BMR Goes PDX (for AWP)

That’s a whole lot of acronyms, so suffice to say the Blue Mesa Review staff is about to hit the airways for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference in Portland that starts next Thursday. In anticipation of AWP, the BMR staff has been scoping out the panels we’re most looking forward to checking out when we’re not working our table (T2057) at the bookfair.

Hayley Peterson, Editor in Chief

F175. The Sexuality of Textuality

Just screen-shotted this panel to former Blue Mesa Review Editor-in-Chief Brenna Gomez and said “Holy shit!!! A thousand times yes to this one!!!”—so you could say I’m pretty excited for a panel on desire, sex, the body, and power with some of my favorite queer authors. As a queer woman writing a memoir about sex, I’ve heard all the critiques in the book. Creating space for this kind of bodily presence on the page makes some readers uncomfortable—it’s easy to dismiss as overly sensual, pornographic, or gratuitous. But how can we write about life and privilege and power without addressing the specifics of sex, the body, and desire?

Mitch Marty, Managing Editor (incoming Associate Editor)

F191. Small Town Fiction From Five Points of View

I grew up in a rural Wisconsin town with a population of 626 people. When I was ten, I moved to the next town over in the same school district, a booming metropolis of 4,200. The more I’ve written about these places in recent years, the stranger and more eclectic they feel. In the panel, five novelists will “highlight small town ‘characters’ and the way rural fiction often includes nature itself as a character,” which seems ideal for addressing my curiosities with how other authors approach writing rural in their work, and the way small towns can function in other ways through narrative.

Ari McGuirk, Fiction Editor (incoming Managing Editor)

F134. Going Long: Edtiors & Writers of Longform Nonfiction in Conversation

I’ve been tinkering at a memoir for a year now and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve asked myself, “What’s the point?” In most of the magazines I read and, in the submissions sent to me at Blue Mesa Review, one thing is clear: shorter work is trending, which is bad news for me. The story I initially thought I could wrap up in a neat 200 pages feels more like an unwieldy 450-page behemoth. So, I’m elated that there’s a panel arguing that longform nonfiction is on the rise. On Friday morning, “Going Long: Editors and Writers of Longform Nonfiction in Conversation” will discuss if certain subjects demand a deep dive over brevity and the technical challenges facing the genre. As a writer still exploring the possibilities in creative nonfiction, I’m really looking forward to this panel.

Ryan Murphy, Nonfiction Editor

F244. A Reading & Conversation with Kaveh Akbar, Jos Charles, and Fady Joudah

F177A. Reinventing the Wheel: The Tradition of Innovation in Poetry

For AWP 19, I am particularly excited to see a shared reading between Kaveh Akbar, Fady Joudah, and Jos Charles. Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf is a rapturous meditation balancing the sublime beauty of the religious with visceral honesty that makes the poems land. Charles’ feeld was probably my favorite book of 2018. Her manipulation of language into a faux middle English left me breathless and I can’t wait to hear these poems performed. While I’m less familiar with Fady Joudah’s work, I look forward to becoming better acquainted at this reading. The reading will be on Friday 29 March from 1:30-2:45.

Friday morning, Vandana Khanna, Kazim Ali, Blas Falconer, Jenny Johnson, and Traci Brimhall will offer a roundtable discussion on the interplay between poetic canons and innovation. I’ve always had an interest in the ways that poetry can point backwards and forwards at the same time, so seeing this panel explore that territory is going to be a richly rewarding experience. The panel is from 10:30-11:45AM.

Tori Cárdenas, Poetry Editor (incoming Editor in Chief)

R131. Lit Your City: How To Build Strong Writing Communities & Run Reading Series
F133. Text + (Public) Space 

F312.  Why Can’t We Be Friends?: Alliances Between Academic and Community Programs

As incoming Editor-in-Chief, I want to reconnect Blue Mesa Review and UNM’s English Department to the community. BMR has a long history at UNM, but not so much in the community that it exists in. I want to find new ways to make connections between our readers and Albuquerque, so that our magazine can both deepen its roots in New Mexico, and share that culture and beauty with the world. My focus will be to make connections between the English Department and the community writers and artists of Albuquerque and the culture here. This is a chance for us to diversify and connect the people of New Mexico to the larger literary community.

I’m very excited to take up the EIC role, but anyone who knows me knows that ‘practical’ is only in my vocabulary when combined with ‘joke.’ Hopefully, I will also absorb techniques and advice from these panels that will help me with some of the practical elements of running the magazine.

