A Birthday Interview with Jake Skeets

Jake Skeets, Poetry Judge 2019

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish Jake, Nelson Mandela, and myself a Very Happy Birthday. Jake, thanks for being our Poetry Judge, and for doing our BMR Birthday Interview. We’ll do 9 questions, what with 1+8 being 9 and all. Let’s get started.

What is your favorite thing to do on your birthday, and do you get to do that this year?

Happy Birthday! Don’t forget Vin Diesel. We need to wish him a happy birthday as well. I really don’t have any traditions. In undergrad at UNM, I took advantage of free birthday meals. I would have breakfast at Denny’s on Central and then grab a free burger from Red Robin.

The best recent birthday I think was a few years ago when my parents bought me Little Caesers Pizza and a cake. I love Little Caesers. I think the last big birthday celebration was my 21st birthday, which was an absolute blast. I don’t think anything can top that.

I’m spending this birthday in Crownpoint, NM at the Emerging Diné Writers’ Institute. I’m teaching poetry to Diné students and it is quite the honor and a tremendous gift.

How many other people have you met that you share a birthday with? I think my count’s up to four now.

You are the only person I have met and remain in contact with so far. I remember meeting another person at a party once but I don’t remember their name. I feel Cancer season is when we all thrive. I have this sense of freedom for a few weeks around this time. Summer is my favorite season. The best time is when it’s close to 9 at night and you can still see the sun glow at the horizon.

I know we’re not all that old, but is there a slang or trend that makes you feel old?

It’s hard to believe that the huge things for us are now distant pasts. I bring up things like Myspace or 3OH3! to my younger sister and she is like “Wow, you are old.” I mean she knows what I am talking about but there’s a distance.  I would call my past self “almost emo” because I had the hair and I was obsessed with The Postal Service, Paramore, and Death Cab for Cutie.

There are a lot of titles we take on with work and school and everything else, but do you describe yourself/identify as a poet primarily?

I thought hard about this for a long time. In the beginning, I didn’t feel like a poet. Today, however, I know that I am a poet. It wouldn’t be fair to my years of revision and training to call myself anything else first.

I still do feel hesitation, especially being back on the reservation. I feel like the title of “poet” doesn’t have the same meaning as “engineer” or “lawyer.” However, I feel it important to say I am a poet and I am Diné so that perhaps another Diné out there can see themselves represented in poetry. My life changed when I read Luci Tapahonso in high school and we had the amazing opportunity to work with her in undergrad.

If/has a child asked you to describe what you do, how would/did you explain it to them?

I would tell them I’m a poet and that I write poetry. I mean children’s books and nursery rhymes are filled with rhyme, meter, and image so I feel like children would understand poetry.

I know June’s over, but that doesn’t mean Pride is. What’s on your Pride playlist?

I mean there are the classics like “Finally” by CeCe Penniston, “100% Pure Love” by Crystal Waters, and “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany. Then, there are songs like “Scuse Me” by Lizzo, “Tempo” by Lizzo, “Cebuana” by Karencitta, and “Higher Love” by Kygo featuring Whitney Houston. It also includes the more emotional songs like “Slip Away” by Perfume Genius, “Shine” by Years and Years, “Holy Water” by Sakima, “Play by Play” by Autre Ne Veut, “Lay by Me” by Ruben, and “Warning Intruders” by Rostam. Of course, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Beyonce are all mixed in there as well.

How about favorite Fab 5 member?

Jonathan is my favorite. We were given the famous quote “Can you believe?” in the very first episode. Jonathan is the type of energy I wish I had in me.

Congratulations on the book! I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy, and now that I think about it, I need to change the address on my pre-order. Aside from all of the craziness surrounding the release, do you have any personal goals (for self-care, growth, more houseplants, etc.) in the next year?

Thank you. Composing the book was a tremendous labor and I feel like the upcoming release and touring will be an even larger labor. I haven’t thought of any personal goals as I have been wrapped up with everything else but this is a good reminder, so thank you.

