Of Past and Prologue

by Jeff Martin

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More often than not, when I read something that leaves a mark, it also leaves a trail. It takes me back to something that paved the way for me to get to that place at that moment—the arc of the reading life. When I was a teenager in the mid ’90s, just starting to come into my own in terms of my artistic interests, poetry was everything to me—reading it, writing it (badly, very badly), and naively thinking that it could change the world. There were later moments when I lost that feeling, hardened by the cold facts of the real world. But as with most things, the pendulum swung back in the other direction, and I found a middle place. Poetry can’t change the world, but it was enough that it could change my world.

The first time I picked up a copy of Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology (1915), I didn’t really know what to make of it. The book was in the poetry section at my local library, but it was different from what I’d been reading throughout my tween and early teen years (Frost, Dickinson, the usual suspects). The first thing that came to mind was a play, dialogue. The book contains just over 200 short verse pieces, each one in the voice of a separate character. But here’s the thing: they’re dead, speaking from the grave, epitaphs of a sort.

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The whole conceit is set up in the opening poem:

“The Hill”

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One died in shameful child-birth,
One of a thwarted love,
One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,
One of a broken pride, in the search for hearts desire;
One after life in far-away London and Paris
Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and Mag
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill. 

Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily,
And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton,
And Major Walker who had talked
With venerable men of the revolution?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

They brought them dead sons from the war,
And daughters whom life had crushed,
And their children fatherless, crying
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where is Old Fiddler Jones
Who played with life all his ninety years,
Braving the sleet with bared breast,
Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin,
Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?
Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago,
Of the horse-races of long ago at Clary’s Grove,
Of what Abe Lincoln said
One time at Springfield.

From here we switch to the people. They confess, they gossip, they clear the air, they tell their stories from their own subjective point of view. When I try to convey what Spoon River Anthology is to the uninitiated, I often say it’s like a mashup of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon, which tells one story from four very different perspectives. But that somewhat highfalutin explanation doesn’t really do it justice. Wouldn’t it be great to have a more contemporary reference?

Few novels have had as much buzz lately as short-story master George Saunders’s debut, Lincoln in the Bardo. From page one, it became evident to me that Saunders, a favorite of mine, is also a lover of Spoon River Anthology. The novel revolves around the story of Abraham Lincoln and the death of his son, Willie, age 11. Years ago, Saunders heard that Lincoln used to go into Willie’s crypt and hold the boy’s body. The image never left his mind. Written in short vignettes, in the voices of over 150 different characters, it speaks not from the grave exactly, but from the “bardo,” a sort of Tibetan purgatory. The book is an obvious homage to Masters. As you may have noticed, Lincoln makes a brief cameo at the end of “The Hill.” As if that’s not enough of a connection, Masters also wrote a major biography of Lincoln in 1931.

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I write all this to say that with all the deserved praise Saunders is enjoying (we rarely see true literary novels become #1 bestsellers), take time to read both of these texts. In no specific order. I wonder what Spoon River Anthology would mean to me if I came to it after Bardo? It’s damn near impossible to untangle the love of some books from teenage nostalgia. And thank goodness for that.

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Jeff Martin, Nimrod Advisor, is the founder of the Tulsa Literary Coalition’s BookSmart Tulsa, an organization that brings numerous acclaimed authors to Tulsa every year.

Aging & Creativity or Putting on New Tires

by Francine Ringold

My daughter is going to be 60 years old. That seems impossible, almost as impossible as what she just said to me: “So many of my co-workers are retiring. Perhaps I should too. Yet. . . .”

That is a big “yet” for anyone to face, particularly someone who loves her work as she does. Yet it is bound to happen in this time when we are living longer, when we are healthy longer. We decide to retire.

When we reach an age when we no longer want to pursue the old way—the profession, the job, the vocation or avocation that has dominated the better part of our lives—people, many people, call it retiring. I prefer to say that we are re-tiring, putting on new tires because the old ones no longer suit us, no longer provide the speed and grace and protection they once did.

It is possible that when we re-tire we feel most ourselves—if, of course, we continue to be at work, at work making something: a loaf of bread, a new arrangement for our favorite room, a computer program that will do all the housework at once, a written record of our life up to now, a dance, a song, a story, a poem. We are at work! A different kind of work, work that is play and that has value in itself, work that gives delight in the doing as much as in the product of that doing.

It is no wonder the energy, productivity, and record of the mind and the body’s repertoire coming from older people are mounting. Medical science has made it possible for us to live longer but also—and crucially—that knowledge of the importance of the mind/body connection has become increasingly available. “Keep moving,” we are told. We shed the old tires, the old ways, for new ones. We reconnect with our body and our mind and discover the work to be done and the way to do it.

Yes, I am talking to myself. I do that frequently but I try to refrain from talking to myself out loud. What will they think? And I am not unaware of the physical and mental challenges of aging. I am, after all, eighty-three years old. The so-called “indignities” of aging, the loss of hearing, vision, mobility, bladder control, and recent memory, do not escape my notice. We experience them more or less as the years mount. The skin, the muscles, the bones, the vocal cords lose their elasticity so much so that sometimes they droop. Some of us move more slowly or limp. Some who have always walked quickly still walk as fast as we can even if we limp. And if we can’t walk, we will dance—with an arm, with a tapping foot, with a blink of an eye or a turn of a head.

We can do this—keep moving despite a loss here and there—because most of us have been prepared for the adjustments that age calls for by having experienced the “indignities” of simply being human: the water breaking as we gave birth; the time we tripped onstage and fell into the orchestra pit; the moment when we forgot to say “I do” or “I won’t”; the time we failed an exam or we were fired. Is it possible, given our survival from past embarrassments, to look at the indignities of aging not as losses but as a new way of being in the world? Thus we can welcome our shortcomings as, for example, astigmatic Monet did in the watery impressionist technique of his later paintings, or bedridden Matisse did when he invented his famous cut-out collages, which emerged only when he found painting difficult to manage among the covers. Losing your hearing? Think of how grand it would be to lower the volume on your neighbor’s orgasm screams without touching a knob or calling the police. Perhaps it is not always best to see the distinct outlines or the hard realities in order to see with clarity. Perhaps it might be helpful to remember that we all have frailties, that we are all, young and older, handicapped in one way or another—all imperfect.