Mario Montoya, Graduate Reader, MFA in Nonfiction (incoming Fiction Editor)

R259. How Literary Magazines Cultivate Meaningful Inclusivity

Choosing one panel/event I’m excited for was daunting. There are so many intriguing discussions going on this year. Conversations revolving around the Southwest and the border interest me. There’s even a panel dedicated to disabled writers that I must attend, being that I’m a writer in a wheelchair. Yet, I’d like to prioritize my obligations as incoming fiction editor by learning some things I can contribute to the magazine. Recently, as a staff, we discussed ways to be more inclusive, making sure our publication is made up of a variety of voices/ identities. With that in mind, I’ll definitely attend: “How Literary Magazines Cultivate Meaningful Inclusivity.” The speakers are editors of color, who will discuss staffing, mentoring and editing practices that take people of color into consideration. They’re offering strategies that support and attract writers of color as well. This information can be massively beneficial to our team.

Remember to stop by Table 2057 at the bookfair to meet the BMR staff, see our latest issue, pick up some swag, and find out which phenomenal authors we have lined up for our summer contest judges. See you in Portland!

On Gender-Nonconforming Stories

A year ago, at the age of 23, I came out as non-binary.

If you’re expecting a long story about the hardships of my adolescence, how hard it was to come out, this may disappoint you. It’s true that I struggled with my identity. I was so scared of coming out that the first person I told was a random stranger while drunk at a party. But to be honest, until less than a year before I came out, I never really questioned my gender, or sexuality for that matter. I only gained that privilege when I stumbled into a class at my university that covered gender-nonconforming narratives. The reason for my relatively late questioning was simply because until then I hadn’t known that the gender binary was something that could be questioned. The concept had successfully eluded me for most of my life.

It’s clear that we need more representations of gender-nonconforming identities within our stories, but more importantly, we need good representations. At Blue Mesa Review, we receive few submissions that tell these stories, and there are two common problems that prevent them from publication.

There seems to be an unwritten rule in these stories that gender-nonconforming characters are required to come out, and they often explain their identity with a dictionary-type monologue. Statements like, “I am non-binary, which means that I am not exclusively male or female” or “I am genderqueer, which means I don’t conform to social norms of gender,” sound clumsy and aren’t helpful. Anyone can Google non-binary or genderqueer, but it’s more difficult to find accounts of actual lived experiences. Ready-made definitions also imply that these characters fully know who they are, when in reality most gender-nonconforming people are struggling to understand what that means even after coming out. The last problem is that these characters would likely not blurt out their identity all the time. For most people, it remains scary to come out, and even when there’s not the risk of being shamed, harassed, or worse, it can be incredibly tedious to have to come out again and again and again, to the point that sometimes makes it feel like it’s not worth the effort. All of these things make characters who come out like this less believable.

Many stories also portray gender-nonconforming characters in a way that borders on cliché. For example, not every non-binary person looks or acts androgynous. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I look very much like a straight white male. That was a huge issue in my questioning process. Could I really be non-binary if I don’t even feel the need to look more feminine? This is just one aspect of how most gender-nonconforming individuals have very different ideas of what that actually means. To portray gender-nonconforming characters as representative of the whole community, and in a way that checks all these boxes, actually misses the point that gender-noncomforming is an umbrella term itself.

If we ever want to change society’s perception of gender as a rigid, invariable thing, we can’t do it by presenting another norm. Instead, we need to establish pluralistic narratives that actively challenge existing norms and complicate common gender-narratives. That’s the only way gender will cease to be the restrictive monster it currently is for many of us, whether we know it yet or not.

We need you to tell us your stories, not the ones that represent the entire community or the ones that explain what they are, but the ones that reflect what it means to be gender-nonconforming in a world that hasn’t accepted us yet. We need your experiences, your voices and your characters, idiosyncratic as they may be, to help us publish stories that acknowledge our existence and give people like me a way to make sense of our identities.

So please, send us your stories and poems.


Editor’s Note: Have a piece that you’re ready to submit? We’d love to read it, and we’re still accepting poetry and prose (fiction and nonfiction) for our spring issue of Blue Mesa Review through tomorrow night at midnight (February 28)! We also offer an expedited service for reading poetry, fiction, and nonfiction submissions open through tomorrow. Check out our Submittable page for more details.

