border of Paradise (2016), remains a best-seller.

What does it take to curate such a dynamic, international list? “We travel a lot!” says Heiser. Favorite venues for connecting with new talent include the Dhaka Lit Fest in Bangladesh, the Frankfurt Book Fair, and the American Literary Translators Association’s annual conference. “We are a story-driven press that’s attracted to underrepresented or marginalized voices—not as a rule, but simply because, as editors, that’s what excites us,” says Heiser, pointing to Nima and The Border of Paradise as good examples. “Both explore important issues through some really surprising and refreshing points of view, which for lots of reasons bigger publishers found too challenging or risky.” Unnamed Press accepts queries and submissions via e-mail, and is open year-round.

Small Press Points: Acre Books

by

Staff

8.14.19

As the founding editor of the Cincinnati Review, Nicola Mason has a strong track record of spotting talented writers early in their careers. Under her leadership the review published the early work of fiction writers Caitlin Horrocks and Jamie Quatro and poets Jill Osier and Mai Der Vang. As Mason explained to Cincinnati magazine in June, after watching these writers and other contributors go on to win prestigious prizes and publish books, she thought, “We’re becoming talent scouts for everyone else; why can’t we become talent scouts for ourselves?”

So in 2017 Mason founded Acre Books, an imprint of the University of Cincinnati Press, where, along with poetry series editor Lisa Ampleman, she publishes two poetry collections, two novels, and two story collections each year. The press also welcomes hybrid forms. “I’ve always felt the boundaries separating genres and disciplines to be artificial,” says Mason. “Why shake one’s finger at innovation?” Mason also hopes to publish literary nonfiction but hasn’t yet found a book that’s the right fit. “I find a lot of creative nonfiction has an ‘all about me’ quality,” she says. “We want work that is grounded in self but that travels beyond it.” In October, Acre will publish Faylita Hicks’s poetry debut, HoodWitch, which Mason describes as “an absolute knockout full of power, pain, beauty, and magick.” Submissions in all genres are open via the press’s website; writers should include a brief description of the manuscript and ten sample pages. There is no reading fee.

 

 

Small Press Points: Cooper Dillon Books

by

Staff

6.12.19

A poem can exist in a specific cultural or emotional moment, but it can also sustain and be revisited over and over again,” says poet Adam Deutsch, the publisher of Cooper Dillon Books (www.cooperdillon.com), a ten-year-old press dedicated to “the values that make poetry timeless.” Deutsch and assistant editor Christine Bryant Cohen run the press from San Diego and Seattle, publishing one or two books a year. So far they have released six full-length poetry collections and eight chapbooks by writers such as Jill Alexander Essbaum, Melody S. Gee, and William Matthews.

Cooper Dillon’s most recent titles are Linda Dove’s chapbook Fearn (2019), a meditation on fear, and Mónica Gomery’s debut collection, Here Is the Night and the Night on the Road (2018), which Lillian-Yvonne Bertram says is “an exquisite study in the suddenness of numbered days and the radiant pain of living with love ‘tumbling forth.’” The press eschews contests and instead welcomes submissions year-round via Submittable with a $10 reading fee, which is waived if you purchase one of the press’s titles. Deutsch believes standard book-contest entry fees, typically $20 or $25, are too high and prefers the press to “remain open for when a writer feels that the time is right to submit.” He adds, “We see poetry as community, not competition.”

Small Press Points: BkMk Press

by

Staff

4.10.19

In the hardscrabble world of small presses, a ten-year anniversary is a major achievement, so BkMk Press, which is approaching its fiftieth, has much to celebrate. Founded in 1971 as an outlet for Midwestern writers, the press first published poetry chapbooks out of a local branch of the Johnson County Library in Kansas. Today BkMk’s office is located at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, where editor in chief Robert Stewart also oversees the press’s affiliated magazine, New Letters, and the radio show New Letters on the Air. BkMk annually releases about six full-length collections of poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction; it has published more than eighty titles by local, national, and international writers. “Book publishing continues to be dominated by the East Coast, but BkMk gives Missouri and the Midwest a seat at the publishing table,” says managing editor Ben Furnish. In July BkMk will publish Lorraine M. López’s story collection Postcards From the Gerund State, and in the fall it will release Beverly Burch’s poetry collection Latter Days of Eve and Jennifer Wisner Kelly’s story collection, Stone Skimmers. In honor of BkMk’s origins as a chapbook publisher, the editors plan to launch a chapbook competition in 2020. The press currently hosts two other annual contests: the John Ciardi Prize and the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize, given for a poetry collection and a story collection, respectively. Both competitions open on June 1 and include a $1,000 prize and publication. General submissions are open via Submittable and postal mail until June 30.

 

 

Small Press Points: Trembling Pillow Press

by

Staff

12.11.19

Poetry can change your life, and it doesn’t happen on the page; it happens in the rooms and places where poetry connects you to people who change how you are in the world,” says Megan Burns, publisher of Trembling Pillow Press in New Orleans. This sense of poetry as a means of community animates all of the press’s work. Trembling Pillow was established in the late nineties with an initial focus on making broadsides and occasional chapbooks but turned to producing full-length poetry books in 2006. Today Trembling Pillow publishes four or five poetry titles a year, about half of which are debut collections.

Burns approaches these editorial collaborations with first-time authors with particular care. “I am giving someone an experience that becomes the basis for future relationships in the writing world, and I want them to have a high bar,” she says, noting the years of devoted work that goes into a project before it ever reaches the press and a publisher’s obligation to treat a work with that same devotion. Trembling Pillow’s sensibility is eclectic—its titles vary from “feminist manifesto to punk rock memoir to collaborative eco-poetics to lyrical experimentation or rural horror manifestations”—but its poets share a willingness to take risks and to surprise. Among the press’s 2020 titles are Marty Cain’s The Wound Is (Not) Real: A Memoir, a hybrid text that mines the experiences of the author’s adolescence in Vermont; Erin M. Bertram’s It’s Not a Lonely World, about queerness and cancer; and Jenny Sadre-Orafai and Anne Champion’s Book of Levitations, a “modern-day poetic spell book.” Trembling Pillow is open for submissions year-round via Submittable; a $15 reading fee goes directly into producing more books and is waived in the month of December.

Small Press Points: Unnamed Press

by

Staff

10.9.19

Unnamed Press is an object lesson in thinking globally, acting locally. C. P. Heiser and Olivia Taylor Smith, two former staffers at the Los Angeles Review of Books, founded the press in 2014, drawing inspiration from the flourishing independent publishing scene in L.A.—and a sense that there was more work to do. “We saw that we could bring something different to the table, particularly through our initial focus on international voices and debut authors,” says Smith. Today the press publishes ten to twelve books each year, about half fiction and half nonfiction. Notable recent titles include Adam Popescu’s Nima (2019), in which a young Sherpa woman disguised as a man leads journalists to the foot of Mount Everest, and Man Booker Prize–winning translator Jennifer Croft’s memoir of sisterhood, Homesick (2019). Esmé Weijun Wang’s debut novel, The Border of Paradise (2016), remains a best-seller.

What does it take to curate such a dynamic, international list? “We travel a lot!” says Heiser. Favorite venues for connecting with new talent include the Dhaka Lit Fest in Bangladesh, the Frankfurt Book Fair, and the American Literary Translators Association’s annual conference. “We are a story-driven press that’s attracted to underrepresented or marginalized voices—not as a rule, but simply because, as editors, that’s what excites us,” says Heiser, pointing to Nima and The Border of Paradise as good examples. “Both explore important issues through some really surprising and refreshing points of view, which for lots of reasons bigger publishers found too challenging or risky.” Unnamed Press accepts queries and submissions via e-mail, and is open year-round.

Small Press Points: The Cupboard Pamphlet

by

Staff

2.12.20

Consider the Cupboard Pamphlet your source for misfit books. “The Cupboard Pamphlet was formed to address the lack of publishing venues for prose chapbooks that are formally strange or conceptually bizarre,” say editors Kelly Dulaney and Todd Seabrook. Founded in 2008 by Adam Peterson and Dave Madden, the press originally printed free, anonymous pamphlets and evolved to concentrate on single-authored chapbooks. “The first of these were tape-bound, designed to be inexpensive and mobile—pocketable,” say Seabrook and Dulaney. Today this feeling of experiment and nerve continues to guide the press as it publishes four prose chapbooks a year by authors including Chanelle Benz, Brian Evenson, and Courtney Maum. Most of these works are thirty to seventy pages in length, although Dulaney and Seabrook avoid placing strictures on submissions.

“We like works that provide play and surprise in terms of form, structure, and language in addition to a sense of emotional sincerity,” they say. Seabrook is based in Cleveland, and Dulaney in Denver; they collaborate via phone calls and e-mail. Dulaney relishes one-on-one work with authors, while Seabrook “enjoys the physicality of the chapbook—designing it, printing it, and seeing it develop on the page.” All of the titles produced by the Cupboard Pamphlet are selected through an annual online contest with a submission fee of $20; the 2020 contest will run March 1 through May 1. This year Cupboard will publish 2019 contest winner Lia Woodall’s Remove to Play, “a game-based, nonfiction work about the spaces left open in the wake of a suicide” as well as books by J. S. DeYoung and Thomas Israel Hopkins and a coauthored work by Kara Dorris and Gwendolyn Paradice.

Small Press Points: Trembling Pillow Press

by

Staff

12.11.19

Poetry can change your life, and it doesn’t happen on the page; it happens in the rooms and places where poetry connects you to people who change how you are in the world,” says Megan Burns, publisher of Trembling Pillow Press in New Orleans. This sense of poetry as a means of community animates all of the press’s work. Trembling Pillow was established in the late nineties with an initial focus on making broadsides and occasional chapbooks but turned to producing full-length poetry books in 2006. Today Trembling Pillow publishes four or five poetry titles a year, about half of which are debut collections.

Burns approaches these editorial collaborations with first-time authors with particular care. “I am giving someone an experience that becomes the basis for future relationships in the writing world, and I want them to have a high bar,” she says, noting the years of devoted work that goes into a project before it ever reaches the press and a publisher’s obligation to treat a work with that same devotion. Trembling Pillow’s sensibility is eclectic—its titles vary from “feminist manifesto to punk rock memoir to collaborative eco-poetics to lyrical experimentation or rural horror manifestations”—but its poets share a willingness to take risks and to surprise. Among the press’s 2020 titles are Marty Cain’s The Wound Is (Not) Real: A Memoir, a hybrid text that mines the experiences of the author’s adolescence in Vermont; Erin M. Bertram’s It’s Not a Lonely World, about queerness and cancer; and Jenny Sadre-Orafai and Anne Champion’s Book of Levitations, a “modern-day poetic spell book.” Trembling Pillow is open for submissions year-round via Submittable; a $15 reading fee goes directly into producing more books and is waived in the month of December.

Small Press Points: Dottir Press

by

Staff

4.8.20

Even though millions of books are published each year, many stories remain either silenced or mistold,” says Jennifer Baumgardner, founder of Dottir Press. A journalist and author for more than two decades, Baumgardner established the press in 2017 on the heels of her tenure as executive director of the Feminist Press, where she “discovered she liked the business side of books as much as she liked the writing side.” When Baumgardner saw that a politically charged children’s book she believed in might not find a home, she created Dottir Press to provide one. (That book, Anastasia Higginbotham’s Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness, is now a Dottir best-seller.) Located in New York City, the press publishes between six and eight works of fiction and nonfiction a year, including both adult and children’s titles. All are “books by feminists, for everyone,” as Dottir’s slogan declares.

“I believe in creating space for people to tell the truth about what has happened to them and to be vulnerable,” says Baumgardner. Forthcoming titles include transgender activist Cooper Lee Bombardier’s debut, Pass With Care (May 2020), a collection of autobiographical writings that explore masculinity, identity, and the body as systems habitually in flux; and Bett Williams’s memoir The Wild Kindness: A Psilocybin Odyssey (September 2020), which Baumgardner says is “funny and a real challenge to those who might colonize Indigenous knowledge of mushrooms.” The press is open for submissions by e-mail year-round. Baumgardner reads manuscripts with an eye for work that is politically engaged and will change its readers: “I love getting behind a book that truly could influence culture in positive ways.”

Small Press Points: The Cupboard Pamphlet

by

Staff

2.12.20

Consider the Cupboard Pamphlet your source for misfit books. “The Cupboard Pamphlet was formed to address the lack of publishing venues for prose chapbooks that are formally strange or conceptually bizarre,” say editors Kelly Dulaney and Todd Seabrook. Founded in 2008 by Adam Peterson and Dave Madden, the press originally printed free, anonymous pamphlets and evolved to concentrate on single-authored chapbooks. “The first of these were tape-bound, designed to be inexpensive and mobile—pocketable,” say Seabrook and Dulaney. Today this feeling of experiment and nerve continues to guide the press as it publishes four prose chapbooks a year by authors including Chanelle Benz, Brian Evenson, and Courtney Maum. Most of these works are thirty to seventy pages in length, although Dulaney and Seabrook avoid placing strictures on submissions.

“We like works that provide play and surprise in terms of form, structure, and language in addition to a sense of emotional sincerity,” they say. Seabrook is based in Cleveland, and Dulaney in Denver; they collaborate via phone calls and e-mail. Dulaney relishes one-on-one work with authors, while Seabrook “enjoys the physicality of the chapbook—designing it, printing it, and seeing it develop on the page.” All of the titles produced by the Cupboard Pamphlet are selected through an annual online contest with a submission fee of $20; the 2020 contest will run March 1 through May 1. This year Cupboard will publish 2019 contest winner Lia Woodall’s Remove to Play, “a game-based, nonfiction work about the spaces left open in the wake of a suicide” as well as books by J. S. DeYoung and Thomas Israel Hopkins and a coauthored work by Kara Dorris and Gwendolyn Paradice.

Small Press Points: A3 Press

I like to think that each chapbook is a journey,” says editor Shaun Levin of the immersive, imaginative volumes he publishes at the A3 Press. Founded in 2019 as an offshoot of the A3 Review and based in London and Madrid, the A3 Press produces between six and ten chapbooks each year, in a mix of prose, poetry, and art.

The press’s trademark is the unusual design of its chapbooks: Each is printed on a single sheet of paper that folds in the style of a map. “I like the fluidity that comes with the map fold, the sense of randomness and serendipity as you move through the chapbook,” says Levin. “You can move through the chapbook any way you want, start anywhere you want. It’s an adventure, a discovery.” Levin recently published poet Sara Eddy’s Tell the Bees, about “beekeeping and dealing with cancer,” and will release Elizabeth Briggs’s Made to Order and Mark Adams’s Peregrinus [Bede’s Walk] later this year. Submissions are open through October 1 via Submittable with a $20 reading fee, which goes toward production and paying the press’s authors. “Send us work that you feel only you could have written,” says Levin. “Deeply personal work that overshares and doesn’t hold back is particularly appealing to us.” 

Small Press Points: Dottir Press

by

Staff

4.8.20

Even though millions of books are published each year, many stories remain either silenced or mistold,” says Jennifer Baumgardner, founder of Dottir Press. A journalist and author for more than two decades, Baumgardner established the press in 2017 on the heels of her tenure as executive director of the Feminist Press, where she “discovered she liked the business side of books as much as she liked the writing side.” When Baumgardner saw that a politically charged children’s book she believed in might not find a home, she created Dottir Press to provide one. (That book, Anastasia Higginbotham’s Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness, is now a Dottir best-seller.) Located in New York City, the press publishes between six and eight works of fiction and nonfiction a year, including both adult and children’s titles. All are “books by feminists, for everyone,” as Dottir’s slogan declares.

“I believe in creating space for people to tell the truth about what has happened to them and to be vulnerable,” says Baumgardner. Forthcoming titles include transgender activist Cooper Lee Bombardier’s debut, Pass With Care (May 2020), a collection of autobiographical writings that explore masculinity, identity, and the body as systems habitually in flux; and Bett Williams’s memoir The Wild Kindness: A Psilocybin Odyssey (September 2020), which Baumgardner says is “funny and a real challenge to those who might colonize Indigenous knowledge of mushrooms.” The press is open for submissions by e-mail year-round. Baumgardner reads manuscripts with an eye for work that is politically engaged and will change its readers: “I love getting behind a book that truly could influence culture in positive ways.”

Small Press Points: Vegetarian Alcoholic Press

by

Staff

8.12.20

What makes a book a Vegetarian Alcoholic Press book? “Connectivity and transcendence,” says Freddy La Force, the editor behind the Milwaukee press. Inspired by the city’s vibrant poetry scene, La Force started Vegetarian Alcoholic Press in 2014. “The writers I found myself admiring didn’t have MFAs or literary connections,” says La Force, “and it seemed like there should be more outlets for their work.” More than sixty-five books later, he remains committed to seeking talent outside entrenched hierarchies. La Force prefers that writers forgo cover letters when sending work, and submitting is always free. “You wouldn’t charge someone to apply for a job, and writing is work,” he says. Vegetarian Alcoholic produces twelve books a year, primarily poetry as well as some fiction, drama, art, and comics. The press recently published travis tate’s Maiden, which La Force describes as “insanely cerebral, sexy poems serving common themes . . . through a very playful, loving, queer, Black lens.” And Kelsey Marie Harris’s collection Spit (Verb) in My Mouth, a “singular treasury of gorgeous foul-mouthed gospels,” was released in August. Submissions are open year-round via e-mail. “The name of the press seems to make people want to submit stuff that attempts to be edgy or abrasive for its own sake,” says La Force. “What I’m really looking for are new forms of expression and new concepts of beauty. I think the best way to uplift people, whether from a personal or revolutionary standpoint, is to instill infinite imagination. Send the work you love. The stuff you felt like you had to write, regardless of your confidence in it.”

Small Press Points: A3 Press

I like to think that each chapbook is a journey,” says editor Shaun Levin of the immersive, imaginative volumes he publishes at the A3 Press. Founded in 2019 as an offshoot of the A3 Review and based in London and Madrid, the A3 Press produces between six and ten chapbooks each year, in a mix of prose, poetry, and art.

The press’s trademark is the unusual design of its chapbooks: Each is printed on a single sheet of paper that folds in the style of a map. “I like the fluidity that comes with the map fold, the sense of randomness and serendipity as you move through the chapbook,” says Levin. “You can move through the chapbook any way you want, start anywhere you want. It’s an adventure, a discovery.” Levin recently published poet Sara Eddy’s Tell the Bees, about “beekeeping and dealing with cancer,” and will release Elizabeth Briggs’s Made to Order and Mark Adams’s Peregrinus [Bede’s Walk] later this year. Submissions are open through October 1 via Submittable with a $20 reading fee, which goes toward production and paying the press’s authors. “Send us work that you feel only you could have written,” says Levin. “Deeply personal work that overshares and doesn’t hold back is particularly appealing to us.” 

Small Press Points: FlowerSong Press

by

Staff

10.7.20

Edward Vidaurre, publisher and editor in chief of FlowerSong Press, describes the press’s authors as “an all-star team of healers” who are “not only invested in self but also community.” Founded in 2011 in McAllen, Texas, as VAO Publishing, FlowerSong “nurtures essential verse from, about, and through the borderlands,” championing writers from the United States, Latin America, and beyond. The press publishes poetry and prose, as well as titles for children and young adults in partnership with Juventud Press. New releases from FlowerSong include Dreaming With Mariposas by Sonia Gutiérrez, a magical bildungsroman in vignettes, and Luz at Midnight by Marisol Cortez, the “story of an ill-timed love that unfolds in the time of climate change.” Good Cop/Bad Cop, an anthology of art and writing responding to police brutality, is among the titles set for publication in 2021. An abiding commitment to both its readers and writers steers all facets of the press’s work. “The authors of FlowerSong know I push hard for them,” says Vidaurre. “For those who pick up a book from us, I want them to feel that these living words have been custom-made just for them in a beautiful book.” Vidaurre and his team also prioritize timely responses to submitters. “I read for the future of my community, my people that have been underrepresented,” says Vidaurre of seeking out new work for the press. “I want to read and say, ‘I see influences of Julio Cortázar, Allen Ginsberg, Miguel Hernández, Amiri Baraka, Gloria Anzaldúa,’ and then say, ‘But…this feels original, and there’s a truth here I haven’t read before.’” Submissions are open year-round through the press’s website.

Small Press Points: Vegetarian Alcoholic Press

by

Staff

8.12.20

What makes a book a Vegetarian Alcoholic Press book? “Connectivity and transcendence,” says Freddy La Force, the editor behind the Milwaukee press. Inspired by the city’s vibrant poetry scene, La Force started Vegetarian Alcoholic Press in 2014. “The writers I found myself admiring didn’t have MFAs or literary connections,” says La Force, “and it seemed like there should be more outlets for their work.” More than sixty-five books later, he remains committed to seeking talent outside entrenched hierarchies. La Force prefers that writers forgo cover letters when sending work, and submitting is always free. “You wouldn’t charge someone to apply for a job, and writing is work,” he says. Vegetarian Alcoholic produces twelve books a year, primarily poetry as well as some fiction, drama, art, and comics. The press recently published travis tate’s Maiden, which La Force describes as “insanely cerebral, sexy poems serving common themes . . . through a very playful, loving, queer, Black lens.” And Kelsey Marie Harris’s collection Spit (Verb) in My Mouth, a “singular treasury of gorgeous foul-mouthed gospels,” was released in August. Submissions are open year-round via e-mail. “The name of the press seems to make people want to submit stuff that attempts to be edgy or abrasive for its own sake,” says La Force. “What I’m really looking for are new forms of expression and new concepts of beauty. I think the best way to uplift people, whether from a personal or revolutionary standpoint, is to instill infinite imagination. Send the work you love. The stuff you felt like you had to write, regardless of your confidence in it.”