And what about memory? The experts tell us that it’s all there: the names we seem to have forgotten, the stories we half-remember; they are all there imprinted on our brain and body. We just might take longer to retrieve the names, the details, like a computer, when its memory is full, takes longer to retrieve information. But the word, the files of years of experiences and thoughts and people are all there.

Sometimes not only does it take longer to bring our memories back, it takes a prompt, a sudden happening like Proust’s madeleine cakes, to thrust a memory forward. At the World Brain Mapping and Therapeutic Science Summits in the last several years, it was affirmed that the brain retains an almost perfect record of every lifetime experience. We just need to find the way to access that memory, those imprints, so that we can reclaim what seems to be lost or dim. We need to work!

As much as we need to work, we need to play. We have to welcome the unexpected, relish fragmentation, bits of information that return in the retrieval process and promise to grab on to the next fragment when it comes, like puzzle pieces that ultimately come together. Jotting down fragments, or spreading out machine parts until they form a new configuration, places our energy in the moment, what someone called “the present moment of the past,” or—we might hope—the present moment of the future.

Open spaces, the spaces between fragments, are also inviting. They suggest more than is stated. We are released from the insistent and even frightening demand of knowing where we are going, of having to see the total picture— beginning, middle, end. That might come later, the transitions, the linear perspective. For now, involved in the fragment and eased by the space between fragments, our energy is pulsing. We leap from one fragment to another. The parts are on the table and we see how to put them together and we make them work together. It’s fun!

Does this sound like a game more than serious business? I hope so. In this re-tiring phase of our lives, work is allowed to be play. And work and play are both enhanced when we engage the body to stimulate the mind and vice versa. I always start my writing of the day (writing is my work) with a simple physical exercise that stretches my mind as it stretches my body.

The importance of play in all meaningful activity was made explicit by Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga, who emphasized that play is something we do for its own sake, for its intrinsic value, for the pleasure of the doing and not for the resulting object of that doing. So, I suppose, when we work at something, when we work at making something and don’t worry about selling it, or publishing it, we are playing—we are joyful because each moment is full of life and presence.

Ideally, this is what we can do when we retire. We can enter into a process fully, attend to each moment, each fragment. We can really see, hear, feel, shape, revise, retool, and discover something new, something that brings us further joy. The arts allow us to do this kind of work/play. So does the engagement in making something: combining ingredients in a stew; stitching a dress or quilt with a new pattern; crafting a golf swing or a curveball; turning wood into bowl or statue; bringing a gaggle of voices into a chorus of collaborative singers. Language and image and color and form often spring out of those moments when we have the time and are given the grace to pull back from all the former routine “doing” in quest of something else, some profit outside the act itself, and re-tiring so that the car of our being runs better—not perfectly, but with new verve.

 

Francine Ringold, Ph.D., edited Nimrod International Journal for 47 years. She served as the Poet Laureate of Oklahoma for two consecutive terms.  Her most recent book: From Birth to Birth: My Memoir and a Guide for Yours.

Practicing Poetry at the Nimrod Conference

by Britton Gildersleeve

“As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth.
They go back to the Neolithic: the fertility of the soil,
the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude,
the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy
of the dance, the common work of the tribe.”
                                                                     —Gary Snyder

 The poets I love best—those I return to over and over again—are the poets who share these archaic values, as Snyder names them. Many of them have Nimrod ties—Nimrod is where I first encountered many of them. When I recently moved halfway across the country, I had the unenviable task of downsizing a lifetime’s library of books (mostly poetry) autographed by wonderful writers Nimrod has brought to its annual Awards Weekend, as well as to other events.

Many of these writers were recognized not only by Nimrod for their exceptional quality, but also by other national awards: the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, Library of Congress Poets, state poet laureates. . . . The list is long and illustrious, particularly if you include the writers—like my beloved Seamus Heaney—whose past visits Nimrod has co-sponsored with The University of Tulsa, where we’re housed.

There was Henry Taylor, whose books The Flying Change and Understanding Fiction: Poems 1986-1996 helped fuel my desire for an advanced degree in creative writing. He knew so much I didn’t! Even during a 45-minute workshop at the Nimrod Conference in 1998, he had us writing and working. A true writer and teacher. Write every day, he urged us, sharing that during his bout with “chemo brain,” he did clerihews, a short fun exercise that he insisted kept his “poetic brain” alive and functioning.

And Mark Doty, who teaches me every time he comes to Nimrod, and whose poetry and fiction both are revelatory. When you get to where you think the poem stops, he told us, write one more page. You may be finished. But the poem may, instead, take a turn you never expected. Or Pattiann Rogers, author of more than an armful of great books—my favorite collection of hers spans 30 years of poetry: Song of the World Becoming. Her work taught me—teaches me still—that the natural world around me is full of magic, if I just stand still, watch, and listen.

doty_si-303x335(Mark Doty, Blue Flower Arts)

There is W.S. Merwin, who has written not only remarkable lyric poetry, but has written an entire epic. And also, by the way, completely restored acres of ravaged rainforest on Maui. In his spare time.

As judges of the Nimrod awards, fiction and poetry writers from around the country read their work to conference attendees. They teach short workshops. They share their craft, their ideas on art and life, their selves, with all of us. Looking at a list of all the judges we’ve invited to be part of the Nimrod family (which is how all of us think of Nimrod), I’m stunned all over again at the amazing diversity of work represented, including young, new writers—Anthony Doerr, for instance, was pre-Pulitzer, and less well known when we asked him to join us as a fiction judge in 2008. I had the great fun of reviewing his collection of short stories, The Shell Collector. Six years later, he was both a finalist for the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize winner. What I remember best? That Tony Doerr was so knowledgeable about craft, and took all of us in his workshop as seriously as we took him. That’s true of almost all the Nimrod judges.

From established names like Denise Levertov, Ishmael Reed, Stanley Kunitz, and W.S. Merwin to newer craftsmen like Chase Twichell, Colum McCann, and B.H. Fairchild, each year some of the best writers in the country make themselves available to writers of all levels, from all over. During Awards Weekend there’s an entire evening and a full day devoted to writing. To poetry and prose. To writers. How rare is that, these days? That a town like Tulsa, Oklahoma, would be the site of a glittering weekend of literati?

