Welcome (back!) to Editor’s Corner, a VIDAWeb feature in which editors and publishers explore complex issues regarding sex, gender, race and sexuality as they relate to their projects. This week, the editors of NANO Fiction discuss the problems that surround writing the “Other” and women writers as “outsiders.” Look for some exciting new projects from NANO Fiction in the coming year. Sophie Rosenblum has spearheaded NANO Fiction’s State of Flash and Flash in the Classroom series, which has normally been featured on the website, but the current issue, 6.2, contains three very powerful essays about teaching flash. Also, look for the annual NANO Prize, open now!
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On their project, role and publishing philosophy:
KJ: NANO Fiction is a biannual publication that features flash works of 300 words or fewer. I founded the journal in 2006 and we obtained non-profit status, just a few years ago, in 2010. Over the years, the journal has grown from just a print publication to what I hope is more of an educational organization. My goals for the journal are to further legitimize the form of flash fiction while providing an open dialog about the genre on our website. From the start, the journal has always tried to provide a space where non-published writers could find their first publishing outlet. We rarely solicit work, and I often have my editors read blind. It’s important to me that submissions are not judged by the writer’s publishing history, or gender, but by the quality of the work. This allows for writers who have previously been unpublished to submit on an equal playing field as others.
SR: I second everything Kirby says. I’ve really believed in her vision from the start — which is why, like many of our staff, I was a contributor first — and I was encouraged by how dedicated she has been to both the journal and the flash fiction community. As far as the web, we aim to carry over the journal’s goals, and we’ve recently started featuring essays on reading, writing, and teaching flash fiction.
On the current publishing climate:
KJ: I believe flash fiction is a genre that lives in the gray space between fiction and poetry. Some may say the form is successful because of internet culture, or because people don’t have time to read longer works, but I believe the most successful flash culls elements of craft from both genres — and that’s why we are drawn to read it. I believe that the work we publish should illustrate just how powerful the product of working within this middle space can be.
EW: Personally, I believe in publishing the best work available, regardless of its author. For me, that has to do with both craft–language, structure, and other formal components of a work–and with content–I look, ultimately, for work that engages me intellectually and or emotionally. That said, I also think there’s a lot of subjectivity in what any single person construes as “best.” My version of it tends naturally to be inclusive, but I realize that other readers/editors may have different criteria, and thus they make different selections as to the “best” work. For that reason, I don’t mind a focus on promoting underrepresented groups, and as a writer, I have participated in some such projects, publishing my work in such journals as Poem, Memoir, Story, which collect texts by women.
KJ: Writers still struggle to find print outlets for flash, especially if the work is part of a book length collection. I was heartbroken when I heard that Quick Fiction had closed shop and wish there were other flash-only journals out there.
SR: Still, I think the current flash fiction climate is thriving! I know that at AWP, each year more and more people are approaching the table saying, “Oh, flash fiction, right. I’ve heard about this…” The buzz surrounding the genre inspires them to pick up a copy of the journal or subscribe or even submit. I think NANO Fiction does a particularly good job of publishing emerging writers. Although we sometimes solicit, about 95 % of our contributors come from the slush pile.
EW: I want to say that categories such as gender, sexuality, class or race don’t play a role in determining what works we publish, but that’s not completely accurate. Here’s what I mean: I initially read every piece without looking at the author name or cover letter (though our regular submissions are not technically blind, and I do look at those things eventually). And yet, I’ll admit, though it’s problematic, that sometimes I wonder who’s writing: sometimes, for me, the answers matter.
