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!

New

Did y’all know I was really sad in Seattle? This seemed too ironically typical at the time, since Seattle has a reputation for being depressing. Boy, was it ever. Chett and I arrived smack dab in the middle of a huge wave of gentrification, and in our naive millenial reliance on public transportation, we soon developed fraught and, in my case, furious relationships with Seattle’s ineffectual infrastructure.

Not to rationalize my emotional state: I was just flat-out depressed. I have long struggled with powerful mood shifts and anxiety brought on by not being able to tune anything out, but Seattle really cranked my freakouts up a notch. If I could help it, I wouldn’t leave the apartment for days at a time, for fear of overhearing some misogynist Amazonian bullshittery or having dozens of encounters with the same crew of hipsters who pretended we had never met after three or four conversations about their apathy, their band t-shirts, their expensive haircuts.

So, we hustled back to the east coast, to a place I’ve described on more than one occasion as miserableso over, and debilitatingly expensive: New York.

Some context: every trip I’ve taken to NYC has been overwhelming in great and terrible ways. My long-time best friend’s incredibly cool cohort all ganged up to laud the city after a wine-fueled dinner party. My ex had a full-on freakout and insisted on crashing in a Brooklyn Best Western and ordering Chinese take-out. It thunderstormed and I wept under an awning in Midtown, soaking wet with a deep gratitude for East Coast rainstorms.

Last May, at age 59, my mother took a job in Manhattan, rented a studio apartment, and solidified her status as the most badass, fearless human I’ve ever met.

Fantasizing about a life without scooping ice cream, with some of the spectacular friends I’ve managed to accrue in my many ill-fated friend trysts, I started to get serious about abandoning yet another potential: did I want to reforge a life for myself in a sea of strangers and a super-white literary scene, or could I imagine being as poor as I have been for my entire adult life once again, but in the most wild and alive city in the country?

No question.

So, nine months into our service-industry soaked Seattle life, full of penance for being Southerners and East Coasters, Chett and I packed up our ample book collection and shipped it back across the country, sold our Ikea furnishings, and bailed on Seattle.

Since January, we’ve been settling into NYC-paced life, and despite all the anxieties about being slow-moving Southerners, we’ve done a pretty goddamn good job. In truth, the quick pace matches my own “get-shit-done” mindset, which was unusual in NC and fucking unheard of in Seattle. I never knew that spatial awareness was such an integral part of my human identity, but New Yorkers manage an incredible balance of doing a million things with getting out of each others’ ways, physically and psychically.

I’ve been working on striking a similar balance: work and writing, friends and sleeping. After a few weeks worth of freakouts about my future plans (I got into NYU’s perfect MA program but I couldn’t afford it; I’m working at a restaurant…again; what am I going to do now?), I have nestled into a great pattern of reading on the train, writing poems, sending mail, sleeping, and drinking shiploads of coffee. I’m still looking for exactly the right opportunity, the slippery but ideal mix of work and play, but that would be true anywhere. I’m grateful to not feel hemmed in by my surroundings, but rather, empowered to try stuff. The stuff is endless, and somehow, I am not overwhelmed. I am myself again: sassy, a serious bookworm, always seeking.

Cards

I’ve been wanting business cards for such a long time. I never felt quite right making them myself–I’m such a big supporter of graphic designers and artists, I felt like designing my own cards was sacrilege.

Enter my cool coworker McKenna, who designed these groovy business cards for me. She’s got such a clean aesthetic, and she’s as into Georgia (the font–not the state) as I am! Check out her cute website here.

Business Cards McKenna Haley

Yum. And for my writing clients, you’ll recognize the quote as possibly my favorite thing to say in sessions to drive you to the brink of insanity. You love it.

Tutor

I’m trying to not get wildly upset at the SCCC administrators about their totally useless tutor training. The most difficult part of my grumpy energy is that I don’t even know who to direct my comments towards; everyone I’ve tried to communicate with has pointed me to someone else. It almost feels as if they are playing a bureaucratic trick, dangling a treat in front of me as I leap through hoop after hoop like a miniature horse.

The obsession with education psychology has really gotten out of hand–instead of addressing systemic inequalities, educators replace these difficult subjects with frilly, feel-good psychobabble on “self-regulated learning.”

Of course, the systemic inequalities critique would require some self-regulated privilege checks, not to mention some reverse brainwashing.

Piece

So I think I’m writing an essay–or a series of essays–but I keep calling it a collection of prose poems. At what point to I have to admit to myself that I might just be writing prose? Prose terrifies me. Can’t I just cling like a sloth to my poet moniker forever? Does this contradict my roles as a nonfiction editor and professional/academic writing tutor? So many identities!

Service

The American service industry rightfully gets a lot of grief: low pay, discrimination galore, and physical labor without any of the prestige found in other nations.

However, for writers and other artists, service industry work can be something of a godsend. Not only are the schedules much more forgiving and even flexible (other workers can often cover shifts), but the money/work trade-off can offer a solid enough exchange rate for folks whose primary work does not support their lifestyles.

As a service industry worker, we can remove ourselves from the “what do you do” narrative that dominates capitalist cultures by “doing” outside of our tipped, paychecked work: writing, reading, painting, and dancing are our lifeblood, but within the constraints of a 9-to-5–or even an academic–job, the economy of time is notoriously difficult to manage. Service jobs allow workers to leave their work in the store, bar, restaurant, food truck, etc. and to spend their off-the-clock hours as they choose (barring errands, etc.).

I’m actually really enjoying my new life in food service. Even my 10-hour/week tutoring job takes more out of me than scooping ice cream. (Another post to come on that subject.) Scooping is largely physical, and despite bodily exertion, physical work can feel almost like a form of meditation for me–interrupted, of course, by the emotional labor of acting like I care about peoples’ days. But mostly, I am able to turn my mental energy towards other projects.

And when I get home, after I wash the ice cream crust out of my eyelashes and boots, I can watch Buffy and read to my heart’s content!