My point? That even a short Nimrod Awards Weekend can function as almost a full course—certainly a workshop—in writing. And that’s the reason so many of us call it our writing home, even many of these illustrious judges.

I thought it might be fun to include a list of the judges for the original Nimrod/Hardman Awards, which have since become the Nimrod Literary Awards.

Here goes:

2017: Laura van den Berg and Jericho Brown
2016: Angela Flournoy and Robin Coste Lewis
2015: Karen Russell and Tina Chang
2014: Chris Abani and W. S. Di Piero
2013: Cristina Garcia and Aimee Nezhukumatathil
2012: Gish Jen and Philip Levine
2011: Amy Bloom and Linda Pastan
2010: David Wroblewski and Molly Peacock
2009: Robert Olen Butler and Marie Howe
2008: Anthony Doerr and Mark Doty
2007: A.G. Mojtabai and John Balaban
2006: Gina Ochsner and Colleen McElroy
2005: David Plante and Charles Martin
2004: Aleksandar Hemon and B.H. Fairchild
2003: Colum McCann and Chase Twichell
2002: Ron Carlson and Edward Hirsch
2001: Janette Turner Hospital and Pattiann Rogers
2000: John Edgar Wideman and Thomas Lux
1999: Ron Carlson and Mark Doty
1998: Anita Shreve and Henry Taylor
1997: Francine Prose and W.S. Merwin
1996: Antonya Nelson and Lucille Clifton
1995: William Kittredge and Peggy Shumaker
1994: Timothy Findley and Lorna Crozier
1993: Janette Turner Hospital and Lars Gustafsson
1992: Ron Carlson and Colleen J. McElroy
1991: Gladys Swan and James Ragan
1990: John Leonard and W.D. Snodgrass
1989: Toby Olson and Olga Broumas
1988: George Garrett and Stephen Dunn
1987: Gordon Lish and Carolyn Kizer
1986: Rosellen Brown and Stanley Kunitz
1985: Mary Lee Settle and Lisel Mueller
1984: Paul West and Richard Howard
1983: Ishmael Reed and Denise Levertov
1982: Diane Johnson and Marvin Bell
1981: R.V. Cassill and Mark Strand

Britton Gildersleeve’s creative nonfiction and poetry have appeared in Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, This Land, and many other journals. She has published three chapbooks and was the director of the Oklahoma State University Writing Project for twelve years.

 

 

Au Naturel

by Jane Wiseman

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In these times of climate change, I remember my relatively rural North Carolina upbringing as a pretty idyllic one. We lived a couple of miles from town in a group of houses backing up to undeveloped woods rolling down to Morgan Creek. We wandered the woods from breakfast till supper, mindful of snakes, mostly copperheads and water moccasins, trying to identify birdcalls, blissfully immersed to our necks in the swimming hole watching our dogs paddle around, and searching for unfamiliar flora to bring home, press, and identify.

As a teenager, I was desperate to become what back in the day we called an “ecologist.” Then there was nothing as satisfying to me as time spent out in “the great natural world.” And it was becoming more apparent to any discerning eye that this world needed protection by—and from—humans. I attribute my awareness of this in no small part to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which called out to me in a way few books had. A call to arms: serious, authentic, admonitory.

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Reality, i.e., mediocrity in the sciences, compelled reconsideration of my career choice, but interest in books on the subject of “the great natural world” has never deserted me. If I could, at will, pass out copies of one book indiscriminately to anyone willing to take it, I think it would be Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I read it when it first came out and couldn’t believe how she viscerally transported you to her life outdoors on Tinker Creek in the Blue Ridge of Virginia. I was caught by the first paragraph:

I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest. . . . Some nights he kneaded my bare chest with his front paws, powerfully, arching his back, as if sharpening his claws, or pummeling a mother for milk. And some mornings I’d wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I’d been painted with roses.

And just a few pages later:

That it’s rough out there and chancy is no surprise. Every live thing is a survivor on a kind of extended emergency bivouac. . . . “God is subtle,” Einstein said, “but not malicious.” Again, Einstein said that “nature conceals her mystery by means of her essential grandeur, not by her cunning.” It could be that God has not absconded but spread, to a fabric of spirit and sense so grand and subtle, so powerful in a new way, that we can only feel blindly of its hem.

Since my first reading, these paragraphs have lived with me, as well as many other images and experiences so magically described in Tinker’s Creek. I wish now I’d paid more attention to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods as a starting point on this journey, but I certainly remember youthful memorization of Robert Frost’s poetry, particularly “Nothing Gold Can Stay”:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Two recent books, a novel and a biography, I found engrossing are Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things and Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature. The Signature of All Things follows Gilbert’s fictional heroine, botanist Alma Whittaker, who devotes herself to the world of mosses and in her global explorations develops a new taxonomy that she expands to encompass all life, much along the lines of Darwin’s work. In her biography, The Invention of Nature, Wulf resurrects the forgotten life and adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the German naturalist and explorer whose revolutionary views of nature inspired Darwin, Wordsworth, Thoreau, and John Muir, among others. Not to mention that he established fascinating relationships with Thomas Jefferson, Simón Bolívar, and Goethe.

On a final note, I’ll mention two books in my incoming stack that show great promise: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs: Use Outdoor Clues to · Find Your Way · Predict the Weather · Locate Water · Track Animals—And Other Forgotten Skills by Tristan Gooley. Mary Oliver in her poem “The Summer Day” asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” One could do worse than spend it in the company of writers and poets au naturel.

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Jane Wiseman writes for a living as a Judge on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals.  She counts the day she joined Nimrod’s Advisory Board as one of her happiest and currently serves as Chair of the Advisory Board.

The Practical Editor: Cover Letters

As Nimrod’s Editor, I’ve offered workshops and Q&As on a variety of writerly topics, and some of my favorite workshops are those about the practical aspects of being a writer. Writing can be a lonely business, and even with the many resources available to writers online, I’ve found that writers appreciate the chance to ask an editor direct questions, questions that might seem simple, but that can lead to anxiety when you aren’t sure of the answer. “What does SASE mean?” “What does an agent do?” “Where can I find out about writing contests?”—these are the kinds of questions I get again and again, so I’m starting a series called “The Practical Editor” here on our blog that will go through some of the most common questions I receive. I’m going to start with the first thing an editor sees when you submit your work: your cover letter.

