Remember In November Nonfiction Contest

July 21, 2014 § 1 Comment

Tin can stiltsThriving indie journal Hippocampus announces their fourth annual Remember in November Contest for Creative Nonfiction. Entry fee is $10 and judging is blind. There’s a $500 prize for the winner and smaller cash prizes for runner-up, honorable mention and reader’s choice, as well as some literary swag to the Participation Award winner.

(You know, when I hear Participation Award, I want to go back in time to Field Day, strap on my soup-can stilts and awkwardly stomp my way across the elementary school playground into eleventh place. I’m pretty sure my mom still has that ribbon. Thanks for the memory, Hippocampus!)

Check out the full rules and details here.

Throwback Thursday: Best Essays of the Past 50 Years

July 17, 2014 § 3 Comments

83142Back in 2011, Flavorwire’s Kathleen Massara sifted through

…innumerable notable essays written between 1961 and today. However, even though it’s a crazy idea to attempt to make a top ten list of the pieces that shaped the era, that’s what we do…

Inspired by the University of Iowa’s Essay Prize, Ms. Massara sought out ten essays she thought “best exemplifie[d] the art of essaying — inquiry, experimentation, discovery, and change.” Included are some legends and some more obscure. And yes, Céline Dion made the list.

Check out the list here. (Some of the links lead to online reads, others to sale pages for books featuring the essays.)

What’s your best essays list? Five Essays That Should Be Famous? Seven Essays That Changed the Author’s Life? Ten Best Essays Under 1000 Words?

Create a category and make your case, then email it to We’ll choose a list or two to feature here on the Brevity blog.

Review of Adriana Páramo’s My Mother’s Funeral

July 15, 2014 § 2 Comments

By Debbie Hagan

paramo_mothersfuneral_hpMother is gone. One day I’ll pick up the phone and hear one of my sisters saying these words. Mom’s eighty-one now, and though she’s in relatively good health—survived two bouts of cancer—I know her life can’t go on forever. Mother tries to prepare me. She discusses her bank accounts, goes through her list of keepsakes, and asks me to help her order a tombstone.

I’m stoic. Every time I lift this veil, gaze at what life will be like after Mother, I see darkness.

So Adriana Páramo’s memoir, My Mother’s Funeral,  not only goes to a place I’m reluctant to go, but opens with the dreaded call.  “I collapsed in slow motion,” she writes about hearing the news. “My body trickled down a wall until my chin touched my knees. I thought about Mom’s face, but couldn’t see it. I could see her eyes but not her nose, her lips but not her neck. The rest of her was in bits and pieces. Her winter hands, her velvety ears, her porcelain left knee, her night hair. Mom was fragmented now. She used to be whole.”

Páramo shares her shock and grief with such honesty and originality that one can’t help but read on. These elegant, interwoven essays crisscross over time—showing her mother’s innocence and desperation, eloping with a man who’d only bring her disappointment,  going forward to Páramo’s childhood and rebelliousness.

Carmen, Páramo’s mother, suspects on her wedding night she has made a dreadful mistake. Her husband leads her to a shabby brothel with stained sheets where he takes her virginity. Carmen’s dreams end as she discovers the man she loves is not as attractive as she thought, in addition to being alcoholic, crude, and unfaithful.  After the birth of their sixth child, her husband takes off without a word for twenty years, leaving the family penniless. Carmen copes making soup out of bones, guiding her children so they grow with love, self-respect and independence.

She strives most to protect her daughters from mistakes she made—knowing that men and sex can result in dead-end traps. Thus, Carmen obsesses about her girls’ virginity. However, Páramo is as high-spirited and independent as her mother. One night, when she’s just thirteen, she goes on a bike ride with a boy from school. They kiss, but that’s all. He smokes marijuana, and they both end up high and asleep. Páramo wakes up to realize she’s missed her curfew. To avoid her mother’s scorn, she steps in front of a motor scooter, hoping to land in the hospital. At least she’d have an excuse for being so late. There’s a collision, but no injuries. She makes up a story about being kidnapped. Horrified, Carmen takes the girl, the next morning, for a pelvic exam, which proves she’s still “in tact.” Carmen rewards the girl with the “pixie cut” she has long wanted.