This is such a refreshing question. I definitely would like to devote more time to food. I feel like my relationship with food has been tremendously altered. In undergrad, it was extremely limited so I ate whatever I could find. Today, the stress of everything has me falling on comfort foods that are definitely not good for me. So I hope to relearn a healthier and more holistic relationship with food. Other things on the list: drink more water, get more tattoos, try to take more selfies.

Are you as obsessed with Megan Rapinoe as I am?

Such great hair and such great talent. You and my partner would get along just fine. He is obsessed with sports and I don’t mean just football or basketball. I am talking about soccer, lacrosse, gymnastics, professional bowling, college volleyball and so many other sports that only broadcast early in the morning. I am now semi-interested in college basketball but I fell in love with the WNBA. I feel like women’s sports are not given the light of day and that needs to change. We also need to pay them more.

Make It Feel Human

Mario Montoya, Fiction Editor

Storytelling is more than human tradition. It’s instinct. From oral creation stories of Native Americans, to cave-carvings of Egypt and Mesopotamia, to holy books and classic novels we’ve produced, even now with our digital media—laptops, phones, tablets—we can’t help but tell each other stories. It’s our nature. People tell stories while commuting on the train or bus. They get told daily in locker rooms. In line at Whole Foods, you’re bound to hear a juicy laugher. Gossipy teenagers devise compelling storylines, using common literary tricks, like character development and rising action. Want a riveting plot? Talk with a jailbird or ex-con. And it’s almost indisputable knowledge that homeless men and women have the best stories out there.

In New Mexico, storytelling is a way of life. It pulsates through our blood. The Puebloan, Apache, and Diné people here have carried on their histories and traditions orally for centuries, passing down memorized narratives to their children. Mejicano-americanos do this too, embedding memories, morals, and life lessons into our songs (our corridos) and our folktales. Not just as a source of entertainment, but as a way to exist. Our stories make claim to who we are, who we once were, and who we aspire to be. These claims are a part of the on-going plot that documents our experience and has since way before the written word or printing press.

Thus is the reason I am so proud, and honored, to be this year’s Fiction Editor for Blue Mesa Review: a publication created with a mission to amplify often marginalized voices. Founded in 1989 by New Mexico literary giant Rudolfo Anaya, Blue Mesa Review has regularly showcased what would be considered nontraditional talent, publishing work by many exceptional writers from the Southwest. In the Editor’s Note for Volume One, Anaya explains his intentions for BMR, writing that Blue Mesa Review is “a new literary magazine designed to serve the writers of our region.” Since then, BMR has featured many of the great Southwestern writers as editors and contributors. Ana Castillo, Joy Harjo, Leslie Marmon Silko, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Juan Morales, Denise Chavez, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Luis Urrea, the list goes on. Who’s next?

Yet, Blue Mesa Review is not a publication just for Southwestern readers and writers, as Anaya emphasized in the same volume. “Our focus is the Southwest,” he writes, “but we publish writers from any area.” And we’ve done just that. BMR reaches every corner of the continent and further, with an international readership. We’ve published the words of great writers like Robert Creeley, John Nichols, and Bobby Byrd. We prize that one thing that ties all storytellers together: a hunger to explore our humanity.

So, what makes us all human? That’s certainly one tough question with too many answers to list here. But, with that question in mind, no matter who you are or how you identify, if you’ve got a good story, please tell it to us. We want to give it an honest read. If you’re a woman, a member of the LBGTQ community, African American, Native, Asian, Caucasian, please, send them in. If you’re Latinx or Middle Eastern or use a medical device for transport, we want to hear what you got to say. If you’re tall, big, small, left-handed, own six cats, love Ellen and CBD products like we do, please send us your work. If you’re terminally-ill, have been enslaved, entrapped, manipulated, appropriated, accused, abused, we want to give you a voice. If you need a place to scream, to cry, to laugh, we’d love to provide you one. But, whatever you write, make it feel human. Whatever you do, make it you.

Burning Down the Canon

Seth Garcia, Poetry Editor

To be honest, poetry doesn’t make much sense to me. Every time I think I’ve figured it out, cracked the atavistic code, some poet comes along and rearranges all my previously held conceptions of what poetry can look or feel like. The poetry that stays with me has always been something innovative, interesting.

