What are you reading on the subway or in the waiting room today?
Ching-In Chen’s recombinant. Wendy Xu’s Phrasis. I’m still working through QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology. Literally yesterday, about 50 of my favorite online lit mags put out new issues, so I’ve been caught between scrambling to catch up, and abandoning society altogether to savor these fucking amazing journals. Queer Southeast Asia, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Blueshift, Black Napkin, Yalobusha Review, The Adroit Journal — I won’t list every tab I have open on my phone right now, but I’m feeling so grateful and sustained by how killer all of these issues are. After the attacks in Kabul (and inevitable anti-Muslim sentiment in the US) and my still-simmering feelings about Durant’s anti-indigenous piece at the Walker, I’ve also been rereading Contemptorary — to replace the memory of comments sections with the voices of Eunsong Kim and Gelare Khoshgozaran and Rijin Sahakian and to ground myself in knowing I’m not alone — I’m not the only one looking around and wondering what the fuck to do now after a lifetime of looking around and wondering what the fuck to do now, living in a settler-colonial state, living with fascism.
What book popped for you in 2016?
Layli Long Soldier’s WHEREAS and Don Mee Choi’s Hardly War. Other books popped, but I keep these on my coffee table and reread them almost every day.
Whose words do you return to regularly?
My therapist’s. My rapists’. My partner’s. My grandfather’s. Not in that order.
Is there an author you can’t wait to read next?
Michael Wasson has a collection coming out this summer that I can’t wait for. Erika Wurth’s Buckskin Cocaine and Lynn Melnick’s Landscape With Sex and Violence are at the top of my list, too.
What are you working on now?
I’m co-editing the next volume of Bettering American Poetry, and I’ve been reading for Apogee, Perigee, and Anomaly (FKA Drunken Boat) — I’ve been so, so lucky to read work that’s not only challenging the status quo, but is doing so with such brilliance. There’s always someone I manage to overhear on social media talking about how “identity politics” are ruining literature — how straight white men don’t have a chance in the lit world. Which is bullshit, of course. Not “I disagree with your stance” bullshit, but straight-up factually incorrect bullshit. Statistically-supported bullshit. (Which is part of why I’m also working with VIDA as their new Assistant Editor — hi web team!).
Though really, the idea that straight white men are at a disadvantage isn’t just misguided. It’s also a coded way of saying that queer writers or writers of color are inferior. I don’t think most people realize this is what they’re saying. Diversity for diversity’s sake is neoliberal bullshit. But these statements come with the implicit idea that I can’t find 10 poets of color, or 10 queer poets who can write whatever these straight men are writing, with just as much brilliance (or, I dare fucking say, more brilliance).
I’ve just started as the new Features & Reviews Editor at Anomaly, and am curating a folio for them on writing by queer and trans people of color who are neurodivergent/mentally ill.
What do you hope your work for the VIDA Count will achieve?
Decolonization and the dismantling of the cisheteropatriarchy. You’ve got to start somewhere.
Have you witnessed any of the effects of the VIDA Count in the literary world?
I think that more people are forced to confront the fact that gender bias in the lit world is real. Of course, now, many of them are doing mental backflips trying to come up with reasons for why that bias exists — find a way to blame women and non-binary people. I’ve also seen readership demographics change in ways that have made it apparent that some writers only read (or maybe don’t even read, just “like”) journals that they think they’ve got a shot at being published in. So when I hear someone say that a publication isn’t as good as it used to be, now that “they caved to feminists” or whatever — what I really hear is “I can’t skip to the front of the line as a straight white man anymore, so I’ll go somewhere else, where I still can.” What I hear is “why would I read something that isn’t about me?” These are the same people who love to argue that they’re being censored when they write outside of their experiences, and fail. They want the right to puppeteer garish stereotypes of women and queer people and trans people and people of color — but they have no desire to read our actual writing.
Participating in the VIDA Count was startling in the year leading up to the election. There are plenty of articles about whether or not bigots have become emboldened by Trump’s campaign and election. Race-based hate crimes are up. I don’t know about gender-based violence, but calls to crisis hotlines went way up around the election — I worry sexual assault statistics will wind up under-reported as women and gender minorities grapple with a world that’s continuing to normalize rape and assault. Which is all to say, when I was doing the VIDA Count for some publications, I couldn’t tell if editors were being more brazen by including fewer women as the year went on and we got closer to the election, if women and gender minorities were feeling too burnt out to send in work, or if I was the one feeling burnt out, and the pre-existing gender inequity looked more glaring. And yeah. I’m afraid that, if the voices of women and gender minorities are discounted in the literary world, how our voices can possibly be heard when it comes time for Congress to vote on bills that affect us.
If I need a pie chart to prove I read a magazine full of men, where the hell do I get a pie chart to prove I’ve been raped?
Sarah Clark is a two-spirit Native editor, writer, and cultural consultant. She is VIDA Review’s Assistant Editor, the Features & Reviews Editor and Assistant Poetry Editor for Anomaly, a reader for Apogee Journal and Perigee, and a co-editor of the Bettering American Poetry series. Sarah has worked with a number of literary and arts publications and organizations, including Sundress Press, Contemptorary, Open City, The Paris Review, and Blackbird. She curated Drunken Boat’s folios on sound art, and on global indigenous art and literature “First Peoples, Plural.” In her spare time, Sarah has strong opinions and is very queer. She cannot pass a Turing test.