That night, Páramo looks hard at her mother. “Late forties, dark half-moons under her sad eyes, short gray hair, a permanent frown, dark unsmiling lips—a haggard woman with nothing to show for a lifetime of diapers, late-night colics, schools, unpaid bills, hunger, lies, loneliness,” she writes. “I walk to the couch and sit beside her. She puts her arm around me. For a while I sit rigidly, but then I feel like crying for her.”

When her mother asks her why, she replies, “I’m crying for you, Mamá.”

“That’s silly,” she says.

When Carmen dies, Páramo is living in Florida—a hemisphere away. Even so, she pictures her mother’s last night in Columbia—death as a vacuum that “sucked upward with a violent jerk as if an invisible parachute had opened above [Carmen’s] head.”

It takes her to “the place she loved most in the world, Mariquita…that smelled of avocado and earth after the rain.” Páramo tells her goodbye, believing her mother has returned to being Carmen—just Carmen—the girl with big dreams, love, and hope.


Debbie Hagan is editor-in-chief of Art New England and book reviews editor for Brevity.  Her essays have appeared in Brain, Child, Flash, Don’t Take Pictures, and elsewhere.


T.A. Noonan, Author of “An Open Letter to Triquarterly” Speaks

July 14, 2014 § 4 Comments

Last week, Brevity observed a literary imbroglio and weighed in on both sides. But in literary nonfiction, there’s always one more point of view. T.A. Noonan, the author of the anonymous letter that touched off the debate, weighs in.


tanoonan-square.fullI’m T.A. Noonan, author of “An Open Letter to TriQuarterly.”

First of all, let me acknowledge that I wasn’t the first person to express dismay over “TriQuartergate.” By the time my letter appeared online, the conversation was well under way on Twitter and Facebook. I just wanted to add to it.

I chose anonymity because I’m a Sundress editor whose views were published on her press’s blog. I didn’t intend to speak for anyone but myself—certainly not my press. The post’s popularity, however, suggests that my letter echoed the betrayal felt by many writers.

Like Dinty W. Moore, I think I understand. And I’ll give the editors props for honesty, even if I wish they lied. In my perfect world, they would have admitted the mistake, closed general submissions, solicited work from those rejected unread, and worked their way through the backlog, reading every piece submitted. But that’s not what happened.

It’s reasonable to think that TriQuarterly will need to work hard to regain the literary community’s trust. Then again, they know all about that. Every time I read Edward Hirsch’s characterization of a web-based, student-run TriQuarterly as “vaporous,” I wince. There’s judgment there. Vaporous. Less-than. Not real. Not print. I can almost hear the commentary now: This never would have happened when it was print!

The question that haunts me isn’t “print vs. online” or “student-run vs. professional” but whether or not my imagined commentary—this never would have happened when it was print!—is true. If not, what are writers supposed to believe? We’re sustained by the notion that the selection process is fair and everyone gets a shot. Take that away, and what’s left for us?

Even more troubling, though, is if such a thing wouldn’t have happened at TriQuarterly back when it was print. What does that say about the ways that editors, authors, and readers evaluate literary journals? Do we really see online journals as vaporous?

Maybe I’m overthinking. It’s definitely unfair to ask TriQuarterly‘s editors to bear the responsibility of answering the questions I’ve posed above. (For the record, I do appreciate Adrienne Gunn’s thoughtful response.) Instead, all members of the literary community need to ask ourselves what we really value and how we demonstrate our valuation.

I keep coming back to one Facebook comment about my letter. The author critiqued my threat to not submit to TriQuarterly, wondering why I didn’t cancel my subscription and suggesting that I didn’t value TriQuarterly because I (probably) didn’t even subscribe. Let’s ignore the fact that they’ve been online and free since 2010 and explore the implications of that comment.

Is the act of financially supporting a journal more important than submitting or writing? What if one doesn’t have the means to financially support a journal? Are magazines published on shoestring budgets and/or supported exclusively by their editors less important than the ones that need subscriptions, fees, and donations to survive? What about journals whose institutions pour funds into them?

And, most importantly, what is the writer’s responsibility to the literary community vis-à-vis journals?

I can’t answer that for everyone, and neither can TriQuarterly. Instead, I’ll leave you with this observation: According to WordPress, my letter has been viewed over 4,000 times and shared almost 800 times. That’s more than anything I’ve ever published in print. That’s readership comparable to some of the biggest print journals out there.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.


