AWP Is NOT Us

Over years of working on literary publications, I have never felt particularly compelled to self-disclose as a radical queer editor, instead hoping that the writers I support would make clear my editorial interests. Today, Red Hen Press editor Kate Gale’s tone-deaf, reactionary—perhaps satirical?—piece “AWP Is Us,” posted at Huffington Post, illustrates publishing’s implicit & explicit intolerance for critical engagement with intersectional oppression and its influence on art & literature. Today, I realize that my silence has been a mistake.

So here goes: I, Jesse Rice-Evans, hereby vocalize my ongoing commitment to seek out and publish queer & trans writers, authors of color, writers of varying dis/ability & class, and any writer similarly committed to dismantling the exclusionary fascist bullshit demarcated by Kate Gale’s oblivious editorial. As a queer, educated, white grrl-presenting poet, I am fully able to slip into privileged literary spaces, evidenced by my gatekeeper status as editor and writing instructor. It is of utmost importance to my practice in both of these spheres to remain committed to inclusion, challenging neoliberal & apologist discourses, and the act of becoming as necessary for any person of privilege interested in challenging the very real oppression within publishing.

The challenge of who discloses in submissions is also up for debate; I have not felt it integral to the experience of my work to self-identify as [whatever], but I am also questioning if this is misguided. Publishing is still incredibly insular, overwhelmingly white, cis, straight, wealthy, and otherwise paralleling normative, exclusionary patterns that dominate our cultural narrative. By neglecting to explicitly come out as an editor (or a writer) committed to rejecting those paradigms and publishing authors who challenge hegemony, I have done all writers who have submitted/will submit to Identity Theory and other publications I have worked for a great disservice.

I am deeply disappointed that an editor at an influential small press such as Red Hen would show her (racist) ass quite like this, but in truth, I am not surprised. (And I’m not surprised one bit at Gale’s affiliation with and blind defense of AWP, aka Apologist White Poets.) For my own well-being, I have elected to stay the fuck out of publishing as paid work for exactly this reason, but I am now doubly committed to signal-boosting writers of color and queers, and publishing them whenever I am lucky enough to have the opportunity.

I’m so pleased the online response to Gale’s willful ignorance of how institutions operate and her baffling writing style has been so strong. There are enough politically literate writers & publishing folks to push hard against these unacceptable incarnations of oppression in our community, and folks are out there fighting back. Let’s find each other! And buy each others’ books!

Join

I’ve never been a joiner. For someone deeply into so many cultural things–film, veganism, games, feminism, natural healing, poetics–I have just never found a clear-cut group with which I identify.

The closest I have ever come to this was–weirdly–in my hometown, when I was still in high school. While most of my close friends were very different from me in terms of interests, we all balanced one another out in a dynamic way. We glowed with energy: debates blossomed, flamed, and receded; we could introduce each other to things we loved: designers, artists, filmmakers, music, novels. I have often wondered if this was because every one of us were artists in some fashion or another–or if we were just immensely lucky to have the kind of chemical rapport that we did. It came naturally as breathing.

In years past, I have lamented the loss of this space. Friends moved far away or dropped out of contact, busy with relationships or drowning in work. I myself got into less-than-savory activities and lost focus on my writing and the relationships that mattered to me. My communities began to revolve around parties, substances, and shutting out unpleasantness rather than inviting intellectualism and art in.

Now, so physically far removed from any of the communities that I worked to create and maintain, I am realizing that my disinterest in joining may actually be a gift–alongside with the difficulties of being unaffiliated, I have the space to move free and fluid within and without spaces of my choosing. I am not betraying a group by taking space away from it–I am in flux.

Part of me yearns to join the clique at my job–to dye my hair and drink tall boys of Rainier on the beach taking selfies; part of me wants an MFA–an insular group of sheltered creatives shuffling towards meaning; other parts want vegan friends–white yipsters bleating about local foods. But these parts of me clash.

What I really want is curious and critical friends of many persuasions–and I am very lucky to have somehow made that happen. I didn’t join a pre-established community; I have always worked to create my own, sometimes to flourishing success, and often to shrieking failure.

I am proud of the time I have spent creating space for myself. I am more proud of my active role in my own communities than I would be defaulting into a crowd.

Sometimes I am lonely; sometimes I feel alienated. But I am always capable.

AWP

I’m gearing up emotionally for AWP next week. What a brilliant coincidence that Seattle is hosting the conference this year. Still cannot get over the serendipitous nature of writerly things. 

I’m feeling pre-event jitters due to the sheer mass of people whose professional and creative work I drool over; both friends and strangers continue to jolt me out of my occasional stupors (see: House of Cards marathon) and demand more.

Professionally, I get nervous. I am very well equipped to mask my emotions and seem carefree and jovial; in truth, I get shaky and wild-eyed. 

Personally, I also get nervous. I am less well-equipped to diminish my personal feelings and cope with them enough to push onward. Yet I manage. I spend a lot of time alone to lick psychological wounds in between socializing with groups of people. Mostly these wounds are imaginary, but sometimes I struggle to recover from some fervor of conversation that stings and retreats, leaving me stunned into silence and conspicuous by my sudden quietude. 

I miss my writer community. Not that I’ve ever maintained a thriving one; they are by their nature fleeting. Writers have an itch to see other things; go where someone will feed them for free while they read and take walks, thinking in prose. 

It is strange to feel two conflicting emotions: joy at friendship; anxiety at potential snags. I should take my own advice and try to relax. There is always tomorrow.