Small Press Points: Threadsuns

by

Staff

12.16.20

A new teaching press based at High Point University in North Carolina, Threadsuns draws its name and its vision from the title of a poem by Paul Celan. In the poem as translated by Pierre Joris, “Threadsuns” refers to “songs to sing beyond / mankind,” and it is to those songs that editor and publisher Michael Flatt hopes the press can offer a home. Flatt, who teaches creative writing at High Point, launched the press in early 2020 with the vision of providing student assistants with the kind of hands-on publishing experience that so inspired him as an MFA student—and that expanded his sense of global literature and the literary community. The press plans to publish three volumes a year, one each in the genres of poetry, prose, and work in translation.

“Our inclinations lean toward experimental work that maintains a connection to human experience,” says Flatt. Threadsuns released its first title, Brian Henry’s collection Permanent State, in October, and Ryoko Sekiguchi’s lyric essay The Present Voice, translated by Lindsay Turner, will follow. While getting Threadsuns off the ground amid the pandemic has been challenging, it has also underscored the press’s ambitions to engender connection and inspire a new generation of editors. “Permanent State, while not written during the pandemic, really speaks to the dynamics of power and powerlessness that one feels right now. The press itself is like that for me,” says Flatt. “I’m doing something, which is great, but also, you have to question what it actually does in the world. How can you make it more effective, more significant? And for me, that’s where the teaching comes in. If I can pass on this practice to others, teach them how to create community through publishing, then the project has some meaningful agency.” Threadsuns is open for submissions via e-mail year-round.

Small Press Points: FlowerSong Press

by

Staff

10.7.20

Edward Vidaurre, publisher and editor in chief of FlowerSong Press, describes the press’s authors as “an all-star team of healers” who are “not only invested in self but also community.” Founded in 2011 in McAllen, Texas, as VAO Publishing, FlowerSong “nurtures essential verse from, about, and through the borderlands,” championing writers from the United States, Latin America, and beyond. The press publishes poetry and prose, as well as titles for children and young adults in partnership with Juventud Press. New releases from FlowerSong include Dreaming With Mariposas by Sonia Gutiérrez, a magical bildungsroman in vignettes, and Luz at Midnight by Marisol Cortez, the “story of an ill-timed love that unfolds in the time of climate change.” Good Cop/Bad Cop, an anthology of art and writing responding to police brutality, is among the titles set for publication in 2021. An abiding commitment to both its readers and writers steers all facets of the press’s work. “The authors of FlowerSong know I push hard for them,” says Vidaurre. “For those who pick up a book from us, I want them to feel that these living words have been custom-made just for them in a beautiful book.” Vidaurre and his team also prioritize timely responses to submitters. “I read for the future of my community, my people that have been underrepresented,” says Vidaurre of seeking out new work for the press. “I want to read and say, ‘I see influences of Julio Cortázar, Allen Ginsberg, Miguel Hernández, Amiri Baraka, Gloria Anzaldúa,’ and then say, ‘But…this feels original, and there’s a truth here I haven’t read before.’” Submissions are open year-round through the press’s website.

Small Press Points: Clash Books

by

Staff

2.17.21

The titles of Clash Books are by turns Gothic and playful and nervy, but they all share one quality: They must be spellbinding. Based in Troy, New York, and founded as a media website that evolved into a book publisher in 2017, Clash Books issues about twenty titles a year, an eclectic mix of art books, poetry, nonfiction, and fiction—“really, anything that excites us,” say editor in chief Leza Cantoral and managing editor Christoph Paul. “A big mission is to challenge genre expectations as well as to bring together a diversity of voices.”

This year the press will release titles as varied as Aaron Carnes’s pop-criticism apologia In Defense of Ska and Kevin Sampsell’s collage and poetry book I Made an Accident, alongside literary fiction and “a novel about waterfall goddesses, a trans fairy tale young adult novella, lots of fun and dark poetry, and some quality literary horror,” say the editors. Paul says he knows he has found the next Clash book when reading a submission if he has that “feeling you get when you hear a new song that you have to listen to again right away.” He adds, “I know it’s the next book when the middle is as strong as the beginning.” Clash is open for submissions year-round via e-mail and does not charge a reading fee. 

Small Press Points: Threadsuns

by

Staff

12.16.20

A new teaching press based at High Point University in North Carolina, Threadsuns draws its name and its vision from the title of a poem by Paul Celan. In the poem as translated by Pierre Joris, “Threadsuns” refers to “songs to sing beyond / mankind,” and it is to those songs that editor and publisher Michael Flatt hopes the press can offer a home. Flatt, who teaches creative writing at High Point, launched the press in early 2020 with the vision of providing student assistants with the kind of hands-on publishing experience that so inspired him as an MFA student—and that expanded his sense of global literature and the literary community. The press plans to publish three volumes a year, one each in the genres of poetry, prose, and work in translation.

“Our inclinations lean toward experimental work that maintains a connection to human experience,” says Flatt. Threadsuns released its first title, Brian Henry’s collection Permanent State, in October, and Ryoko Sekiguchi’s lyric essay The Present Voice, translated by Lindsay Turner, will follow. While getting Threadsuns off the ground amid the pandemic has been challenging, it has also underscored the press’s ambitions to engender connection and inspire a new generation of editors. “Permanent State, while not written during the pandemic, really speaks to the dynamics of power and powerlessness that one feels right now. The press itself is like that for me,” says Flatt. “I’m doing something, which is great, but also, you have to question what it actually does in the world. How can you make it more effective, more significant? And for me, that’s where the teaching comes in. If I can pass on this practice to others, teach them how to create community through publishing, then the project has some meaningful agency.” Threadsuns is open for submissions via e-mail year-round.

Resistance and Reclamation: Three Poets Revise the Narrative of Transracial, Transnational Adoption

by

Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Ansley Moon, and Tiana Nobile

10.13.21

In late 2016, adoptee poet and Kundiman fellow Leah Silvieus initiated a research project about the ways in which emerging adoptee poets contend with identity, loss, culture, and family in their work. She sent a query through the Kundiman network, looking for Asian American adoptees who would be interested in participating, and the three of us—Tiana Nobile, Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, and Ansley Moon—eagerly responded. 

To be in community with not only fellow transracial, transnational, Asian American adoptees, but also poets was incredibly meaningful. We quickly realized that navigating the world as transracial, transnational adoptees and sharing a deep affinity with language in turn made our relationships with one another particularly affirming. This initial meeting led to us forming an adoptee book club. Marci had just read Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere (Penguin Press, 2017) and wanted to talk about the book’s adoption narrative. From there we read more books written by both adoptees and non-adoptees, all featuring prominent adoptee characters. We began to notice recurring tropes that reflected problematic understandings of the adoptee experience, including the white savior and the insistence on reunification as a solution to all problems. In reading, processing, and critiquing in conversation together, we have been able to develop a unique analysis of these narratives, grounded in our own adoptee experience. It is an analysis and perspective that we think is too often excluded from mainstream literary discourse.

In 2019 the three of us presented a panel at the New Orleans Poetry Festival about our book club and the significance of building community and finding kinship among fellow adoptees of color. Poet, friend, and Kundiman executive director Cathy Linh Che attended the conference and stayed with Tiana. The night after the panel, over crawfish and sangria, she asked if we had thought about starting a collective. At that point it hadn’t crossed our minds, though we were already functioning like one. Cathy insisted that we should, that our voices and stories mattered. Her encouragement was the push we needed to make it official.

Since that panel, we have continued to meet and support one another’s work. Most recently, in April 2021, we celebrated the publication of Tiana Nobile’s debut poetry collection, Cleave, at a reading hosted by Kundiman that featured a lineup of luminary adoptee writers, including Silvieus, Sun Yung Shin, and Matthew Salesses. Now we are thrilled to announce the launch of our adoptee and artist collective, the Starlings Collective, with a mission to honor the experiences and elevate the work of African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American (ALAANA) adoptee writers and artists through public events, workshops, and more. Adoption is a global phenomenon that is informed by the intersections of multiple systems of power, including white supremacy, sexism, ableism, war, and colonialism. Erasure and displacement are inherent in adoption stories, and there is no singular adoptee narrative. We aim to elevate and deepen the breadth of adoptee narratives. By interrogating the ways in which mainstream adoptee narratives reflect broader understandings of adoptee identity and shape policy, we consider the consequences such depictions have on social and political institutions. 

We inhabit different corners of the world: Brooklyn, New York; New Orleans; and Miami. Over the course of the summer of 2021—with some help from Zoom and Google Docs—we met and discussed questions we posed to ourselves about writing, survival, and community. 

 

Arrivals for adoptees are complicated. However you’d like to reply, how did you arrive?
Nobile: I arrived on a plane. I arrived in the arms of a stranger. I arrived when I was six months old mysteriously dressed in multiple layers of clothes, several onesies fitted to my tiny body. I arrived at JFK’s International Terminal in Queens, New York, via Seoul, via Daejeon, South Korea. Twenty-one years later, I arrived in New Orleans in a red 2005 Mazda Tribute. I arrived to this friendship after years of flailing, of searching for mooring without an anchor. I arrive to this conversation with an open heart and a belly full of gratitude.

Cancio-Bello: Tiana, your response makes me think of your poem “Revisionist History.” I arrived in the world long before I arrived in America. Though I do not know my own origin story, I did not begin in an airport, so I must constantly revise what I imagine my earliest arrivals to be. In this way I am always arriving. In some ways, too, I am perpetually departing.

Moon: I arrived as a question. A daughter departed. Armful of bangles and a white dress. I’ve been thinking about how the word arrive comes from the French word arriver, meaning to reach the end of a long journey. Like you, Marci, I am always arriving and departing. Writing, too, feels like a series of arrivals and departures. 

In a March 2021 op-ed in Time, prolific writer and adoptee Nicole Chung wrote, “I lived every day from the age of 7, when I heard my first slur from a classmate, understanding that my Korean face made me hypervisible where we lived—and that it could also make me a target.” What is your earliest memory of race? 
Nobile: Like Nicole, my earliest memories of experiencing racism took place at school. In first grade, a boy with hair so blond it was almost white and a face full of freckles ching-chonged at me over the bus seats. It was then that I realized people perceived my body differently than the rest of my family. I went home and told my mother, who told his mother, who made him apologize. 

He was also very young, and I remember when he apologized, he had a confused look on his face. Now, having spent over a decade working with children, I doubt that he knew why what he said was harmful and was most likely parroting something he had heard directed at bodies that looked like mine. Also being six years old, I don’t think I knew why it hurt me, either; it just did. Regardless, he intuitively knew it was a way to hold something over me, to humiliate and assert power. For me, the moment imprinted, and my body began to harden.

That was my first overt experience with being racialized; however, in retrospect, there are earlier memories, like my family calling my likewise-adopted brother “Buddha boy.” When I learned the word microaggression in college, I realized I had been collecting them for years in my memory’s arsenal, without any space to release or process. I was a tightly wound ball of anxiety and self-loathing, which made me an easy target.

Moon: Tiana, your early experiences resonate so deeply with me, as does your comment about holding and processing these racist encounters solo. I’m so sorry that this happened, and I wish that I could have been on that bus with you. 

In many ways I find this question the hardest to answer because growing up, in my adoptive family, I was the only nonwhite person. It was a lonely place, especially because I felt so profoundly different, and no one else in my family experienced the world like I did. 

When we moved from a suburb of Atlanta to the North Georgia area, I remember how being different turned dangerous. I went from being around other nonwhite children to being one of only a few nonwhite people around. Small children would gape and point at my brown body. Strangers would stop and interrogate me: “What are you?” A white boy told me I smelled because I was brown and dirty; meanwhile, his friend would drag his finger slowly across his throat and laugh each time he saw me. 

One day, when my family and I were out grocery shopping, we saw the KKK march in our town. My mother was forced to pull over, and she quickly instructed me to hide in the back seat. My body, it seemed, was always a target, always in jeopardy. Another time I recall being tied to a pole and abandoned by three white boys who I thought were my friends. As the bell rang, several classes let out to find me screaming. I remember a white teacher telling me it was my fault. What saddens me most about these experiences is that I navigated them alone because I did not  know how to share them with my family. 

Cancio-Bello: Ansley and Tiana, I’m so sorry you had to go through these horrible experiences alone. I wish I could have been there with you both. I don’t remember a time when I was not hyperaware of being racialized, though I grew up extremely isolated. As homeschooled kids in an Appalachian hamlet, my brother and I were the only nonwhite people for miles. We did not even interact with other children our age, except in monthly church gatherings, though I remember being locked in a church nursery by some older girls who told me to wait until my “real parents” came back for their “Asian princess.” 

My adoptive parents were obsessed with Asian culture and often spoke of me and to me in the language of commodity. In my earliest memories my adoptive mother exoticized my “china doll lips” to strangers who asked “what” I was. They told me several times that they had wanted to adopt from China, but by the time they had saved enough money, it was much easier to get babies from South Korea. In a house where being noticed was dangerous, I always felt like a target to my own adoptive parents. I don’t think their racialization was conscious, but when in recent years I’ve tried to have conversations about race with them, they said it hadn’t occured to them that I might have experienced racism and were not interested in talking about it.

As adoptees it might be useful to separate racism from loved ones and racism from strangers. They are different forms of pain in which a racialized experience is compounded by the ignorance and indifference of loved ones who look like the initial perpetrators. For example, in the early months of the pandemic, friends and family spoke incredulously about the violent hate crimes against Asian Americans, only to be surprised that I didn’t leave the house for four months. I was not, in their minds, Asian—or at least Asian enough—to be in danger. This makes me wonder what your experiences with racial violence have been as adults, both before and then during the pandemic.

Moon: Marci, I appreciate this question. I, too, have had similar conversations with family members when I asserted that they see me as a queer South Asian person. Why is it that others are so threatened by our bodies, our existence? Violence against my body isn’t new. I am reminded how radical it is to write, to exist. 

To answer the last part of your question, I feel very fortunate that I was able to work remotely for most of the pandemic. However, as the world pushes to “reopen,” what can we do to keep each other safe? 

Nobile: Ansley, it makes me so sad to hear about your early experiences growing up in North Georgia. That your body was ever treated with anything less than care infuriates me, and I, too, wish I had been there for you on the playground. My experiences with violence have often been tied to the sexual objectification of my body. I’ve had my vagina grabbed while walking down the street. Another time, a group of teenage boys yelled “Chinese pussy!” out of their car windows before cackling and speeding off. I have so many stories like this. My experience with the exoticization of the Asian body preceded my knowing there was a word for it. During the pandemic I didn’t expect to feel so comforted by the quiet safety of being tucked in my home. I’m incredibly fortunate to have been able to stay home during such a tumultuous time, but your question, Marci, makes me think about what else we might need to seek refuge from, particularly with the rise in anti-Asian violence over the last year and a half.

As an adoptee, what does it mean to survive? To write?
Cancio-Bello: Tiana, your book actually addresses a lot of what it means for adoptees to survive in many versions of that word. Speaking of microaggressions from loved ones, so much is revealed in the title and first line of your poem “Did you know”: “my sister was Fed-Exed from Korea?” Personal documentation shifts in the second part to adoptees in the news. How many people know of the Vietnamese babies lost in 1975 when the first plane crashed in “Operation Babylift,” as described so heartbreakingly in your poem of the same name? And your poem “The Last Straw” guts me every time, with its epigraph: “U.S. woman put adopted Russian son on one-way flight alone back to homeland. —NY Post headline, 9 April 2010.” I read an early version of your manuscript around the time news circulated of YouTube celebs Myka and James Stauffer “rehoming” their adopted son, Huxley, and I wondered if, given another year or two, what other poems you might have written and added to Cleave. 

While many of us have survived into adulthood in the most literal sense, I wonder how much of ourselves has survived intact along the way. Adoptee activists have pointed out how similar the adoption industry is to human trafficking. Children are still being bought, kidnapped, or tricked from their families. Adult adoptees have been deported because their adoptive families did not or would not finalize their naturalization paperwork. There is still somehow opposition to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 and the Adoptee Citizenship Acts of 2019 and 2021. We are too often expected to feel “grateful” (read also: subservient, controllable) for being told we are secondhand and second-choice. It is no wonder adoptees are four times more likely to commit suicide than non-adoptees. 

What then can survival really look like for adoptees? My poet-sister E. J. Koh has a stunning essay in Catapult in which she says, “If there was value in any life on earth, then value must be present in mine. If I believed in this one thing, I could write freely. I learned to know my life as valuable.” Anger helped me to survive. Writing has taught me how to love and see my life as valuable.

In his revolutionary book Craft in the Real World, fellow adoptee Matthew Salesses speaks of writing as power. He writes, “What we call craft is in fact nothing more or less than a set of expectations. … How we engage with craft expectations is what we can control as writers. … These expectations are never neutral.” These days I contemplate how writing is both resistance and reclamation. There are so many stories America has tried to hide from us, our own included, but we cannot be stopped from finding them, or from telling our own. How else do we survive, except through stories? 

Nobile: Marci, I think you make such an important point about the difference between surviving and thriving. Sure, many of us are technically still here, but how do we account for what was lost along the way? I carry so much rage because of the circumstances that brought me here, more precisely the long history of American occupation and military intervention that resulted in the destabilization of innumerable countries, many of which continue to suffer to this day. People like to consider South Korea a success story, but this telling entirely erases the separation of countless families when the DMZ line was drawn; it erases the lives that were lost as a result of the American war machine; it erases the hundreds of thousands of children who have since been taken away and adopted and their biological families who also suffered the consequences.

I write because I must. Because it’s the only way I know how to make sense of my rage and grief. Because I spent the first half of my life in silence, afraid of the sound of my own voice. Because I won’t be silent anymore. Because writing is a road toward healing. Because we deserve to heal and thrive.

Moon: I love both of your answers here. 

Each day I am still learning what it means to survive, what it means to live in a body ravaged by illness. When I first came to the United States, I was so sick the doctors thought I would not live to see my second birthday. I am hurtling toward death, but for now I am still alive. I write because I was never meant to survive. I write because my adoption was a form of disappearance—and yet here I am. I write because, as Audre Lorde wrote, “…there are so many silences to be broken.” 

What might you want to say about adoptee representation in media? 
Nobile:
Time and time again we see adoptees inserted into narratives in ways that deny us a full and complex expression of self. So often characters are made into adoptees because it’s seen as an easy way to increase diversity and seem inclusive, and yet they ignore the ramifications of such a specific choice. I’m thinking of the A Wrinkle in Time movie that came out a few years ago. In the movie’s climax, the dad prioritizes saving his biological daughter and abandons his adopted son. Though the daughter ultimately returns to rescue her brother, the family never reckons with this choice and its consequences. Adopted kids have so few positive visible representations of themselves in film, TV, media, and literature, and this scene reinforces many adoptees’ deep fear of expendability. I’m also thinking of the new Netflix show The Chair. Of course, [the adopted character] Ju Ju is very cute, but her behavior is disregarded, and her antics are seen as comic relief. Matthew Salesses recently tweeted, “Characters are always going to be taking into account and [sic] race and gender because they’re a part of every interaction, but adoption isn’t. You can’t just add an adopted character without actually engaging with the ethics of adoption.” Making a character an adoptee completely shifts their position, and this needs to be considered when including adopted characters. We are not your token BIPOC.

Cancio-Bello: Absolutely! Tiana, you said it so beautifully, that we are denied “a full and complex expression of self.” Adoption often seems like an “easy” way to give a character a traumatic backstory or explain negative behavior. Consider the differences between Superman’s  and Loki’s backstories. The Chair resonated with a lot of people familiar with academia, and I love Sandra Oh, but I wonder what are the implications of Ju Ju’s first mother being Mexican, or that Bill, the white cis male love interest, is the only one who connects with Ju Ju, over a Mexican tradition, no less. While stories about blended families often include a character saying, “I would never want to replace your [parent],” the expectation is that adoptees’ first parents are utterly expendable (and unqualified) and that adoptees should be blank slates who accept parental swap-outs without a fuss. I do not mean that all adoptees are unhappy with their adoptive families, or that finding one’s first parents is unimportant, but these cannot be the only narratives we see. It was considered a huge breakthrough when Modern Family introduced Lily, a Vietnamese baby adopted by Mitchell and Cameron, and it remains one of the few inclusive LGBTQIA+ story lines I’ve seen, but even then the nuances aren’t always addressed. Adoption is complicated for all parties involved, and very few representations understand all the ethical complexities of including such narratives. Add transnational, transracial adoption into the mix and it gets even harder. This is why there cannot and should not be one representative narrative. Adoptees are not a monolith. We do not all come from the same places, we do not have the same histories and personalities, we do not want the same things in life—except perhaps to see ourselves. 

Moon: Yes, Tiana and Marci! 

What Asian American poets and/or adoptee poets have affected your writing?
Cancio-Bello: I do not have the privilege of going home to people who look like me. I have had to conscientiously educate myself on what it means to move through the world as an Asian American woman, to reclaim access to lullabies and histories of people who look like me. I have spent my whole life seeing terrible representations of adoptees and orphans in mainstream media and being told we are undesirable. I think of the first Asian American poets I read—Li-Young Lee and Aimee Nezhukumatathil—and how they astonished me and opened doors of possibility. This is how I began to love my Asian-ness. 

I remember Marilyn Chin, at my first Kundiman retreat, encouraging me to write about adoption (or else she would haunt me forever, she said); Lee Herrick, one of the first to recognize me as a fellow adoptee; Sun Yung Shin telling me she could count on one hand the number of AAPI adoptee poets in her generation; Jennifer Kwon Dobbs hugging me after a reading and calling me sister; Nicole Chung’s memoir, All You Can Ever Know, gaining attention worldwide. Reading Don Mee Choi’s poems and translations felt like I’d found home for the first time, and I treasure her friendship fiercely. Leah Silvieus’s Arabilis; Ansley, your book, How to Bury the Dead; and Tiana, your book, Cleave, each speak to the adoptee experience in different ways I’d never seen represented before and that resonate deep within me. I am also seeing a new wave of high school and college adoptee writers beginning to rise. It seems that wherever I go, we find each other. This is a beautiful community that I never knew existed, and yet see how we rise together.