T.A. Noonan doesn’t hate TriQuarterly, its editors, or its authors but meant what she said in her letter. She is also not-so-secretly rooting for TriQuarterly to change her mind.

A Defense of TriQuarterly (Sort Of)

July 11, 2014 § 6 Comments

feeIt would not be accurate to say that the internet blew up yesterday with talk of the odd TriQuarterly “we didn’t actually read your work” clarification e-mail, but the small world of internet literary magazines did begin to rumble.  This morning, TriQuarterly managing editor Adrienne Gunn came into the discussion and tried to clarify.

She wrote:

The email that was sent was a sincere attempt on the magazine’s part to rectify a bad decision. I understand why people are upset. I’m a writer and have spent years submitting to magazines and it’s a tough process. With recent staff changes we realized how far we had fallen behind in submissions, and didn’t want to prevent authors from publishing their work elsewhere.

Well, you know what? I think I understand.

I edit an online journal that receives about 250-300 submission per month. I am also a writer, and want to honor the honest efforts of other writers: beginning, emerging, established, and even the occasional superstar who shows up in the slushpile.

We hate to keep folks waiting, and we hope for the best every time we open a submission file, but – to be honest – there are days that I look at the queue and just cringe.

How could we be so far behind? 

How will we ever process so many essay submissions? 

Maybe we can just fold the magazine and sneak out of town.

TriQuarterly, it seems, had some staff changes, and in that change someone recognized the enormous, too-long-in-waiting backlog, and decided to say “no thanks” to the work, thinking it best if the authors sent the work elsewhere, to magazines perhaps not so far behind in reading and responding.  That strikes me as a good thing.  Not perfect, but under the circumstances, better than just holding onto the work for months and months more.

The problem is that the second e-mail, the one explaining “… due to very high volume and limited publication space, our staff was unable to review your submission. Our intent was to give you the opportunity to publish elsewhere, though I realize that our original email was not as clear as I had hoped. I apologize if this has caused any confusion.”… came after the first.  If the first e-mail had explained the situation in full, a few folks would have been miffed, but it would have been no big deal.

I personally think TriQuarterly’s editors did the right thing.  They just did it in the wrong order.

Dinty W. Moore is editor of Brevity, and has been for 18 long years.  Some days his eyeballs feel as if they’ve been punched. Full disclosure: He has published work, both print and video, in TriQuarterly.  He has also been rejected by them, and by many other fine journals.



Rejecting The Unread: Necessary Timesaver or Poor Literary Citizenship?

July 11, 2014 § 8 Comments

From Oct. 15 to July 15, TQ welcomes submissions of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, short drama, video essays and hybrid work from established as well as emerging writers. – from the TriQuarterly submission guidelines.

Managing a literary magazine is an exercise in self-denial. There are always—always—at least twice as many submissions that are perfect—perfect!—for the magazine as there are slots in which to publish them. At least five times as many are inappropriate, unqualified, unready, or just not a good fit. If an issue holds twenty pieces, there were twenty more equally good, and another two hundred to be swum through before reaching literary land.

Journals handle this onslaught in different ways. Brevity closes for the summer. The Sun takes only mailed submissions. Five Dials doesn’t take unsolicited manuscripts. The Believer asks for clips and a publication history.

Narrative charges $22 per submission, which probably weeds out some of the unprepared.

TriQuarterly—a journal known for intelligent content and high standards—did this.

The editors at TriQuarterly recently sent you a notice that your submission was not accepted for publication. I want to clarify that, due to very high volume and limited publication space, our staff was unable to review your submission. Our intent was to give you the opportunity to publish elsewhere, though I realize that our original email was not as clear as I had hoped. I apologize if this has caused any confusion.

An anonymous submitter received this “rejection” and wrote An Open Letter to Triquarterly at The Sundress Blog. She asks,

Should your letter be read as a poorly phrased euphemism for Just so you’re aware, we saw your name on your cover letter, didn’t recognize it, and decided to reject outright? If so, why even allow unsolicited submissions?

(read the whole letter)

We’ve contacted the excellent folks currently editing TriQuarterly to see if there’s a simple explanation: rogue intern, unfortunate error?