In general, a submission to a literary journal has two main components: your manuscript and a cover letter. Today I want to talk about what a cover letter should look like and what information it should contain. (We’ll go through manuscript formatting another day.)

Cover Letter Basics

A cover letter is your greeting to the journal or magazine. It should be no more than one page and should provide your contact information, information about your submission, and some information about you. There may be other schools of thought, but I like a simple, direct cover letter—and you will certainly never go wrong with one. Let’s break the elements down, and then we’ll look at a sample cover letter.

Information on your submission

Your cover letter should include the titles of the works you are submitting. For poetry, list each poem. For fiction or creative nonfiction, also include a word count, rounded to the nearest hundred words. (You normally do not need to include a word or line count for poetry unless requested.)

Information about yourself

Your cover letter should contain a brief and relevant biographical statement about yourself. Your bio will change depending on where you are in your literary career, but some basic elements are previous publication credits and/or awards, and any relevant writing degrees, workshops, jobs, or writing experience. In general, a cover letter bio statement should not exceed 100 words. This may mean that you don’t get to include all of your publication credits, but that’s fine—just pick the most impressive. I’m personally a fan of the third-person bio (which means less work for the journal if it accepts your work), but you can also write your statement in first person. If you don’t have any previous publication credits or writing experience, it’s perfectly okay to say something like, “Eilis O’Neal is a writer from Tulsa, Oklahoma. If this piece is accepted, this will be her first publication.”

Your contact information

This is the most important part of a cover letter and the most obvious part, but it’s also one that I have seen overlooked on multiple occasions. You want to make sure that the journal has your contact information at their fingertips—because how else will they get in touch with you if they want to publish your work? Your cover letter should contain your name, mailing address, preferred phone number, and preferred email. Make sure these are updated and accurate.

Sample Cover Letter

The following is the cover letter template that I used when I was regularly sending out short stories several years ago. It’s simple, direct, and conveys all the information I need it to.

Dear Mr. Grant,

I am submitting “The Sleeper” (5,400 words) for consideration in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

Bio:

Eilis O’Neal lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is Managing Editor of Nimrod International Journal. Her short fantasy has appeared in Fantasy Magazine, Realms of Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Zahir: A Journal of Speculative Fiction, and others.

I look forward to any comments you might give, and thank you for your time and energy.

Sincerely,

Eilis O’Neal
Address
Phone
Email

Additional Cover Letter Tips

Now that we’ve gone through the basic cover letter, here are some additional dos and don’ts.

  • Length: Keep your cover letter to one page—anything longer is excessive and probably won’t be looked at.
  • Salutation: Double check the name of the editor to whom you address your submission on the journal’s website, which will have the most updated information. Make sure that you spell the name correctly, and if you aren’t sure of the person’s gender, just say “Dear Full Name.” If you aren’t sure to whom you should address the submission, “Dear Editors” is always acceptable.
  • Fonts and paper: Use a 12-point standard font, such as Times New Roman. Print your cover letter on plain white paper or professional-looking letterhead. Avoid anything overly colorful or with loud prints.
  • Simultaneous submissions: If the journal accepts simultaneous submissions and you are making one, say so.
  • Irrelevant bio information: Keep it professional. Don’t tell the editor the names of your dogs, offer to buy then beer if you ever meet, or mention how you love bungee jumping (unless your story is about bungee jumping, at which point that becomes relevant information). I’m also not a fan of any sort of “artistic statement/philosophy” simply because they often sound trite and may be at odds with the editor’s own ideas on the subject.
  • Jokes: Likewise, avoid jokes or being silly. I know that it can be a temptation to try to loosen a cover letter up, but too often being actively joke-y just comes off as unprofessional.
  • Finally, let your work speak for itself. One of the reasons that I advocate for a simple cover letter is that it doesn’t detract from the most important piece of your submission: your manuscript. That’s what the editor is really here to see, and a simple cover letter doesn’t clog the editor’s brain with information they don’t need and that might prejudice them against your work before they’ve even read it.

In Conclusion

Obviously, all this advice should be taken with this grain of salt: The journal that you’re submitting to may have specific guidelines for cover letters and, if so, you should follow them. Also, if you are submitting online, they may have an online form for cover letters that may change what information you can include. If they don’t mention specific guidelines, however, a cover letter like the one I’ve described will always look professional and provide the journal with the basic information they need to review and respond to your work.

*If there are topics that you would like to see covered in future posts on “The Practical Editor,” leave a comment below or email us at nimrod@utulsa.edu.

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Eilis O’Neal is Nimrod‘s Editor-in-Chief. She is also a writer of fantasy and the author of the young adult fantasy novel The False Princess.

Building a Literary Tulsa

by Helen Patterson

Tulsa has always loved culture and books, but as technology enables writers to travel and tour regularly, Midwest cities like Tulsa find new possibilities to actually engage with the writers they love. In the past five years, many writers have visited Tulsa, including Chuck Palahniuk, Colm Toibin, David Sedaris, Elizabeth Gilbert, Stephen King, and Meg Cabot. We also have been graced by less well-known authors, promising new authors, and literary and academic authors writing for niche audiences.

Tempting authors to visit a city is a beginning, not the end: I’ve found myself wondering how a city such as Tulsa becomes a literary city. Not just a place where authors show up and people collect their signed books like collector’s cards, but a place that actively encourages the discussion and exchange of ideas, a place that nurtures and supports writers.

The existence of writing and writers is precarious—cities need a collection of citizens and organizations dedicated to promoting and nurturing the arts. Fortunately for Tulsa, we have many local organizations, including but not limited to the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities, Nimrod International Journal, the Tulsa Literary Coalition, and the Tulsa City-County Library.

Traditionally, universities are bastions of learning, but they can be insular and indifferent to the welfare of the cities that host them. The existence of organizations reaching out to the public, supported by the university, help bridge this gap. My alma mater, The University of Tulsa, has Nimrod International Journal and the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities. Founded in 2014, the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities draws interdisciplinary discussion by recruiting fellows from varied disciplines and backgrounds to research and explore a particular theme (food is the theme for 2016-2017). Since its inception, the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities has held lectures, book discussions, and other events open to the public, as well as the annual Arts and Humanities Festival with faculty and student participants.