I think of it this way: I get defensive when people who’ve never spent a night in my home state try to speak about it authoritatively. I think that authority of an insider matters, so I tend to resist some topics being written about from so-called outsiders. For example, I remember a stretch a while back when male novelists were writing texts narrated by female protagonists, and being praised for how well they did it. I found that really problematic. Does that mean men can’t write convincingly about women, or vice versa? I’m not sure. I am sure that I rarely see it done well, and in cases when I do think it’s done well, the author acknowledges in some way how he or she came to the story. Two examples I can think of are among my favorite texts. The first, Daniel Raeburn’s New Yorker essay “Vessels,” tackles the death and birth of his child (yes, in that order). The second, Ann Fisher-Wirth’s poem “Mapplethorpe,” from her book Blue Window, presents a female speaker–“the mom in the poetry class”–who feels drawn to a photograph of an erection, then spends the span of the poem trying to comprehend the circumstances that led to its creation. Raeburn’s essay works, to my mind, because it is in some ways his story–his child, his grief. Fisher-Wirth’s succeeds because the speaker acknowledges her distance from the subject she imagines, and her work moves toward empathy rather than rote ventriloquism. So maybe that’s the key for me: what’s at stake in trying to tell a story about an “other”? If it’s exploitation or mastery, I’m less interested. If it’s compassion, empathy, understanding, though, then I’m on board.
KJ: I usually do not think about gender when putting an issue together until after it’s already done, but I do think about the type of stories (narrative, lyric, dialog driven) we are collecting to insure each issue has a balance.
In terms of the underrepresentation of women in publishing, I believe that as women we have to try harder; we have to advocate for ourselves just as men advocate for themselves. This year at AWP, I spoke to so many women who said they had submitted to this journal or that journal then given up on that publication after one rejection. A typical male writer would not do that. We cannot question ourselves and give up. We should question our work and revise, but we can’t pull back every time we are told no, we have to keep pushing forward.
On VIDA’s Count:
SR: The numbers are absolutely disappointing and disheartening. As a woman who writes flash, I’ve always felt supported by the flash fiction community, and I’d be curious to see the flash fiction pie charts.
EW: I wish I could say it surprised me, but it didn’t, really. Many American women writers (along with women in many other nations, of course) have faced a special kind of scrutiny on account of their gender. Think of Anne Bradstreet: the first published poet in the British colonies (at least of a book-length collection), even she faced skepticism; her brother-in-law tried to curtail it by arguing in her book’s preface that the poems were actually the work of a woman and that she had composed them in time when she would normally have been sleeping. In other words, she had not neglected her familial responsibilities. So in some ways, the VIDA count quantifies something that has long been occurring in American literature: women remain relative outsiders.
That said, I have been encouraged in recent years by some of the responses to this situation. I have a colleague who responded to last year’s count by teaching only female-authored texts in one of his college creative writing courses this year and by vowing to prioritize such texts in his role as a book reviewer. I know of people who are arranging submission parties this year, to encourage women to send their work out into the world more frequently. Those acts alone aren’t enough to fix the problem, certainly, but I am grateful that people are taking action.
On A+ Lit People:
SR: Wigleaf.com and the Wigleaf Top 50 is absolutely wonderful for flash fiction. Scott Garson does an amazing job (seemingly by himself?) running that entire operation. I love the work that Deena Drewis is doing over at Nouvella; the books are gorgeous and she finds fantastic writers. I’m also inspired by Callie Collins and Jill Meyers at A Strange Object for taking on the world of book publishing. They did such terrific work at American Short Fiction, that I know whatever they put into the world will be fantastic.
KJ: I agree with Sophie on all accounts and would also like to throw in Roxane Gay. That woman is a force.
EW: I’ve been really bolstered by the Women’s Poetry list serve, an organization designed to support, promote, and discuss poetry by women.
Sophie Rosenblum has an MFA from the University of Houston, and she is pursuing her PhD at Florida State University. Her work has been published in newspapers and literary journals including American Short Fiction, Iowa Review, and New Letters. She is the Web Editor forNANO Fiction.
Elizabeth Wade holds degrees from Davidson College and the University of Alabama. She serves as Managing Editor of NANO Fiction, and her work has appeared in such journals as Kenyon Review Online, AGNI, and others. She currently teaches literature and writing courses at the University of Mary Washington.