In some ways, though, it is not that surprising. In a 2012 interview with The Review Review,TQ Former Managing Editor Lydia Pudzianowski said, “In 2011 we received 4,307 submissions; in 2010 it was 3,599. We’ve already surpassed the latter number [in 2012].”

Regardless of the number of readers (TQ’s masthead lists 19 principal roles and 35 additional staff), there has to be a way to sort. If I applied for a programming job, I’d be pretty sure my resume would be fed into software that spits out anyone who doesn’t have C++ (hint: I don’t). If a literary journal announced, “We will discard any submissions with 10 or more spelling errors” I suspect many of us would cheer, either from schadenfreude, our own slush reading experiences, or the hope of a clearer field for our own proofread (of course!) work.

But transparency is key.

We only take submissions from 8PM-9PM on alternate Wednesdays.

We’ll be deleting unread anything from an author sharing my ex-boyfriend’s first name.

As long as it’s announced, fair game. Writer can spend their time and energy on more welcoming slush piles, or hit ‘send’ on a piece that feels right enough to jump some hurdles.

But claiming to have open submissions, claiming to welcome emerging writers and not actually doing that is at best disingenuous, and I would argue, bad literary citizenship.

Authors submit their best work—we hope—over which they have labored—we hope. Our compact is to read, at minimum, the first couple of sentences. Theatre directors say they know in the first 5 seconds of a mass audition if an actor gets a callback to the next round. As a slush reader, it’s easy—scary easy—to see right away if a piece goes into “form reject” or “read this again, more thoroughly.” (Whether your work should be judged on the opening is irrelevant. It will be. Work on the beginning).

Maybe it’s undergrads reading the slush pile. Maybe it’s the editor-in-chief on her Kindle on the subway. The reader’s biases or qualifications don’t actually matter. Writers can’t control who will be caught by our work, and a degree is no guarantee of taste. But not reading at all—and then phrasing it so terribly—breaks faith.

As a writer, we almost never find out who read our submission or how carefully. But we don’t have to write off publishing as an “in crowd.” Our literary citizenship is interacting with other writers, reading literary journals and the associated content (blogs, twitter, etc.) they produce, engaging with the community we want to be part of. We build our reputations by publication in smaller markets and working our way up. Eventually, our names won’t be unknown, and our work won’t be an unsolicited submission.

I have an essay in TriQuarterly’s slushpile. Perhaps it’s a good thing I haven’t heard back. But their misstep reminds me, being a writer is not just about sending out submissions. It’s about having faith in my work, knowing the market, and building relationships with my fellow literary citizens.



TriQuarterly’s Managing Editor, Adrienne Gunn responded via Twitter:

The email that was sent was a sincere attempt on the magazine’s part to rectify a bad decision. I understand why people are upset. I’m a writer and have spent years submitting to magazines and it’s a tough process. With recent staff changes we realized how far we had fallen behind in submissions, and didn’t want to prevent authors from publishing their work elsewhere. I would also say that I think the email indicates TQ’s commitment to treating their contributors ethically and respectfully, and we are committed to improving our review process and communication moving forward.

When asked about speculation that the editorial board’s hand had been tipped by a staff member acting alone, Ms. Gunn replied:

All I can say is that when the issue was identified, the decision was made to be transparent about it. And that we are sorry it happened and we are committed to improving processes and handling submissions with care.

TriQuarterly has also issued an apology on Twitter.

Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. She blogs at I Do Words and tweets @GuerillaMemoir.

Going Postal with Literary Citizenship

July 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

5.4_cover_crop_2Writer: Where should I submit my work?

Workshop Leader: To the magazines you read.

Writer: Um…

There are more literary magazines than anyone’s postman can carry. Michael Nye, managing editor of The Missouri Review tells what makes his mailbox and why.

One of the things I’ve long argued that literary journals need to embrace is transparency. Too often, writers believe that magazines simply publish their friends, and editors believe that writers only want to publish in our pages and won’t read the issue. Both stances are a bit extreme, but broadly, these are fair assessments of an environment that is too frequently opaque and combative.

I had decided that writing about which literary magazines I subscribe to would be a neat post to do, and yet, I often backtrack from it. Will I offend anyone by acknowledging I don’t subscribe to his/her magazine?

Read the list (and why) here.



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