The ‘rules’ implemented on poetry come from stuffy control freaks. Don’t be like them, confined to left-margin blocks that float entitled without any sense of risk or vitality. Break the standard notions. Remind us that even we as editors need to be on your terms.

This can be done formally, as well as through content. Hell, give us both. I still remember the first time I read “All Men Die” by Fatimah Asghar. I had never seen, felt, experienced that kind of poem before in my life. It put me in my place; it humbled, exposed, bereft me in inexplicable tides. Do that: remind me that I am wrong to ever think my opinions are secure. Send us something new. Send us something which redefines, which penetrates our shell of normalcy.

Poetry has a remarkable ability to strip away the pretensions we’ve spent our lives accumulating. I’m tired of left-blocked poems. Burn the canon down in front of us. Take away our sense of our selves. Tell us we’ve been living in an insecure bubble our whole lives, that we needed, more than anything, to hear your voice, your perspective, and that it was ours all along. We all need that precious excavation that reminds us of our interconnectivity, our gravity, our unbrokenness.

Poetry, if nothing else, is experience at its most unalloyed. Share with us your reality, and let it redefine our own.

Finding the Heart’s Balance

Darren Donate Editor Photo

Darren Donate, Poetry Editor

Beauty is important in poetry, but it isn’t everything. Oftentimes, I tell students that are working on their own projects—whether it is poetry, fiction, or nonfiction—to write something that is true to themselves. I think often of what Ron Padgett said about writing poetry that would have inspired his teenage self—-the person living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That ideal is communicable to me; while it may be easy to get wrapped up in theory and experimentation, I think that it is incredibly important to find the heart’s balance. As the incoming Poetry Editor at Blue Mesa Review, I want to read submissions that get to the center of an experience and leave me with a sense of longing.

The best works that I have read were maybe unsharpened or rough around the edges, but they were able to encapsulate the humanness that first attracts readers to poetry. I am seeking work that wants to break new ground through its use of language, and while form is something that I am deeply interested in—I feel that content and execution should be valued over all else.

I am greedy. I want to leave a piece of poetry and feel like my soul has eaten a cheesecake.

But in all seriousness, I want poets to continue questioning themselves and their work. Is what I am writing about really getting to the truth? Does this sort of experience have value other than being ornamental? Am I farming my heart for poetry? I want to know who you are and feel through your writing a motivation and passion for your work.

Poets, let’s come together and share these truths, pitfalls, beauties, and experiences together. I am excited to read your submissions!

If you’d like to submit to our summer contest, please check out our submittable.

What’s Our Incoming Nonfiction Editor Looking For?

Michelle Gurule, Nonfiction Editor

I am thrilled to take on the role of Blue Mesa Review’s new Nonfiction Editor during such a special time. If you didn’t already know, 2019 marks the 30th year of our literary magazine. What an accomplishment! This year, our staff wants to reconnect with our roots and celebrate what it means to distribute art from the Southwest.

This isn’t a disclaimer that says I’m looking only for Southwestern writers—BMR is fortunate to reach an audience far and wide—but I do want to encourage my local artists to submit, too!

I’ve spent the last year as a Graduate Reader and had the honor of falling in love with the Nonfiction contest winners straight out of the submission queue. I have such fondness for this genre because it is so personal. I know that all genres leave room for exposing some part of our inner-selves, even if it’s hidden in a fiction text as a monster under the bed, or the color of the sky in a poem, but how cool is it to read about someone’s real life experiences in their own voice?

Speaking of voice—I’m obsessed with it! A great way to pull me into a piece is by giving me a good narrator right off the bat. I love humor. I really like it when the speaker is playful, but I’m also a fan of dark, mysterious, intellectual, somber, etc.  I’m pretty open, just as long as you write honestly. If I trust you as my narrator, then I am in for the ride.

I have to admit I’m a fan of narrative, plot-driven pieces. I love when a nonfiction submission reads so story-like that I have to go back to the Submittable page and double-check the genre. I want something to be happening. I want to be engaged with your piece. I want to feel connected to our narrator and other characters through the events taking place on page.

