Monthly Archives: January 2012

Inside IR: Meet the Editors

This week, IR’s prized and plucky Fiction Editor Rachel Lyon, shares some of her favorite journals with unique pursuits and reminds us that we all still need to read Moby Dick.

Photo sources: Tom Neely, Vanessa Michelle, Indiana Review

Where are you from?
Brooklyn, New York.

Favorite issue of IR?
31.2, Winter 2009, because it was the first issue I saw. It’s as old as my studentship at IU, and it introduced me to the work of writers like Michael Martone and Dan Beachy-Quick, whose work I still follow. Plus, I love that wicked rabbit on the cover.

Favorite non-IR journals?
I love the Canadian journal Geist. It’s funny, Canada isn’t that far away, but reading Geist you get a real sense of a different culture. I’m also interested in journals that are dedicated to more specific projects, like Alimentum, a journal that showcases work about food, which Deb introduced me to; Memoir, which pushes the boundaries of traditional memoir; Fourth Genre, which focuses on creative nonfiction; or Camera Obscura, which has some beautiful fiction and photography.


What/Who is on your reading wish list right now?
I am itching for summer, when I’ll have the time to finally read Moby Dick. The short passages that I have read are stunning. I can’t wait to read it from beginning to end.


What do you hope to see next for IR?
I’m interested to see where we go in the next five or ten years with digital literature, interactive written work that is only available online. I think digital literature offers some really interesting possibilities, and I will be following IR long after I graduate to see how we eventually develop those ideas.


Image: Curtis Bauer

IR contributor Curtis Bauer‘s Spanish Sketchbook is now out in a bilingual Spanish/English edition, España en Dibujos! (Psssst…you can find two of his poems in translation in Indiana Review 33.2).

Bauer also has a new collection of poems, The Real Cause For Your Absence, forthcoming from C&R Press in Chattanooga. He is the author of a first collection of poems, Fence Line, and he currently lives in Lubbock, Texas, where he teaches at Texas Tech.

You can read an interview with Curtis Bauer here.

Or, a wonderful essay by Curtis here.

Or, listen to him read his poems here.

This guy is unstoppable. Congratulations, Curtis!

Digital/Print ☂

You’ve probably seen this statistic in one form or another, lately: eReader ownership nearly doubled over the holidays. Print vs. media is a huge and exhausted topic of concern everywhere, for publishers and writers and readers alike. Often it’s “the legacy of print” pitted against “new media”; whether the printed page is sustainable; how the interactivity and immediacy of the Internet can short-circuit your memory, slice away your attention span; how, in spite of that, the longform essay actually thrives.

We at IR are also discussing it. We like the physical artifact of the book, the perfect-bound, typeset magazine that exists by itself, that isn’t housed within the frame of a screen. There’s its exclusivity. But we also consider the negative aspects of exclusivity: Only some people access to the content. Only some people can read it. We recognize the importance of accessibility, that other literary journals are accomplishing the shift in different ways–Gulf Coast, The Journal.

A friend and reader for IR walked into the office as I started this blog post and grudgingly admitted that print and digital media will continue to coexist. I’ll add that ideally, they should coexist. I read The Rumpus and The Millions and HTMLGiant with Google Reader; I have print subscriptions to other literary magazines. All these publications compete for your attention, but they’re also active in the literary community—they make conversation about good and bad writing, they publish writing that is excellent and maybe weird and maybe not your thing and maybe totally very much your thing. They define and question art and ask you to figure out what it is, too.

The underlying matter to the print/media question is how we can sustain our readership and, consequently, our production. How long can we keep doing this? Hopefully forever.

Summer Writers Programs

It’s that time of the year when a lot of deadlines are coming up for applications to summer writers’ retreats, residencies, fellowships, workshops and conferences. I’ve had students ask about the Indiana University Writers’ Conference, which opens for early registration this month, and many of my colleagues are applying for residencies and workshops at excellent places like the Vermont Studio Center,  the New School Summer Writers Colony, the Tin House Summer Writer’s Workshop, and endless others. Even beyond the problem of that ambivalent apostrophe (is it writers’writer’s, or simply writers?) these programs can pose a problem for writers who aren’t funded by grants, universities, or their families. If we saved all we spend on application fees, contest entry fees, reading fees, and so on, many of us could probably afford to pay rent thirteen months a year.