Nobile: In the 1980s and 1990s, white parents adopting children of color were told that color-blind assimilation was the best way to integrate us into the family. While I like to think that this decision was not made maliciously, it ultimately denied us the exploration and expression of a huge part of our identities. My family had no idea what it meant to be a Korean kid growing up in a predominantly white Long Island suburb, and I had no support system in place to help me figure it out. Like you, Marci, I’ve had to learn how to navigate the world as an Asian American woman without guidance or a road map. 

I remember discovering Sun Yung Shin’s Skirt Full of Black when I was in my early twenties. I had never met a Korean American adult adoptee and couldn’t even fathom one who also wrote poetry. I never could have imagined that years later, I would call Sun Yung a dear friend. Later I found Lee Herrick, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Nicole Chung, Matthew Salesses—all brilliant writers who are doing such important work to center adoptees’ voices and perspectives and shift prevailing notions around adoption. For too long, adoptive families and agencies have engineered and controlled the narrative, which is often grounded in religious savior complexes. By not being the tellers of our own stories, our existences become flattened and our bodies objectified. Adoptee writers are deepening and expanding understandings of the adoptee experience, which is complex and specific and far from a monolith. For me it’s profoundly special to see glimmers of my own experience in other people’s work. It’s a tacit understanding and closeness that isn’t replicable. I feel this most deeply when I read work by other transracial adoptees and by being in conversation and community with our collective.

Moon: As both of you experienced, representation was limited for me growing up. I longed for a mirror. I longed to see someone who resembled me in some way. I wish that I could have had your books, Tiana and Marci, growing up. Two adoptee writers who I first encountered were Sun Yung Shin and Jane Jeong Trenka. Saroo Brierley’s book A Long Way Home was one of the few South Asian adoptee narratives I read, and the intense longing and sadness gutted me. I began making a list of Asian American writers I deeply admire, but the list got too long! 

What has been inspiring you lately? Or what’s a poem or piece of writing you keep returning to, and why?

Moon: I have been especially into reading memoirs lately. I love nonfiction and the way that my favorite nonfiction writing echoes poetry and haunts. Akwaeke Emezi’s Dear Senthuran took my breath away. I also loved Antiman by Rajiv Mohabir and Fairest by Meredith Talusan. I was excited to participate in the Sealey Challenge, poet Nicole Sealey’s invitation to read a book of poetry a day for the month of August. On deck this month are Sahar Muradi’s Ask Hafiz; Guillotine by Eduardo C. Corral; Muriel Leung’s Imagine Us, the Swarm; Borderland Apocrypha by Anthony Cody; and Upend by Claire Meuschke.

Nobile: At a time when the pandemic is far from over, and I feel my world beginning to close back in again, I’ve been reconvening with old friends in other ways. Matthew Olzmann’s poem in the New York Times, “Letter to a Bridge Made of Rope,” was a welcome salve amid rising COVID numbers and subsequent anxiety. I’m rereading Macnolia by A. Van Jordan and remembering the deep breadth of it and continue to be impressed by how much a poet can accomplish in a single book. I also just reread Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities as a reminder and lesson to myself on how to imbue humor and tender vulnerability in my work. I’m honored to have my shelves (and browser!) filled with my friends’ words—poems I can turn to for inspiration and solace and to feel a little less lonely.

Cancio-Bello: I have been spending a lot of time with Joy Harjo’s poem “For Calling the Spirit Back From Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet,” which starts with “Put down that bag of potato chips” and ends with “Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.” Rather than expecting others to make conditions right and hold open doors for us, we can open them ourselves, call our spirits home, and invite others to step through with us. 

 

Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello is the author of Hour of the Ox (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016), which won the Donald Hall Prize, and co-translator of The World’s Lightest Motorcycle (Zephyr Press, 2021) by Korean poet Yi Won. She has received fellowships from Kundiman, the Knight Foundation, and the American Literary Translators Association. Her work has appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Orion, the New York Times, and elsewhere. She serves as a program coordinator for the Miami Book Fair. Her website is marcicalabretta.com.

Ansley Moon is the author of the poetry collection How to Bury the Dead (Black Coffee Press, 2011). Moon is the recipient of fellowships and awards from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Kundiman, and the Mae Fellowship and is currently working on a second poetry collection, Register the Missing, which has been a finalist for the Pleiades Press Editors Prize and the Slope Editions Book Prize. Moon’s website is ansleymoon.com.

Tiana Nobile is the author of Cleave (Hub City Press, 2021). She is a Korean American adoptee, Kundiman fellow, and recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award. Nobile was a finalist for the National Poetry Series and Kundiman Poetry Prize, and her writing has appeared in Poetry Northwest, the New Republic, Guernica, and Southern Cultures, and elsewhere. She lives in Bulbancha, also known as New Orleans. Her website is tiananobile.com.

Catapult Launches More Than Books

by

Jonathan Vatner

10.14.15

Considering the number of steps it takes for writers to turn their work into a published book, it’s no wonder that the literary world is partitioned into so many components: workshops for writers to hone their craft, literary magazines for emerging writers to share their first pieces, and both indie and mainstream presses for new and established authors to publish their books. Catapult, a new literary venture launched in September and led by a team of industry veterans—with significant financial backing—offers all of the above.

“Catapult conceptually mirrors the ecosystem in which writers and creatives exist right now,” says Andy Hunter, Catapult’s publisher and the cofounder of the popular website and digital publisher Electric Literature. The new operation, headquartered in New York City with a satellite office in Portland, Oregon, evolved out of the independent press Black Balloon Publishing, which was established in 2010 by Elizabeth Koch and Leigh Newman. Koch—Catapult CEO and daughter of billionaire conservative industrialist Charles Koch—provided the seed funding for the company, which is operating on a budget in the high six figures. “Since the inception of Black Balloon, part of the vision was always to create a mechanism for writers to find one another, support one another, and share their work,” says Koch. “Both Catapult and Black Balloon sprang from a deep-seated belief that a well-told story can be an accidental training ground for empathy, for expanding our minds and developing personally.”

Koch enlisted Hunter, who then recruited industry veteran Pat Strachan to take the role of editor in chief. Strachan has worked as an editor at the New Yorker; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; and Little, Brown, and is known for acquiring Marilynne Robinson’s debut novel, Housekeeping, as well as books by Tom Wolfe, Lydia Davis, and Seamus Heaney. Meanwhile, Newman has been named the company’s editor-at-large.

Catapult’s editorial focus will be broader than that of Black Balloon (which will continue to publish more experimental books as an imprint of Catapult), with twelve titles published in both print and e-book format each year. Strachan says Catapult is seeking “American and international fiction and narrative nonfiction that is alive, insightful, illuminating, stirring, and surprising by way of unique voices—whether emerging or established—who honor the craft of writing.” The press will open its doors to unagented submissions every April and October, and released its first titles this fall: Padgett Powell’s short story collection Cries for Help, Various, in September; and Gavin McCrea’s debut novel, Mrs. Engels, in October.

The company’s website (catapult.co), meanwhile, publishes original short fiction and nonfiction that complements the press’s editorial focus. Web editor in chief Yuka Igarashi and associate web editor Mensah Demary say they are more concerned with a compelling story than genre distinctions. “We’re thinking about stories very widely,” says Igarashi, the former managing editor of Granta. “Hopefully that includes graphic pieces and stories told in multimedia.” Catapult also publishes pieces with original art by its in-house illustrator, Tallulah Pomeroy; recent works have included Nao-cola Yamazaki’s story in translation about amoebas, “False Geneology,” and Joy Williams’s story about a daughter visiting a nursing home, “Cats and Dogs.” Submissions for the website are open year-round, and contributors are paid for their work.

The Catapult website also hosts a Community section, which allows writers to self-publish stories and comment on one another’s work. Readers can promote pieces they like, and the web editors will choose their favorite pieces, which will then be published on the curated site; those writers selected will be compensated for their work. With this type of community engagement, Hunter hopes the site will eventually attract a million unique visitors a month (by comparison, Electric Literature attracts three million unique visitors a year)—an audience that will help build and sustain a readership for Catapult’s books.

In addition to its publishing platforms, Catapult offers a robust series of writing classes in New York City. The program offers six-week workshops (limited to six students each), as well as daylong publishing and writing boot camps, taught by both established and emerging writers such as Mary Gaitskill and Julia Pierpont. While the Catapult team doesn’t have plans to host courses outside of New York City, it will offer online courses starting in 2016.

With such a comprehensive array of publishing and educational efforts, Hunter believes the new endeavor could eventually become its own publishing ecosystem. In other words, beginning writers might take a Catapult class to learn craft and find readers, then publish a piece on the community site, and then be chosen for the curated site. And finally, Hunter hopes, some Catapult writers might even publish a book through the press. “Nothing that we do hasn’t been done before,” Hunter says, “but we’re the only ones who are doing all of it together in exactly this way.” Koch agrees. “This multiarmed structure—that’s our Catapult. It’s our flywheel, generating its own growth and momentum as it blurs traditional boundaries—between student and teacher, established author and up-and-comer, publisher and audience.”                 

Jonathan Vatner is a fiction writer in Brooklyn, New York. He is the staff writer for Hue, the magazine of the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Correction
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that many staff members of Black Balloon Publishing have joined the Catapult staff. No former Black Balloon staff members currently work at Catapult.

Literary MagNet: Aurielle Marie

by

Dana Isokawa

8.18.21

In the past few years Aurielle Marie (they/she) says the manuscript that became their debut poetry collection, Gumbo Ya Ya (University of Pittsburgh Press, September 2021), grew more “wildly audacious.” After walking away from a book deal that didn’t serve her, she “stopped editing out all these queer or strange or subversive poetic moves.” The final collection, which went on to win the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, is a swirl of texts and voices, with visually inventive typography and poems, some featuring words cascading down the page, layered on top of one another, or pushing beyond the margins. The book subverts and refuses form—“there ain’t / no word to call this what it is,” writes Marie—showing that there is no single shape to the stories of Black queer femmes, no single mode of loving and supporting Black and Brown communities.

Upon encountering the poetry journal BOAAT, Marie was “enthralled by how so many poems incorporated play, how even its most serious of poems had lightness running through.” At the time, Marie—a writer and former organizer—was traveling between Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City, “writing a lot of really heavy, really hard poems about police violence—necessary poems.” She challenged herself, though, to write a poem for the online publication. “BOAAT was the prompt,” they say, “and it actually worked.” The editors published her poem titled “Like a Freedom Too Strange to Be Conquered,” which, as Marie says, “explores queerness in the South and the fear and desperation you feel” and incorporates elements of serious play (“i / swear, I wanna / play dead on the black top”). A recent issue of BOAAT, helmed by poetry editor Aria Aber, featured Carlina Duan, Hazem Fahmy, and Keetje Kuipers, among others. Journal submissions are currently closed.

Marie struggled to place two poems—one about police brutality and oral sex, another that criticizes Walt Whitman—until finding a home for them with TriQuarterly, where the editors supported the work with integrity and care, “working around the clock to make sure my funky line things looked good,” Marie says. “Their appreciation of the poem and the poet were the same. It never felt transactional; it always felt like collaborating on putting a poem out into the world.” Edited primarily by current and former students of Northwestern University’s creative writing graduate programs, the biannual recently released its Summer/Fall 2021 issue, which focuses on Black voices and includes pieces by Marie, Kemi Alabi, Cornelius Eady, Porsha Olayiwola, and Phillip B. Williams. The journal will accept submissions in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in October. Submissions of videos, interviews, and craft essays are open year-round. “It is always so cool to see, say, Kayleb Rae Candrilli write alongside poets like Tracy K. Smith and Jericho Brown,” says Marie of TriQuarterly. “It always feels like a place where you open up an issue and anything’s possible.”

Poet Julian Randall, a previous winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, encouraged Marie to add the Southeast Review to her submission rotation. She followed that advice and in 2019 placed as a finalist in one of the journal’s four annual contests, the Gearhart Poetry Contest; Marie was delighted that judge Nabila Lovelace selected for publication her poem “& not by sight,” which Marie calls “a little squid of a poem—weirdly shaped, gangly, and squirmy with too many visual images and so many strange words put together.” Housed at Florida State University’s English department, Southeast Review features poetry, prose, and art. The biannual appears in print and online, and the editors also regularly publish interviews, craft talks, and reviews on the site. Submissions are open year-round.

“As someone submitting work, it’s kind of your job—especially if you don’t have unlimited financial resources—to see who’s reading and who they publish,” Marie says. “Can they hold the nuances of the work? Do I think they might understand what I’m trying to do, do I think they’ll value it beyond understanding it?” This series of questions led Marie to enter the 2019 Emerging Writer’s Contest run by print quarterly Ploughshares. They submitted because they connected with the sensibilities and work of judge Fatimah Asghar, who later selected Marie as the poetry winner. Published since 1971 and housed at Emerson College in Boston, Ploughshares released a blockbuster Summer 2021 issue celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. Guest edited by Aimee Bender, the issue brings together fiction by Rumaan Alam and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah with nonfiction by Marilyn Abildskov and Nafis Shafizadeh, among other pieces. The magazine publishes both poetry and prose, and submissions in all genres are open.

Marie advises other writers looking to publish work to not take “every rejection as a personal value metric” and says that “consistency and audacity work together to make magic happen.” They also pass along advice from Danez Smith: “The best writers are the best readers.” As for journals, Marie notes the excitement and honor of being published and also says, “I have a desire for every literary journal to govern themselves with intentionality and integrity around marginalized voices particularly.” They add, “Every journal could do better. There is no perfect praxis.”

 

Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Aurielle Marie.

Literary MagNet: M. Leona Godin

by

Dana Isokawa

6.16.21

The beginnings of M. Leona Godin’s new book, There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness (Pantheon, June 2021), trace back to a class on Milton that she took as an undergraduate. Since then, Godin’s experiences as a scholar, writer, and performer have, as she says, “widened and elongated the scope” of her rich and probing book, which draws on the stories of Milton, but also of Louis Braille, Helen Keller, and the author’s blind friends, among others. “The book wrestles with ideas and biases that make being blind in an ocularcentric world more difficult than it ought to be,” says Godin. “I hope it can help to dismantle the inspiration-porn tendency to hold one blind person up above the rest and begin the exciting work of celebrating blind culture with an eye to creating blind pride.”

The book deal for There Plant Eyes stemmed, in part, from Godin’s work with Catapult, which, as Godin puts it, “did exactly what its name suggests.” In 2018 she began writing the column A Blind Writer’s Notebook for the online platform, and after the first installment came out, editor Wah-Ming Chang—who met Godin at a Catapult workshop—connected Godin with her now agent, Markus Hoffmann. Godin’s columns, including those about her experience learning Braille and how blind people are often denied their sexuality, informed There Plant Eyes. The magazine regularly publishes narrative nonfiction, stories, and poems and in April, in collaboration with Catapult’s classes program, launched Don’t Write Alone, a vertical that focuses on the craft and business side of writing and publishing. Submissions are currently closed.

Godin started sending out her work to journals in 2014. “When I first began submitting my writing,” she says, “I had no idea what I was doing or what I was getting into.” After writing a stage production about the invention of Braille, she decided to send an adaptation of a monologue to Newtown Literary, a print biannual that publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by writers with a connection to Queens, New York. “I think I sent it in using some ridiculous font, and I received a very bland rejection,” she recalls. “Months later, and I’d done my homework as to how to format submissions and craft nice cover letters. My next submission was accepted, and later I did some reviewing for Newtown Literary, as well as participating in several readings and events.” The nonprofit journal is dedicated to reflecting the people and languages of the New York City borough, which is one of the most diverse counties in the United States. Submissions are currently closed.

In 2015, Godin published another monologue she had written—this time she adapted it into a flash-fiction story that takes place in eighteenth-century Paris—with Danse Macabre. “I was delighted to be part of a lit mag that shared with me a kind of dark, Old World sensibility,” she says. Billed as “a magazine of the imaginative, the magical, the ethereal, the supernatural, the dark, the absurd, and the unknown,” Danse Macabre features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art in its monthly online journal and also runs a blog of “feuilleton, bon mots, gallimaufry, and coloratura macabrely.” The journal, which is edited in Las Vegas, accepts submissions year-round via e-mail.

Once Godin got into the rhythm of sending out work, she started perusing other writers’ bios to find places to submit, which is how she stumbled upon Quail Bell Magazine. Edited in New York City and Virginia, the arts and culture outlet regularly publishes essays, cultural criticism, poetry, fiction, interviews, and more, with an intersectional feminist ethos. Godin published another of her adapted monologues with the outlet and eventually wrote a column, Distill My Heart, on the science and aesthetics of spirits, aromas, and flavors. Godin says she honed her editorial chops from joining the “Quail Bell Crew,” a self-described team of “fairy punks who are citizens of the world,” and working with the magazine’s founding editor, Christine Sloan Stoddard. “I learned a lot about curating and calling for pitches and gently nudging a journal to be both what you envision it to be and open to the ideas and aesthetics of your volunteer editors.” Submissions are open year-round.

Godin’s experiences writing Distill My Heart and working with Stoddard motivated her to start Aromatica Poetica in 2017, a journal devoted to the “oft-neglected senses” of taste and smell. The online publication is “not specifically for, but welcoming to, blind readers and writers,” and grew out of Godin’s interest in smell, taste, olfaction, alchemy, and distillation, which developed as she lost the last of her vision. The online publication regularly showcases poetry, fiction, nonfiction, reviews, and interviews and takes inspiration from books such as Patrick Süskind’s Perfume and Chandler Burr’s The Emperor of Scent. Godin recently brought on a few assistant editors, who join her, columnist Catherine Haley Epstein, and art director Alabaster Rhumb. Submissions are open via e-mail until the end of June.    

 

Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

M. Leona Godin (Credit: Alabaster Rhumb)

Literary MagNet: Alex McElroy

by

Dana Isokawa

4.14.21

In Alex McElroy’s satirical novel, The Atmospherians, published in May by Atria Books, two childhood friends—Sasha, a disgraced influencer for a lifestyle brand, and Dyson, a flailing actor struggling with an eating disorder—come together to create a cult for isolated, washed-up men. The novel, which is sly and uncanny and darkly funny, depicts the hypocrisies of the self-help industry, masculinity, and internet fame while rendering the shame and loneliness that undergird those hypocrisies. McElroy says they first explored many of the novel’s preoccupations in pieces they published in literary magazines. “They served as spaces where I could think through and develop my obsessions as a writer.” McElroy has published stories, essays, and criticism in dozens of outlets and has edited prose for Gulf Coast and Hayden’s Ferry Review.

“Publishing in literary journals introduced me to the reality of writing toward an audience,” says McElroy. “Before I started submitting to journals, I primarily wrote for myself, which is great in some ways, but for me one of the joys of writing is sharing work and reaching readers. In order to do that, I needed to learn how to take my audience into account throughout my writing process—it wasn’t always about getting the piece perfect but about creating a story or essay that could communicate with readers.” One such journal that was part of McElroy’s path as a writer is the print annual Passages North, which McElroy says is “like the most-supportive older sibling. They have championed some of my strangest and most exciting pieces, and they do the same for all their contributors.” Edited at Northern Michigan University and established in 1979, the journal features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and hybrid work. “Their editors take chances on writers who take chances,” says McElroy. “For writers finding their voice, there’s no greater gift than a journal like Passages North.” Submissions in all genres will open on September 1.

Another journal McElroy turns to for its experimental writing is DIAGRAM, an online journal of text and art edited by Ander Monson. Published six times a year, DIAGRAM recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary with the release of a pack of tarot cards; authors including Jennifer S. Cheng, Danielle Evans, Kelly Link, and Elissa Washuta each contributed new works inspired by the major and minor arcana. DIAGRAM published McElroy’s story “The Death of Your Son: A Flowchart” in Issue 14.6; the flowchart format of the story not only suited the sensibility of the journal—inventive in its fusion of image, schematics, and text—but also encouraged McElroy to experiment with form in their novel. DIAGRAM is open to submissions year-round via the journal’s online submission manager.

McElroy has loved the print annual No Tokens for years. “They’re run entirely by women, queer, trans, and nonbinary individuals, and they have some of the best taste around,” they say. “Like the writing of their editor in chief, T Kira Madden, they publish work that is highly stylized and, to borrow from their mission, ‘felt in the spine.’” First published in 2014, the journal showcases poetry, fiction, nonfiction, interviews, and art. “I admire journals that are invested in the sonic quality of the literature they publish,” notes McElroy. “Every piece that appears in No Tokens deserves to be read aloud.” Submissions are currently closed.

While on a break from writing The Atmospherians, McElroy placed the story “There Are No Footprints Today” in Conjunctions, which helped them expand on themes in their novel such as claustrophobia and moral relativism. McElroy, who has admired Conjunctions since discovering issues in the library stacks as an undergrad, praises them as one of the oldest journals dedicated to experimental literature and the publisher of many of their all-time favorite authors, including John Ashbery, Matthew Baker, Valeria Luiselli, Sigrid Nunez, and Can Xue. Edited by Bradford Morrow at Bard College, Conjunctions publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translation, and hybrid work in a print edition twice a year as well as via its weekly online magazine. Submissions are open for the online magazine year-round.

In addition to writing fiction, McElroy pens essays and criticism—a versatility they found well matched in the print quarterly New England Review, which in 2016 published a personal essay and a piece of art criticism by McElroy. “Each piece received astute edits tailored to what it needed,” McElroy says. “The editors always see the work on its own terms.” McElroy says the review has been a longtime champion of their work; in the editor’s note of the review’s last issue of 2020, editor Carolyn Kuebler affirmed the New England Review’s investment in writers for the long haul: “Our support and discovery of emerging writers would mean less if we didn’t continue to be interested in them after they became a little better known.” Submissions in all genres—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, drama, and translation—are open until May 1. 

