Because literature promotes justice: a roundup of The Review Review’s coverage of litmags and editors addressing important social issues.
When, in early 2019, we began the process of transitioning The Review Review leadership, I was struck by how well Founding Editor Becky Tuch and her team had balanced their mission to provide writers, readers, editors, and students a phenomenal resource for understanding and appreciating the world of litmags, with their clear understanding that all artforms always have political implications.
Fast forward eighteen months.
- More and more graphic extrajudicial state violence against persons of color.
- A global pandemic that has so far infected over 35 million people and caused over a million deaths, not to mention a catastrophically botched federal response in the US.
- The use of state violence to suppress free expression in Hong Kong, Belarus, Zimbabwe, the US, and elsewhere.
- Increasing evidence that many global leaders are still ignorant or ineffectual in efforts to address obviously harmful effects of climate change.
Meanwhile, the same conditions made explicit by VIDA's data on inequality in publishing, and those that led Versal's editors to offer an open letter to the Poetry International Rotterdam festival, still obtain in small and large ways.
Likewise, the conditions that persist in publishing inequities most recently laid bare on twitter when L.L. McKinney started #publishingpaidme.
Amid all of this, many of us are steadfast in our belief that literature, and the various ways language is used for creative expression, are key to coping with, managing, and addressing the challenges we face.
This belief has always been apparent in the work of The Review Review, so I'd like to use our first new publishing feature to offer a redux roundup of resources for writers whose work or interests center social issues, political concerns, or marginalized voices. While some of these features will receive updates in coming posts, and there are certainly marginalized voices not represented in this sampling, I hope that these resources will be a nod to the good work this site has done over the years and indicate our ongoing commitment to the pursuit of justice and equity in literary publishing. Each of the resources below has been added to our archive (Volume 1 on this new platform), where you'll find additional content from our first 12 years.
- When it comes to journals publishing work that is directly political or inflected by the social and political concerns that shape human experience, Lauren Rheaume's "Politically Oriented Litmags" is an excellent starting point that catalogs several influential journals unafraid of writing that takes an overt stand. From the writer's perspective, Catherine Parnell's "If It's Heavy It's Ripe: On Writing and Political Sentiment" presents her own experience coming to grips with the imperative to name the political injustices that characterize our characters' lives.
- Though not all are directly responsive to those VIDA numbers mentioned above, three pieces from The Review Review highlight magazines that feature women writers or are led by female editors. Becky Tuch's 2011 article "Litmags for the Ladies" and Laura Moretz's "You too? 24 Journals that Champion Women's Writing" give complementary lists of journals dedicated to sharing women's voices. Danielle Lazarin's "Where are the Female Litmag Editors: Here" offers an important addition to the conversion by focusing on journals helmed by women.
- Just as the VIDA numbers exposed significant gender disparity in publishing, the recent #publishingpaidme twitter thread exposes the racialized pay gap that accompanies a representation gap for writers of color. In 2015, poet Clara B. Jones' "Why Are Writers of Color Underrepresented Among Published Authors? One Poet's Questions and Possible Solutions" presents a trenchant analysis of several broad factors contributing to underrepresentation, and focuses on the agency available to writers of color to change the structural conditions of that underrepresentation.
- Writers around the world understand the rich history of literature produced in carceral contexts. The examples from St. Paul to Ngugi wa Thiong'o are numerous and obvious. Fortunately, resources like PEN America's Prison and Justice Writing Program (https://pen.org/prison-writing), Prisons Foundations (http://www.prisonsfoundation.org/), and the American Prison Writing Initiative (https://apw.dhinitiative.org/) offer direct and indirect support for incarcerated writers. I am particularly inspired by Jacqueline Aguilar, Lana Marie Mousa, Dr. Cornelia Wells’s introduction to Iron City Magazine, "A Lit Mag by and for the Incarcerated."
- The Review Review has published several compelling interviews with editors of journals featuring global voices. In fact, two of the last before the site's 2019 hiatus were a chat with Transition editor, Alejandro de la Fuente, and a polyvocal conversation with the editorial team at The Arkansas International.While these interviews focus on single publications, among my favorite discussions of how literary magazines are central to introducing new writers and raising our global consciousness is "Global Connectivity and Multiculturalism in Publishing: A Roundtable Chat With the Editors of Chattahoochee Review, Waxwing, and Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing."
- At the same time, Lauren Rheaume reminds us that global connection and multilingual writing needn't necessarily mean "importing" or "translating" voices from other parts of the world. Though some of the journals listed in "¡Qué Bueno! Literary Magazines for Latino and Bilingual Writers" are from outside the US, most are celebrating some of the United States' rich linguistic diversity from within our own borders.
- At least in the US, where social policies and economic structures actively undermine ready access to time and space necessary to the work, writing is often a matter of privilege. This is one obvious explanation for many observable inequalities in publishing. In "Beyond Privilege: Building a Writing Life When You Have No Room of Your Own," Claire Rudy Foster presents an incisive and personal analysis of how she built a career in writing despite experiencing financial poverty. She invites us to consider the often invisible choices many writers must make when determining which needs to prioritize.
- Finally, in "Litmags and presses doing good work," Founding Editor, Becky Tuch, reminds us that, though the world may at times feel desperate, there is hope. Whether it's a journal committed to supporting orphans around the globe, a writing competition providing funds to a hospice, or a journal that features work from a transitional home for women and children, Becky reminds us that writers and editors can and do make big differences.
Jeffrey G. Dodd is Editor of The Review Review.