Outside Traditional Bounds, A Row of One's Own
Amy Wright is the Nonfiction Editor of Zone 3 journal and Zone 3 Press and the author of two chapbooks, Farm (Finishing Line Press: 2010) and There Are No New Ways To Kill A Man (Apostrophe Books: 2009). Her prose and poetry appear in Western Humanities Review, American Letters & Commentary, Bellingham Review, Quarterly West, and The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume III: Southern Appalachia.
Interview by Deborah Sosin
When I first heard of Zone 3, I pictured a secret encampment with electrified fences somewhere in Nevada where scientists conduct experiments on aliens. But it actually has something to do with kudzu. What’s the real backstory?
The editors’ note grounds the journal in a region that supports hard wood and tobacco, wherein the vines of kudzu might oxygenate our air or smother the blackberries. It alludes to willingness to host a site in which proliferation is welcomed for its potential to awaken readers and writers to blossoming literature. But the name itself, according to institutional legend, comes from a seed packet one of the founding editors chanced upon that placed us in the third agricultural zone in Tennessee. Of course, soil and climate change, and we are now distinguished by a different zone altogether, which is perhaps fitting enough, given aesthetic derivations and shifts over time.
How did the journal come about?
The journal was born of the shared vision of poets David Till and Malcolm Glass, and fostered a climate of creative collaboration that teemed and grew and was periodically plowed. The identity when I joined its staff in 2007 was stable in its promotion of high-quality fiction and poetry, which had by then changed editorial hands to Barry Kitterman (fiction) and Blas Falconer (poetry). I was lucky enough to be given a row of my own to hoe in nonfiction, which other than the occasional essay, had not yet been forged.
Tell us about Zone 3 Press. How would you describe its identity? Is there a tone or voice that you’re looking for?
Barry Kitterman and Blas Falconer launched the press in 2006 with the pilot book Oval, by David Till. The same year, they hosted the First Book Award for Poetry, which was awarded to Andrew Kozma and Leigh Anne Couch. Subsequent award winners have been Kate Gleason, John Pursley III, and Amanda Auchter. The initiative expanded in 2011 with the Creative Nonfiction Book Award, which was won, appropriately enough, by a writer who is also a published poet, Nicole Walker, whose work illustrate the richness of forms available to us.
Adjectives that come to mind to characterize its identity are receptive, respectful, and hearty—in both senses of the word—emotionally invested and substantive. The strength of the magazine is that the tone any one editor is seeking is stimulated by the wide-ranging perspectives of its contributing editors—and for this variety I credit our student readers whose ears are newly pricked to catch rising currents.
What is the ratio of fiction to nonfiction submissions?
Our nonfiction submissions have increased since we opened submissions to an online manager, but we still average two fictions for every essay.
What types of work have you shouting “hallelujah”?
I hear the echo of covers of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in response to your question, which may be relevant since I most celebrate hymns of conscious and unconscious genius, by which I mean intelligence that gives life even as it demands it.
What makes you want to throw your laptop out the window?
When I see a writer making the same mistakes I have, and only that minute recognize that I have been making them.
I know what you mean—the mirror that other people’s work provides for our own. Are you willing to share a mistake that you’ve made or continue to struggle with?
One of the long-lingering lessons was to realize that, even though I wanted with certain personal narratives to reach a wider audience, I had not done the work of engaging them.
You have a special interest in flash nonfiction. What appeals to you about the genre?
I like a piece to make room for myself and the reader. It signifies consideration for one’s fellows—not necessarily by length but by focus. Space is a need I value, having grown up on a farm surrounded by green fields and mountains and dairy cows. It is something we can still offer the climate.
You also conduct interviews for the journal. What inspires those?
There is a way of talking that rises to the level of art, meaning it respects and promotes attention. Communication is about collaborative reaching—or can be—toward learning, toward union. It doesn’t happen often enough on the page but in chance moments at a conference or cocktail party when two strangers stumble upon a window and a heathery breeze blows in from nowhere. But I participated in enough to want to preserve them and prompt more mutually creative thinking. What I didn’t expect to learn is how generous people are with their stories who aren’t in a habit of constructing them or being listened to.
The morning after my public reading at the 2011 Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, you approached me in the dining hall and asked if I’d be interested in submitting to Zone 3. I was so flattered, I almost choked on my pancake. Do you solicit a lot of contributors over breakfast?
Only if the night before they lay a self on the platter of persona and peel it bare as a grape.