Nimrod recruits writers from around the country and the world, highlighting their work and inviting the public to interact with and learn from other writers and readers during its annual Conference. In both cases, young students at TU and from other universities and even high schools make up a large portion of the audience. By building bridges between the community and the university and appealing to the young, Nimrod helps to promote a literary Tulsa by transmitting a love of literature and learning to the rising generation.

As of 2015, Tulsa also hosts the not-for-profit Tulsa Literary Coalition, dedicated to bringing writers into the city, promoting local writers and others through interdisciplinary discussion, and sparking a passion for words in the young and the old. Through Booksmart Tulsa, the coalition invites authors to come to Tulsa, discuss their works and their writing processes, and speak to locals. The Tulsa Literary Coalition is also planning on opening Magic City Books, an independent bookstore which will support the coalition, this year in the Brady Arts District. By exposing ourselves to visiting authors, and visiting authors to us, Tulsa weaves its way into the national literary conversation and encourages its citizens to write, read, and love literature.

If you live in Tulsa county and haven’t visited your local library recently, perhaps the news that Tulsa City-County Library is a finalist for the 2017 National Medal for Museum and Library Service will encourage you to visit. As an employee of TCCL I am biased, but Tulsa is incredibly fortunate to have such a robust and energetic public resource for both adults and children. A few weeks ago, I attended TCCL’s presentation of the Anne V. Zarrow Award for Young Reader’s Literature to Laurie Halse Anderson (pictured below, left), who is best known for her challenging YA novels. As part of the evening, Anderson presented the awards for Tulsa’s annual Young People’s Creative Writing Contest. Seeing these young writers’ excitement over the formal presentation of the awards and meeting a famous author made it clear Tulsa fosters a love of writing at a young age.

Helen Patterson Laurie Halse Anderson

I’m not a native Tulsan or Okie, but in the seven years I’ve been here I’ve seen the arts scene in Tulsa expand and thrive as Tulsa makes a conscious effort on many fronts to be a literary city. I plan on being a writer in a city that cares about writing—and wants future generations to care, too.  If you live in Tulsa, explore this city and all that it offers. If you don’t, consider applying for the Tulsa Arts Fellowship, designed both to support locals and to appeal to national talent. If that doesn’t tempt you, come for Antoinette’s coconut cream pie: David Sedaris said it was one of the best desserts he had ever eaten.

Originally hailing from Colorado, Helen Patterson is a graduate of The University of Tulsa. She works at the Tulsa City-County Library, writes literary horror, and loves a wonderful Okie boy.

In Praise of the Particular: The Poetry of Millen Brand

 

by John Coward

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I can’t explain why, but my literary taste runs toward the particular, the actual, the concrete. To put it another way, I prefer reading about things that are—or appear to be—real. That would explain my continuing interest in the American poet Millen Brand (1906-1980). Brand is probably best known for a novel called The Outward Room (1937), a Depression-era story of a young woman escaping an insane asylum and struggling to regain her sanity. Brand’s poetry, by contrast, is understated and much less dramatic. In Local Lives (1975), Brand highlights the small but crucial elements that make up the lives of ordinary people in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. This is a poetry book that opens with a map of villages with names such as Seisholtzville, Green Lane, Long Swamp, and Huff Church. That’s part of the “real” that attracts me to Local Lives.

Born in New Jersey, Brand was of Pennsylvania German descent through his mother. Brand studied at Columbia University and later worked as a psychiatric aide, an experience that informed the plot of The Outward Room. In 1940, after many years in New York, Brand moved to Crow Hill, overlooking Bally, Pennsylvania, where his writing life changed. He began to appreciate the lives of his neighbors, who were old German families of Mennonite, Amish, Brethren, Quaker, and Catholic persuasion. “I had a house, barn, and some acres of land,” Brand wrote, “and for the first time in many years I had a sense of community.” These people and this particular American place inspired the poems in Local Lives. Brand’s motives, as he explained, were as simple as they were noble: “I was impelled by a sense of valuable lives going unrecorded.”

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I should note here that Brand’s poems are not traditional verse—no rhymes here, no rhythm or meter. For Brand, poetry was an open form. Thus Local Lives included, as Brand himself noted, “skills, trades, anecdotes, ledger entries, letters, even two recipes.” In fact, the first poem in Local Lives is “Bread,” which opens with these lines: “Heat fat. Pour it into the flour. / Some salt for sweat and for the sea. / Some sugar for the little ones’ tongues.” In short, Brand’s poems are flat, more prose than traditional poetry. But what the poems lack in lyricism, they make up in plainspoken clarity. Brand’s poems are unadorned, bits of speech and story recorded and set down in short, irregular lines.

This sort of poetry can be dull, but in Brand’s deliberate hands, these poems capture something small but essential about these good people. Consider this poem, published in its entirety:

A Little Thing

(Squire Benfield talking)

‘The Devil’s Hole?’ That’s a stretch of road
from Huff’s Church down toward Clayton.
In the days when that was a dirt road,
a farmer once drove with mules,
and his wagon got stuck in the mud.
The mules could hardly lift their legs.
‘This is a devil of a hole,’ he said.
Since then it’s called The Devil’s Hole.
That shows, doesn’t it,
how long a little thing can be remembered?

This poem, told as a bit of stray conversation, recalls a seemingly insignificant incident. Such moments, I posit, make up the substance of the daily life we all experience but rarely stop to consider. In Local Lives, Brand succeeds by preserving common stories from real people—ordinary but actually amazing people—whose place and time and simple humanity are worth remembering and contemplating today. Find an old copy of Local Lives and see for yourself.

John Coward teaches media studies and journalism at The University of Tulsa. He is a member of the Nimrod Advisory Board and the author of, most recently, Indians Illustrated: The Image of Native Americans in the Pictorial Press (University of Illinois Press, 2016).

All They Will Call You

by Diane Burton

“Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won’t need a name when you ride the big airplane
And all they will call you will be ‘deportee.’”

