Capturing the Art of Storytelling in Myriad Forms and Diverse Voices
Storyscape Literary Journal is a biannual online publication featuring stories, poetry and artwork. Started in 2007, its sixteenth issue was released in June this year. Run by an all-women editorial team, it believes that stories are everywhere and aims to capture the art of storytelling in its myriad forms.
It has a strong focus on diversity which is evident as much in the body of work featured, as it is in the selection of writers. In the words of the editor-in-chief Hila Ratzabi, “On average, we publish more women than men, and we have a good mix of writers of color and non-straight writers (though we could always do better).” The blog section showcases an impressively long list of contributors’ accomplishments, including winning the Best of the Net and 2015 National Poetry Series as well as publications in The Kenyon Review, the New York Book Critics Circle, Porkbelly Press and several other esteemed platforms.
Breaking down the conventional labels of fiction, the journal uniquely categorizes content into “Truth” and “Untruth;” writers who do not wish to identify with either of these could go into “We don’t know and they won’t tell us.” The latest issue features twenty-one poems and seven stories across this spectrum. Nearly all contrubitors are published writers, several of them also teachers, editors, award winners and nominees.
This poetry heavy issue is a smorgasbord of poems on topics ranging from motherhood, relationships and failed aspirations to some unusual topics like danger, death of an iPhone and food. It showcases work of eleven writers, of which five are featured with trilogies of poems.
In her short poem “Embroidery”, Jess X. Chen conveys a daughter’s love and longing for her mother with brevity and a subtlety that takes the reader by surprise.
back a painting, unfinished, & invite her
to embroider threads of saffron upon it
and send it back. It would be the closest
thing, you said, to touching her hand.
Phoebe Reeves elegantly strings together a love for gardening, society’s overbearing obsession with diet, her own food cravings and personal frustrations in three delectable poems about kale, salt and tomatoes. Quoting from “The Poet Licks Salt Off the Corners of Her Mouth”:
Sometmes the tears I refuse to cry run
uselessly down the back of my throat where they comfort
no one and flavour all my food with the tang of their invisible saline touch.
Then there is Albert Thomas’s “Buzzfeed Bible,” that takes a seemingly mundane event like an iPhone dying from a leaking pen in the poet’s pocket, and lifts it to a tale about faith and hope, laced with wry humor.
If mama’s calls could get through,
she’d whisper, “God is strong, but he can’t clasp your
hands or stoop your shoulders or raise you without your
own wind. Most importantly, he can’t afford your god
damned dry-cleaning. Junior, are you listening to me?
Some pieces are more obscure than others. Sarah Blake’s trilogy themed on safety for women, while flowing smoothly, maintains an air of mystery and lurking danger across all three pieces.
Stories traverse an equally diverse range of topics from love, female friendship, divorce and rape. They range from flash fiction pieces of under two hundred words to full length stories of over four thousand words.
“Lewis and Clark's Magpies” by Cara Chamberlain is an exceedingly short and imaginative piece of prose that ponders over the fate of four magpies that were brought back from the Corps of Discovery to the then under-construction White House. “They sang bison stories no one understood unless maybe the president’s caged mockingbird stole their lyrics, and, even then, it’s unclear what Dick, the coddled favorite, could have made of their dialect.” It ends like an unfinished fairy tale, leaving the reader by the author’s side, wondering what became of the displaced birds. “Crazy Mama” is a short story by Nin Andrews which again accomplishes much with little, as the narrator tells us how his mother lost her mental balance when he was a little boy.
“Care” by Jessica Roeder is a full-length story of a rape victim who works in a carnival, told from the point of view of the owner of the carnival who is also possibly her father. Moira McAvoy’s “The Dreams You Chose to Populate” is a candid disclosure of desires and angst of female friendship, that plays with an experimental form of narrative interspersed with dreams. Both stories venture into bold territories and handle their sensitivities delicately. On balance, however, the shorter pieces pack more punch than the full length ones.
Editor Hila Ratzabi comes out with her maiden post on the blog in this issue, compelled by recent incidents around race and representation in the literary world. She strongly condemns racist acts of a white author who donned a Chinese pseudonym to further his chances of getting published, Kate Gale’s blog post and Vanessa Place’s use of virtual blackface on Twitter. She notes that in a racially charged socio-political environment thanks to Donald Trump, racism in the literary world has become “so much louder.” Circling this back to responsible publishing, she says “we should pay close attention to what we publish and be aware of who is getting space on the page and why. We can’t turn a blind eye to the obvious disparities in representation in the literary world.”
In addition to poems and stories, each issue also features a collection of paintings by an artist, in the section Cover Art. This issue showcases six oil portraits by Philadelphia based aritist, Santiago Galeas. Each portrait captures a different mood and expression, a nuanced reflection of the subject’s inner thoughts.
The look and feel of the website is minimalistic and sleek, with a dash of art and color from the featured artist of the issue. The journal has released print editions of two anthologies featuring work from past issues that are available for purchase online.
They read submissions throughout the year and are “actively looking for unique modes of storytelling that fall outside conventional boundaries while still maintain the core essence of ‘story’.” This includes audio and visual stories as well. They publish two issues annually, roughly around spring and fall. In her note for this issue, the editor reiterates the journal’s commitment to hear from non-binary, LGBTQ and writers of color.
While the range of styles and topics covered is wide, the diversity appears to be limited geographically with most of the writers and writing in this issue being predominantly American rather than international.
Overall, Storyscape is an enriching read, with a collection of work that is varied, contemporary and fresh, in keeping with the ethos of the journal. Although most writers featured in this issue are well established, the journal is open to reading any story that is told well, and writers can be assured that any piece published will be in good company.