Four Fears of Proofreading

Hello, my name is Laura Schoenfelder, and I am guilty of not proofreading my work. Whether essays or creative writing, for pleasure or business, I rarely give anything I write a second read. Ever since middle school, I’ve been procrastinating. Back then it was book reports. A couple nights before one was due, I would type it up and fix any misspelled words indicated by a red underline, and then I’d call it a night. Sure, I could have spent five minutes reading over it to make sure I caught any errors the computer did not, but I didn’t.

You might be asking, “Why Laura? Why would you do this to yourself?” Well, my friends, I am afraid. Very Afraid. “Of what?” you might ask.

 

Disappointment

When it comes to my writing, I’m a little full of myself. I think I’m a better writer than I actually am. I know that if I read my work over again, it will shatter my confidence, because it won’t be as good as I hoped.

Frustration

You know when you have something you want to say, but aren’t quite sure how to phrase it? You can spend hours trying to find the right words and still come up short. I hate that. When I write a first draft, I never go back to figure out how to say something better. I’m a lazy perfectionist, so by not proofreading, I tell myself that what I wrote is already as perfect as it can get.

Failure

Sometimes I just know from the moment I start writing that my piece won’t be successful. Reading it over again will only confirm that fact.

I also know well-written work requires research. If you don’t know jack about a subject and just make it up, someone’s going to call you out on it—rightfully so. I choose to write about what I already know—rather than learn something new—to limit my sense of failure, but it only limits my writing.

Resentment

I’m not only afraid my work won’t hold up, but that I’ll hate it. I hate what I write all the time. I know it’s not good enough. That’s the ultimate reason I won’t re-read anything. Because I know I’ll want to give up and stop writing forever. To me, it’s better to write something and never look at it again than to write something and hate it so much I never wanted to write again.

 

So, what do I do about these fears? After careful consideration, I’ve come to a solution. I need to get over myself. I let fear take over my writing. Clearly, I can make the time to edit, and laziness isn’t an excuse for poor writing. And perfection doesn’t have to be the end game if I improve each draft.

I even googled some inspirational writing quotes and I liked this one by Paul Valery: “A poem’s never finished, only abandoned.” I think this can apply to any and all writing. So, you can quote me if you’d prefer: Any and all writing is never finished, only abandoned.

In all seriousness, perfection is unachievable. Nobody has ever finished something they’ve written, held it up, kissed it, and said, “Finally, this is perfect!” If you’ve done this, you are wrong. You can say, “You know what, I like what I’ve written, and I’m proud of it. Now it’s time to see if anyone else likes it.” Then you move on and start on your next piece of writing.


Editor’s Note: Have a piece that you’re proud of and ready to submit? We’d love to read it, and we’re still accepting poetry and prose (fiction and nonfiction) for our spring issue of Blue Mesa Review through February 28! We also offer an expedited service for reading poetry, fiction, and nonfiction submissions. Check out our Submittable page for more details.

Don’t Colonize My Books, Too

In my pre-college years, teachers only assigned me one book from the perspective of a Native American narrator—Walk Two Moons written in 1994 by Sharon Creech, winner of the Newbery Prize. I was eleven at the time. At that sad point in my life, I had never read a book about someone like me and I was living for the extra attention that I was getting from my classmates as the only Native American girl in my class in Raton, New Mexico. Cringy as it is to admit, I even remember fantasizing about the discussion, and how everyone would have to defer to me, the resident expert of Native-ness.

I was impressed with how lovely the writing was. The main character was quirky and fun to read about and the themes of loss, redemption, and learning to empathize were timeless and well executed. It was by far one of the best books that I had been assigned in school at that point, but I started to notice as I was reading that there were little passages or words or ideas that seemed to feel off to me.

***

“My real name is Salamanca Tree Hiddle. Salamanca, my parents thought, was the name of the Indian tribe to which my great-great grandmother belonged. My parents were mistaken. The name of the tribe was Seneca, but my parents did not discover their error until after I was born.”

Salamanca Tree Hiddle is a ridiculous name, but as someone who was often told that I had an “interesting” last name, I felt like I didn’t really have room to speak. It was odd though, that a book that so strongly marketed itself as a Native American novel would have a main character that had such a distant relation to a tribe, and even odder that her family didn’t even know what tribe that she came from in the first place. My mother drilled my Sioux identity in my head since I left the womb.