 

Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Alex McElroy (Credit: Grace Rivera)

Literary MagNet: Threa Almontaser

by

Dana Isokawa

2.17.21

Neither muscle nor mouth / devoted to one way of speaking. Every language // I borrow from somewhere else,” writes Threa Almontaser in The Wild Fox of Yemen (Graywolf Press, April 2021), winner of the Walt Whitman Award. In her debut Almontaser summons the language of her ancestors and family members, poets both contemporary and historical, experimental rock bands and rappers, and many more, to fashion an idiom that is both rebellious and reverent. Dedicated to the people of Yemen, the book offers a portrait of a country and its history and future. “Yemen has such an ancient and rich history, but with its current collapse, search engines show only the sad photos of starving kids,” says Almontaser. “I wanted to portray not only the war, but the beauty of Arabia Felix, of what it could still return to being.”

Almontaser began publishing work while in graduate school at North Carolina State University; she says her teacher Dorianne Laux encouraged her to send out poems and would bring tote bags of old magazines to class for students to browse. Almontaser has since published poems in twenty outlets and says she submits to publications after “looking to see if they represent the same thing I am trying to represent, how rounded their voices are, if they focus on special issues, and recognize the levels of language a poem can hold.” She found one such publication in the Adroit Journal, which she was also drawn to for its masthead of editors who are emerging writers—an editorial group she says “gave me this feeling of relief, that the pub world wasn’t all who-you-know or the recognitions in your bio.” (“The fox is always questioning, particularly of institutions and the relationships therein,” she says of her approach.) Founded by Peter LaBerge when he was a sophomore in high school, the online journal annually releases three to five issues of poetry, prose, interviews, and art. “We’ve got our eyes on the horizon,” the editors write. “Send us writing that lives just between the land and the sky.” Submissions are currently closed.

When Almontaser submitted “Recognized Language” to Beloit Poetry Journal, Melissa Crowe, an editor of the print biannual at the time, said she wanted to accept the poem but with a few changes. Many writers would get nervous in that situation, says Almontaser, but “Melissa suggested revision in such a genuine way, and I had a blast working with her to get it to where it is now.” The four-part poem, which meditates on the forms language takes in the speaker’s memory, history, and dreams (“Languages slip into our mouths like second-hand / smoke,” says the speaker), appears in Issue 69.2 of the magazine, in addition to contributions from Daniel Arias-Gómez, Philip Metres, and Hillery Stone, among others. The editors say they are known “for publishing formally challenging poems, for printing the brutally honest and the unparaphrasable alongside the wryly funny, and lyrics that ring clear as bells.” Submissions open on June 1.

Almontaser says she also found herself in good company at Duende, which featured her poem “Feast, Beginning With a Kissed Blade” alongside work by Gabriel Amor and Sean Thomas Dougherty as part of the journal’s Food Issue. “I was delighted particularly to be in an issue on the theme of food, which to me sits on the same spoon as union and feelings of being rooted,” she says. Established in 2013, Duende is released twice a year online by students pursuing a BFA in writing at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, and showcases poetry, prose, translations, hybrid work, and visual art. Submissions are currently closed.

After hearing poet Kaveh Akbar had been named the poetry editor of the Nation, Almontaser submitted “Catasterism,” which she describes as “a poem on foreign fathers meeting snow for the first time and their connection to resistance,” to the biweekly magazine of political and cultural news and commentary. “I felt comfortable submitting such a fragile piece to a place that held a Muslim in the masthead,” she says. Since becoming poetry editor of the Nation in September 2020, Akbar has published poems by Elisa Gabbert, Claire Schwartz, and Javier Velaza, among others. Submissions are open year-round via the Nation’s online submission manager.

When the Rumpus accepted Almontaser’s “Dream Interpretation” she was delighted to receive a “sweet and uplifting” acceptance letter from Cortney Lamar Charleston, who edits the outlet’s original poetry section with Carolina Ebeid. Almontaser says of the online publication, “The topics and the magnificent selection of art, comics, and media had snagged me as an early fan.” In addition to poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, the Rumpus covers art, humor, television, politics, music, and more, all with a focus on lifting up marginalized voices. Submissions open on June 1 for essays, July 1 for fiction, and July 15 for poetry. 

 

Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Threa Almontaser

Literary MagNet: Matthew Salesses

by

Dana Isokawa

12.16.20

In his new book, Craft in the Real World (Catapult, January 2021), Matthew Salesses collects more than a decade of thinking on craft, audience, and writing. Salesses, a novelist and essayist, combines exacting analysis of common craft axioms—“show, don’t tell,” for example—with broader commentary on what it means to write with purpose and an awareness of one’s intended audience. He offers practical guidance, including a syllabus and a list of models, for workshop structures that do not impose a restrictive standard for good writing, but provide students with a sense of what is possible. “With luck [the book] will spark writers to find a place for themselves,” says Salesses. The journals included here have either published versions of essays from Craft in the Real World or worked with Salesses as an editor.

Having published multiple books of fiction and nonfiction, Salesses offers this advice for writers looking to start submitting their work: “You value your work by valuing your growth—both as a writer and as a person. Each submission is a chance for revision; each publication is a potential friendship. Also: Figure out what you want from publishing—a byline or community or enough money for groceries—and don’t feel like you have to follow someone else’s values.” For Salesses, publishing is about relationships and submitting work to editors he trusts will treat their writers well. One such journal is Pleiades, the print biannual edited at the University of Central Missouri that publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. After getting a warm rejection letter from the editors, Salesses made a point of thanking them at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference. He ended up meeting then-editor Phong Nguyen, who later invited Salesses to run the Pleiades website for a time; Salesses took the opportunity to publish posts on creative writing pedagogy, which helped him explore the ideas that would inform Craft in the Real World. Poets Jenny Molberg and Erin Adair-Hodges now edit the magazine, which recently featured a folio of poetry by Korean American women selected by E. J. Koh and another of poetry celebrating the periodic table chosen by Rosebud Ben-Oni. Submissions in all genres close January 1. 

Pleiades is not the only magazine that has invited Salesses to be a guest editor—Steve Himmer, the editor of Necessary Fiction, asked Salesses to curate the online publication, which regularly posts fiction, book reviews, interviews, and essays, for a month. Salesses accepted and during July 2012 assembled a portfolio of pieces about revision from writers such as Shane McCrae and Jimmy Lo. “Steve gives a lot to the literary world, and I wanted to give what I could too while also providing a resource I wanted for myself,” Salesses says. Fiction submissions are open year-round via Submittable; the editors say they prefer the “absurd, the off-kilter, and the darkly comic to the straightforward and sentimental.” Writers can pitch submissions for all other genres via e-mail.

Salesses’s first stint at a literary journal was with Redivider, while he was an MFA student at Emerson College. “It was a great way to make community, as I often reached out to editors at other journals for advice, or for ad swaps, or just to exchange issues,” he says. Established in 1986, the online biannual features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and graphic narrative. Submissions are open via Submittable year-round; the editors write that they are interested in “poetry with teeth”; fiction with “sharply drawn characters, alien but fully realized settings, and concentrated efforts to transgress the trappings of what has come to be known as ‘literary fiction’”; and nonfiction that features “authentic voices speaking to cultural concerns.”

While a PhD student at the University of Houston, Salesses served as the online fiction editor for Gulf Coast, which publishes work online and in a print biannual he calls “one of the most beautiful journals in the country.” During his time at Gulf Coast, Salesses published a series of essays on race in the MFA by writers such as Joy Castro and Bill Cheng. “I wanted to use the little power I had to publish some responses from writers I knew were doing the work,” says Salesses. Gulf Coast, which publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art, is open for submissions to its print edition until March 1; submissions to Gulf Coast online open in late January.

“When I think about homes for craft or pedagogy essays, Electric Literature is one of the first places that come to mind,” says Salesses, who published an essay on plot and prejudice with the outlet in September 2015 that he adapted for Craft in the Real World. Electric Literature publishes essays, interviews, reviews, reading lists, and more daily; the editors are committed to writing that is “intelligent and unpretentious” and intersects with social justice issues and current events. Submissions are currently closed.  

 

Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Matthew Salesses (Credit: Grace Salesses)

Literary MagNet: Megan Cummins

by

Dana Isokawa

10.7.20

In her ingeniously structured debut collection, If the Body Allows It (University of Nebraska Press, September 2020), Megan Cummins intersperses stories about the book’s protagonist, Marie, with pieces the character herself has written. Marie’s attempt to reckon with both her autoimmune disease and the death of her father, who struggled with addiction, flickers throughout the fictions she writes; in many of them characters face the disconnect between their lives and the lives they imagined for themselves. (“But I was always falling in love with a future that required more heart than I had,” says one character.) Cummins’s resulting collection, which is by turns humorous and poignant, depicts how guilt and regret can warp how we understand and write about one another and ourselves. 

Cummins submits to magazines when she connects so much with its contents that a piece pops into her head months later. She recalls being captivated by the work of Jericho Brown, Sara Majka, and D. Wystan Owen in early issues of A Public Space, which published her first print story, “We Are Holding Our Own,” in 2013. Cummins later went on to become the managing editor of the publication, which is based in Brooklyn, New York, comes out three times a year, and is part of a larger nonprofit that, under the leadership of Brigid Hughes, also publishes books. Cummins spent several months intensively revising and learning how to scrutinize her story with Yiyun Li, a contributing editor of the nonprofit. (“I had to find a way to allow for a character’s confusion about himself and his identity but not allow for my confusion as a writer in the crafting of that character,” Cummins says.) A recent issue of the magazine featured woodcuts by Zarina, fiction by Jamel Brinkley, nonfiction by Taylor Plimpton, and poetry by Yanyi. Magazine submissions are open until April 15.

In 2013, Cummins came across One Teen Story, which at the time published young adult stories written by adults, including many authors Cummins admires: Aimee Bender, Francesca Lia Block, Julie Buntin, and Michelle Hart. One Teen Story now only publishes teen writers, and, like its sister journal, One Story, prints small-pamphlet issues that include a single story. “What I admire most about the journal, then and now, is that each story captures a different intensity about being young,” says Cummins, who published her story “Aerosol” with One Teen Story in 2016. The journal comes out around three times a year and is open to submissions for its Teen Writing Contest until November 20; the winners will receive $500 and publication.

“You can lose track of time for hours, exploring all kinds of writing,” says Cummins of Guernica, the volunteer-run online magazine of politics and arts that regularly publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, reportage, interviews, and more. In 2016, Cummins published an essay about her father’s death and her diagnosis with systemic lupus with the outlet; her experience editing the piece with Jonathan Lee, a contributing editor at the time, led her to the structure of If the Body Allows It, as well as one of its through lines, the connection between autoimmunity and guilt. Fittingly, Guernica also ran a story from Cummins’s book, “Flour Baby,” in September. Submissions in all genres are open via Submittable.

Cummins was drawn to Joyland, which bills itself as a “journal in multiple time zones,” in part for its focus on place. “When I write, place itself becomes a source of conflict, sometimes without my realizing it at first,” she says. “Characters want to stay or go. They want the place to be like it used to be, or like it never was.” Cummins published the book’s final story in Joyland, where editor Kyle Lucia Wu encouraged her to be “clear and bold.” Wu is one of several editors at the journal; in 2020 editor in chief Michelle Lyn King relaunched Joyland, and in an effort to ensure it was “not a journal just for those in New York City, Los Angeles, or even the United States,” brought on more than ten new editors based in Baltimore, Honolulu, London, Mumbai, and Toronto, among other cities. The journal publishes fiction and nonfiction at least once a week online and organizes its work by region. Submissions are open year-round in all genres via Submittable.

Taking inspiration from the “Joycean idea that an epiphany is the moment when ‘the soul of the commonest object…seems to us radiant,’” the biannual Epiphany has published poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art since 2001. “I get the sense the editors are looking for work that thrills and challenges them, without preconceived notions of what they want,” says Cummins, whose story “Skin” was posted on Epiphany’s website in early September. The most recent issue of Epiphany centers on borders and features work by Roy G. Guzmán, Kimiko Hahn, and Lena Valencia, among others. Submissions are open in all genres via Submittable until November 15. 

 

Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Top: Megan Cummins (Credit: Francis Cosgriff)

Literary MagNet: Hafizah Geter

by

Dana Isokawa

8.12.20

Writer and editor Hafizah Geter traces the origin of her poetry collection, Un-American (Wesleyan University Press, September 2020), to when she was nineteen and her mother died of a stroke. A month later Geter took a semester off from college to help her father convalesce after heart surgery. “On an unconscious level, Un-American was my attempt to make my and my family’s wounds metaphorical because up until then, they had been so physical, so palpably devastating,” she says. “I needed a safe way to make sense of what I’d lost, not just my mother, but my umbilical cord to Nigeria, our shared birth country. It was also a way for me to understand my father, a kind and sensitive man, who was raised in Alabama and Ohio in a country that doesn’t much care for Black boys and men.” In the resulting poems Geter moves through her grief while refusing ideas of whom America belongs to and who belongs in America. 

When she was an MFA student at Columbia College Chicago more than ten years ago, Geter used to meet with poet Kelly Forsythe every Friday to submit to journals. By using the writers resource Duotrope and diligently improving her work and playing the “numbers game,” Geter started publishing her poems. She has now placed pieces in publications such as the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly, the New Yorker, and West Branch and is mostly solicited for her work. Since attending an MFA program, Geter, who works as an editor at Little A and Topple Books, has seen changes in the publishing world. “It’s 2020 and journals are working on having more diverse mastheads,” she says, “but for me the cultural barrier felt real those early years of submitting, because my work, which engages with immigration, Islam, queerness, Blackness, and the State, often found itself vetted by young white readers who hadn’t been taught that you don’t have to ‘see’ yourself in work for work to have merit.”

So while Geter published some of the poems in Un-American by making it through the slush piles of outlets such as the New Yorker, she also found opportunities because she focused on showing up for her community by attending and participating in readings and events, which she advises other emerging writers to do. For example she published a suite of poems on Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland in Tin House after an editor invited her to send poems after hearing her read; previously she had been rejected from the now-closed journal multiple times. Now that she is mostly solicited, Geter considers a publication’s packaging, reach, and contributor list when she is approached by editors. “Being someone’s only Black friend isn’t fun in life, and it isn’t fun on the page,” she says. “If I’ve been solicited by an outlet that hasn’t published Black writers or other writers of color, it’s hard to know what they’re after—my work or my clearly ethnic name. Being choosy like this now is something that I’ve had to work my way into. In the beginning of my career, it kind of felt like I had to give my work to whoever wanted it, even if they weren’t particularly careful with it. Scarcity takes away your power. But I hung on, and now, more often than not—though not always—I can choose where my work goes.” Geter has published poems and essays in the below publications, as well as in the Boston Review and Longreads, among others.

Part of a larger publishing nonprofit dedicated to fostering lively and rigorous conversation about literature and the arts, the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly features poetry, fiction, and essays in themed issues; recent issues have focused on pop culture, catharsis, weather, and imitation. Poetry editor Elizabeth Metzger has recently featured work by Sumita Chakraborty, Megan Fernandes, and Srikanth Reddy. Submissions are currently closed.

With a circulation of more than one million, the New Yorker is one of the biggest platforms available to poets. Kevin Young, the weekly magazine’s poetry editor since 2017, also records podcasts through which contributors join him to discuss their own work or another poet. Submissions of poetry and translations are open year-round via Submittable.

West Branch, which is edited at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, annually publishes three issues of poetry, fiction, essays, and reviews. In the past few years, poets Aracelis Girmay, Diane Seuss, and Brian Teare have each served as the guest poetry editor for an issue. Submissions are open via the publication’s online submission manager until April 1, 2021.

“Every issue, like every piece of good writing, is the product of a series of accidents colliding with intentions,” writes Meghan O’Rourke of the Yale Review. In July 2019, O’Rourke became editor of the print quarterly, which has been published by Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, for more than two hundred years. The review features poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, and criticism; submissions are currently closed. 

 

Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Top: Hafizah Geter. (Credit: Beowulf Sheehan)

Literary MagNet: Billy-Ray Belcourt

by

Dana Isokawa

6.10.20

In his third book, A History of My Brief Body (Two Dollar Radio, July 2020), Billy-Ray Belcourt says he “marshals the forces of poetry and theory to create a kind of memoir that stretches well beyond the boundaries of my individual life.” The poetic and probing essay collection shuttles between personal reflection, critical race theory, and commentary on poetics, colonialism, queerness, loneliness, and utopia, among other topics. Belcourt, who is from the Driftpile Cree Nation, says he aims to write “into a narrative of joy that troubles the horrid fiction of race that stalks me.” Also a poet—he won the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize for a Canadian writer for his debut collection, This Wound Is a World (Frontenac House, 2017)—Belcourt has published his poems and essays in many journals, including the five below.

Belcourt, who grew up in Joussard, Alberta, and teaches at the University of British Columbia, calls Hazlitt “one of the giants of online literary publishing in Canada.” Part of Penguin Random House Canada, the magazine publishes fiction, essays, humor pieces, journalism, investigative features, and profiles. “The [editors] trouble notions of what is and isn’t publishable,” says Belcourt, whose “Fatal Naming Rituals,” which he describes as a work of criticism with a poetic bent, was published by Hazlitt in July 2018. The magazine has featured the work of writers on topics such as street preachers in Las Vegas and the film roles of Winona Ryder; the editors state that a good Hazlitt piece features evocative writing, scenes and characters, a turn or surprise, a strong through-line, and solid research. “Even the most personal of essays shouldn’t be entirely insular,” the editors write. “Nothing happens in a vacuum, and context and awareness of the world around you is critical.” Submissions are currently closed.

“Some days, the act of writing isn’t so much holding a mirror to oneself but to a future grave,” writes Belcourt in his essay “Notes From an Archive of Injuries,” in which he considers what it means to write. The essay comes from a longer lecture Belcourt delivered at the League of Canadian Poets’ annual conference in 2019 and was published in Prairie Fire. “I also come from the prairies so was delighted to publish in a magazine that moves the center to the prairies,” says Belcourt of the print quarterly, which is edited in Winnipeg and publishes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. In December writer Carolyn Gray started as the journal’s new editor; since then Gray and the other editors released an issue carrying the theme “Why We Walk” and put out a call for submissions in all genres about “living in a house on fire”—or “living in our current time of tremendous uncertainty” as it relates to climate change and COVID-19. General submissions are open via e-mail until June 30.

When Belcourt started submitting to journals, he focused on those with Indigenous writers on their boards or that had special issues on Indigenous or queer writing. “I understood that my poems needed a particular kind of interpretive context if they were to breach the larger, more corrupt interpretive context of colonial modernity,” he says. He found one such publication in the Rumpus, which published his poem “ndn Brothers” in a series on Indigenous poets edited by Tanaya Winder. In addition to publishing, as Belcourt says, “dazzling poetry year-round,” the Rumpus features fiction, essays, comics, criticism, and interviews. The editors also run columns devoted to writing about addiction and writing by women and nonbinary people about rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Poetry submissions are open from July 15 to July 31, fiction submissions during the month of July, and essay submissions until the end of July.

After Belcourt read at the Ohio State University (OSU), the graduate students who edit the Journal requested a poem from him and eventually published “Bad Lover” in the Fall 2019 issue along with poetry by Saddiq Dzukogi, fiction by Laura O’Gorman Schwartz, and nonfiction by Emily O’Neill. The quarterly, which is published twice a year in print and twice a year online, features poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as interviews and book reviews. Since OSU has closed its campus and switched to remote learning, the journal is currently not accepting submissions.

Belcourt was delighted to receive a request to submit a poem from the editors of Brick, a collective comprising Dionne Brand, Madeleine Thien, and six other major Canadian writers. Released twice a year out of Toronto, Brick primarily publishes nonfiction, although the editors admit “a willingness to stray when our hearts are taken.” Established in 1977 by Stan Dragland and Jean McKay and edited by Michael Ondaatje from 1985 to 2013, Brick has published writers such as John Berger, Louise Erdrich, and Zadie Smith. Nonfiction submissions open via Submittable on September 1; the editors do not accept submissions in poetry or fiction. 

Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Top: Billy-Ray Belcourt (Credit: Tenille Campbell)

Literary MagNet: Souvankham Thammavongsa

by

Dana Isokawa

4.8.20

Souvankham Thammavongsa assembles a collection of powerful stories about longing, misunderstanding, and loneliness in How to Pronounce Knife (Little Brown, April). In every story characters reckon with what goes unsaid in relationships. A child observes her mother, a Laotian refugee, learning English through soap operas. A worker at a chicken processing plant notices that her boss is cheating on his wife. A young girl is mocked at school for mispronouncing the word knife the way her father mistakenly taught her and then chooses not to tell him. Thammavongsa, who has published four poetry collections, writes in taut, spare prose; she cites Edward P. Jones, Carson McCullers, Alice Munro, and Tennessee Williams as the storytellers she turned to in writing the book. Thammavongsa’s fiction has appeared in the publications listed below, as well as Granta, Joyland, and Ploughshares, among others.

Thammavongsa submitted her story “Mani Pedi” to the online quarterly the Puritan because she respected the guest fiction editor at the time, Doretta Lau. “I knew I would be given the freedom to create a female character that could say bold and blunt and nasty things, the permission to cuss and be funny, be complicated—and Doretta wouldn’t say it was a character that didn’t feel real,” says Thammavongsa. Edited in Toronto, the Puritan publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, long-form interviews, and criticism. Submissions from writers worldwide are open year-round via Submittable.

Doretta Lau learned how to edit fiction by apprenticing with Diane Williams, the editor and founder of the twenty-year-old print annual NOON, and says the experience was “like watching a master craftsperson cut and polish a precious gem to reveal its sparkle.” So it is fitting that Williams has also published two stories from How to Pronounce Knife. When Thammavongsa first submitted her story “The School Bus Driver” to NOON, she didn’t get quite the answer she was looking for but was nevertheless thrilled to receive a handwritten rejection from Williams. One year later Williams got back in touch and asked if the story was still available because she couldn’t stop thinking about it. The two worked on a new ending, and the story appeared in the 2016 issue of NOON, alongside frequent contributors Kim Chinquee and Deb Olin Unferth. “She let me cuss in Lao and gave me the freedom to not translate this,” says Thammavongsa of working with Williams. Edited in New York City, NOON publishes mostly fiction, as well as nonfiction and translation; the journal is open for submissions via postal mail year-round.