On April 24, 2017, Tim Z. Hernandez spoke to a full house at Tulsa’s Woody Guthrie Center about his book, All They Will Call You:  The Telling of the Plane Wreck at Los Gatos Canyon (U Arizona P, 2017). I was lucky enough to attend the event and want to let Nimrod followers know about it and about Hernandez’s powerful project: restoring the names and stories of the Mexican guest workers who died in the crash, and building a memorial to them that includes their names and their story.

W.H. Auden famously said, “Poetry makes nothing happen.”  While he said this in retreat from his own politically engaged writing, it’s often taken as a warning that poetry should not aim to make things happen—a caution against shortsighted topicality and future unforeseen consequences.  But Hernandez’s efforts, inspired by a poem by Woody Guthrie, make me wonder if Auden was mistaken; maybe poetry can make some things happen, if not in action in the world, in action in our memories and consciousness.

The Plane Crash
The book is based on a plane crash at Los Gatos Canyon, California, January 28, 1948, that killed all 32 people aboard the aircraft, including the crew (pilot, copilot, stewardess), a guard, and at least 28 Mexican guest workers, 27 men and one woman.  The plane’s left engine caught fire, the left wing fell off, and the plane blew up, leaving no survivors and scattering the remains of the dead across the canyon.

Press coverage named the crew and the guard but not the Mexican workers, which outraged Woody Guthrie, who read about it in New York and wrote a poem, “Plane Crash at Los Gatos (Deportee).”  Years later, in 1957, after Guthrie’s death, the poem was set to music by Martin Hoffman, a Colorado college student, in the form of a valsera ranchera, a song of loss or lamentation, in 3/4 time, a form popular in Mexico.  Hoffman played it for Pete Seeger after a concert by the folksinger and friend of Guthrie in Colorado; Seeger was impressed and later recorded it and played it at concerts.  The poem and its haunting melody appealed immediately to audiences and other musicians, who continued to play it and play it still. It has become one of the most beloved of Guthrie’s songs.

Photo of Woody GuthriePhoto by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?”
In 2010, poet and novelist Hernandez set out to recover the names and the stories of the people who died in the crash.  Two days after the wreck, the Fresno paper published a partial and inaccurate list of names; the hall of records in Fresno had another list with more names, still inaccurate; El Faro, a Spanish language newspaper in Fresno, published a full list, with names, hometowns, and the names of surviving family members, but the newspaper was not available in archives.  While the Anglos’ remains were returned to their families for burial, the guest workers were buried in a mass unmarked grave in Holy Cross Cemetery, Fresno.  Their families were not notified.  The workers’ “names were as dismembered as the bodies they belonged to,” Hernandez writes.

He set out to restore their identities and commemorate their lives, eventually raising the funds for a memorial stone, which was dedicated on Labor Day, 2013, in a ceremony attended by more than 800 people.  The stone measures 8’ x 4’ and records the story of the plane crash, in Spanish and in English, followed by the full names of all those on board, surrounded by engravings of 32 dry leaves.

With the task complicated by the careless American recordkeeping of Mexican workers (giving a new twist to the term “undocumented workers”), Hernandez went to Mexico, looking for the workers’ families.  He found survivors of four of them.  Their stories form the heart of the book.

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All They Will Call You
Hernandez’s book is a gathering of stories, some the testimony of witnesses to the crash and its aftermath, some the memories of the workers’ loved ones, some the story of the poem and song that inspired the search, some relating the search itself, and one a chilling reimagining of the crash itself.  Not all the stories agree exactly and Hernandez expressly declines to pronounce on an official version, a final truth, stating in his crucial author’s note that the book’s “loyalty is not to people of fact but rather to people of memory.”

In his presentation at the Guthrie Center, Hernandez retraced the process of finding the stories through finding the people who told them; he calls the people he interviewed “story keepers.” His talk included multiple media—readings from the book, photographs, videos, and audio recordings of the people involved—all fascinating, but most impressive of all was Hernandez himself.  Eager to follow the story wherever it might lead, he is devoted to honoring the memories of people whose fates had been dismissed.  It was easy to imagine people opening up to him, sharing their comic stories and their painful loss.   Warm, friendly, engaged, animated, his delivery emphasized the people who died in the crash and the people who remembered them, bringing the former to life figuratively and the latter literally: he had brought with him members of the Ramirez family, descendants of Ramon Paredes Gonzalez and Guadalupe Ramirez Lara, who had helped Hernandez with research for the book, providing the definitive list of the dead from an ancient copy of El Faro.  They were joined as well by relatives of the family who now live in Tulsa, all meeting at the Woody Guthrie Center, a neat confluence that further illustrated Hernandez’s emphasis on the personal relations that lie at the base of individual stories and human history.

Personal/Political/Personal
And this is the remarkable thing about Hernandez’s accomplishment, in his book, in his presentation, in his work on the memorial:  He never allows us to lose sight of his people’s individual lives, despite the temptation to read their stories in relation to the current political conditions.  As incensed as he is by the way the people’s names are lost as they are reduced to the label “deportee,” he resists reducing them further through a facile parallel between the immigration problems of 1948 and those of today.

Hernandez is careful to explain the braceros program—an agreement between the U.S. and Mexican governments (1942-1964) for importing agricultural workers (and later other workers) from Mexico to replace American workers who were in the Armed Forces during WWII, an agreement that benefited American employers and contractors as well as the cash-poor farmers of western and central Mexico, who came to the United States for seasonal work, sent money home, returned to Mexico, then came back to work in the U.S. to earn money again. Among the migrant workers were contadas (contract workers) and contrabandas (workers who came without contracts); the deportations rounded up workers whose contracts had expired or who had no contracts; some of the workers on the plane had come on contract, others not, some had been on contract in the past but not on this trip.

For years, the braceros program provided minimal safeguards for wages and living conditions among migrant workers.  When the program ended, so did any attempt at labor regulation for farm workers, and employers accustomed to a cheap government-sanctioned labor force resisted paying higher wages, spurring farm workers to organize.

The political situation today is related, of course, but also very different.  In both his book and his presentation, Hernandez refuses to oversimplify the relationship between conditions now and those in 1948.  What his telling insists upon, instead, is the dehumanization that results from regarding people as aliens—from denying them the courtesy and respect all of us owe to each of us.  In Hernandez’s powerful work, the personal becomes political only and always as the political remains personal.

