Digital Literature: A New Genre?

A few weeks ago, our Editor Deborah Kim wrote about the co-existence of digital and print media. This week, I want to explore how digital media changes not only the way we access literature, but also the way we write literature.

In the above TED talk, “Shake up your story,” Raghava KK describes his children’s book for the iPad, Pop It. The most intriguing aspect of this book is what happens when you shake it: the parents change between two fathers, two mothers, and a mother and a father. With this interactive feature, three different perspectives are presented almost simultaneously as they are all only a shake away. With each shake, only the parents change, revealing that the family interaction and the overall story do not depend on the sexuality of the parents. Rather, it is simply another perspective of the same story. Raghava argues that children should learn perspective as soon as possible because perspective is the key to empathy and creativity.

Raghava’s book reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s short story, “Happy Endings.” In this work of meta-fiction, Atwood begins with “John and Mary meet. What happens next? If you want a happy ending, try A.” She then presents multiple successive endings from A to F, separated by headings and line breaks. The multiple endings do not occur simultaneously; rather, the endings occur in the order you choose to read them.

In Raghava’s book, however, all the points of view are equal to each other because they are accessible within the same story. There aren’t three different stories for the three sets of parents. Instead, Pop It suggests that multiple versions of a single story are all valid. This idea might be confusing on the written page, but on the iPad, the timing is fluid and allows multiple perspectives while still providing the reader with an unchanging referential, such as the setting, to orient himself in the world of the story.


Raghava says that he ultimately wants to expand this idea of multiple perspectives to the political realm—for example, he imagines a story in which the Indian, Pakistani, and British perspectives of Indian independence are all represented. I can’t wait to see what kind of work will emerge from this idea, but I’m even more excited to see the new ways writers will use our current technology. While these new developments are great for children’s literature, do they have a place in the literary realm as well? I’ll be the first to admit that integrating technology and literature will result in tacky experiments. (I cringe at the thought of a short story that uses different fonts for each word and includes pop-up YouTube videos of kittens.) However, I also believe that embracing these new resources will allow for new literary growth, as experimentation has always done for literature: the lyrical short story, prose poetry, stream of consciousness. The influx of technology has already changed society; we multitask, we seek instant gratification, we prefer brevity. If people have changed, then it makes sense for literature to explore these changes in themes, settings, or contexts. I hope that we’ll also find a place for tasteful and insightful use of technological tools in not only the content of literature but also its form.

Cover by Andrew Bannecker from

This integrated form of literature has the potential to become a new genre with its own loyal band of followers. For example, check out this experimental venue—bornmagazine. Bornmagazine’s pieces unite literary arts with interactive media; some are videos with poetry voice-over and some require user participation. Personally, I prefer the more interactive ones because so many of them are haunting, bringing you into the story in ways that text alone cannot (I recommend “Shirtless Others” by Jason Ockert and Matthias Dittrich). Interestingly, most of these pieces include links to an iPhone version, suggesting that this type of literature will not be limited to certain devices. So what could we call this new genre? iPad literature or flash media literature does not cover the full range of possibilities. Interactive literature? Multisensory literature? Multimedia literature? Whatever you call it, it has potential.

IR Nonfiction’s Unofficial Oscar Predictions

Finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: IR Nonfiction’s Unofficial Oscar Predictions for Best Short Films 2012. Every month and with varying degrees of success, I gather essays together from our nonfiction submissions and try to gauge what will excite our selection committee, so you know picking winners is part of my regular routine. If you haven’t seen this year’s nominees for best shorts, you must, and then let me know if you agree with my thoroughly unstudied predictions (apparently, most people don’t, so it’s okay).

Best Live Action Short Film: My money is with Norwegian film “Tuba Atlantic.” With only six days to live, grumpy old Oskar reaches out to his brother across the Atlantic, but no one knows for sure whether his brother will get the message. Props to the film’s writer Linn-Jeanethe Kyed for the cheeky, moving script.

Best Animated Short Film: Are there always so many Canadian entrants in the short film category?  “Wild Life”  tells the story of a dapper, young Englishman determined to settle the Canadian wilderness and of what happens when ambitions clash with actuality. Again, huge writer props to Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilly for the spare, even script, and super bonus points to the film’s gorgeous hand-painted look.

And all the poetry people said “Amen”

At an editor’s meeting a few weeks ago, I found myself struggling.

There was a particular poem I just loved—when I read it, a sucker-punch wave washed over me and I knew I wanted it in the journal. But why do you like it, a colleague asked, what exactly does it mean here, another chimed in, and while I could point to several details and had a decent grounding within the piece, I couldn’t put my finger on it, exactly. But I wanted to return to it again and again—to me the poem was mesmerizing.

This got me thinking about what we look for in poems, and what a poem sets out to do. This is not a post to expound on the wonders of elliptical poetry, or even to say that I don’t look for meaning in poems—I definitely do. But I think that poetry has an intangible quality that works in a more mysterious way. The other night reading Poetry, I came across “One Whole Voice,” a commentary on faith written by a collection of writers. In the first section Jericho Brown talks about poetry and prayer, stating that poems “ask us not to understand in the same way that we often find ourselves not comprehending the possibility of a God in this world.”

We may not be able to fully comprehend a poem or the divine, but would he be God, would a poem be a poem, if we understood perfectly? He continues, “I’ve never believed that what attracts us to poems is knowing what’s going on in them. As a matter of fact, I think just the opposite. Maybe that’s the problem people have with poetry. That’s not what we’re taught about how words can be used. I do want poems to have meaning, but I also think that having meaning isn’t the end of the conversation about poetry—or about faith.”

And when I read a really good poem, it does require a little faith. To see it as something a little sublime, and to revel in it. If that’s the case, maybe to even say ‘amen.’

Poetry Magazine, February 2012

IR’s Fabulous Interns

Two weeks ago, I posted a link to the first of a series of interviews I’m doing for the NPR station WFIU with one of IR’s lovely interns, Kelsey Adams. This week, I’d like to feature the rest of our awesome team!

Avery Smith is our  prize intern. Here’s what she says about her writing, her work at IR, and her studies at IU:

I write poetry in every facet of my life: in classes at IU, on my own time, and also in my work at Women Writing for (a) Change. I love writing poems to explore perception: how people perceive, how places, words, and events can be perceived on various levels, and what exists beyond the surface level of perception. I think my work has taken on a more philosophical bent due to the classes I’ve taken at IU, and in response to the work of many of my favorite poets: Kazim Ali, W.S. Merwin, Wallace Stevens, Naomi Shihab Nye. Working at IR gives me exposure to what is new in literature, and it gives me hope that people still read and care about the written word, that the written word has the power to engage and change whole lives.

Shilpa Reddy is our publicity intern. She primarily writes fiction. Of her own work, she says,

I like focusing on the small things and overlooked details in life. I love to spend time describing places I see daily, because it allows me to appreciate the space around me in new ways. I’m also interested in the way that science and literature intersect. As a student of both the sciences and humanities, I’m always looking for connections between the two, and I’m fond of authors who do the same. Writing has allowed me to realize what I really care about, and to find resolutions to problems I wouldn’t be able to solve in real life. It helps me distance myself from myself, so that I can be more honest with my life.
“IR is a hidden gem at IU,” Shilpa says. “I always wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a publication, and it’s exciting to be a part of the process.”
Emily Mullholland is our subscriptions intern. She’s not a creative writer herself, but she is a voracious reader. Here’s what she has to say:

When I was in middle school, I used to dream about being a writer. I was convinced I would have a published novel by the age of 18. Things changed, however, when I read To Kill a Mockingbird. From that point on, I began directing my attention toward the writing of others (friends, authors I enjoyed). I tweaked my dream, deciding I wanted to go into editing and publishing. Things just took off from there.

I was a fan of IR before I even knew that internships were offered here! When it comes to opportunities to gain experience in this world, IR has been the culmination of all of my work. Working at IR has convinced me that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, if I can.

We are so lucky to have such fabulous interns here at Indiana Review. Thanks, ladies, for all that you do.


We’ve got some merry news. This spring, Q Ave Press will publish Heather June Gibbons‘s chapbook, Flyover! We’re lucky enough to feature her poem, “Memory is a Bull Market,” forthcoming in IR 34.1.





We’d also like to extend our sincerest congratulations to 30.2 contributor Greg Wrenn! His first book of poems, Centaur, won the 2013 Brittingham Prize in Poetry and will be published in February 2013 by the University of Wisconsin Press.




▶ And check out this list of “Literary Heirs” by Stephen Heyman in the NYT, a flashy and substantial gathering of excellent literary magazines.

▶ In case you missed it: “A Publisher’s Menagerie: Stories behind Publishers’ Animal Logos” by Elisabeth Watson.

▶ We eagerly await The Morning News 2012 Tournament of Books which starts next month.

▶ AWP is less than three weeks away! Will you be there?