An Introduction to Thread: Essay and Image

June 4, 2015 § 4 Comments

threadA guest post from Ellen Blum Barish, editor of Thread: A Literary Publication

Among the countless decisions I needed to make when I launched Thread, my independent literary publication, was whether or not the issues would be themed.

Topping the do it side was that themes provide prompts for writers, natural organizing principles for editors and stimuli for art.

On the don’t do it side, there’s the risk that a theme might not appeal to writers and readers, that it raises the challenge of blurry definition boundaries and the pressure to find and fill each issue with thematic work.

I seesawed for months before making the final choice not to go with themes for Thread. In the end, my decision had less to do with being for or against themed content and more about what I believe about how we read, write and process personal narrative.

It appears that I believe three things:

Publications have built-in themes. At the café where my students read their work aloud for family and friends on the last night of our workshop, my smart-phone camera snapped an accidental photo of a rag rug on the floor. The image – and its serendipity –  got me thinking about the beauty in multi-colored, braided cords, how we talk about finding the invisible thread in our work, how we recall our life in short strands, and how a needle has to break through material before it can bring fabric together. The metaphor began to work for me. When I chose the word, Thread and its subtitle, An exploration of human experience through essay and image, I was committing the publication to a persona right off the bat, one that I hope conjured a collection of poignant and provocative personal narratives that expose and interconnect us.

Writers write thematically. A theme can act as a prompt to help a writer find a way into a personal narrative that she or he may have had trouble accessing. Themes can also be just the kick needed to get writing. But there’s just no getting around the fact that the best personal writing explores what a writer is curious about; what captivates and invites us in. I believe that we are drawn to one or two, possibly more themes in our lives. Theme is what we are talking about when we ask, “What is this piece about?” Some writers know their themes. Some discover them while writing. Some don’t have a clue about what their themes are, and some simply don’t care. But I like to think that identifying themes in our work can go a long way toward self-discovery.  Themes either express a burning question in our life, encourage us to articulate something we didn’t know we knew, illustrate our passion or uncover something true or simply entertaining. Like personal mission statements.

Themes present themselves in a curated body of work. I’ve been struck by the discovery of unconsciously selected themes that pop up once an issue is released. In the Spring 2015 premiere issue, self-discovery. In the summer issue, losses and finds. At this writing, I’m working on the Fall 2015 issue and the theme isn’t yet clear. But I’m waiting like an excited child in line for ice cream for the moment when it does, when it reveals itself.

I want to publish work that wants to be written; stories that pull a writer to the page out of that desire to dive in. Believing this makes sending rejections my least favorite part of this process, but so far, it’s the only part I don’t enjoy. Everything else about publishing Thread has turned out to be the deepest professional joy I’ve ever known.

Stitching Thread together is the result of a dream to publish essays and photographs that make us think, feel and connect. Like that braided rug: a chance to repurpose material from our lives to make art.


A NOTE TO WRITERS: Thread accepts submissions all year. For now, there’s no fee to submit. The writers and photographers, including its solo editor-preneur, offer their work for the love of the art and the joy of publication.

It’s my hope that the publications’ companion live reading series in Chicago (see Thread at Curt’s Cafe South) will help make Thread self-sustaining so that I can pay writers and photographers in the near future.

to read Thread, go to For my blog on craft, creativity and the writing life, go to EBB  & Flow:



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