***

“In school, our teacher told us we had to say Native American, but I agreed with my mother. Indian sounded much better. My mother and I liked this Indian-ness in our background. She said this exotic substance in our blood made us appreciate the gifts of nature; it made us closer to the land.”

The whole identity debate is pretty common amongst Native people—some like indigenous, some like Native American, some like to drop the “American” bit and just go with Native. A majority of us dislike the term “Indian” since we aren’t, in fact, from India. But my own mother had slipped into using the word Indian from time to time, so maybe there was a faction of “Indian” defenders amongst us that I hadn’t yet encountered.

It was harder to excuse the notion that Native-ness genetically bought Indigenous people a magical connection to nature, but again, I felt like I couldn’t criticize since I had gone through a phase in my life where I thought that I could control the wind after watching Pocahontas.

***

“’What do you want to go see an old Indian smoking a pipe for?’ Gram asked. She didn’t like the term ‘Native American’ any more than my mother did.’

 ‘I just do.’ Gramps said. ‘We might not ever get the chance again.’

…In a little clearing outside the museum, an American Indian person was sitting on a tree stump smoking a long peace pipe. After watching him for about five minutes. Gramps asked if he could try it.”

This was starting to feel a little too Peter Pan to me—a peace pipe on a stump? You would think that a Native author would know better than to treat Indigenous people like a prop in a tourist attraction.

***

The more I read, the less I liked. I kept thinking about the little details, like the way that the author called the term Native American “primitive” (a pretty charged word to a lot of Native people) or how the word exotic was used a little too freely when talking about anything “Indian.” It was death by a thousand paper cuts—a collection of small offenses that made the book feel disingenuous to a person who should have felt the most at home with the text, a Native American girl.

I finished the book feeling uneasy and slightly irritated, but it wasn’t until eighth grade that those feelings bothered me enough to investigate a little. Thanks to the internet, it didn’t take long to uncover the truth about Sharon Creech in her Newbury acceptance speech: “My cousins maintained that one of our ancestors was an American Indian. As a child I loved that notion and often exaggerated it by telling people that I was a full-blooded Indian… I admit, but without apology, that my view of American Indians was a romantic one.” Needless to say, it’s hard to write accurately about a group of people you romanticize.

I still feel a vague sense of loss when I think about how excited I was to read and discuss Walk Two Moons with my classmates. They knew little about Indigenous people, and honestly, I was limited in my understanding as well. I grew up off the reservation away from the culture that my family came from and the people who could teach me what it meant to be Native American. The little real information I learned about the culture came from my mother in scraps and bits while the media onslaught of inaccurate Native American portrayals was constant. After being failed time and time again, I was ready for good Native American representation. I was ready to raise my hand up high during discussions and annoy my teacher with a flurry of overly enthusiastic opinions and comments. Instead, I sat quietly, and my hands rested on my lap.

2018 Summer Contest Winners!

We’ve been reading nonstop for several months and are so excited to finally announce the winners of our Summer Contest for 2018! Thank you to all our submitters, to our judges, and to our readers—and a huge congratulations to the following writers:

 

Nonfiction – Judged by Leslie Jamison

1st Place: “Pergelation” by Margaret Adams

2nd Place: “Homing” by Austyn Gaffney

 

Poetry – Judged by Franny Choi

1st Place: “Menstruation Triptych” by Jihyun Yun

2nd Place: “electric hand” by Ivanna Baranova

3rd Place: “Calluses” by Mauricio Novoa

 

Fiction – Judged by Luís Alberto Urrea

1st Place: “Art Unknown” by Nicole Cuffy

2nd Place: “An Answer to Your Question” by Laura Price Steele

 

Our contest winners will be published in Issue 38, forthcoming in early December 2018.

Double Impostor Syndrome: Being of Color in an MFA Program

Your stomach is double-knotting, your palms are clammy. Your nerves bang inside your skull. What did I get myself into? you think as you sit in this classroom for the first time. You are stuck somewhere between chatty and shitting bricks. It’s the first semester of your MFA, probably your biggest accomplishment to date, and the workload alone will smack your head like brass knuckles. It’s a three-year-commitment that no one you know has attempted before. Only one of your parents graduated high school. The other one’s not sure what a grad-level creative writing program is. They both assumed parole officers, court rooms and jail cells might be your future. A family tradition, your rites-of-passage. But then you changed, lost your leg, straightened out. Got your bachelor’s degree.