Diane Burton is an associate editor of Nimrod.  She retired from teaching at The University of Tulsa two years ago.

Judge Spotlight: Laura van den Berg

by Cassidy McCants

We’re happy to announce that this year’s judge for the Nimrod Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction is Laura van den Berg, whose first novel, Find Me, was selected as a “Best Book of 2015” by NPR and was longlisted for the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize. Laura will join us in October for our Conference for Readers and Writers, along with poetry judge Jericho Brown, literary agent Mark Gottlieb, mystery writer Deborah Crombie, and memoirist Sasha Martin—and we’ll announce more guests soon.

To celebrate, I’ve just read and reread van den Berg’s There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights, a slim collection of stories published by Origami Zoo Press in 2012. I chose this book because I’m fascinated by the flash fiction form (a flash piece is a story told in no more than 2,000 words, according to The Review Review), but I think this collection would appeal to anyone who seeks out character-based stories. In just thirty-six pages, van den Berg brings us into nine different worlds, each distinctly its own and all inhabited by characters contemplating the meaning of family and struggling to connect with their loved ones—or to cope with the “plaguing dissatisfaction” brought on by the loss of those they’ve loved (“Something Thrilling and Heroic and Strange”).

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In the title story, the manager of a horse stable is unsettled upon discovering someone has been coming into the barn at night. When she tells a police officer she plans to sit in the office and wait for the intruder, he tells her she needs to act responsibly because she’s a mother. Van den Berg’s close third-person narrator follows this interaction with a simple and telling truth: “The thing she hated the most about living in a small town was everyone knowing what you are.” Not who but what. The woman, whose name is not mentioned in the story, obsesses over the safety of her child, but a mother isn’t who she is. This unnerves her the way the intruder does—to calm herself she goes outside every night and beats snow off the rhododendrons in her yard, never really sure if it does “more harm than good,” a worry we come to guess is one of her most persistent preoccupations.

In “Photography,” after her husband’s death, a woman named Lenore gets into the habit of watching her neighbors take photos in their living room. With their windows open, as though they haven’t considered the possibility of someone watching, the husband acts as photographer while the wife poses as a model. Lenore loves watching because she’s always had difficulty making things beautiful: “her paintings never came out right; the petals were always smudged, the water too dark,” writes van den Berg. Lenore comes to learn that the husband intentionally makes the photos look ugly by “turn[ing] his wife’s body into an alien landscape,” and the piece becomes a quiet meditation on the impermanence of all kinds of beauty.

The element of voyeurism struck me in “Photography,” especially as I moved on to the following stories, when I realized I felt somewhat voyeuristic while reading the pieces. The characters in this collection are so expertly developed, so clearly understood by van den Berg—the glimpses into their lives are intimate and strange, and to dive into these stories feels almost like peeking in on the personal lives of my own neighbors. But what saves me from feeling like an ogler is that the people here are undoubtedly van den Berg’s creation. I love that she knows these characters well enough to make me question my boundaries as a reader.

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Van den Berg deals with fine lines like this in each of the stories: in “The Golden Dragon Express,” a wife enjoys a moral upper hand over her cheating husband until she disparages him too much during a game of Monopoly, causing a turning of the tables; in “There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights,” the mother is concerned with how subtle the differences can be between harm and good, between safety and danger, between humans and animals; and in “Photography,” both beauty—however it may be defined—and life last until suddenly they don’t. And with these short pieces van den Berg herself establishes the line between tenderness and sentimentality.

There’s so much more to say about the collection, despite its small size. I can’t wait to bug Laura in October, to pick her brain, to learn more about how to say all that needs to be said within the confines of short-short stories like these.

Author photo by Paul Yoon (American Short Fiction)

Cassidy McCants, an Associate Editor of Nimrod, is an M.F.A. candidate in fiction at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

 

Talking with Author Kelly Magee

by Susan Mase

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Kelly Magee’s story “Nobody Understands You Like You” was published in Nimrod’s Spring/Summer 2016 issue, Mirrors & Prisms. She is the author of Body Language (2006), With Animal (2015), co-written with Carol Guess, and, most recently, the story collections The Neighborhood (2016) and A Guide to Strange Places (2017). Her stories and essays have appeared in numerous publications, in print and online, and she teaches writing and literature at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Susan Mase: During the past four months alone, you have published two short story collections, a story in Granta, and an online essay, among other things. How does this much great writing get completed and published in such a short time? How do you work on several projects at once?

Kelly Magee: First of all, thanks for the compliment! Some of these things are connected, like the story that appeared in Granta was from one of those collections you mentioned. And really, the timing of all of this was mostly luck. I’ve been working on the story collections off and on for many years, and they just happened to be released for publication close to each other. But I do usually have several projects going at once. It makes me happy to have lots of things in progress because then I always have something to pick up again. Like many people’s, my writing time is really limited, and it helps me to be able to pick up a piece and work on it a little at a time, then switch to another piece when I’m in a different mood. I tend to make fairly steady progression on several things at a time, which means I’ll have nothing finished for long stretches of time and then several finished pieces all at once. I used to try to be more methodical about it, but over the years I’ve learned to honor my process and not try to fight it.

SM: You describe The Neighborhood as “a collection of fairy tales and retellings.” The stories in A Guide to Strange Places give point of view and voice to eight different American cities. What inspired these diverse themes and structures? Did the stories in each develop from an initial plan to create a thematic set?

KM: A Guide to Strange Places began as an experiment in point of view. I’ve long felt emotionally connected to various places I’ve lived, to the point where they seem like members of my family. I was thinking of that workshop advice to “activate your setting,” to have location be more than something the characters walk around on, but I wanted to go a step farther to try to give places I loved their own point of view. The result is that I turned them into these kind of monstrous beings composed of part-landscape, part-voice. This did start as a thematic set, based on that premise.