In 2010 I attended the New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore College, two fabulous weeks of workshops, readings and talks.  I had the opportunity to work with a couple of writers I deeply admire, and I made some great friends. I couldn’t have done it without the generous scholarship I received. Virginia Woolf’s famous assertion, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” is especially well taken when the former is necessary in spades to afford the former. (The A Room Of Her Own Foundation, an organization that took Woolf at her word, offers a writers retreat for women in New Mexico.)

The writers retreat can be very inspiring. It can wake up a writer who feels she is in a rut, and help to affirm her writerly identity. It can foster intellectual dialogue, and ignite lasting friendships. It can help fend off that ailment peculiar to writers, loneliness. It can be an adventure! There are retreats in the mountains, on lakes, and in cities, in Gambier and Saratoga Springs, in Greece and Spain. When space tourism really takes off, there’ll probably be a writers retreat on Mars. If the question is why to go, the answers are innumerable.

If the question is how, though, I’m not sure. Trolling the Internet the other day I found the site of an idyllic-looking retreat on the coast of Ireland, and was instantly swept into a sea of reveries (most of which involved walking barefoot on long rocky cliffs, salt spray on my face and wind in my hair, like some extra in The Lord of the Rings) before finding that it cost over seven thousand dollars. Not going to happen. I closed my browser. I rearranged the framed photos I keep on my desk: seagulls on a white rock in the ocean, a sunset over a lake I know. All this hoopla about writers retreats suddenly seemed like nothing more than an attractive distraction.

Not So Novel?

Cooling down after a run this weekend, I stopped by a local cafe to pick up coffee and the New York Times. On Sundays I often turn first to the crossword puzzle, to delay the inevitable slew of international and financial crises. Yes this week, rounding the corner, even the magazine pointed to crisis for me as a reader, writer, and editor. Garth Risk Hallberg’s riff “Why Write Novels at All?” asked me to consider questions I wasn’t prepared to answer, and definitely not sweaty, pre-caffeine, at 8 AM. At first, the question seemed silly–as a writer I write because I must. Because I believe in the power of words to help us understand and make sense of an inexplicable and yet beautiful world, because it is rent with pain that needs voicing and from which we can learn. I write because it is something I can offer–a mainstay, and a crafted one, amidst chaos.

Hallberg writes that, according to many contemporary novelists, the main purpose of fiction is to make us feel less alone. The article goes on to question the ways in which a novel can do so, namely David Foster Wallace’s take that “if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own” and Jonathan Franzen’s reasoning that “simply to be recognized…simply not to be misunderstood: these revealed themselves, suddenly, as reasons to write.” To me, however, both of these seem unsatisfying and to a certain extent, egotistical takes on the value of novel reading and writing. A blog or Facebook page is also a place to broadcast one’s emotions, and, conceivably, receive some sort of community or comfort, in the same virtual way that writing and reading can. This is predicated, of course, on the assumption that people care and want to hear about one’s life, which I’m not sure everyone does. Hallberg directs us to the distinction–a key one–between writing to feel less alone and writing because one wants a reader to feel less alone. And yet I wonder the impulse behind many modern novels.

If the purpose of the art is, according to Hallberg’s sources, “to delight and instruct.” And I think the best novels (or poems, or short stories) do. But if our purpose is to feel less alone, to write out of our solitary condition, delight and instruction for others may not be inevitable. In writing to feel less alone or to imagine the pain of others we may write ourselves into a whole new type of loneliness, a loneliness born of inattention to the power literature has to “both frame the question and affect the answer,” and to do so beyond the scope of our own concerns.

This is not to say that many novels do not or cannot delight us as entertainment, or instruct us as to the pain or joy of another. But is it enough to make a novel worthy of reading or writing, enough to make a novel a good piece of art? Or one that lasts? I don’t know that I can answer that question. Maybe it is not the nature of fiction to have the Great American Novel, or classics in the way that we used to. Maybe this means that books become classic to individuals, when characters and language sticks with us even when they are not widely read and lauded and in mass circulation. Personally, I don’t think I’m wiling to concede that easily. I think it is a worthy endeavor to try, with each piece to delight and/or instruct someone else, whoever that may be. Some of that pleasure and learning will inevitably find me as I’m writing. Or picking up the next great novel.

“Why Write Novels at All?” New York Times Magazine, 50-51. Sunday January 15 2012.