Wow. Thanks. But when you’re at a writers’ conference, are you always wearing your editor’s hat or do you ever take a break and focus on your own writing?
When it rains, I wear a mackinaw and when it’s hot I sweat lemonade. A writers’ conference is much too lively an environment to be one thing. I am just lucky to have a brain that makes metaphor so I can write to and from composite selves.
You have an alter ego, Nora Ananke. Does Nora approach people at breakfast? Has anyone ever approached her? Do you invoke Nora when you’re trying to decide about a particular submission?
If Nora Ananke meets anyone at breakfast, she eats them—Proust, Alfred E. Newman, the girl with the ponytail who lives next door. I have no more control over her than I have reins on creative consciousness or the wealth of submissions when they roll in with their flotsam and jetsam of hope and longing.
Speaking of hope and longing, what is the usual process for submissions? How long is the typical response time?
We strive for three months or less on all submissions. Submissions are logged either through our online manager, or through a spreadsheet recording hard-copy submissions to be processed by our first round of editors. All submissions are considered by at least two readers, who decide whether to move the piece forward. If two independent reviewers reject it at the first gate, it gets a letter. If one of these two readers holds a piece, it moves forward.
The “hold pile” grows and begins to take on vibrancy as dialogue generates a subtle momentum that doubtless affects whether the next tier of editors finds each piece in conversation with the emerging issue. In the holds folder, we might keep a piece longer than three months, if it arrives during the summer.
Currently, I still monitor every nonfiction submission as I enjoy formal experiments and want to make sure work that spills outside traditional bounds is given a chance to funnel in.
Do you shape an issue according to a theme? Tell us about that process.
Themes arise organically. All literary conversation is ongoing, like a dream from which sleepers periodically awake, rearrange the covers, drink warm milk, and skin a fox. Waking is always about the fox, glistening with the truth that we are expressing in disparate ways the same thing—the saying of which creates a context from which the new arrives.
Your own work embodies many forms. In addition to your writer and professor and editor identities, you’re an artist and printmaker. Tell us about your creative process. Does your artwork inform your writing?
Everything informs my writing. My friends Shana and Terry informed it by getting pregnant. In response I made their daughter Zoe a matchbox about what it means to be a big sister, because I have some insight about that—but only by staging a forum could I share with her and know it myself. Sometimes the forum is a page, but occasionally it is a song or a drawing or a dance.
What is your favorite part of being a creative writing professor?
When I prompt, through an exercise or question, someone to pull a ribbon of insight out of him or herself that may not otherwise have come out.
Yes, that’s so gratifying. You have a reputation, according to those online professor ratings, for being a tough but excellent teacher. What is the main thing you want your students to get out of your classes?
Is it too much to ask that when they find themselves confronting some end of knowledge, they consult not their peers or teachers or historic authorities, but their own unknowing? To embolden them for that.
In what ways do you help embolden your students’ self-knowledge? Is there anything that might help them risk laying themselves bare on a platter knowing they’re still going to be graded?
Vulnerability of self and good writing are not necessarily related, but I do praise inquisitive thinking and writing that demonstrates it. Confidence comes from answering ourselves authentically, so I try to put them in positions where they don’t know someone else’s answer to something. They get a lot of resistance out of their systems arguing with me about the impossibility of those assignments.
Can you share a little about your long-term goal for Zone 3? Where do you see Zone 3 going forward?
My personal goal for Zone 3 is to challenge readers as I challenge myself—to answer hard questions and garner compassion for those we could not, other than by hazarding the imagination, understand.
My hope for the journal is that it propagates a field wherein poetry and prose intermingle to celebrate the age-old sweetness of Lodi apples and Bradford pears. The fruit isn’t going to get better, but it could be that the plowmen and women are obstetricians and psychotherapists, academics and nurse practitioners, sitting at the same table as Martin Luther King’s black and white children, feasting on a cornucopia of global literature.
If you could have one hard question answered, anything at all, what would it be?
What inspires me to ask?
Do you have any advice for writers who are interested in submitting to Zone 3?
Try harder, because publication is only part of the reward.
Deborah Sosin is a writer, editor, and psychotherapist in the Boston area, where she offers Write It Like It Is workshops. Her essays have appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, Journal News, on Salon.com and Skirt.com, and elsewhere. “Moon Fever: An Apollo 11 Flashback,” was selected for inclusion in Perspectives on Modern World History: The Apollo 11 Moon Landing (Greenhaven Press, 2011). “The Game Changer” appears in the Fall 2011 issue of Zone 3.