Also, here’s the most overstated writing tip that I can give you: show, don’t tell. If you’ve taken any creative writing class, I can presume that you’ve heard it before, and yet I will tell you once more, but this time nicely, please show rather than tell. I should be doing a little bit of work when I’m reading your submission. I want to be reliant on the information you’ve included in your essay to gauge the specifics of how you felt about it all. Make every line in your writing do the heavy-lifting for you.

Everything I’ve mentioned here focuses on my personal preferences, but that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to work that falls outside of that framework. The Nonfiction pieces that will sing to me will remind me of how human we all are. They will make me laugh, or cry, or spend the next three weeks in my head wondering about what it means to be a person in this world.

I am so excited to dive into all of the submissions! To all the writers, thank you for sharing your work with Blue Mesa Review. I am honored to read these pages from your life stories.

PS—Fun fact! I have terrible eyes, so please be considerate of the way you submit your work. Times New Roman, 12 pt, double-spaced submissions are the easiest to read, which allows me to focus solely on the quality of your work. Follow our submission guidelines.

Somos Unidos

Tori Cárdenas, Editor-in-Chief

I’ve lived in New Mexico my entire life, and saying I have a love/hate relationship with it is an understatement. It’s smelly and full of roaches, goatheads and addiction; it’s too hot, too windy, and there’s too much construction, too much crime, and not enough aid or compassion for those in need. There aren’t many artistic opportunities for youth or arts programs in our schools, despite the state’s international reputation for its vibrant art communities. And it’s hard for young people of color like me to get ahead here, stuck between seasonal service jobs and rising rent costs. Like many of my peers, I’ve always felt like this state was a trap.

When I graduated from Taos High, I didn’t really want to go to UNM, but my single mom and all the financial aid I applied for couldn’t cover out-of-state tuition. After completing my undergrad, I wanted to move away but couldn’t afford to do that either. I couldn’t seem to find success at work, or a way to stretch my legs creatively that was also lucrative. I’ve felt directionless even in the MFA program I’m in currently. The state nickname isn’t ‘the Land of Entrapment’ for nothing.

Then, the Land of Entrapment got its very first professional sports team—New Mexico United. I attended their first match on March 9th (and several since then), and in that sea of yellow and black flags, I felt an immense and swelling sense of pride in my community. The air was electric that night, surging with love for not only the players or the game, but for New Mexico itself and all of the different people that call it home. Unless I was out admiring the landscape, I had never felt so proud to be one of those people.

At the time of this blog’s publication, NMU has only one loss and sits in 1st place in the USL Western Conference. Our players receive consistent league accolades and inspire fans of every age. Isotopes Park, or ‘The Lab,’ has become the nucleus of the city in a very short amount of time, and when we root for New Mexico, we cheer in Spanish, English, and Spanglish. I’m proud of what this team has done for this place.

Watching the stunning rise of this team and its passionate fan base, I realize I’ve felt that pride before but didn’t identify it as love for New Mexico. For as long as I’ve known her, Hayley (last year’s Editor-in-Chief) has teased me about how much school spirit I have. I have a tan line from my class ring year-round. I refuse to drink Pistol Pete’s Ale from Bosque Brewing. Even my debit card has Louie Lobo on it, despite my complicated relationship with UNM. Now, I’m obsessed with New Mexico United, and she teases me about that, too. I’ll admit, it’s really an absurd amount of spirit for as much shit as I talk about this place. But she saw something in me that I couldn’t admit before—no matter where I am, my love for New Mexico will always run as deep as the Rio Grande Gorge.

In my 27th year in New Mexico, I finally feel like I can make a difference here. I believe in this place and its people, because we’re diverse, creative and persistent with a high tolerance for capsaicin, and when we band together, we do so unwaveringly. We are the past and the future, and the stories that tie the two together. We’ve adapted to the desert, and resisted generations of assimilation and tyranny in spite of all the forces that would erase us. I’m proud to be from New Mexico and part of our United and Blue Mesa families, and my goal for the magazine this year is to contribute to our community by sharing our spirit both locally and internationally.