Thammavongsa, who grew up in Toronto, has published in many Canadian journals, including Ricepaper, which celebrates Asian Canadian literature, arts, and culture. Founded by the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop Society in Vancouver in 1994, Ricepaper in its first edition consisted of eight photocopied and stapled pages. Today the online magazine publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, graphic narrative, criticism, and interviews by Asian writers from all over the world. “Canada is a land of many cultures,” write the editors. “A story outside our borders can be as relatable as one found within.” Ricepaper is open for submissions year-round online.

When her story “Slingshot” was out on submission at Harper’s Magazine, Thammavongsa was doubtful the editors of the 170-year-old print publication—which features reporting, essays, fiction, and poetry—would accept the piece. “I was someone they had never heard of, and I have no Twitter followers,” she says. “My story is about a seventy-year-old woman who has a lot of sex with a thirty-two-year-old man. And it is not her sexual awakening—it is his.” But the editors did accept the story, and it went on to win an O. Henry Prize in 2019. The publication was one of Thammavongsa’s first in a major general-interest magazine; she brought it to her workplace, a tax office, and was delighted to watch her coworkers “seriously reading the story, not looking up once.” Headquartered in New York City, Harper’s, which is released every month, does not accept unsolicited poetry submissions; it does accept fiction submissions and nonfiction queries year-round via postal mail.

Thammavongsa enjoyed working with her editor at Harper’s, Hasan Altaf, saying, “He never questioned what I could do. He was cool and dispassionate and said ‘change this,’ ‘write another scene here,’  and just gave me the freedom to get it together.” So when Altaf left Harper’s to become the managing editor of the Paris Review, Thammavongsa was even more eager to publish with the print quarterly. Her story “The Gas Station” was published in the Spring 2019 issue alongside nonfiction from Sarah Manguso, poetry from Bhanu Kapil and Danez Smith, and fiction from Kate Zambreno. Submissions in all genres are open on Submittable during February and September.

 

Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Top: Souvankham Thammavongsa (Credit: Sarah Bodri)

Literary MagNet: Eric Tran

by

Dana Isokawa

2.12.20

The formally playful, register-mixing sensibility of Eric Tran’s debut, The Gutter Spread Guide to Prayer (Autumn House Press, February 2020), animates even the titles of such poems as “Regrets, in the Style of Clue,” “Portrait as Captain America Holding a Helicopter With a Bicep Curl,” and “Hermione Granger and the Reciprocal Erasure.” The book contends with, as Tran says, “the intersections of queerness, being Asian American, mental health, and their implications on desire, safety, and personhood.” Many of the poems also grieve the loss of a friend to suicide. “I learned to hold the grief // like an attic of heirlooms / and a single bulb // naked and waiting to be lit,” writes Tran. In addition to the five journals below, Tran has published poems in Juked, Figure 1, and Slice, among others.

Tran says he is drawn to journals with “poetry that makes me feel less alone or powerless.” He found this in wildness, an online quarterly of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction edited by Michelle Tudor and Peter Barnfather in Shropshire, England. “When I read an issue of wildness I’m prepared to be moved and surprised, bowled over by writers who are unafraid, or maybe afraid but still brave and capable, incisive and insightful,” says Tran, who notes that wildness has also published many of his favorite young Asian and Asian American writers. Tudor notes the journal seeks to be “an open and inclusive space, one that focuses on identity and personhood and how they inform and affect the environment we inhabit, be it externally or internally.” The journal is open for submissions year-round via e-mail.

In his poem “Pulse,” Tran reckons with the 2016 shooting at the Orlando, Florida, nightclub, writing “Breath // a scream spun in reverse / and Lord we holler // wet down each other’s / necks.” Tran, who recalls it was one of his first times writing about current events in his poetry, says he felt apprehensive trying to publish the piece but found the right editor in Ross White of Four Way Review. “I was gripped by the way Eric was able to entwine the sensual pleasures of dancing with the violence of the shooting,” says White. “We want writing that showcases the imagination’s unique ability to refine the raw materials of human experience.” In collaboration with the indie New York press Four Way Books, the online journal releases two full issues of fiction and poetry a year in addition to monthly mini-issues. White says David Schwartz just started as fiction editor and is looking to publish more flash fiction. Submissions are open year-round.

Tran also found editors he could trust in Eloisa Amezcua and torrin a. greathouse of the Shallow Ends, an online poetry journal. “They are fierce advocates for writers of color and queer writers,” says Tran, “so publishing a poem about queer grief and lust with them made me feel like I was in compassionate and capable hands.” Amezcua recalls meeting Tran in summer 2014. “He introduced himself as someone who wrote primarily nonfiction,” she says. “But after reading a few of his pieces, I knew he was writing unlineated poems. So when I made a list of writers to solicit for the journal, Eric was at the top of that list. His writing moved me.” Amezcua says that is her editorial goal—to find work that moves their readers. She and greathouse run one poem a week and have published pieces by Derrick Austin, Zefyr Lisowski, and Nate Marshall, among many others. Submissions are open year-round.

“I see them as a journal that publishes vulnerable writing that has attitude, that will wink at you and then blow an air hankie,” says Tran of the print annual Sou’wester, in which he published two X-Men-inspired poems he wrote after the shooting at Pulse, “Lectio Divina: Emma Frost” and “Days After Orlando I Read the X-Men.” Under the tagline “writing against the wind,” Sou’wester has published poetry and prose for more than fifty years. The journal is edited at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville; managing editor and prose editor Valerie Vogrin says she and poetry editor Joshua Kryah are looking to collaborate more with the grad students of the university’s MFA program, which opened in 2018. Journal submissions will open via Submittable in late summer.

The online quarterly Voicemail Poems has a unique submission process—writers submit the text of an original poem to the journal’s website and then call in to 910-703-POEM and record that same poem as a voice mail. The editors then publish a selection of the poems alongside their recordings in the issue. “It’s a delight hearing the poets’ nervousness and excitement when introducing themselves paired with their confident and assured readings,” says Tran. He says that practicing reading his poem “My Mother Asks How I Was Gay Before Sleeping With a Man” to submit to Voicemail Poems helped him revise the piece, which he now often opens with at his readings. The latest issue of Voicemail Poems features work from Daria-Ann Martineau, Caits Meissner, and bail racine. Submissions are open year-round. 

 

Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Top: Eric Tran (Credit: Erik Donhowe)

Literary MagNet: Beth Peterson

by

Dana Isokawa

12.11.19

After moving to a small Norwegian village on the edge of continental Europe’s largest glacier, Beth Peterson began writing the essays that would become her debut collection, Dispatches From the End of Ice (Trinity University Press, November 2019). “I felt like I’d fallen into that place like a home, like I’d always lived there: cascading waterfalls, aqua-blue fjords, the seemingly endless expanse of glacial ice, even the quiet village life,” says Peterson. As the town changed—cruise ships arrived, ice melted—she felt compelled to write about it. “Where there was once ice, a pond appeared, then a lake,” she says. “I wanted to articulate this important, disappearing thing.” Peterson’s environmental consciousness and sense of place is reflected in the journals that published essays from her book, including the five below.

Peterson says she seeks out journals in which literary conversations “seem to be happening with the most candor and thoughtfulness.” She found this kind of dialogue in the online journal Flyway, which published “Theory of World Ice,” her essay about visiting the Jostedal Glacier in Norway. Edited at Iowa State University, Flyway publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and visual art dedicated to the intersection of writing and the environment. Its editors are passionate about how art can humanize the conversation about the changing earth. “We can’t talk about the environment without talking, in some way, about climate change,” says managing editor Eric Williams. “But the conversation about climate change has been increasingly polarized, reduced into a constricting binary of believers and nonbelievers…. Art, and specifically storytelling, has the unique ability to bridge the communication gap when it comes to the environment.” Submissions in all genres will open via Submittable on January 15.

Peterson structures her essays—which combine personal narration, reportage, and description—in creative ways. (“Structure is always saying something,” she says.) Her essay “To the Center” jump-cuts between close reads of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and narration of a summer Peterson spent in Wyoming. Peterson found a home for the piece in Post Road, which she values for its willingness to push traditional formal boundaries. Peter Hausler, the journal’s nonfiction editor, was in turn drawn to “her poet’s eye for detail, as she expertly moves her ever-observant lens in close and then pulls back at just the right moments.” The biannual print journal publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, art, plays, criticism, and a Recommendations section through which writers consider their favorite books from any angle they choose. Post Road will be open for submissions in all genres on February 1.

When she first encountered the online journal Newfound, Peterson “voraciously read much of the journal’s work” and just a few months later submitted “Lost: An Inventory” to the biannual, which published it in spring 2018. Edited in Austin, Texas, Newfound explores how “place shapes identity, imagination, and understanding.” The latest issue includes Ashley Anderson’s essay about her neighbor in Ohio who tended the county’s beehives and Krishna Mohan Mishra’s story about three boys riding a train between India and Nepal. Submissions in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art are open via Submittable until May 15; contributors are paid $25 per piece.

“I wasn’t sure what sort of journal might pick up a piece about a long-dead Austrian philosopher,” says Peterson of her essay about searching for Ludwig Wittgenstein’s cabin. “I realized I needed to find one that had an international scope and also that wasn’t scared off by a more intellectual essay.” Mid-American Review, a print biannual edited at Bowling Green State University, fit the bill. Established in 1972, Mid-American Review has grown from a journal of work by the university’s mfa alumni to an international publication of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, criticism, and translation. “Our fiction tends to be quirky and our poetry tends toward the lyrical,” says editor in chief Abigail Cloud. The editors accept submissions in all genres year-round via the journal’s online submission manager.

Peterson published “The Speed of Falling”—which weaves together the story of a friend who died of a fall on a hike with descriptions of Galileo’s work on motion—in the Pinch, a print biannual housed at the University of Memphis that she praises for its “sharp and committed student editors.” Editor in chief and university faculty member Courtney Miller Santos strives to empower students to “find transgressive, authentic, and prescient work.” The Pinch pulls more than 80 percent of its work from the slush pile and mostly publishes the work of emerging writers. Submissions in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art are open year-round; the journal’s new $1,000 Page Prize in Nonfiction opens on January 1 with a $10 entry fee per submission. 

 

Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Literary MagNet: Leigh Camacho Rourks

by

Dana Isokawa

10.9.19

The Southern Gothic tradition is subverted and at play in Leigh Camacho Rourks’s Moon Trees and Other Orphans (Black Lawrence Press, October), a debut story collection that portrays a Louisiana that is both bayou and fast food joint, abandoned substation and New Orleans college campus. The stories feature characters trapped in tough circumstances with people they can’t seem to escape: a woman running a snake oil operation with her careless husband, a man who discovers his old parole officer dead in a river, a recent divorcé stuck with his ex-wife’s box of mail-order breast implants. Rourks’s images are striking, so it is no wonder the literary magazines she is drawn to also feature writing rich in visual description. In addition to the journals below, Rourks has published stories in the Kenyon Review online and the Greensboro Review.

The title story of Rourks’s collection, about a teen struggling to care for her ten-year-old brother and her paranoid schizophrenic mother, won the 2014 Glenna Luschei Award administered by the print quarterly Prairie Schooner. Rourks admires the publication, which is edited by poet Kwame Dawes at the University of Nebraska, for its poetic language, sense of place, and cohesion. “Prairie Schooner always feels so tight that the works seem to speak to each other, to play off of each other,” she says. “I can’t think of many other journals where each issue feels so very completely hung together, almost like a book.” Submissions in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction are open via postal mail or Submittable until May 1. 

“Have you seen the covers of Pembroke Magazine?” Rourks asks. “They are gorgeous. It is a beautiful journal I wish more people knew about.” Established in 1969, the print annual publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Edited at the University of North Carolina in Pembroke, the magazine showcases many North Carolinian writers and other Southern writers, though Rourks notes it is not a regionalist journal. “It’s publishing authors from all over,” she says. “But it has been one of the journals at the forefront of redefining what Southern writing is, widening the net and embracing rural grit lit and what poet J. Bruce Fuller—also published in Pembroke—calls eco-gothic lit.” Poet Doug Ramspeck, fiction writer Nina de Gramont, and nonfiction writer Jess E. Jelsma contributed to the most recent issue. Submissions in all genres are open through April 30 via Submittable.

The dark tone and images of Rourks’s story “The Revival”—about a woman running a religious scam—fit right in at PANK, a journal of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that “doesn’t shy away from the dark or the weird or the hard,” says Rourks. Established in 2006 by M. Bartley Seigel and Roxane Gay, the journal is now published twice a year online and once a year in print and edited by Chris Campanioni, Jessica Fischoff, and Maya Marshall. Campanioni recently launched a series of themed folios of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that appear online on a quarterly basis; the folios have thus far tackled health and healing and highlighted Latinx/Latinidad stories. The editors accept submissions year-round for the journal and folios via Submittable.

Rourks was drawn to TriQuarterly for its engagement with an audience “inside and outside of literary academia.” Housed at Northwestern University, the biannual journal is edited by current and former creative writing graduate students, who seek poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, short drama, and hybrid work that, as they write on their website, “embraces the world and continues, however subtly, the ongoing global conversation about culture and society that TriQuarterly pursued from its beginning in 1964.” Throughout its history, the journal has adapted to changes in publishing; Rourks praises the editors for embracing digital formats back when “everyone in academia was arguing over whether it was ‘real’ publishing.” Each issue, for example, features video essays, such as Amanda Stewart’s “Kitsch Postcards,” which pairs postcards of Australia alongside an original poem. Submissions in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction are open through December via Submittable; writers can submit video essays, craft essays, and interviews year-round.

Titled after a Chinese nickname for flash fiction, which comes from the observation that reading a piece of flash fiction takes as long as it does to smoke a cigarette, SmokeLong Quarterly publishes about twenty smokes’ worth of flash fiction four times a year online. Rourks reads the journal on her lunch hour and enjoys how “there are narrative risks around every corner, unexpected turns, powerful language, experiment, and tradition side by side—everything that keeps reading exciting.” The journal also publishes a weekly piece of flash and Smoke & Mirrors, a series of micro-interviews with every contributor. Submissions of flash fiction—the journal does not publish poetry or nonfiction—are open year-round; contributors are paid $50 per story.
 

Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Leigh Camacho Rourks

(Credit: Lety Remior)

Literary MagNet: Andrea Cohen

by

Dana Isokawa

8.14.19

The spare, lyric poems in Andrea Cohen’s sixth collection, Nightshade, published by Four Way Books in September, play with dualities such as bitter and sweet, absence and presence, and silence and speaking. The title poem goes: “It trades in / poison and // in balms. We / call it bitter- // sweet—what / living isn’t?” Aphoristic and witty, Cohen’s poems—some as short as four words—address loss and intimacy. “The disarming playfulness of her linguistic surface leads to the seriousness of her truths,” says Salamander editor Jenny Barber. Cohen has published poems in Salamander and more than twenty other periodicals, including the New Yorker, Poetry, the Atlantic, the Kenyon Review, and the journals listed below.

“When it comes to journals, it’s really all about the editors,” Cohen says. “I can’t overstate the importance of finding editors who believe in your work and help, over the years, to bring readers to it.” Cohen found such an editor in Rebecca Morgan Frank of the online biannual Memorious. Frank published Cohen’s work in Issues 1, 8, 15, and 26. “Literary editing has always been an investment in literary community: We need one another,” says Frank, who started the journal with Robert Arnold and Brian Green fifteen years ago, when she was an up-and-coming poet herself, and has since worked to publish poetry and fiction that bridges generations. In the latest issue, for example, Frank published emerging poets Jos Charles and Molly McCully Brown alongside established poets such as Amy Gerstler. Looking ahead Frank hopes to find an institutional home, preferably a low-residency MFA program, for Memorious. Submissions in all genres will open in January 2020.

Cohen describes the online literary and technical journal Terrain.org as an “ambitious mix of literary genres and photography.” Established in 1997, Terrain.org is focused on place and publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art along with essays by doctoral students in the sciences, case studies, articles, and editorials. Editor in chief Simmons Buntin says the variety of pieces “provide mutually beneficial perspectives and insight on a common goal, which is creating more livable communities in the context of a resilient and biodiverse world.” Cohen singles out one of the journal’s initiatives, the Letter to America series, which features more than 160 letters containing prose and poetry from writers, scientists, politicians, and thinkers, written to the nation after the 2016 presidential election. In March, Trinity University Press will publish an anthology of the letters, including a poem by Cohen. Journal submissions in all genres will open on September 3.

Cohen, who directs the Writers House at Merrimack College and the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says that Jenny Barber, the founding editor of Salamander has been, “in her modest manner, central to the Boston poetry world.” Barber, who started the print biannual in 1992, has worked to publish both established writers and writers “who’ve reached artistic maturity and deserve a wider audience.” She recently passed the torch to poet José Angel Araguz, who started as editor in chief in July. Edited at Suffolk University, Salamander publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translation, book reviews, and art. Barber says the editors want to share work that, like Cohen’s, has a transformative effect on the reader. “Andrea’s poems bend and refract reality in surprising ways,” says Barber. “I often want to laugh and cry at the same time: Her verbal wit is matched by her ability to render personal loss—that of family members, love relationships—and recent history with depth and precision.” Submissions in all genres open October 1.

“I love everything about the Threepenny Review: the poems, the photography, the fiction, the eloquent range and depth of the nonfiction, and the newspaper-like format,” says Cohen, who credits the review’s quality to its editor, Wendy Lesser. In 1980 Lesser started the Threepenny Review, now a highly respected journal of literary and cultural criticism, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction with a circulation of more than six thousand, in Berkeley, California. The Summer 2019 issue includes poems by Charles Simic and Dean Young, fiction by Medardo Fraile, and criticism by Javier Marías. Submissions open in January 2020.

Cohen published four poems from Nightshade in the online poetry journal Diode, edited by poet Patty Paine. “I am partial to the understated design of the online journal, the beauty of the Diode Editions books, and the stellar poems that Patty and her colleagues publish,” Cohen says. Paine, in turn, is a fan of Cohen’s work and has published the poet multiple times in the journal, including when she ran poems Bob Hicok and Cohen had written for each other in Issue 7.1. (“Andrea Cohen, you’re a good egg,” wrote Hicok; Cohen replied: “…Bob likes his autumn / shaken and stirred, he likes it / with a side of blizzard….”) Submissions to Diode are open year-round. 

 

Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Andrea Cohen

(Credit: Adrianne Mathiowetz)

Literary MagNet: Kendra Allen

by

Dana Isokawa

6.12.19

In her debut essay collection, When You Learn the Alphabet (University of Iowa Press, April), Kendra Allen blends personal anecdote and cultural commentary in poems and short essays that address race, gender, and family. “I just really want readers to leave this book seeing Black women of all intersections as human,” says Allen, “and to feel equal parts harm and healing.” Kiese Laymon, who selected the book as winner of the 2018 Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction, praises it as “a roaring meditation on what Black daughters in our nation do with what and how they’ve been taught.” Allen has also published work in Brevity, the Rumpus, december, and the five journals below.

The first essay Allen placed in a journal was “Father Can You Hear Me,” a meditation on absent fathers and different kinds of love; it appeared in the print biannual Harpur Palate. Edited by students in the English department at Binghamton University in New York, Harpur Palate features poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. “Our editors seek to find the best-quality work and acknowledge that oftentimes the best work falls under categories most literary journals won’t consider, such as genre fiction and longer verse poems,” says departing editor in chief Heather Humphrey, who will be succeeded by current fiction editor Kelly Neal. The editors are currently working on increasing the journal’s web and social media presence; submissions in all genres will open in September. 

“I like the way it brings together an anthology of fiction and blends it with splashes of photography, poetry, and essays to make its theme come to life,” says Allen about Hair Trigger, an online quarterly edited at Columbia College Chicago, where Allen was enrolled in the undergraduate creative writing program and graduated in 2017. Dedicated to publishing work that is “reflective of the diversity of contemporary fiction,” the journal also publishes some poetry and nonfiction, including “Full Service,” Allen’s essay about her experience flying to Chicago and being questioned at airport security. (“I am exhausted entirely by the subject of my skin causing people of my flesh to deal with unnecessary roughness,” she writes.) The quarterly primarily publishes work by Columbia students, but the editors devote one issue each year to work by nonstudents; submissions in all genres open in July via Submittable.

Throughout her book, Allen considers what people—friends, parents, classmates, strangers—are often unwilling or unable to acknowledge. In “The Cheapest Casket,” she writes of her relationship with her mother: “We can talk about her dying or me dying but we cannot talk about the lives we are living.” Allen placed the essay in Habitat, an annual journal of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, in 2016. “Habitat is a place that really cares about artists’ integrity and pushing rising voices,” says Allen, who also contributed to the magazine’s blog for two years. Established in 2015 by poet Josh Corson, the online publication is currently on hiatus; back issues can be read on the website.

“We love the hell out of the cross-genre scientists, the visual inventors, plucky linguists, non-narrative narrators, and especially the experimental weird babies,” write the editors of the quarterly journal Five:2:One. Allen clearly falls within that group, because after she had received multiple rejections of her poem “Mama Said on Motherhood” from other magazines, Five:2:One published it in 2017. It was her first poetry publication. She discovered the journal, which is dedicated to “the transgressive, the progressive, and the experimental,” only after she started doing “proper research,” skimming magazines and paying attention to their aesthetic and goals. “Whenever I submit somewhere, I ask myself if my work is for their particular audience, and are they the type of publication that would be willing to take a risk if it’s not,” she says. “Now that I understand those politics a little bit better, I try to pitch and submit to places that pay and decide what work I’m willing to sacrifice for no pay at all.”