The Neighborhood had a much more loosely constructed plan. I taught a class called “Recycled Writing” in which we read very old fairy tales from around the world. I’d been writing stories in the magical realist vein for a long time and am a fan of fabulist writers, but reading those old stories was thrilling in a way I hadn’t felt in a long time. I started incorporating small details from them into stories I was working on, which led to the tales playing a bigger and bigger role in my own work. So in The Neighborhood, you can see that variation—some of the stories have only nods to fairy tales or fabulism, and some are solidly in those categories; some have recognizable fairy tale characters in new roles, and some borrow the fairy tale form but not the content. The description of the book as “fairy tales” is the easiest but not entirely the most accurate. Part of what fascinated me about the fairy tales was their treatment and depiction of mothers, especially evil mothers. If I had to describe the book, I’d say it’s about what it is to be a nontraditional parent.

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SM: The story published by Nimrod, “Nobody Understands You Like You,” is skillfully crafted and a lively, provocative read. The central image of a wolf, or the idea of wolf, and the animal’s presence in the story, add multiple discursive layers. How did this idea guide the story’s development?

KM: Thank you, and I was so glad to have this story appear in Nimrod, especially as part of the Mirrors and Prisms issue. Wolves appear in several of the fairy tale retellings, and I was interested in both the metaphorical use of the wolf and the physical aspect of it. In other stories, the wolf is symbolic; in this story, I was interested in looking at the wolf purely as an animal. The wolf isn’t good or bad, intrinsically; it’s just itself. It’s the humans around it who invest it with meaning (in the story, the neighbors think the wolf is dangerous, evil, practically criminal). The trick of the story is that the narrators are unreliable, and there’s no real evidence that the wolf isn’t a dog, as Jamie insists. I had a lot of fun while writing the story, playing with that ambiguity. I’m also interested in unpacking the ways in which people create narratives that justify atrocities, the way these narrators created a story to excuse their violent act.

SM: The unreliable storytellers here are Greg and Linda, the married couple next door who speak in a collective “we”—except for the transformative moment in the story when they address each other. Many stories in The Neighborhood use plural points of view. And, again, you “experiment” with points of view in A Guide to Strange Places. How does the first-person plural operate in this story, and how has the use of plural points of view interested you and informed your recent work?

 KM: The plural point of view invigorated my writing for a while, and I think it initially came from attempting to write these fairy tales. After using the more common collective voice in a few stories, I began wanting to push against the boundaries and possibilities of the technique. This story uses the first-person plural, but it refers to two specific people, one of those married couples who are so close they’re nearly the same person. I like the plural as the voice of judgment, a chorus of people who have some authority to tell the story and are determined to tell it in a way that exonerates themselves from whatever trouble has occurred. So Greg and Linda, in this story, want to portray themselves as the victims, even though they committed the crime. They are safely ensconced in their house and marriage, watching as their neighbor (a single mom, a lesbian in an abusive relationship) falls apart. There came a point in the story, though, where I felt like they needed to lose the safety of their collective mindset—these are the moments when they separate, when they address each other, and even become dangerous to each other.

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SM: Our call for submissions for the Mirrors & Prisms issue asked for work from writers who identified as LGBTQIA rather than for works dealing with LGBTQIA content. You wrote about our call on your website, your interest in thinking more about “the different ways attention to inclusivity and diversity is playing out in the literary marketplace.” How did your response to our call develop or change as you continued to think on it?

KM: In addition to creative writing, I teach queer literature at my university, and so questions of what makes a piece of writing “queer” or not have been part of my scholarly work for a long time. I identify as a lesbian myself, and that informs much of my writing—my interest in “evil mothers” from fairy tales arose, in no small part, from my history becoming a lesbian mom during a time of intense cultural restrictiveness around sexuality. When I became a mom for the first time, for example, it was not legal for gay people to adopt children in my home state. This was when the national debate over marriage equality included widespread arguments about “family values” that violently erased even the possibility of my having a family outside a heteronormative system. So I think that, even when I’m not writing queer characters, my writing is always informed by queerness, by my own sexuality, but also by my experiences feeling like an outsider, like my very existence was up for national debate. For this reason, I was glad for Nimrod’s call, which specified the identity of the writer without regard to the content of the writing. I write, and love to read, stories about GLBTQ characters, of course. But I also believe that the perspective of being part of a marginalized community is likely to inform the writing of anyone from that community, even if they aren’t writing about it directly.

SM: “Maybe there is something to this wearing language like clothes. Suits of armored words. Pronoun gowns. Adjective earrings and verb sneakers. Things crossed out and revised. The crossword-puzzle-Scrabble-game of us all.” So ends your recent online essay, “So Your Employer Offered You A Pronoun” (hobartpulp.com), a funny, witty analysis of the conflicts surrounding identity categories. Does this essay speak to your current thoughts on these issues?

KM: Language around identity markers and categories seems to be in a period of rapid change at the moment, and I struggle with changing my own patterns and habits. At the time I wrote this, I was trying to figure out the best way to both ask for and honor the pronouns of a class of seventy students. I was skeptical of what seemed to me an overly simplified solution—to just wear buttons. At the same time, I always try to challenge my initial reactions, to play devil’s advocate, to see if I can argue the other side. So that’s kind of where this essay lands, more with a question than a solution. How are we going to connect across this faulty medium of language?

SM: Before we close, please tell us what you are working on now.

KM: I’m doing 30/30 for Poetry Month: writing one poem every day during April. Only I’m not a poet but I am a cheater, so I’m writing tiny stories centered on the idea of definitions. The titles are Jeopardy-style questions, and the “poems” are stories that attempt to define a word or concept in an unusual way.

SM: What are you reading? Or what is on the pile to be read?

 KM: I am always in the middle of reading many books (just like I enjoy being in the middle of many writing projects), and right now I’m reading Sonya Huber’s Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays, Kazim Ali’s Fasting for Ramadan, and Randa Jarrar’s Him, Me, Muhammad Ali.

SM: Assuming Nimrod is #1, what other literary journals do you read?

KM: Not surprisingly, probably, The Fairy Tale Review is a favorite, as are Booth, Third Coast, Ninth Letter, and Monkeybicycle, to name a few.

SM: Thank you for your time, your story, and your dedication to writing.

Follow Kelly Magee on kellyelizabethmagee.com or on Twitter: @kellymagee.

Susan Mase is the Fiction Editor for Nimrod. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Tulsa Literary Coalition, a new non-profit presenting Magic City Books, an independent bookstore coming to Tulsa in fall 2017.