I want to thank my home by sharing my stubborn pride and hope with everyone I know, so they know it’s possible to succeed here and to shape our communities into ones we truly feel we belong to. And I extend tremendous thanks to Hayley and to our editorial board for trusting me with Blue Mesa Review’s direction for the next year. You can’t know precisely how excited and grateful I am to be home right now. It’s all sick.

And I know I’m a little late to the game this time, but I’m rooting for New Mexico.

Blue Mesa Review Walks Out

Today International Workers Day, the graduate workers of the University of New Mexico are walking out to call for worker’s rights for all Teaching, Graduate, and Resident Assistants. Graduate workers play a pivotal role in university education but are not paid a living wage. The labor we provide keeps the university running, as we teach, grade, and support required undergraduate courses, and work for faculty and university programs. For this essential work, we are paid $14,950 per academic year, with no pay during the summer months. For context, the average salary in Albuquerque is $48,188 per year.

Aside from pay, these worker’s rights also include the right to a workplace free of sexual harassment and assault so that we can feel safe at work, in our departments, and in our communities extending beyond campus. We need complaints and concerns about sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the work place to be taken seriously and addressed in a timely and professional manner.

In short, the graduate worker population of the University of New Mexico is suffering and needs the attention and support of faculty, administration, and the student body that we serve.

Blue Mesa Review, like many university-based literary magazines across the country, is staffed and run by graduate students (with the exception of an ever-changing faculty advisor). Our original release date for Issue 39 was scheduled for today (May 1), but in solidarity with fellow graduate workers across the university, we’re pushing the release date back until tomorrow to walk out with them. We are walking out for transparency. We are walking out for all of our fellow workers, especially female workers, workers of color, workers of all religions and belief systems, LGBTQIAA+ workers, and other marginalized workers who are ignored and unheard. We are walking out for our students. We are walking out for ourselves. We are walking out for you.

Announcing our 2019 Contest Judges!

We know you’re all waiting impatiently for us to release Issue  39–in the meantime, take a look at our Summer Contest Judges!

Submission Guidelines can be found below the judge profiles.


FICTION

Lesley Nneka Arimah was born in the UK and grew up in Nigeria and wherever else her father was stationed for work. Her stories have been honored with a National Magazine Award, a Commonwealth Short Story Prize and an O. Henry Award. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, GRANTA and has received support from The Elizabeth George Foundation and MacDowell. She was selected for the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 and her debut collection WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FALLS FROM THE SKY won the 2017 Kirkus Prize, the 2017 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award and was selected for the New York Times/PBS book club among other honors. Arimah is a 2019 United States Artists Fellow in Writing. She lives in Las Vegas and is working on a novel about you.

NONFICTION

Francisco Cantu served as an agent for the United States Border Patrol from 2008 to 2012, working in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. A former Fulbright fellow, he is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a 2017 Whiting Award. His writing and translations have been featured in Best American Essays, Harper’s, n+1, Orion, and Guernica, as well as on This American Life. He lives in Tucson.

POETRY

Jake Skeets is Black Streak Wood, born for Water’s Edge. He is Diné from the Navajo Nation and holds an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts. His work has appeared in Boston Review, Waxwing, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. He is a winner of the 2018 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize. His first collection, Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, was selected by Kathy Fagan as a winner for the the 2018 National Poetry Series and will be published by Milkweed Editions in 2019. He currently teaches at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona.


2019 Summer Contest
June 1 – August 31

Award

Publication, $500 cash prize for the first place winner in each genre.

Eligibility

This competition is open to original English language works in the genres of Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction. The submission must be an unpublished work. Simultaneous submissions are acceptable; please note that reading fees are non-refundable, and you must withdraw the submission immediately via Submittable if it is accepted elsewhere.

Reading Fee

$12

What We’re Looking For

Startling, compelling, and beautiful original work. We’re looking for fresh prose and powerful poetry.

Guidelines for Electronic Submissions

Submissions are accepted exclusively through our online submissions manager, Submittable. Entries must be received no later than August 31. Please submit a packet of up to 3 poems or up to 6,000 words of prose. You may submit in both genres, as well as submit multiple works per genre. Results will be announced via e-mail and posted on our website in early November.

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.