One journal that does pay is Frontier Poetry, in which Allen placed her poem “Your Name Was Supposed to Be Africa.” The online publication features new poems every week and pays $50 per poem (up to $150 for three poems) by poets who have not published more than one full-length collection of poetry. The editors also seek to promote work by marginalized writers. “We take our role as gatekeeper between poet and world extremely seriously and wish to use our platform as fairly and justly as we can,” they write on the journal website. Recent contributors include Isabel Acevedo, Leila Chatti, and Carlina Duan. Submissions are open year-round.  

 

Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Kendra Allen

(Credit: Carla Lee)

Literary MagNet: Kali Fajardo-Anstine

by

Dana Isokawa

4.10.19

I wrote the book to tell the stories of my people and my community in the American West,” says Kali Fajardo-Anstine about her debut story collection, Sabrina & Corina (One World, April). “I come from a storytelling tradition, and the urge to explore my obsessions as they relate to place, violence against women, feminism, and family through story is something I inherited from a long line of artists and storytellers in the Southwest.” Fajardo-Anstine’s stories revolve around family relationships and depict Chicana and Indigenous women coping with abandonment, abuse, economic hardship, and illness. “I wanted a realist depiction of Colorado Chicanas,” she says. “And I wanted our Indigenous land to be explored from a feminine perspective.” Below are five journals that have published Fajardo-Anstine’s stories. 

“For many of us the American West isn’t west at all, but our center, our beginning, our end,” Fajardo-Anstine says, and she tries to convey that perspective in her stories. When submitting them for publication, she received more acceptances from regional magazines than from “traditional pathways of the East.” After nearly twenty journals had rejected her story “Sugar Babies,” for instance, Fajardo-Anstine found a home for it in the print biannual Southwestern American Literature. Edited at the Center for the Study of the Southwest at Texas State University in San Marcos, the journal publishes poetry, fiction, literary criticism, and book reviews related to the Southwest. Since its inception in 1971, the journal has published writers such as Terry Tempest Williams, Jennifer Givhan, and Simon Ortiz. Poetry, fiction, and nonfiction submissions are considered year-round via Submittable.

Fajardo-Anstine’s title story, which depicts a young woman dealing with the murder of her cousin, was also rejected by about twenty journals before the Idaho Review picked it up in 2014. The print annual, edited by Mitch Wieland and the faculty and students at Boise State University’s MFA program, has a history of publishing the early stories of many successful writers such as Jennifer Haigh and Benjamin Percy, plus work by heavy-hitters including Edith Pearlman, Joy Williams, and Rick Bass. Submissions in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction will open in the fall.

Fajardo-Anstine’s appearance in the Idaho Review led to her publication in the American Scholar, a quarterly magazine that primarily covers public affairs, science, history, and culture but also publishes poetry and fiction. Shortly after her Idaho Review story was published, Fajardo-Anstine met one of her literary idols, Ann Beattie, and mentioned to her that they had both appeared in a recent issue of the Boise State journal. Beattie read Fajardo-Anstine’s story and then invited her to submit to the American Scholar, where Beattie serves as fiction editor. Although the first story Fajardo-Anstine sent was turned down, a year later she submitted “All Her Names,” which was accepted for the magazine’s Summer 2016 issue. Published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society in Washington, D.C., the American Scholar has run work by some of the most notable writers, scholars, and scientists of the past century, including Hannah Arendt, Albert Einstein, and Helen Vendler. The journal does not accept unsolicited submissions in poetry or fiction; article and essay submissions are open year-round via Submittable.

When looking to place her story “Remedies,” which incorporates elements of Southwestern herbal healing and natural medicine, Fajardo-Anstine was delighted to discover Bellevue Literary Review, a journal publishing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that “examines human existence through the prism of health and healing, illness and disease.” Founded in 2000 by physician-writers and published twice a year by the Division of Medical Humanities at the New York University School of Medicine, the journal welcomes both emerging and established writers. “I wasn’t sure if the editors would look twice at a young writer like me,” says Fajardo-Anstine. “But fiction editor Suzanne McConnell accepted my story and edited with a keen eye and open heart.” Bellevue Literary Review is open for submissions in all genres year-round except for July and August; the journal’s annual contest, which awards publication and $1,000 each to a group of poems, a story, and an essay, is open via Submittable until July 1.

In 2010 Fajardo-Anstine published “The Mixed Girls’ Guide to ‘What Are You?’” in the Acentos Review, an online quarterly that publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translation, interviews, and art by Latinx writers and artists. Editor Raina J. León accepted the story and, according to Fajardo-Anstine, embraced its “themes of identity, the tongue-in-cheek tone, and the almost subversive way I was dissecting the different facts of my mixed-race Chicana identity.” Established in 2008, the journal publishes work in English, Spanish, and Portuguese by Latinx writers from all over the world. The editors read submissions in all genres year-round.

Dana Isokawa is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.   

Kali Fajardo-Anstine

(Credit: Estevan Ruiz)

Literary MagNet: John Sibley Williams

by

Dana Isokawa

2.13.19

In his third poetry collection, As One Fire Consumes Another, forthcoming from Orison Books in April, John Sibley Williams confronts the violent side of American history and its effect on our notions of self, fatherhood, and citizenship. “The poems speak of death and cultural roles, privilege and otherness, the little boxes we place one another in, and our often violent attempts to escape them,” Williams says. The poems, which veer from elegiac to declarative to prayerlike, drill down into the beliefs and fears that underpin this violence. “My children are learning all wars / begin with belief,” Williams writes in one poem. “We are less afraid of the dark / inside than of all the light,” he writes in another. Williams published poems from his book in more than forty journals, including the five below.

Williams appreciates literary magazines that create community, including print biannual december. “The editors support and promote their authors with vigor and a genuine affection that proves there are real, loving human beings at the helm,” he says. Editor Gianna Jacobson, who revived the journal in 2013 after a thirty-two year hiatus, agrees. “We’re not a place where writers just send their work and we say yes or no and once the transaction is done, we’re done with each other,” she says. The editors provide feedback on at least half of their submissions and work to stay connected with their contributors; Williams has published work in december several times and even collaborated with staff to organize a reading in Portland, Oregon. Edited in Saint Louis, the journal features poetry, fiction, and nonfiction and is known for publishing great writers such as Raymond Carver early in their career. Submissions in all genres are open via Submittable or postal mail until May.

Speaking of Raymond Carver, Carve, which is named for the author, is a print quarterly that seeks to publish poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that can “challenge, heal, educate, disturb, and transform.” Williams published poems in the Spring 2017 and Winter 2018 issues of the magazine, which he admires for its bold mission. “Each poem and story in Carve simmers with hard-earned authenticity,” he says. “The editors don’t shy away from difficult subject matter or fresh perspectives, as long as every piece helps nourish a communal sense of empathy.” Editor Anna Zumbahlen adds, “We like to say we look for literary works with moments of catharsis and change.” Carve also hosts online writing classes and will publish its first anthology of stories and interviews later this spring. Writers may submit work in all genres year-round via Submittable and postal mail.

Williams published his poems “Three Ways to Feign Suicide” and “The Invention of Childhood” in Redivider, a journal he was drawn to because it seeks out underrepresented voices and, he says, supports “originality and experimentation as necessary to a fresh exploration of literature and our challenging, changing world.” Edited by graduate students at Emerson College in Boston, Redivider recently stopped print publication and relaunched as a biannual online journal. The magazine has published the work of many emerging and established poets and prose writers, including Ondrej Pazdírek, Safia Elhillo, and Steve Almond. Submissions are open year-round in all genres via Submittable.

“I found myself questioning not just my country, culture, and history, but nearly everything that defines me,” says Williams about writing As One Fire Consumes Another. “I struggled to faithfully explore the extent of my personal privilege as a white, cis, able-bodied male whose labors and strains are so trifling compared to others.” Poets Wendy Chen and Anna Mebel were quick to notice this self-interrogation in Williams’s poems, as well as his “precision of language and thought” and “sharp form and imagery,” and published two of his poems in their online poetry quarterly, Figure 1. Williams, in turn, was drawn to the journal’s “energetic, vibrant, and daring” approach. The editors launched the journal to “publish and give visibility to new and underrepresented poets and poems.” They add: “Poetry is an art form that is terribly conservative, but we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that it’s politically radical. It’s an art form that’s heavily supported by institutions.” Submissions are open year-round via e-mail. 

Founded by editor in chief Brianna Van Dyke in Fort Collins, Colorado, Ruminate is dedicated to helping its “community slow down, read deeply, and live more awake to ourselves and this world.” For Williams, who published his poems “Grace Notes” and “Dear Jonah” in the Fall and Winter 2017 issues, respectively, that mission is deeply felt. “The poems in Ruminate nourish me personally and creatively,” he says. “They are brimming with spirit and unvarnished beauty.” Poetry editor Kristin George Bagdanov praises the “delicately constrained form” and the “sonic logic” of his work. “We really like what Marie Howe says about poetry—that a poem is an ‘intimate utterance’ that ‘holds silence,’” she says. The print quarterly is open for submissions in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction year-round.       

 

Dana Isokawa is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Literary MagNet: Erica Trabold

by

Dana Isokawa

12.12.18

With her debut essay collection, Five Plots, Erica Trabold wanted to render in words the beauty of Nebraska, her home state. “I became quietly passionate about making my home feel just as beautiful to readers who had never been there,” she says. “I wanted to put readers on the ground and make them look closely at flowers and snowdrifts.” The collection, which was published in November by Seneca Review Books, brings Nebraska alive through lyrical and image-driven vignettes. The essays combine description, historical research, meditation, and personal anecdote to explore ideas of family, memory, and place. “Home, for me, had always been a complication, wrapped in happiness and hurt,” she writes. Trabold, who now lives in Portland, Oregon, published each of the book’s five essays in the journals featured below. 

The publication of Five Plots begins and ends with the Seneca Review. The title essay of Trabold’s book was published in the journal in 2013; five years later, her full-length collection was chosen as the inaugural winner of Seneca Review Books’s Deborah Tall Lyric Essay Book Prize. Edited at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, the biannual Seneca Review publishes works of poetry and nonfiction. “Seneca Review is the pinnacle of experimentation and form, the original home of what we’ve popularly come to understand as the lyric essay,” Trabold says. In the fall of 1997, Deborah Tall and John D’Agata, then the review’s editor and associate editor, respectively, began publishing what they called the lyric essay; the journal has since pioneered the form, having published lyric essays by Jenny Boully, Eula Biss, and Anne Carson, among many others. Submissions for the Seneca Review will open on February 15 via postal mail and Submittable; submissions for the second biennial Deborah Tall Lyric Essay Book Prize will open in the summer.

Trabold submitted to the Collagist because the online journal had “garnered a wonderful, years-long reputation as a place for experimental work” and because of its apt name. “Collage is a mode of making that my work often draws from,” she says. The piece Trabold published in the journal, “Canyoneering,” patches together the story of her father’s adoption with descriptions of canyons and caves. Published every two months, the Collagist publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction; submissions are open via Submittable until January 31 and will reopen on March 1.

When Trabold was looking to publish her essay “Borrow Pits,” which combines disparate narratives about a manmade lake in Nebraska, she knew it would need a home in a journal that was open to imagistic and experimental style. “It’s like a series of poems and thirty pages long,” she says about the piece. She eventually placed it in the annual print journal Passages North, which has a section devoted to hybrid work edited by Matthew Gavin Frank. Published at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, the journal celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year and is open for submissions in fiction until February 15 and in poetry, flash prose, nonfiction, and hybrid work until April 15.

As Trabold’s essays often meditate on change, it seems fitting that her piece “A List of Concerns,” about the author’s adolescence and shifting understanding of the Nebraska prairie, won the 2017 Payton James Freeman Essay Prize, which called for the theme “Change.” As part of the prize, cosponsored by Drake University, Trabold was published in the Rumpus, an online publication known for its daily output of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, criticism, comics, and interviews. In 2017, current editor in chief Marisa Siegel purchased the Rumpus with the goal of “giving a platform to those who might not otherwise find one and to publish work that challenges us to think outside binaries and beyond borders.” Siegel also hopes to adopt a flat-rate payment model for feature writers and book reviewers and to make the site more mobile-friendly. Submissions in fiction are open until January 31; submissions in essays will open March 1.

Trabold’s essay “Tracks” uses a single winter scene in the woods to explore the topics of motherhood and hunting. Since the essay is deeply rooted in the Midwestern landscape, Trabold wanted to publish the piece in a regional journal. “The landscape of my home is often underappreciated,” says Trabold, noting that people often stereotype the Midwest as flyover country. “I wondered if an editor from the Midwest would see the beauty I was trying to achieve for what it is.” She found the right home at the print quarterly South Dakota Review, which published her piece alongside poems by Twyla Hansen, the Nebraska State Poet at the time. “Everything about the situation felt right,” Trabold says. The journal, which is edited at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, mixed-genre, and translations and is open for submissions via Submittable until May 31. 

 

Dana Isokawa is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Clockwise from upper left: Erica Trabold, whose work has appeared in the South Dakota Review, Passages North, and Seneca Review

(Credit: Kimberly Dovi)

Literary MagNet: Laura Da’

by

Dana Isokawa

10.10.18

In the second poetry collection by Laura Da’, Instruments of the True Measure, out this month from the University of Arizona Press, the history of the Shawnee comes into focus. Da’, who is Eastern Shawnee, portrays life on the American frontier during the early nineteenth century through concise and concentrated images and speaks candidly about the violence European settlers inflicted on Indigenous people in America. “Any treaty is an artifact of unimaginable suffering,” she writes. With precise, visceral language (“salt-lick deer / split-hung / over the saddle’s pommel”) Da’ gestures at how violence and history can live in the land and body for generations. She has published poems in the journals below, as well as in Poetry Northwest, Eleven Eleven, and Blackbird, among others.

“I generally try to submit work to journals with an eye to building community as a writer,” says Da’, who lives in the Pacific Northwest. She found such a community at the Burnside Review, a print annual edited in Portland, Oregon. “I see it as a clear artifact of the Northwest writing community: elegantly lyrical, connected to a strong and singular sense of place, and engaged in seeking multiple narratives.” Her description also applies to the poem Da’ published in the journal: “Eating the Turtle” contrasts the story of “favored men” growing fat on “buttered meat, / stone-fruit sweet,” with a group of men with “attenuated bodies” catching and eating a turtle from the Delaware River. Burnside Review, which formerly published poetry and fiction, now focuses on poetry; recent contributors include Yu-Han Chao, Lisa Lewis, José Vadi, and James Haug. Submissions will open in January.

Da’ was drawn to the online journal Toe Good as a “fresh and innovative source for Indigenous writing.” In 2014 Da’ published her poem “First Ranges” in the journal; the piece weaves together images of migrating herds, boats on a river, and surveying tools—a major theme of Instruments of the True Measure is the “colonial impulse to survey, measure, and possess territory.” Jerry Bruno, a poet and Toe Good’s cofounder and “supreme chancellor,” says the editors were eager to publish Da’ and help her gain even more recognition in the field. Bruno says the journal seeks to publish “other stream” writers—young writers seeking a publication credential or who have published work with only small, unrecognizable presses. The journal publishes work continually online and has recently featured work by Ashley Parker Owens and James Croal Jackson. Submissions of poetry, fiction, art, reviews, and interviews will open on January 1.

Da’ calls the print biannual Yellow Medicine Review the “honored elder of literary journals…a singular and necessary institution.” Writer Judy Wilson established the journal in 2007 as a space dedicated to writing and art by Indigenous people. “Flowing through southwest Minnesota is the Yellow Medicine River, where the Dakota came together to dig the yellow root of a plant used for medicinal purposes,” she says. “Such is the spirit of Yellow Medicine Review in providing a platform for the Indigenous perspective, in part to make possible the healing of an old but open wound—the persistent stereotyping of Indigenous peoples—in part to empower voices too often left unheard, to promote cultural awareness, and to bear witness to what still lives in the memory of Indigenous people.” For each issue of Yellow Medicine Review, Wilson selects a guest editor, who looks for both established and emerging writers of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, playwriting, and scholarly essays or reviews. The Spring 2019 issue will be edited by poets Millissa Kingbird and Angie C. Trudell Vasquez, who will post a call for submissions in mid-November.

Da’ writes poetry rooted in place, an element that got the attention of W. Todd Kaneko, who published two poems by Da’ in the online journal Waxwing, which he coedits with Justin Bigos and Erin Stalcup. “Something I really dig about the poems by Laura Da’ is the generosity with which the poems give the reader a glimpse of the world her speaker lives in,” Kaneko says. “There is some beautiful imagery that is quietly strange and softly violent. Da’ has this way of transporting us into this new place….” Waxwing, which publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and translation, is committed to broadcasting the multicultural and multinational work of America and “hearing these voices together, in all their harmony and dissonance.” Da’ notes that the triannual journal has an “uncanny crystal-ball clairvoyance when it comes to introducing new writing that I will fall hard for and seek out with avidity for years to come.” Waxwing is currently open for submissions of all genres, including cover art.    

 

Dana Isokawa is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Clockwise from upper left: Laura Da’, whose work has appeared in Burnside Review, Yellow Medicine Review, and Waxwing.  (Credit: Kathie Statler)

Literary MagNet: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

by

Dana Isokawa

8.15.18

In every story of Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s debut collection, Friday Black, characters confront the bleaker realities of American life—racism, consumerism, commodification of the body—and reckon with the consequences of these issues on our humanity. The stories in the collection, which will be published in October by Mariner Books, have a dystopian bent and are told with dark humor and a clear-eyed understanding of human failings. “People say ‘sell your soul’ like it’s easy,” says the narrator in one story. “But your soul is yours and it’s not for sale. Even if you try, it’ll still be there, waiting for you to remember it.” Adjei-Brenyah has published work in Printers Row, Gravel, and the five journals below.

Several of Adjei-Brenyah’s stories take place in the mall—the book’s title is in part a riff on the shopping phenomenon known as Black Friday—and one such story, “In Retail,” was published in the online journal Compose: A Journal of Simply Good Writing. Managing editor Suzannah Windsor says the editors were struck immediately by Adjei-Brenyah’s “strong voice and great eye for unusual details.” In turn Adjei-Brenyah was drawn to the editors’ sincerity and transparency about the process. “I appreciate that and still do,” he says. “Journals that aren’t afraid to show some of their insides to remind you the people on that side of the editorial process are humans too.” In keeping with that transparency, the editors recently announced that the journal is on a brief hiatus due to personal and professional responsibilities such as publishing a book and having a child. They plan to reopen submissions in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art soon and will move from publishing two issues a year to publishing single pieces on a continual basis.

In 2013 Adjei-Brenyah published his first print piece in Broken Pencil, a Canadian magazine that publishes fiction, interviews, comics, art criticism, and zine reviews. Adjei-Brenyah published “Cardigan Blues” with the quarterly magazine after winning its annual Indie Writers’ Deathmatch, a tournament in which readers vote for a winning story, and writers can post on “particularly aggressive message boards,” says Adjei-Brenyah, to drum up support. Editor Jonathan Valelly describes the tournament as “chaotic and occasionally messy, which is what we think radical and groundbreaking fiction should be.” Broken Pencil recently started printing its issues in full color and is working to reach more cities across Canada to “empower local zine communities and nourish DIY arts.” General fiction submissions are open until September 15; submissions for this year’s Deathmatch open September 22.

“I was drawn to their simple design. Straight to the content,” says Adjei-Brenyah about the online journal Foliate Oak. “There’s something beautiful about presenting stories without much adornment.” Edited by undergraduate students at the University of Arkansas in Monticello, the journal is published monthly during the academic year and features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art. Adjei-Brenyah, who published a flash-fiction piece in Foliate Oak in 2014, notes that the publication takes flash fiction seriously. The journal is open for submissions via Submittable year-round, and the editors are particularly interested in flash fiction, non-rhyming poems, and “quirky writing that makes sense.”

“I love the diversity of the content Guernica publishes,” Adjei-Brenyah says about the online magazine dedicated to the intersection of art and politics. “I also love the way it seems to lean into the political. I believe art is inherently political, or at least it is a great privilege to be able to think of your art outside of any political landscape. I feel as though Guernica feels that way as well.” Established in 2004, Guernica publishes essays, art, poetry, and fiction by writers and artists from all over the world. Adjei-Brenyah’s “The Era,” published in April, depicts a dystopian future in which people’s personalities are genetically optimized, and those whose aren’t are derided and shunted to the edges of the city. Submissions are open in fiction and nonfiction; poetry submissions will open on September 15.

The sharp social insight of Adjei-Brenyah’s work calls to mind the work of  ZZ Packer, so it’s fitting that Packer chose his story “The Neon Guillotine” as the winner of the second annual fiction prize administered by the online journal Breakwater Review. Edited by the students at the University of Massachusetts in Boston’s MFA program, the journal publishes three issues of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction each year. The latest issue features stories by Terrance Wedin and Joey Hedger and poems from Holly Day, Lowell Jaeger, and Katie Brunero, among others. Submissions for the annual fiction award—which includes publication and a $1,000 prize—are open until December 15 with a $10 entry fee; free general submissions open September 1 via Submittable.  

 

Dana Isokawa is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Clockwise from upper left: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, whose work has appeared in Breakwater Review, Compose, and Broken Pencil.

(Credit: Limitless Imprint Entertainment)

Literary MagNet: Chelsea Hodson

by

Dana Isokawa

6.13.18

“I’m interested in essays because the definition of them seems to be changing all the time,” says Chelsea Hodson, whose debut essay collection, Tonight I’m Someone Else, comes out this month from Henry Holt. Hodson’s own essays, which tend toward the lyric and fragmentary, braid personal recollections of youth and lost love with meditations and aphoristic asides to create dreamlike explorations of memory and the need for human connection. Through the lens of her experiences—such as assisting the NASA Mars mission in Tucson, Arizona, or observing the performance artist Marina Abramovic—Hodson probes our desire to understand one another. “What’s the point of longing?” she writes. “To continue.” Hodson, who also writes poetry, has published her work in the journals listed below, among others.

