The View from the Slush Pile, Part 1

November 9, 2015 § 10 Comments

Jen Palmares Meadows recently returned from NonfictioNOW, held this year in Flagstaff, Arizona, and offers part one of her two-part report on the panel The View from the Slush Pile:

NonfictioNOW is an international conference devoted entirely to nonfiction. Compared to AWP, which last year boasted 12,000 attendees, NonfictioNOW is an intimate gathering of about 20 journals/presses, and 400 registered attendees, almost half of which are panelists—the difference being, I think, between visiting a zoo, and living amongst the animals.

In fact, attending NonfictioNOW is a lot like visiting Alaska. The concentration of literary wildlife in one location is astounding. Moments of awe and enchantment are swift and often. At NonfictioNOW, literary beasts can be seen freely grazing the conference hall, queuing up at the local watering hole, and foraging through the modest sized book fair. In the space of a few hours, you might observe Lee Martin picking through his complimentary buffet breakfast, or be surprised by the sudden appearance of Maggie Nelson. You remain alert for a glimpse of the elusive Roxane Gay, and might even respond to the uproarious high jinx of Brian Doyle, with hyena-like laughter. Editors of your favorite journals are within petting distance (don’t) and writers of your favorite essays are within selfie proximity (ask first).

We attend conferences like NonfictioNOW to observe literary beasts, not only to admire their talent and awe-inspiring intellect, but to learn from them. Thus, I spent three days, copiously taking notes and observing writers in one of their preferred habitats—the panel.

The following are my field notes from The View from the Slush Pile, with panelists: Hattie Fletcher (Managing Editor, Creative Nonfiction), Steve Church (Founding Editor, The Normal School), Stephanie G’Schwind (Editor, Colorado Review), and Ander Monson (Editor, DIAGRAM).

Panel: The View from the Slush Pile

Panelists: Hattie Fletcher, Steven Church, Stephanie G’Schwind, Ander Monson

Date/Time: 30 October 2015, 2:30-3:45

Location: Flagstaff, Arizona, High Country Conference Center, Humphrey’s Theater

Elevation: Approx. 7000 feet

Weather: Cloudy with gentle breeze, light snow atop San Francisco Peaks

zz hattie

Hattie Fletcher

Panelist #1: Hattie Fletcher

Species: Non-writing Managing Editor

Affiliation: Creative Nonfiction (21 year old magazine, publishes exclusively nonfiction, circulation 10,000)

Further Reading: In Search of Moments of Real Connection: An interview with Hattie Fletcher


Creative Nonfiction has changed over the years. In its inception, the journal looked more academic, in order to garner respect for the genre, from the academic community. Now, it is magazine sized with images. They host a regular CNF Twitter contest, and recently published a number of themed issues.

Creative Nonfiction receives over 5000 submissions a year, and accepts 1-2% of submissions.

Though Creative Nonfiction mostly publishes unsolicited work, they sometimes commission work that they need to speak to a themed issue.

Hattie Fletcher: “I rarely love a piece right away. I’m often thinking: What does it do with the theme? How does it work with the other pieces? Are people going to respond to it?

Advice: When submitting, look into all publications, not just journals that publish exclusively creative nonfiction. There is a need for nonfiction submissions in many journals.

SIGHTING: Hattie Fletcher, in a feat of essay prowess, was crowned winner of the Halloween Nonfiction Wow game show competition.

Steven Church

Steven “Nonfiction Fan Boy” Church

Panelist #2: Steve Church

Species: Writer, Founding Editor, Nonfiction Editor

Affiliation: The Normal School (founded in 2007, publishes twice a year, 10-15 essays each issue, accepts nonfiction, fiction and poetry)

Further Reading: Ultrasonic, The Guinness Book of Me, The Day After The Day After


Often considered boundary challenging, quirky, or difficult to classify, The Normal School has published a transcript from an Ebay auction, a Google maps essay, and an entire essay composed of quotes by dead wrestlers. It also publishes traditional nonfiction.

For years its website was static, but recently the online magazine has become more dynamic, and has revived some archived works.

The Slush Process: Every submission gets at least 2-3 reads, and is ranked 1-4. Works ranked 1 or 2 get rejected. Anything 3 or 4 gets printed and placed into a blue folder to be read by Church.

The Normal School has been working diligently to include diversity, to find writers who aren’t getting published as much, like people of color and women.

The Normal School’s Associate Editor has what Church calls, a “Golden Ticket,” which means they can accept any one piece they want, no questions asked, to ensure a variety of tastes.

Church: “I’m a nonfiction fan boy, and 95% comes from the slush pile, but I’ll solicit writers I like.”

Advice: Look for magazines that promote their writers, magazines that end up in anthologies or mentioned as Best American Notables. That means the magazine made an effort to put that writing into an editor’s hands—not every publication does that.

Advice: Send submissions to magazines that seem cool. You never know what might happen. Church submitted an essay to fledgling journal, The Pedestrian, which folded after its second issue. His essay, “Auscultation,” went on to be included in Best American Essays 2011.

Read PART TWO featuring Stephanie G’Schwind of Colorado Review and Ander Monson of Diagram.


Jen Palmares Meadows writes from northern California. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Brevity, Denver Quarterly, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, Essay Daily, Memoir Journal, and elsewhere. She is currently at work on a collection of Vegas stories.

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