To make things harder, you’re a writer of color. You have no business being here. You don’t belong, not with these bustling “academics,” these privileged people at this institution for higher learning. No way. Are you kidding? Grad school is for rich kids, for intellectuals, not you. Engineers and scientists, brilliant minds. Not for some struggling Chicano who likes to read and write down stories and poems. What makes you think you can hang, like this is YOUR gig? Look around you. No one else comes from where you do. Sure, a few gente perhaps and a Nigerian writer, and one Native American poet/memoirist. But even a lot of the material you’re asked to read is old and classic white. You are assigned to read Claudia Rankine and Roxane Gay, but also Joyce and Orwell and someone named Polansky. And, a large portion of your cohort, the staff and faculty, your colleagues, your university, looks, even thinks, very white.

How can this be? you ponder. In New Mexico, where a majority of the people are of color. Why is that? Are there no intelligent people from your community? Where are the Native lawyers and Chicanas receiving business degrees? Or the Mexican American professors, for that matter. Yes, there are a few, you know. But this is freakin’ New Mexico you’re talking about here. And then, who actually graduates and completes their degree? Usually, not you, according to the numbers. You are some sort of anomaly. It’s a miracle you’ve made it this far. To an institution built in your backyard, for you but not really for you. So, you feel lucky to have an opportunity to better yourself. The pressure is on. Better not mess this up.

You meet a lot of smart people from other places, here to research and study your home. To analyze it, then turn around and write reports and articles on it, leaving out important details and facets of the story. While you? You must fight to be heard. You must claw, for every inch, to tell your own story in your own words. You must try harder than everyone else. You must give more than one-hundred percent just for your voice to exist here, drowned-out by the prestigious talking heads. Your story, your past, is gritty and real, like dirt in your teeth from the wind. You do not, cannot, write about luxury or the finer, lighter, things in life, although you wish you could. The jealousy you experience about this makes you want to scream. At no one in particular. Who would listen anyway? Besides, if you speak up, then you’re simply overreacting. You risk looking like “the angry one.” You’re just loud and unappreciative. But, of course you’re pissed. You work hard for the bread crumbs you scrounge, while some have access to the whole factory.

The divisiveness of everything makes you feel isolated and competitive, and you know you’re not the only writer of color who feels this way. After all, we expected more unity when we arrived here, more community, since that’s what we came from and now suddenly lack. You’re used to having family around: an abuela (grandmother), a close cousin, a crazy uncle. In the MFA, you don’t have that kind of support system. Here, you’re second-rate. Here, you’re a low-priority learner compared to white students, with half the perks. We have it hard enough as it is, just making friends and connections. You know this from chatting with the other few writers of color. Through them, you receive the emotional support you seek. You also receive support from your Anglo professor, who tells you about impostor syndrome, which is when someone doubts their own accomplishments for fear of being discovered a fraud. According to researchers Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes, impostor syndrome arises when one has a constant need for validation. For writers, it arrives when an artist lacks a sense of acknowledgement and value, regardless of the talent they possess or number of publications they achieve. They imagine their success is a result of luck, not of hard work or individual skill. Basically, you get in if someone gets you in. You wonder if writers of color suffer a sort of “double” impostor syndrome, where one feels not quite good enough—and not quite white enough—either way.

How to Date a Writer

Whether you’re a writer who dates or you’re looking to date one, there are a few things you may need to know about the dating game. You might imagine that dating a writer is pretty romantic—what with the whole “art imitating life” factor—but it’s daunting to get involved with one. We’re moody, unrealistic and introverted. We’d much rather write or people watch than have a real conversation with real people. We procrastinate, and we’ll point out typos or grammatical errors in your texts and emails. We’re typically anxious about whether we will ever “make it big,” so we’re judgmental of ourselves and our work. And we’re slaves to coffee and beer.

For these reasons, most writers are not to be dated under any circumstances. If you’re still interested though, here are a few tips:

1. Don’t do it. It bears repeating. Even if your writer isn’t introverted, they are often quiet, indecisive, or a little insane. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t write anything worth reading, and we wouldn’t finish it either.

2. Your writer is a work in progress. Writers are notoriously pretentious and forgetful, and our anxiety and criticism can be infuriating. If we’re annoying, tell us so that we can reevaluate the aspects of our persona that are detracting from the scene. We’ll revise them. Drafting a piece over and over has taught us that some aspects of characters hurt the story, and sometimes we have to alter their behavior to tell the story we want to tell. Don’t feel bad if you have to ask your writer to revise something; maybe I’m only speaking for myself, but generally, writers are open to change and revision. If not, they probably aren’t a very good writer (or person), so you should probably break it off.