“I think progress in writing can be extremely hard to quantify, and submitting to literary journals can be one way to push against that,” says Hodson. “Having something published feels purposeful, and having editorial feedback helped me keep working.” Hodson published her very first piece, “Everything Goes Up”—a poem, not an essay—in EOAGH (eoagh.com) in 2009. “I liked how the poem seemed to be kind of whimsically self-knowing, tonally strange, and labile yet talking about real things rather than being ‘surreal,’” says Trace Peterson, the founding editor of EOAGH. “It had a quality of asking slightly facetious questions in a deadpan way but without any implication of snark.” Published annually online, EOAGH, which also runs a small press, seeks to “foreground the writing of experimental women, trans, feminist, transfeminist, POC, anti-racist, and LGBT/queer authors.” Although the journal is mostly focused on poetry, Peterson says the editors are open to “writing that is strange and bizarre in a variety of ways.” Submissions for the next issue will open soon via e-mail.

Hodson wrote her essay “Second Row”—about a singer for a local band in Phoenix, where she grew up, and the difference between longing and love—for the “Kay Boyle & Love” issue of the Scofield (thescofield.com), a digital biannual run by writer Tyler Malone. “I like that the Scofield lives online,” says Hodson. “The design of every issue is always beautiful, and it makes it so easily accessible to everyone.” Each issue of the Scofield revolves around an underappreciated writer and a theme present in that writer’s work, such as “Renata Adler & Drift” and “Kobo Abe & Home.” The Scofield publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, philosophy, art, reviews, and miscellany by both living and dead artists. The journal accepts queries or pitches via e-mail year-round.

At coeditor Zoe Dzunko’s invitation, Hodson wrote and published an essay in the online edition of the Lifted Brow (theliftedbrow.com) in which she mused on Miranda July’s now-defunct Somebody app, through which people sent digital messages that were then delivered by random strangers. Living up to its name, the Lifted Brow is neither fully highbrow nor lowbrow and publishes a blend of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, comics, art, sex advice, and interviews. Edited in Melbourne, Australia, the print quarterly—which also runs a small press, Brow Books—publishes writers from Australia and elsewhere; recent contributors include poets Chen Chen and Craig Santos Perez and fiction writers Andrés Barba and Hannah Giorgis. Submissions in all genres will open later this summer via Submittable.

Hodson notes that five years ago many literary journals would publish only narrative-driven memoir or lyric essays. The online journal Sundog Lit (sundoglit.com) has perhaps always been omnivorous in its nonfiction tastes and in 2014 published Hodson’s essay “Your Voice, Saving Me,” which leapt from considerations of chemical warfare to the nature of truth to remembrances of an adolescent friendship. Established in 2012, the biannual publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art. “We are cool with traditional personal essay and memoir,” note the nonfiction editors. “We LOVE us some experimental, research-driven stuff. Segmented. Lyric. Essays written in a bowl of alphabet soup. Surprise us.” Submissions in all genres will reopen in the fall via Submittable.

“I worked on my book for about six years,” says Hodson, “so every time I published something, it was a little reminder that I was still working and still engaged with the literary community.” Hodson found that community through the online journal Vol. 1 Brooklyn (vol1brooklyn.com). Not only did Jason Diamond, its founding editor, publish her essay about reading Seneca, but he also introduced her to Kevin Sampsell, the editor of Future Tense Books, which published Hodson’s chapbook Pity the Animal in 2014. Vol. 1 Brooklyn connects many writers and artists in Brooklyn, New York, and beyond, with its regular readings and steady stream of content, including a story every Sunday, an essay every other Wednesday, daily roundups of literary news, and book reviews and interviews. Submissions are open year-round via Submittable.   

Dana Isokawa is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.               

Literary MagNet: Marcus Jackson

by

Dana Isokawa

4.11.18

In Pardon My Heart, Marcus Jackson’s second poetry collection, the speaker finds many kinds of love—love that is joyful, but also love that is complicated by economic hardship, race, and time. Jackson started many of the poems in blank verse or as Shakespearean sonnets but eventually branched out to other forms. “I began and finished most of the poems with a hope to maintain a lyric urgency and a narrative invitingness,” he says, “so that love, pain, and the forces of the world might rotate through the combination of story and sound.” Jackson published poems from the book, which was released in April by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, in the five journals below, as well as in the New Yorker and the American Poetry Review, among others.

“I’ve always enjoyed the exuberance the journal has for poems that reach directly out to readers with a duality of clarity and necessity,” says Jackson about Glass: A Journal of Poetry (glass-poetry.com/journal.html), which published his poems in 2011 and 2018. The monthly online journal, which is named for Toledo, Ohio—known as the Glass City—where Jackson grew up and the journal is based, publishes poetry that “enacts the artistic and creative purity of glass.” Editor in chief Anthony Frame notes that Jackson’s poetry, which he describes as in the vein of Philip Levine and Sharon Olds, exemplifies much of the journal’s aesthetic. “Marcus’s work isn’t trying to follow any trends,” says Frame. “He accomplishes a beauty through carefully constructed language that looks and sounds like conversational speech.” Submissions to the journal—including a new series of poetry portfolios by emerging writers—will open in June via e-mail.

Jackson says he was drawn to both Glass and the print quarterly Southern Humanities Review (southernhumanitiesreview.com) for being great spaces for writers of color and other underrepresented communities. Established in 1967 at Auburn University in Alabama, Southern Humanities Review publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. The journal’s recent issues include pieces such as “Hat Trick,” a series of micro-essays on the political history of the hat by Michael Martone, and “The Last Supper,” a poem by Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello about a last meal shared by a father and child. General submissions for the journal will open in September; submissions for the annual Auburn Witness Poetry Prize, given for a poem of witness, are currently open with a $15 entry fee until June 1 via Submittable. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication; Camille T. Dungy will judge.

“I’ve always loved Tin House for its adventurousness, its diversity of contributors, and its stunning physicality when actually held in the hands,” says Jackson. Launched in 1999 as “the singular love child of an eclectic literary journal and a beautiful glossy magazine,” according to the website, print quarterly Tin House (tinhouse.com) has maintained this sense of adventure and irreverence through a commitment to discovering new writers and issues with themes on topics such as candy and the science fair. Tin House publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction as well as reviews of overlooked books in its Lost and Found section and food writing in its Readable Feast section. Submissions will open via Submittable in September.

Like Tin House, Muzzle Magazine (muzzlemagazine.com) exudes a playful attitude. “With healthy doses of both reverence and mischievousness toward literary minds that have come before us,” write the editors on the website, “we are obsessed with asking what beauty can and will be.” Published twice a year online, the poetry journal was started by poet Stevie Edwards in 2010 and, as Jackson says, “excels at encompassing bold, needed poems when it comes to subject matter and cultural/political inquiry.” As the editors write in their call for submissions, “Institutionalized hate, discrimination, exploitation, rape, violence, tangible and intangible theft, and other abuses of power are older than this country. We are seeking new answers to old questions and old answers to new questions.” Recent contributors have touched on everything from transgender media representation to the work of Erica Jong. Submissions for the journal, which also publishes interviews and book reviews, will open on August 1 via Submittable. 

Jackson published three of his poems—one about delivering pizzas, another about being patched up after a fistfight, and another about observing a couple arguing—in the Rockhurst Review (rockhurstreview.org). The print annual, which is edited at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Editor Elizabeth Barnett reports that the staff is in the process of making issues of the review, which recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, available digitally. “Barnett and the students who also edit and produce the publication have done marvelous work of including poetry from across the country and from across the spectrum of on-the-page aesthetics,” says Jackson. Recent contributors include poets Donika Kelly and Kathryn Nuernberger and prose writer LaTanya McQueen. Submissions will open on September 1 via e-mail.    

 

Dana Isokawa is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Literary MagNet: Dionisia Morales

by

Dana Isokawa

2.14.18

In her debut essay collection, Homing Instincts, Dionisia Morales takes on ideas of place and home. Framed by the day-to-day of Morales’s life—rock climbing, travel, pregnancy, moving from New York City to Oregon—the essays weave together research and meditations on the history of a place and how it can influence an individual’s sense of belonging and family. Morales published essays from the book, out in April from Oregon State University Press, in a number of journals, including the five listed below. Like Morales’s work, many of the publications are rooted in place and, as Morales writes in her book, “the tendencies of place—the expectations, values, and behaviors of where we live that evolve over time, and, with each generation, penetrate the soil that we walk, work, and crave.”

 

Dionisia Morales often writes about the landscape and values of the West Coast, making her work a good fit for Camas (camasmagazine.org), a print biannual that she says “wrestles with a wily concept—the nature of the West.” Edited by graduate students in the environmental studies program at the University of Montana in Missoula, the journal publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art. “The editorial staff interprets the idea of the West broadly, not limiting the work it publishes to landscapes and wildlife, but also leaning into the intangible personality traits of a region,” says Morales. The magazine, which has published many environmentally minded writers, including Ellen Meloy, Rick Bass, and Robert Michael Pyle, is open for submissions in all genres until March 30 via Submittable for the Summer 2018 issue, whose theme is Rivers.

Focused on a smaller, but no less complex, region of the American West, Oregon Humanities (oregonhumanities.org) publishes essays and articles by writers living in Oregon. Published online and in print three times a year, the magazine has “an inward- and outward-looking quality,” says Morales. “The result is a channeling of ideas that are relevant to national and international audiences but described through the voices of people who share a sense of place.” The Fall/Winter 2017 issue, which carries the theme of Harm, included a feature by Joe Whittle on how Columbia River tribes protected ecosystems, an essay by Jason Arias about being an EMT, and an essay by Alice Hardesty about visiting the World War II Japanese American internment camp her father helped design. Submissions by Oregonians will be open via e-mail later this month.

Named after the literary device or gimmick that triggers a plot, the MacGuffin (schoolcraft.edu/macguffin) is based at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan, and publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art. The journal originally published Morales’s essay “You Are Here,” about visiting Istria, a peninsula in the Adriatic Sea where Croatia, Italy, and Slovenia meet, which opens Morales’s collection and sets in motion one of the book’s primary concerns: the feeling of passing through and engaging with the historical and social layers of a place. Established in 1984, the MacGuffin is published in print three times a year. Submissions in all genres are open year-round via e-mail and post.

Morales credits journal editors for helping her improve pieces, including her essay “Home at the Heart,” which she revised twice with Stephanie G’Schwind, editor of the print triannual Colorado Review (coloradoreview.colostate.edu) before it was published. “Instead of rejecting the piece based on one faulty element, G’Schwind was invested in helping me rethink the section to bring the last sentences more squarely in line with the essay’s tension around language and communication,” says Morales. Established in 1956 and published at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the journal publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction; recent issues have included poetry by Hala Alyan and Tyrone Williams, fiction by Kristen Roupenian—the author of the viral New Yorker story “Cat Person”—and nonfiction by Jennifer Itell and Clint McCown. Poetry and fiction submissions are open via Submittable or post until April 30; nonfiction submissions are open year-round.


Though two of the essays in her collection feature “quietly unconventional elements—seeing pregnancy through the lens of rock climbing, thinking that houses have personalities—that didn’t resonate with editors of other publications,” Morales eventually found a home for both pieces at Hunger Mountain (hungermtn.org), an annual print publication with an “eclecticism that invites writers and readers to assume a level of adventure,” she says. Located at Vermont College of Fine Arts, the journal publishes poetry, prose, visual art, young adult and children’s writing, and other literary miscellany. It also publishes an online companion, Ephemeral Artery, which includes selections from the print magazine along with book reviews, interviews, and craft essays. The 2018 issue of Hunger Mountain, themed Everyday Chimeras, comes out this month and was guest-edited by Donika Kelly in poetry, Melissa Febos in prose, and Ibi Zoboi in children’s literature. Submissions in all genres for the 2019 issue will open via Submittable on May 1 and close October 15.  

 

 

Dana Isokawa is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

(Photo: Ralf Dujmovits)

Literary MagNet: Danielle Lazarin

by

Dana Isokawa

12.13.17

It’s no coincidence that most of the stories in Danielle Lazarin’s debut collection, Back Talk—a book about women, and edited, agented, and publicized by women—were first published in journals with female editors. “I committed myself to supporting women in publishing more fully,” says Lazarin, who now submits only to magazines edited by women. “It seemed a simple step in supporting journals that value women’s voices.” The voices of women ring out in Back Talk, which will be published in February by Penguin Books; the stories show women of all ages negotiating the minor and major travails of modern life. In addition to the journals below, Lazarin has published stories in the Colorado Review, People Holding, Copper Nickel, and Five Chapters.

Lazarin has a knack for placing her characters in situations that draw out their fears and relationship histories, as seen in “Floor Plans,” a story about a woman in New York City who, on the brink of divorce, befriends a neighbor who wants to buy her apartment. The story was originally published in the Southern Review, where prose editor Emily Nemens went back and forth with Lazarin about the piece until she accepted it. “I love that I placed one of my most New York stories in this journal,” says Lazarin, a native New Yorker. “Emily said that was a draw—balancing the regions is something they look for in submissions.” Edited at Louisiana State University, the eighty-two-year-old quarterly publishes many Southern writers, but also publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by writers from all over the United States and the world, with recent contributions from Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Australia. Poetry submissions are open via postal mail until March 1; prose submissions will reopen in September.

Lazarin submitted to Boston Review after meeting fiction editor Junot Díaz at a reading he gave in 2007. Lazarin was the last person in a signing line, and Díaz encouraged her to submit, warning her to “make it good.” He eventually accepted her story “Gone,” which she then worked on with Deborah Chasman, the review’s coeditor. Previously a bimonthly print magazine, Boston Review—which publishes poetry and fiction alongside political and cultural reportage—recently shifted its focus to online content and introduced an ad-free quarterly print edition focused on themes such as “Race / Capitalism / Justice” and “Work / Inequality / Basic Income.” The website will also be free of commercial advertising beginning in February. Poetry and nonfiction submissions are open via Submittable; fiction submissions will open in early 2018.

Edited by sisters Susan Burmeister-Brown and Linda Swanson-Davies in Portland, Oregon, fiction quarterly Glimmer Train is “a magazine that has my heart,” says Lazarin. “The little extras they do—the back of the journal’s exploration of the story behind the story, the childhood photos, and the opportunity to write about writing for their online Bulletin—all these things allow a little bit more of you to come out with the story.” Established in 1990, Glimmer Train is highly respected in the literary world—Lazarin, who won the Family Matters contest for her story “Spider Legs,” says agents and editors contacted her for years in relation to that publication. The journal runs several contests and reading periods each year; the editors, who read all the submissions themselves and are keenly interested in emerging writers, review nearly forty-thousand stories a year. Submissions are currently open for the Short Story Award for New Writers.

Before she committed to publishing with just female editors, Lazarin published her first story in Michigan Quarterly Review, which is currently edited by Khaled Mattawa at the University of Michigan, where Lazarin got her MFA. The journal, which publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, has long featured an impressive list of women writers, such as Margaret Atwood, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Toni Morrison. The review also runs a frequently updated blog of interviews, craft advice, and cultural commentary on topics as far-ranging as the usefulness of a notebook and the novels of modern Iran. The journal is open to submissions in all genres via Submittable from January 15 to April 15. 

Lazarin describes herself as a ferocious, perseverant submitter—she once amassed seventy-five rejections in one year—and thus appreciates the enthusiasm and communication of the staff at Indiana Review, which is run by students at the MFA program at Indiana University in Bloomington, including editor in chief Tessa Yang. “With student-run journals there’s a sense that the editors are cheering for you,” says Lazarin. The biannual review publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, including recent work by emerging poets Tiana Clark and Fatimah Asghar and fiction writer LaTanya McQueen. “We look for [pieces] that are well-crafted and lively, have an intelligent sense of form and language, assume a degree of risk, and have consequence beyond the world of their speakers or narrators,” write the editors. Submissions for the journal will open on February 1.   

 

Dana Isokawa is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Literary MagNet: Deb Olin Unferth

by

Dana Isokawa

2.15.17

In her latest story collection, Wait Till You See Me Dance, fiction writer Deb Olin Unferth—the author of three previous books: a novel, a memoir, and a story collection—brings together nearly forty of her distinctive short stories. The stories, many of which feature characters grappling with the seeming futility of modern endeavors (say, keeping pet turtles, working as an adjunct instructor, lodging a complaint against a pretzel company), are written with precision, deadpan humor, and a sharp but generous observation of human foibles. It’s no wonder that the editors of many journals have sought out her work; Unferth published pieces from the collection, released this month from Graywolf Press, in magazines such as Esquire, Harper’s Magazine, and Vice as well as in smaller literary journals such as the five below.

Unferth was previously an editor at the fiction and nonfiction biannual StoryQuarterly, back when it was published in Chicago and edited by M. M. M. Hayes, now the journal’s senior contributing editor. Established in 1975, StoryQuarterly is currently housed in New Jersey at Rutgers University in Camden and edited by writer Paul Lisicky. The print journal has plans to go digital soon and will open submissions in the fall. “We always like to see fiction and nonfiction that strikes us as impelled, written out of a sense of necessity,” says Lisicky. “It would be especially great to see some new work that’s attuned to the social and environmental upheavals of our times.”

Based in Columbia, Missouri, the online flash-fiction journal Wigleaf seems like a natural home for Unferth, who published her four-sentence, 161-word story “Draft” in March 2016. “I love their mission: small and bright,” says Unferth. “They publish only very odd short-shorts and photos of beautiful, strange postcards designed by the writers.” Instead of running extensive author bios, editor Scott Garson invites contributors to send a postcard. “Dear Wigleaf, The last time I saw you I was different,” writes Roxane Gay. “Dear Wigleaf, Your life would have been different if you had gotten milk from your thumb,” writes Kate Wyer. Submissions of stories less than a thousand words are open via Submittable during the final week of each month, September through May (excluding December); the journal publishes one piece each week during the academic year.

Unferth, who likes publishing her work in student-run magazines, published her story “37 Seconds” in the print annual Columbia Journal, edited by graduate writing students at Columbia University in New York City. Established in 1977, the journal publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction both in print and online—submissions are open for the website from October 1 through May 31 and for print from May 31 to September 30—and runs an annual writing contest. Last year the journal opened the contest for the first time to incarcerated writers, working with prison education programs to distribute a call for submissions. “We wanted to help give voice to an often under-heard population of writers,” says editor Daniel Lefferts. That work aligns with Unferth’s own efforts—she recently put together a journal of writing from the John B. Connally Unit, a maximum-security prison in southern Texas, where she runs a workshop.

Speaking of student journals, Unferth published her story “Online” in print biannual Timber, run by the MFA program at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where Unferth once studied philosophy as an undergraduate. The journal publishes all genres and recently moved to themed issues. “Themed issues are a way to open dialogue between genres and to open dialogue concerning ideas or issues that are important to us without imposing an aesthetic prescription,” says managing editor Sarah Thompson. The first themed issue, the “Ruination Issue,” is open for submissions in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction via Submittable through March 31.

When the print biannual Bennington Review made its comeback in 2016 after a thirty-year hiatus, Unferth was among the many who applauded its return. Her stories “The Intersection” and “The Applicant” were published in Issue 2, released in November. “We wanted to take to heart former editor Robert Boyers’s desire for the magazine to be ‘a testing-ground for American arts and letters,’” says editor Michael Dumanis. “We were also thinking about poet Dean Young’s call in his book The Art of Recklessness for poets to be making ‘birds, not birdcages’—the new Bennington Review is committed to publishing work that fuses recklessness with grace, that is playful but also relentless, that is at once innovative, intelligent, and moving.” The review’s third issue  will be released next month and is focused on the theme of “Threat.” Based in Bennington, Vermont, and Brooklyn, New York, the journal is open for submissions in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and hybrid work until May 15.  

 

Dana Isokawa is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Literary MagNet: Kiki Petrosino

by

Dana Isokawa

10.11.17

In her third poetry collection, Witch Wife—forthcoming from Sarabande Books in December—Kiki Petrosino reckons with the decision of whether or not to have a child. It’s a question she says has no yes-or-no answer: “This is one terrain I can’t navigate with any map,” she says. “It’s personal, it’s emotional.” The book is formally inventive, with prose poems and free-verse lyrics alongside villanelles and other traditional forms. With such a diverse set of poems, Petrosino says the editors who solicit her work also tend to promote an eclectic variety of styles in their journals. In addition to the five publications below, Petrosino has been published in jubilat, Tupelo Quarterly, and Poetry, among others.

With their incantatory language and sometimes dark, fantastical bent, many of Petrosino’s poems are right at home in the online journal Grimoire, named after a book of magical spells and invocations. Established in 2016 in Chicago, Grimoire publishes two biannual issues of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and artwork—plus spells, séances and fan letters to dead authors, and descriptions of dreams. “Despite Grimoire’s interest in dark subject matter, there is something buoyant, even festive, about the journal’s take on the macabre,” says Petrosino. “Being invited to contribute my poems was like being asked to attend a secret party in a glimmering, underground cavern.” Submissions in all genres are open year-round via e-mail; the editors are interested in work that echoes everything from Shirley Jackson and Miss Havisham to doomsday cults and “okay, maybe a really good vampire.”

While Grimoire presides over the magical, Forklift, Ohio bills itself as a journal of “poetry, cooking, and light industrial safety.” Based in Cincinnati and published one to two times a year, the publication is one of contemporary poetry’s treasures, says Petrosino, as well as one of its best-kept secrets. Editors Matt Hart and Eric Appleby have made every issue by hand since starting the magazine in 1994; the latest issue was constructed out of the blueprints of a slaughterhouse, and earlier editions have been made of materials such as carpet samples and wine corks. Forklift, Ohio publishes mostly poetry, as well as flash fiction, recipes, safety tips, and creative nonfiction related to topics like home economics, industry, and agriculture. The editors vow to “take poetry quite seriously, if little or nothing else” and keep the journal ad-free. Queries are accepted via e-mail during the month of May.

