I'm pretty excited. Our first flash is up, Jaquira Díaz's "Girls, Monsters." I'm on the masthead. Submissions are pouring in.
Big news, which goes public tomorrow: I've accepted a position as CRAFT Literary Journal's first Creative Nonfiction editor.
I've been working on our launch behind the scenes with Katelyn Keating, the Editor in Chief, for a while. Chose some reprints to inaugurate their first-ever creative nonfiction publications and that was hard. Wrote craft-based introductions to the reprints, and that was hard too (also exhilarating, combining my scholar's and teacher's and writer's approaches to close reading). There have been some permissions difficulties, which Katelyn has been dealing with, so only three of the potential five are definite, all flash and essays that I love: Jaquira Diaz (who goes live tomorrow), Ryan Van Meter (a short essay I've taught many times), and Ira Sukrungruang. Fingers crossed about two more writers that I have my heart set on.
When I was thinking about the introduction for Ira's beautiful flash "Because, the Ferguson Verdict," I ran across something he said in ESSAY DAILY earlier that year about why stories matter.
"We live in a new America, I tell my students. A diverse America, a multicultural America, and our stories matter more now than in any part of our history. I tell them we are no longer under the thumb, but rather we are the thumb, and we are here to make an imprint on this country. … What I want to ingrain in my students—whether they will become writers or not, whether they will go on to write a memoir or not—is that they and their stories matter, that their tellings of their stories matter, that how they tell their stories matters most.”
So much of what he says informed my years of teaching creative nonfiction and ethnic American literature. And it applies to my new editorial job too. CRAFT has a long-standing commitment to publishing diverse voices, a great team of editors and large, diverse team of readers. True stories "matter now more than in any part of our history," and "how" those stories are told matters too.
I'm honored to be working with such a great editorial team and editor in chief. And excited by the challenge.
I've been recording my pandemic dreams, the ones I remember (sometimes as many as three a night). They've become more mundane. Lately I've been writing in my dreams. (And writing when I'm awake. The Kathy Fish Fast Flash Reunion fertilized some new work that I would never have written otherwise.) Often I find myself somewhere (a bookstore, a library, a hair salon) and realize I've forgotten to maintain my shelter in place. Not surprising since all of California seems to be reopening, ominous COVID statistics notwithstanding.
A couple of disappointing rejections.
Tons of reading for the Black Lawrence Press chapbook competition, which I need to have completed in six days. The usual weekly reading load for CRAFT. And for my writing group, which is going strong, meeting every two weeks via Skype. Work ramping up for my new editorial position, which I'll announce some time closer to July 15.
Looks like I will be reading for the Flash Fiction Forum in San Jose (via Zoom) on June 17 (with Steve, which is always fun) and for the eminent F Bomb Flash Fiction series at the KGB Bar in Manhattan (via Zoom) on Friday, July 3
And I'm energized about launching my new creative nonfiction position, not officially announced yet. Lots of work to do in the coming weeks.
Back to the LUNATICS' BALL after a long time away. A big revision (serial killer Lizzie Halliday) and some new essays-in-progress.
I'm in a Facebook group for jump-starting your WIP ("Unlocked in Lockdown") and Michael Loveday, who organized it, just posted a great George Saunders youtube clip where Saunders talks about writing without a plan or preconceptions, and revision as an "act of love." It seems to relate to "Author's Note" I sent to MATCHBOOK yesterday:
“For my hybrid work-in-progress The Lunatics’ Ball, I’ve been reading biographies of Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot and Zelda Fitzgerald, along with the forgotten histories of lesser-known madwomen who also died in mental asylums. They haunt me. Possess me. It’s difficult to articulate the complex exchange of identities implicit in this project, but I keep writing my way into what I want to say. I wonder if I will ever finish.
Heard from the editor-in-chief about my new editorial position, which she'll announce (and I'll announce) very soon, and I'm excited and nervous at the same time.
An acceptance today that I'm really pleased about. First because it's MATCHBOOK and I love MATCHBOOK. Second because "The Madwoman on BART" was written for THE LUNATICS' BALL. MATCHBOOK does "Author's Notes" to accompany their publications, and now I have an opportunity to say something intelligent about the collection. A challenge. THE COLLAGIST was supposed to interview me about my two LUNATICS' BALL flash and didn't, I think because they were suddenly severing ties with Dzanc Books and transforming themselves into THE RUPTURE. Now I can try for a succinct descriptive paragraph.
It just happens that I had an exchange today with the Irish novelist Nuala O'Connor about second person pov, and the flash is partly about that. Nuala generously sent me a lovely paper she wrote about Edna O'Brien and her own novel YOU and 2nd person that's really interesting to me. Somehow I let my writing group influence me and I changed the two autobiographical death flash from second person to first person. Don't know if that was a good idea or not. Maybe I'll reconsider it after a rejection or two.
Ever since George Floyd was killed by the police in Minneapolis I haven't been able to stop thinking about his death ("I can't breathe") and how many similar deaths there have been year in and year out for so many years. It's no wonder most of the cities in the U.S. are on fire right now. It's been profoundly frightening hearing Trump threaten to mobilize the military against demonstrators, and watching police battling demonstrators with rubber bullets and tear gas on the news on TV. Yesterday we got emergency notifications on our cell phones and land line about a new curfew in Alameda County: no one can go out after 8pm now. Last night I couldn't sleep.
Today faculty pulled together to write a letter to students of color on our campus. I've been thinking about how much I learned from our students. Cal State East Bay has been named one of the three more diverse campuses in the country. I know I shifted my scholarly area to ethnic American literature because I had so many students of color in Fresno and in Hayward. (And I shifted from scholarship to creative writing because of my students' personal essays in Advanced Expository Writing.) Today I decided to put together a list of Black writers I taught regularly in my classes. Not all the Black writers I have read by a long shot, not all of the writers of color I've read or teach, but specifically the Black writers. Most of these I taught over and over for thirty years. Since I used anthologies in my literary surveys, I taught a lot of other individual poems and essays.
Claudia Rankine, Citizen
Jesmyn Ward, Men We Reaped
John Edgar Wideman, Brothers and Keepers
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
August Wilson, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Toni Morrison, Sula, The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon
Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy, A Small Place
Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun
James Baldwin, Going to Meet the Man, Notes of a Native Son
Gwendolyn Brooks, poems
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters
Richard Wright, stories
Langston Hughes, poems
Charles Chesnutt, stories
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Hooray! It's something I've been wanting forever. I made the 2020 longlist for the WIGLEAF TOP 50! There it is, right after Tommy Dean and Leonora Desar, my name and my story "The Lost Umbrella" (published late last year in PITHEAD CHAPEL). So grateful to Kim Magowan for accepting the story, and the judges at WIGLEAF for choosing it!
Four in a row. The first two, for a Lunatics' Ball essay, were really really nice, from eminent print journals where I didn't expect such strong interest, so I was kind of buoyed. The third, from a journal where I've published flash before, was also nice, and I already thought that my flash didn't quite fit the theme of their special issue. They said they were fans of my work, so that was nice too.
The rejection today was the least important by far, but it really slayed me. A big 24-hour party that takes reprints and takes tons of writers and I was one of them last year and the year before. Always a blow when you're not invited to the party. And of course I opened twitter to find a number of posts from writers who were invited instead of me.
I'm carrying on a Facebook private message correspondence with a third-year student in the Ukraine who was assigned a story of mine in her English class and is having trouble interpreting it. Very strange for a number of reasons, but firstly because it was one of my very first stories, in 2011, in a magazine that's folded with no archive. I couldn't open my old Word files of the story (I hadn't kept a .pdf) and Word kept freezing my iMac. Finally got it open on my laptop. So weird to imagine that a long-ago story, any story really, might be read halfway across the world in a class, or by anybody really. I guess that's heartening. The story, "Benediction," is a bit mysterious, a creative nonfiction flash that I still like.
Heat wave has started. Today is our son's 32nd birthday. 32 years ago I was in labor, a long one. I think he was born at about noon, after about twelve hours of labor, so that's an hour from now.
p.s. And in a strange twist of fate, Sam Rasnake of BLUE FIFTH REVIEW just tweeted one of the rejected reprints ("What Remains," a story which is also in the newish BENDING GENRES anthology) and it's getting more attention today than it would have at the party I won't be part of.
How are you? Thanks for asking, Lesley Heiser! I'm glad to have this online record of my shelter-in-place experience, since I'm not keeping a pandemic journal as so many writers are, and I love the collective nature of the "How We Are" site. My favorite part of my creative nonfiction workshop was a "How are you" folder I set up for online posts on Blackboard. One student said, "I guess we are living in history. I always hated history class." These posts by writers, musicians, and artists add up to my favorite kind of history, accumulated personal testimonies.
Michelle Ross in her Zoom talk at the Desert Flash reading advised sitting on new work for weeks or even months before revising and sending it out. I sat on my How We Are post for minutes, and now of course I wish I'd read more of the other blog posts, made mine shorter, less mundane, avoided using the word "wonderful" twice. (Both times in connection with Ben being home with us during the shelter-in-place, and in fact that has been wonderful.) But I still like being part of the historical record.
Here's the picture I gave them, me squinting at the Zoom screen, which I seem to be doing regularly.