3. Check your writer’s policy on simultaneous submissions. When a writer sends a piece to numerous journals that accept simultaneous submissions, that’s fine. But when a journal specifies that a writer can only submit to one publication at a time, they understand that they can’t send their piece anywhere else. Writers operate in a similar fashion: some will be okay with monogamy and some won’t, and that’s okay. Just make sure you check your writer’s submission policy first, and let them know what your requirements are, too.

4. Sharing work is a big gesture. Often, the only people who will see a piece of work before it is finished are the writer’s workshop group, their editor or agent (if we have either), and the writer themselves. If you are invited to read a piece we aren’t finished with, we must really like you and respect your opinion. You don’t have to be involved with every step of the writing process, but if your writer offers you a piece of work, consider reading it. We want to hear your feedback.

5. You’re in our books. You contain multitudes. Your writer will see all of these. We will observe them, analyze them, and point them out to you sometimes. It’s in our nature. Sometimes it may seem like you’re only one thing or the other, but your writer is always examining your character for its nuances, and they will love you for each detail they zoom in on. Face it: you’re going to see aspects of yourself emerging in your writer’s work (the good parts, the bad parts, and everything in between). If you don’t, they probably don’t really love you.

6. We’re great at rejection. If you have to let us down, don’t worry. We’re great at rejection. We slave over pieces for hours, days, weeks, sometimes even years, and then we send them to journals that have <5% acceptance rates, or editors/agents with <1%. This is the best process for growing a thick skin. We believe in our work enough to know it will eventually find a home, even if that means revision after revision after revision, ad nauseum. If you need to dump your writer, just be straightforward, and turn us down in a timely manner. We’ll almost always appreciate direct and clear feedback over a form letter, but either way, let us know and we’ll probably understand. We’ll just need to write about it afterwards.

So there you have it—a few hard and fast rules for dating a writer. But as much as I like to tease them, the writers in my life are some of the best people I’ve ever known (myself included). You’ll constantly benefit from their close eye for details and grammar lessons, and you’ll wonder how you managed without 6,000 pens scattered across every surface of your home. I sincerely wish you the best of luck dating your writer, and I bet you $10 you get a book dedicated to you.

 

In Search of the Monstrous

Monster Portraits by Del and Sofia Samatar is by far one of the most interesting books I’ve read in 2018. I had the good fortune to stumble upon it at a signing at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference (AWP), and I’m very grateful that I did. The book resists being fit into any box, which makes any summary painfully anemic, but here goes: Monster Portraits is a speculative memoir that explores living in a world where one is perpetually othered. In this exploration, Sofia’s text tracks in two directions at once. On the one hand, the book is a not-quite-straightforward bestiary/travelogue detailing the process of seeking out and coming to know each of the monsters it describes. On the other, this external process of finding and coming to know the monsters of the book points inward toward understanding the multi-faceted nature of the self. Sofia’s text is accompanied throughout by Del’s illustrations.

This mixture of prose and illustration becomes a high-wire act that could easily have fallen short of its ambitious aims, but Del and Sofia work together to pull the task off beautifully. The text itself creates its own need for this illustrated element: “Most monsters, I have read, have a horror of the camera, but will allow their portraits to be drawn by hand.” This mediated experience of the monstrous is crucial to the book’s success. We do not find them out in the wild as something to experience purely as an other, but rather, our experience of the monsters in this text can only come through the text—through the author.

In this vein we see the external experience brought in to the Samatars’ own lives, translated from fictional encounters with fantastic beasts into a speculative memoir. The Samatars present their own experience, not directly, not through the steady gaze of prose, but at a slant. In so doing, they create their account and a mirror for readers to consider their own otherness. A mirror that not only reflects the reader’s experience through the Samatars’ but that can provide a field guide to a life. And “a mirror becomes architecture when you pass to the other side: this is what we had understood as children.”

You can pick up Monster Portraits from Rose Metal Press here.

Summer Reads with Blue Mesa Review

The first day of the semester at the University of New Mexico is today, but the staff at Blue Mesa Review isn’t quite ready to let go of the summer. Check out our recommendations to read over your lunch break, between classes, alt-tabbed in the background of your computer at work, or just when you have a little downtime at the end of the day.

 

Ari McGuirk, Fiction Editor

I’m a short story writer. Always have been, always will be.