Petrosino says that for a long time she was too shy to submit to Crazyhorse. “This is a journal with a half century of magnificent literary history behind it,” she says—and she’s right. Established by poet Tom McGrath in 1960, the biannual print journal has published writers such as Raymond Carver, John Ashbery, Jorie Graham, Ha Jin, and John Updike. Housed at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, Crazyhorse publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. “The poetry contributions are always robust and formally diverse,” says Petrosino, “so my two strange little lyrics about the mysteries of marriage found a ready home there.” The magazine is open for submissions each year from September through May, except during January, when the editors accept only entries for their annual writing contest.

Edited by British poets Sarah Howe, Vidyan Ravinthiran, and Dai George, Prac Crit is an online journal whose tagline is “poetry up close.” Each issue of the triannual publication features only a handful of poems, but these are juxtaposed with a critic’s close analysis of the poem and an interview with the poet. “In a literary culture too reliant on vague statements of praise or blame,” write the editors, “we believe there’s a renewed need for readerly attention grounded in the specifics of actual poems.” Each issue also features “Deep Note,” in which a poet annotates a poem. Petrosino wrote one for her villanelle “Scarlet,” which enabled her to “curate a kind of guided tour of the piece” and share the experiences in her life—baton twirling, contracting scarlet fever, playing Super Mario Brothers—that informed the poem. The editors do not accept poetry submissions, but they do accept proposals for essays or interviews on contemporary poetry via e-mail year-round.

Focused on the notion of place, the biannual print journal Spoon River Poetry Review is located at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. Established in 1976, the review publishes poetry and poetry in translation, as well as interviews with and chapbook-length portfolios of work by poets with a connection to Illinois. The journal allows for “traditional understandings of home and region to assume new meanings in our increasingly globalized world,” says Petrosino. She published her poem “Young,” a line-by-line reenvisioning of Anne Sexton’s poem of the same name, in the Summer 2015 issue. The poem explores the “potentially magic qualities of a suburban adolescence,” Petrosino says. “Of course, adolescence itself is a kind of place, one we pass through, briefly, on our way to everything else.” Spoon River Poetry Review is open for submissions via the online submission manager or by postal mail until February 15, 2018.   

 

Dana Isokawa is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Literary MagNet: Beth Ann Fennelly

by

Dana Isokawa

8.16.17

“A micro-memoir combines the extreme abbreviation of poetry with the narrative tension of fiction and the truth telling of creative nonfiction,” says Beth Ann Fennelly, whose new book, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs (Norton, October), does just that. Varying in length from a single sentence to several pages, the essays in her book are told with wry self-awareness and compassion; each piece illuminates how the manners and minutiae of everyday life, from making small talk on an airplane to fixing an air conditioner, are underpinned by deep-rooted human needs and beliefs. The author of three poetry collections, a previous book of nonfiction, and a novel she coauthored with her husband, Tom Franklin, Fennelly has published micro-memoirs from her new book in the journals below, among many others.

 

When Fennelly began looking into publishing her micro-memoirs, it’s no surprise that the first place she submitted to was Brevity, the gold standard for short nonfiction. The online journal, which specializes in essays of 750 words or less (along with a handful of craft essays and book reviews), published two pieces from Heating & Cooling in its January 2016 and 2017 issues. Established twenty years ago by the “indomitable Dinty Moore,” as Fennelly says, Brevity is based in Athens, Ohio, and is published three times a year. “I was intrigued by what might be possible in whittling true stories down to such a small size,” says Moore about starting the journal. Essay submissions open via Submittable this month, and queries for craft essays and book reviews are accepted year-round via e-mail.
 

Meanwhile, Arkansas International, which featured three of Fennelly’s micro-memoirs in its inaugural issue, is just getting started; its second issue was released earlier this year. Fennelly admits a soft spot for the biannual print magazine: It’s run by the MFA program at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where she got her MFA and met her husband. The program is one of the few in the country to offer a translation track and has an international focus, which is reflected in the journal. “I love to be at a party where other languages are being spoken,” says Fennelly. “Very cool to rub shoulders with a master of Japanese haikus of the Meiji period or a French comic book writer.” Submissions in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and translation open via Submittable this month; this fall the journal will also launch an annual $1,000 prize for a short story.

 

“I tend to appreciate journals that pay,” says Fennelly. “I think it shows a kind of respect…. I often donate it right back to the mag, so I’m obviously not in it for the dough—no writers are.” This belief seems to be shared by Grist, which published Fennelly’s “Nine Months in Madison” in its current issue. Established in 2007 and housed in the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, the annual print journal started paying writers two years ago. “Even with a small amount, we think paying our writers is a huge step in recognizing the work they put into their writing,” says editor Jeremy Michael Reed. Grist publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and craft essays, and accepts submissions in all genres until September 15 via Submittable.

 

Fennelly published her first pieces in Blackbird in 2004 and has been publishing work in the biannual online journal ever since, including “Safety Scissors”—a micro-memoir about her older sister that swerves from the trivial to the heartbreaking in a few hundred words—and “What I Learned in Grad School,” a spot-on snapshot of jealousy among writers, in the Fall 2016 issue. Fennelly cites audio recordings of contributing writers reading their work and the editors’ willingness to publish longer sequences as two of the journal’s many draws. Based at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Blackbird publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and plays. Postal and online submissions in all genres open on November 15.
 

Fennelly advises writers who are submitting flash nonfiction or micro-memoir to consider packaging the pieces in a group to help readers latch on to the form. When she submitted five micro-memoirs to the Missouri Review, the journal ended up publishing an eight-page feature of Fennelly’s work, along with notes about the form and original artwork, in its Fall 2016 issue. Located at the University of Missouri in Columbia, the quarterly often publishes such portfolios by a single writer, which, along with “a history of excellent editing,” is part of what Fennelly says makes the Missouri Review special. The editors publish poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and release a print and digital issue that includes an audio version. The journal, which launched a new website this fall, is open for submissions in all genres year-round online and via postal mail.    

 

Dana Isokawa is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Literary MagNet: Yuka Igarashi

by

Dana Isokawa

6.14.17

In August, Catapult will publish PEN America Best Debut Short Stories 2017, featuring twelve debut stories that won PEN America’s inaugural Robert J. Dau Short Story Prizes for Emerging Writers. Judged this year by Kelly Link, Marie-Helene Bertino, and Nina McConigley, the $2,000 prizes are given annually for debut stories published in literary magazines in the previous year. The anthology, which prefaces each story with a note from the editor of the journal that originally published it, shows how literary magazines are often a proving ground for new voices. “A literary magazine puts a writer in conversation with other writers and, depending on the magazine, with a community, with a lineage or tradition,” says Catapult’s Yuka Igarashi, who edited the book. Below are five of the journals included in the anthology.

“Writers need to decide for themselves who they are in conversation with, what their genealogy is,” says Igarashi, “but there’s always a new and exciting energy when an editor or some other outside curatorial force says, you and you are interesting to think about and read together.” This curatorial force is on display in Epiphany, a biannual print journal based in New York City that prides itself on publishing established writers alongside emerging writers, such as Ruth Serven, whose story “A Message” appears in the anthology. Serven’s story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of the journal, which also showcased work by poet Patricia Smith and fiction writer Lydia Davis. Epiphany publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction; submissions are open via Submittable until August 1.

The editors of the Summerset Review don’t seek out debut fiction, but they do end up publishing first stories by two to three fiction writers each year, says editor Joseph Levens. Established in 2002, the journal, which is published quarterly online and occasionally in print, is based in Smithtown, New York, and publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. “We’re suckers for engaging first-person narratives, and especially those that make us empathize with the protagonist and root for the underdog,” says Levens in his introduction to Jim Cole’s “The Asphodel Meadow,” which first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of the Summerset Review. Submissions are open year-round in all genres via e-mail or postal mail.  

“We read about 1,500 unsolicited short stories each year, always with an eye for work by new writers,” say publisher Vern Miller and guest fiction editor Rachel Swearingen of Fifth Wednesday Journal. Miller and Swearingen published Angela Ajayi’s “Galina,” about a daughter visiting her mother in Ukraine after spending a decade in Nigeria, in the Fall 2016 issue. Based in Lisle, Illinois, the print journal is published twice a year along with a separate online edition. The editors devoted the forthcoming Fall issue to work by immigrants and children of immigrants from Middle Eastern and North African countries. Submissions in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for the Spring 2018 issue of Fifth Wednesday Journal open on August 15.  

San Francisco–based journal Hyphen published Laura Chow Reeve’s debut story, “1,000-Year-Old Ghosts,” in June 2016. The magazine, which originally came out in print two to three times a year, is now exclusively online, publishing poetry and fiction each month. Launched in 2003, Hyphen—which also publishes news, criticism, and interviews—is devoted to conveying the “enormous richness, contradiction, and vitality that defines the Asian American experience.” Editor Karissa Chen says about Reeve’s story: “It exemplifies what we’re looking for when we select fiction—lyrical writing, inventiveness of plot, a point of view touched by the Asian American experience, and, most importantly, a story infused with deep empathy and heart.” Submissions in poetry and fiction are open year-round via Submittable.

Katherine Magyarody’s “Goldhawk,” a story about a female immigrant working in the office of an IT company, stood out to the editors of the Malahat Review because of its subtle depiction of the modern workplace’s “sublimated misogyny and xenophobia,” says editor John Barton. Housed at the University of Victoria in Canada, the quarterly print magazine publishes poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and translations by  mostly Canadian writers (though the journal is open to work from writers from any country). Established in 1967, the journal also administers several contests each year, including the Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize—the award, given for an essay, comes with $1,000 Canadian (approximately $730)—which is open until August 1. General submissions in all genres are open year-round via Submittable.

Editor’s Note: After this article went to print, the submission deadline for Epiphany was extended from July 1 to August 1. The article has been adjusted to reflect this change.
 

Literary MagNet: Aaron Gilbreath

by

Dana Isokawa

12.14.16

Aaron GilbreathWhen I find journals that run essays containing bad behavior, deep reflection, and curse words, I send to them,” says Aaron Gilbreath, who published nearly every essay in his debut collection, Everything We Don’t Know (Curbside Splendor, November 2016) in literary magazines. This was no small feat—he submitted each essay anywhere between six and sixty-two times. “My essays aren’t really formally inventive or pushing the genre’s limits, so I go for journals that welcome voice-driven first-person nonfiction that explores universal themes through unusual narrative frames,” he says. “The essays in my book feature road trips, pop culture, drugs, music, and screwing up, and they incorporate research and reporting.” Below are five journals that published essays by Gilbreath.

Bayou Magazine“Lit mags feel like old-school garage bands to me. When they aren’t tethered to commerce or some sales team’s expectations, they can focus on delivering highly charged, less commercial creations to a dedicated audience,” says Gilbreath, who seems to have found this in the New Orleans–based print biannual Bayou (bayoumagazine.org). Despite its modest circulation of less than five hundred, the journal produces “physical issues as beautiful as its contents,” according to Gilbreath, and publishes many emerging writers in each issue. Gilbreath’s “My Manhattan Minute” won Bayous essay contest in 2008 under a different name; the journal now runs a poetry and fiction contest each fall. General submissions of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction are open until May 1 via Submittable and postal mail.

 

 

Cincinnati Review

The opening essay of Gilbreath’s collection, “Dreams of the Atomic Era,” was first published in the print biannual Cincinnati Review (cincinnatireview.com). Housed at the University of Cincinnati, the journal publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and translation, and was founded in 2003 by Nicola Mason, James Cummins, and one of Gilbreath’s favorite fiction writers, Brock Clarke. Gilbreath discovered the journal after seeing it in the acknowledgments pages of story collections he admired, as well as in Best American Essays (which in 2011 named Gilbreath’s Cincinnati Review piece a notable essay). Submissions are open in all genres until March 15 via the journal’s online submission manager; senior associate editor Matt O’Keefe says the editorial staff would like to see more submissions of hybrid forms.

Louisville ReviewThe closing essay of Gilbreath’s collection, “(Be)Coming Clean,” first appeared in the Louisville Review (louisvillereview.org) in a shorter form. Gilbreath admits he was not always open to having this essay published—the piece is about getting on methadone maintenance for his brief heroin problem—but he is grateful now that it was. “I want to talk about this part of my young life,” he says, “and the Louisville Review helped me start that conversation.” The biannual print journal, which recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary, is based out of Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky, and publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama. The editors pride themselves on not only publishing established writers like poet Stephen Dunn and fiction writer Ursula Hegi, but also discovering those who are just starting out; the journal published Louise Erdrich when she was still a student at Johns Hopkins. Submissions are open year-round online and via postal mail.

The Smart Set“When I wrote an essay about sleeping in my car and stealing hotel breakfasts in order to see bands play on a limited budget, and questioning my parental potential,” says Gilbreath, “the Smart Set immediately came to mind.” The Smart Set (thesmartset.com) is an online magazine housed at Drexel University in Philadelphia that posts new content three times a week. Taking its name from the journal H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan edited in the early 1900s, the magazine covers culture and ideas, arts and science, and global and national affairs. Gilbreath was drawn to the magazine for its track record of publishing compelling travel writing—many of its pieces appear in the Best American Travel Writing series—as well as personal and critical essays, reporting, memoir, and photography. Submissions are open year-round via e-mail; the magazine does not publish fiction or poetry.

Hotel AmerikaAccording to its editors, the print annual Hotel Amerika (hotelamerika.net) is “an eclectic journal that attracts an equally eclectic audience.” Gilbreath had unsuccessfully submitted to the magazine for years, but when he wrote a “very voicey, tumbling, digressive-type exploration of the word rad,” he decided to try again. The journal accepted and published “’ra-di-kl” in its Spring 2012 issue. Established in 2002 and based in Chicago, Hotel Amerika accepts submissions in all “genres of creative writing, generously defined” via Submittable until May 1. “I still can’t believe they wanted my essay,” says Gilbreath. “Sorry to say it, but: It was pretty rad.” 

 

Dana Isokawa is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Literary MagNet: Alex Dimitrov

by

Dana Isokawa

4.12.17

In his second poetry collection, Together and by Ourselves, published in April by Copper Canyon Press, Alex Dimitrov questions the myths and realities of loneliness and intimacy. The poems are tonally diverse—aphoristic in one moment, wondering in another, and emotionally stark in the next. When it came to publishing these poems, Dimitrov gravitated toward online journals where work is easily shared and accessible. “Someone trying to find a recipe, for example, may stumble upon your poem in someone else’s feed, and that’s an unlikely connection suddenly made possible,” he says. “I really care about poetry reaching as many people as possible.” In addition to the five journals below, Dimitrov has published his poems in Poetry, Boston Review, New England Review, Kenyon Review, and BOMB, among others.

 

A journal with a lively online presence, Cosmonauts Avenue published Dimitrov’s poem “Famous and Nowhere” in March 2015. Editors Ann Ward and Bükem Reitmayer, who have run the independent online monthly since 2014, publish poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as a playful mini-interview series, Tiny Spills, in which writers dish on things like “your writer crush,” “tabs you have open right now,” and “your guilty literary pleasure.” The editors are eager to publish more “voice-driven and personal nonfiction” and are drawn to poetry, like Dimitrov’s, that “can house both intimacy and anonymity,” says Ward. The journal is open for submissions in all genres year-round via Submittable.

When he was in college, Dimitrov used to dream about publishing in the American Poetry Review. “It’s so classic,” he says, “a staple, really.” Established in 1972 and based in Philadelphia, the no-frills bimonthly newsprint tabloid has published consistently top-notch poetry, essays, interviews, and criticism by more than three thousand writers. The review published two poems from Dimitrov’s new collection, “Strangers and Friends” and “In the New Century I Gave You My Name,” and awarded him its annual Stanley Kunitz prize—$1,000 and publication to a poet under forty for a single poem—in 2011. “An Alex poem doesn’t sound like anyone else to me,” says editor Elizabeth Scanlon. “His syntax is so spare; it feels very intimate.” General submissions are open year-round; submissions for the Kunitz Prize close May 15.

Also based in Philadelphia, the Adroit Journal is released five times a year and publishes poetry, fiction, art, and interviews. Editor Peter LaBerge—who started the online magazine in 2010 when he was only a sophomore in high school—is unafraid of pushing the envelope and published Dimitrov’s poem “Cocaine” in the journal’s April 2015 issue. “I didn’t think many places would publish it because of the title,” Dimitrov says, but with LaBerge’s support the poem went on to win a Pushcart Prize. The journal’s contributor pool tends toward the younger side, as LaBerge is committed to connecting secondary and undergraduate student writers with the literary world; the journal administers contests for student writers and runs a free online workshop program in which high school students work on their writing with established writers for a summer. Submissions for the journal will open later this month via Submittable.

Established in 2010 by Kelly Forsythe—who also serves as Copper Canyon’s director of publicity—Phantom is the online poetry quarterly of Phantom Books, which also produces hand-sewn chapbooks and hosts a reading series in Brooklyn, New York. The editors are scattered around the United States, and as Forsythe said in a 2013 interview with the Poetry Society of America, their geographical diversity helps them to “consider—and strongly value—diversity of poetic tone, style, and voice.” Phantom is published four times a year and in 2015 devoted an issue to emerging poets. Dimitrov published his poem “Los Angeles, NY”—inspired by John Donne, religion, and the relationship between the body and the mind—in the Spring 2014 issue. The journal will reopen for submissions this summer.

Edited by graduate students at Ohio State University in Columbus, the Journal is published twice annually in print and twice annually online. Established in 1973, the magazine publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction and administers an annual poetry book prize in the fall and a prose book prize in the winter. The Journal published Dimitrov’s “People” in the Fall 2016 issue, a poem that editors Daniel O’Brien and Jake Bauer were immediately taken with because of how it “reveals a private familiarity, and simultaneously welcomes the reader, but holds us at a bit of a distance.” Poetry and nonfiction submissions are open year-round; fiction submissions will reopen on August 15.         

 

Dana Isokawa is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

 

Literary MagNet: Alex Dimitrov

by

Dana Isokawa

4.12.17

In his second poetry collection, Together and by Ourselves, published in April by Copper Canyon Press, Alex Dimitrov questions the myths and realities of loneliness and intimacy. The poems are tonally diverse—aphoristic in one moment, wondering in another, and emotionally stark in the next. When it came to publishing these poems, Dimitrov gravitated toward online journals where work is easily shared and accessible. “Someone trying to find a recipe, for example, may stumble upon your poem in someone else’s feed, and that’s an unlikely connection suddenly made possible,” he says. “I really care about poetry reaching as many people as possible.” In addition to the five journals below, Dimitrov has published his poems in Poetry, Boston Review, New England Review, Kenyon Review, and BOMB, among others.

 

A journal with a lively online presence, Cosmonauts Avenue published Dimitrov’s poem “Famous and Nowhere” in March 2015. Editors Ann Ward and Bükem Reitmayer, who have run the independent online monthly since 2014, publish poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as a playful mini-interview series, Tiny Spills, in which writers dish on things like “your writer crush,” “tabs you have open right now,” and “your guilty literary pleasure.” The editors are eager to publish more “voice-driven and personal nonfiction” and are drawn to poetry, like Dimitrov’s, that “can house both intimacy and anonymity,” says Ward. The journal is open for submissions in all genres year-round via Submittable.

When he was in college, Dimitrov used to dream about publishing in the American Poetry Review. “It’s so classic,” he says, “a staple, really.” Established in 1972 and based in Philadelphia, the no-frills bimonthly newsprint tabloid has published consistently top-notch poetry, essays, interviews, and criticism by more than three thousand writers. The review published two poems from Dimitrov’s new collection, “Strangers and Friends” and “In the New Century I Gave You My Name,” and awarded him its annual Stanley Kunitz prize—$1,000 and publication to a poet under forty for a single poem—in 2011. “An Alex poem doesn’t sound like anyone else to me,” says editor Elizabeth Scanlon. “His syntax is so spare; it feels very intimate.” General submissions are open year-round; submissions for the Kunitz Prize close May 15.

Also based in Philadelphia, the Adroit Journal is released five times a year and publishes poetry, fiction, art, and interviews. Editor Peter LaBerge—who started the online magazine in 2010 when he was only a sophomore in high school—is unafraid of pushing the envelope and published Dimitrov’s poem “Cocaine” in the journal’s April 2015 issue. “I didn’t think many places would publish it because of the title,” Dimitrov says, but with LaBerge’s support the poem went on to win a Pushcart Prize. The journal’s contributor pool tends toward the younger side, as LaBerge is committed to connecting secondary and undergraduate student writers with the literary world; the journal administers contests for student writers and runs a free online workshop program in which high school students work on their writing with established writers for a summer. Submissions for the journal will open later this month via Submittable.

Established in 2010 by Kelly Forsythe—who also serves as Copper Canyon’s director of publicity—Phantom is the online poetry quarterly of Phantom Books, which also produces hand-sewn chapbooks and hosts a reading series in Brooklyn, New York. The editors are scattered around the United States, and as Forsythe said in a 2013 interview with the Poetry Society of America, their geographical diversity helps them to “consider—and strongly value—diversity of poetic tone, style, and voice.” Phantom is published four times a year and in 2015 devoted an issue to emerging poets. Dimitrov published his poem “Los Angeles, NY”—inspired by John Donne, religion, and the relationship between the body and the mind—in the Spring 2014 issue. The journal will reopen for submissions this summer.

Edited by graduate students at Ohio State University in Columbus, the Journal is published twice annually in print and twice annually online. Established in 1973, the magazine publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction and administers an annual poetry book prize in the fall and a prose book prize in the winter. The Journal published Dimitrov’s “People” in the Fall 2016 issue, a poem that editors Daniel O’Brien and Jake Bauer were immediately taken with because of how it “reveals a private familiarity, and simultaneously welcomes the reader, but holds us at a bit of a distance.” Poetry and nonfiction submissions are open year-round; fiction submissions will reopen on August 15.         

 

Dana Isokawa is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths