Why the Internet is great for literature ★

In the newest DIAGRAM (11.5), Eric LeMay’s nonfiction piece, “Losing the Lottery,” is presented in Flash. You click six lottery numbers, and while you read through each of the forty-nine sections, you’re also playing a simulation of the lottery with your numbers, at a rate of $100 a second. It’s a clever and powerful construction, and also incredibly hypnotic—I was unable to stop staring at the screen as I plowed through thousands of dollars. I wondered if the code was really random, if I might strike the six-match jackpot early. I had nothing to lose but time. I didn’t have to insert a coin or swipe a card or even click a button; the numbers rattled through without me. My eyes glazed as I considered what I could have bought instead of the tickets: a jetski. Five years’ worth of gas. Six laptops. I finally left the page after I lost thirty thousand dollars.

“Losing the Lottery” is an excellent example of what the online format makes possible. I admire this piece because it’s something that can’t happen on a static piece of paper. It’s interactive; it moves; it’s ambitious. “The Switch” by Pierce Gleeson is another terrific example.

Photo by Madonovan via flickr.

Public Poems

Here’s a project for your weekend: Write a poem and then send it off into the world — into the hands of a stranger, maybe, or chalked into the sidewalk.

This can be difficult for us writers who want to keep our poems safe and warm until they are nestled into the pages of a respected publication, so consider it a brave and generous thing to let one of them wander into the unknown.  The GOOD people want you to take that leap, and then send them a photo of it.  Are you up for the challenge?

Of course, if your poem gets shy, you can always send it to us.

Photo by miki via flickr.

Contests Off the Beaten Path

Last week, I received an email from the Missouri Review about their 5th Annual Audio Competition, which welcomes audio submissions in poetry, fiction and audio documentary. It was a welcome reminder that literature exists not just on the page, but also somewhere else—in sound, and in memory. Then, this morning, I got a notification from Geist, the fabulous Canadian quarterly, about this year’s Annual Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest. For this year, their eighth, Geist editors are requesting that each entrant hand-make a postcard, then write a story inspired by it, finally submitting both elements together.

Inspiring stuff!

Missouri Review and Geist’s original, multimedia approaches to the literary contest got me thinking about how contest call-outs can serve as encouragement for writers to work outside their comfort zone. Would you ever hand-make your own postcard prompt, if no one suggested it? Would you think of recording a short story, weaving it together with music? We writers are solitary beasts. Contests—especially themed ones—offer us lonely folks both an opportunity to expand our repertoire and a way to connect with wider communities.

In fact, there are contests out there specifically for writers who identify with particular groups. The Saints and Sinners Literary Festival Short Fiction Contest is open for work with LGBT content about—what else?—saints and sinners. If you’re a lady writer, you’re in luck: WOW! Women On Writing is sponsoring a Flash Fiction Contest this fall; there’s another flash fiction contest, Feminist Flash 2011, is open to any genre of work, 200 words or less, with a feminist theme; and the organization A Woman’s Write is holding two contests, one for previously unpublished novel manuscripts and one in creative nonfiction.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds more writing contests out there, each with a slightly different slant. If you have a favorite themed contest, feel free to share it with us!

Head Off and Get Head Off and Split

In case you haven’t heard,  2011 National Book Award nominations were released in mid-October, and among the five titles (the winner will be announced November 16th in New York) named is Nikky Finney’s latest collection, Head Off & Split. I read the book this summer after attending a workshop with her, but have been surprised to discover many of my colleagues do not know her work at all.

In Head Off & Split, Finney invokes many influential African-American figures–Rosa Parks, and Condoleezza Rice, for example, in addition to a girl struck by lightning and a woman stranded in the floods of Katrina. While the collection deals with particular historical moments and people, and while she engages in a specific dialogue, these are in no way limiting; rather her collection serves as a much needed light in contemporary  American poetry. Finney’s dedication to what can be salvaged, her unfaltering consciousness and conscientiousness, and her dedication to the sublime power of language demand our attention. This fourth book is stunning, a definite must-read.

You can find more of her work here, or listen to her read     the poem “My Time Up With You” from Head Off & Split

Are MFA Student Editors Legit?

Recently, a friend and colleague drew my attention to a blog post on Passages North’s website. In this post, editor Jennifer A. Howard makes a point of assuring submitters their manuscripts are never, under any circumstances, accepted or rejected by MFA students at Northern Michigan.

Here, at Indiana Review, our editors, genre editors, and associate genre editors are all MFA students. We, as a journal, are committed to ensuring that our acceptance process is as painstakingly meticulous, exhaustive, and democratic as possible.

What does this process look like? Well, each week, our staff of MFA student editors spends hours combing through hundreds of submissions—reading, re-reading, and making difficult decisions as to which poems, stories, and essays to select for further consideration. Then, graduate students—first-, second-, and third-years alike—are responsible for reading and giving careful consideration to the work selected for discussion. At the end of each week, we gather together to engage in a thoughtful, thorough conversation about this work. After a piece has been discussed at length, each reader casts his or her vote as to whether she or he would like to see the piece in Indiana Review. Majority rules.

While Howard does emphasize the importance of a collective readership at Passages North, saying that, no submission gets “sent back (or accepted) based on any one person,” she makes it clear that those who have the final say are the “actual editors,” rather than those MFA “kid[s].”

As someone who is so fortunate as to meet each week to listen to the intelligent comments and questions contributed by a group of invested, passionate, and informed readers, I can’t help but take issue with the notion that graduate students are incapable of making informed decisions. I believe our ideas, aesthetics, and opinions matter; I believe we can—and should—play a significant role in shaping the contemporary literary world.

Readers, what do you think? We’d love to hear what you have to say!