It might not make much sense, then, that I haven’t read a single novel or short story collection this summer. Instead, I’ve immersed myself wholly into the world of nonfiction.

Like many fledging fiction writers, my short stories were inspired by people I’ve known, places I’ve lived or visited, or events I’ve witnessed. Fiction became a hiding place—a space from which I could tell my story without genuinely claiming it as mine. This past spring, a workshop infected me with the nonfiction bug, and I’ve been hooked since.

But because I’d dedicated my energy to fiction for so long, nonfiction seemed intimidating—a genre that demands accountability, that prohibits sloppy or incomplete rendering of real people, their flaws and their triumphs. I’d posit that fiction warrants the same, but the difference is that nonfiction forces the writer to simultaneously be character and narrator: no more hiding.

So, this summer, I’ve tried to read writers that are each doing something different with the genre. Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist, Tobias Wolff’s In Pharaoh’s Army and This Boy’s Life, every piece in Best American Essays 2017 curated by Leslie Jamison, Elizabeth Kadetsky’s First There is a Mountain and others. These are only a handful of books and essays that continue to show me what this genre can do, and I recommend each of them with enthusiasm.

 

Tori Cárdenas, Poetry Editor

This summer, I caught up on all of The New Yorker issues that I didn’t have time to read during the spring semester. Much to my disappointment, I found that most of their poets are the same poets who have always been published: white, predominantly heterosexual and cisgender, male authors. I didn’t see many voices like mine. Did they not have value?

To process some of my indignation, I returned to James Baldwin’s collection, Notes of a Native Son. Baldwin’s honest examination of his own emotions surrounding persistent and brutal racial violence helped me to acknowledge and trust the part of myself that is…well, pissed off. His work’s relevance today almost makes it worse—very little has actually changed for the better. We are still suffering.

In many minority/marginalized communities, we are encouraged not to express our frustration with the injustices surrounding us. We are discouraged from taking pride in our identities or finding value in our experiences. Sometimes, the cage of silence is for our own safety. But a place for the flame of outrage and change exists—it is here. It is now.

I also saw Sorry to Bother You, which is a whole other level of “Is this seriously the world we are living in right now?”

Go see that, too.

 

Ryan W. Murphy, Nonfiction Editor

This summer I’ve been focusing on reading poetry. I highly recommend Allison Parrish’ amazing collection Articulations. The poetry in this volume was composed by an algorithm Parrish designed, pulling language from every work of poetry published through Project Gutenberg and assembling it through a process that is beyond my ability to describe well.

Terrance Hayes’ American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin was an absolute punch across the jaw. I read the book in a single sitting in a coffee shop, promising myself every so often, “Just one more section,” and then inevitably found myself at the end of the book. I do not remember the last time that a collection of poetry laid me low the way Hayes’ book did.

Finally, I’ve been working my way through Mark Z. Danielewski’s intimidating novel Only Revolutions. Like all of Danielewski’s work, this book is formally impressive. At its most basic, the novel contains two stories narrated in something between free verse and stream-of-consciousness. In order to read these two stories, the reader will flip the book over every eight pages, reading from each end simultaneously. And the formal fireworks only begin there.

 

Mitch Marty, Managing Editor

Over the summer I amassed a book list for the upcoming semester, and despite sticking my nose into a couple books (Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarisa Pinkola Estés), I made little progress reading anything. Because of how much I read during the semester and reading for our Summer Contest, I haven’t been able to sit still long enough to read anything else. For me, the summer is about exploring and writing. As the summer break comes to a close though, I steadily changed my course, still opting to deviate from the list for the semester to dive into The Recovering by Leslie Jamison. It’s phenomenally tragic, brutally honest, masterfully written, and fueling the nonfiction I’m writing in the way that only a great book can.

 

Hayley Peterson, Editor in Chief

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

I’ve been craving memoir this summer. I just want to read about how someone else makes sense of their life, you know? So I picked up The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy at Powell’s City of Books while I was in Portland visiting family, and then read it in about 36 hours (and I’m a slow reader). I’ve read a lot of Levy’s reportage in The New Yorker, which I love, but there’s something so special about an author sharing her life on the page—the messy parts, the loving parts, the painful parts—that helps me remember why I write, and why I read.

A great memoir makes me feel I’ve connected with someone else in the world. If you’re feeling at all lonely, read a memoir; if your feelings about sexuality, gender, and love are making you feel lonely, read THIS memoir.