The Rumpus: Now a Matriarchy
January 25, 2017 § 5 Comments
Marisa Siegel recently took on the role of Editor-in-Chief and owner of The Rumpus, and we are pleased to offer her our blog today to share thoughts on the magazine’s future and the challenges ahead:
I sometimes believe in luck and I definitely believe in timing. But I don’t believe in fate, or destiny, or even (especially) God. Still, every now and then a series of coincidences leads to a conclusion that may in hindsight seem like fate. You look back, and it may feel like a force was guiding you toward a future you did not plan but also marched directly toward. A future that you didn’t foresee but embraced, in small but meaningful ways.
In the fall of 2012, I was on an airplane going to visit a friend I’d met on the Internet. This is not typical behavior for me, but that visit began a friendship that has become one of the dearest in my life. On that airplane, I was skimming Facebook posts and saw a call for Rumpus poetry reviews. I emailed Brian Spears, Rumpus Poetry Editor, and my first review for the site appeared a few months later.
In June of 2013, The Rumpus’s first Music Editor, Katy Henriksen, put out a call for assistant editors. I answered that call, because I was in love with The Rumpus by this point, and looking for a way to get more involved. I became Katy’s Assistant Music Editor.
In late August 2013, Stephen Elliott sent out a Daily Rumpus asking for help with a new project, the now-defunct Weekly Rumpus. I replied, and we met for coffee. By early September, I was Managing Editor of the Weekly Rumpus, an app and PDF version of the site that also included exclusive original content.
In late November of 2013, I found out I was three weeks pregnant. This was not unexpected, because I was trying to be pregnant, but it was fraught, because I’d had three miscarriages in the prior year.
In April 2014, I was nearing the final trimester of my pregnancy. Stephen wrote and asked me if I’d consider taking on the role of Managing Editor of the site. I said yes. I didn’t even hesitate. A full-time job was not a part of my parenting plan, but this was not an opportunity I could pass on. I’m a Managing Editor through-and-through—details, organization, and structure are how I get through life. And I could work from home, staying active in the literary community and keeping my resume alive, while caring for my newborn.
In August 2014, my son was born. Four days later, we brought him home, and my mom let me know that my father died. I’ve written about my father before, in the Daily Rumpus and here on the site. He was an abusive drug addict, and dying was the only decent thing he ever did. I stopped worrying he’d find out I had a child and come around. I stopped feeling angry every time a good person passed away and I knew my father was out there breathing air and snorting coke. And, after a year of lawyers talking to lawyers, I was able to “inherit” a small sum of money that he had stolen from my mother in a nasty, long-time-coming divorce years earlier.
I put this sum of money in bank account and waited for something to do with it. I wanted to spend it on something that felt meaningful to me, something that would somehow—in light of the weight of the history surrounding this money—allow me to feel lighter. I knew I wasn’t going to spend my inheritance frivolously, but I also wasn’t going to spend it paying down student loans or buying groceries. I had to find just the right reason to use it. This fall, that reason became increasingly clear. The thing to do with the money was to buy The Rumpus, to invest in it and help it continue and grow, especially now, especially in light of a Donald Trump presidency. I promised we would not look away, and we will not.
I have valued every moment of my time at The Rumpus, in all of the above roles. As Managing Editor these last three years, I’ve had the opportunity to create amazing events, make space for and work with writers on pieces that I’m personally so very proud of, oversee a staff of talented and creative and dedicated volunteer editors, bloggers, and artists, and connect with readers in meaningful ways that continue to surprise me.
I look forward to continuing the site’s tradition of featuring underrepresented and new writers and subject matter, particularly in our country’s disturbing current political and cultural climate. The Rumpus will not back away from the dangers ahead and we believe that writing has an important role in the fight against inequality and injustice. The Rumpus will continue to be a voice of dissent against policies of hate.
Deputy Books Editor Lyz Lenz will take on the role of Managing Editor. I first “met” Lyz by email, when she answered a call for bloggers and I replied that she was overqualified for the position. I still remember her answer: I love literary magazines, and I want to write for you. After blogging for nearly two years, Lyz became Deputy Books Editor. I met Lyz “IRL” (as the kids say) at AWP Minneapolis, and she became my hero. It was my first AWP, my first time away from my then-infant son, my first time organizing a literary reading. I was a mess. She brought me allergy meds, made sure I ate food, volunteered at our bookfair table way more than she needed to, and generally proved herself to be the woman you want standing next to you when about to embark on a thrilling but also terrifying journey.
What plans do I have for The Rumpus? In addition to growing traffic, revenue, and optimizing the site for mobile readers, I hope to expand our real-world presence and continue to build its community with increased appearances at conferences and events in cities across the country (not just in New York and California) and to increase The Rumpus’s focus on small, independent presses across all verticals on the site. I want to refocus our mission such that every piece we choose to run, every book we choose to review, is selected through the lens of what is going on in our country and around the world. And, I want to reach a point where we can increase our pay to writers, from a nominal fee to a more industry-standard rate for feature articles.
We’ll also be creating an advisory board to help guide the site forward toward reaching its goals. We’ll be choosing writers, editors, and members of the literary community who we look up to, and whose opinions and advice we know will be valuable to us. We’ve already shared that we are thrilled to have Melissa Febos, who also serves on the Board of Directors of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and the PEN America Membership Committee, and Mary-Kim Arnold, author of Litany for the Long Moment forthcoming from Essay Press in 2017 and former Rumpus Essays Editor, join us. We look forward to announcing the full advisory board shortly!
The next four years will surely test us all. Likewise, taking on the task of running a business—yes, there is a business to this literary world we love—and trying to keep a small, independent literary website alive will surely test me. I hope you’ll join me in trying my very best to make a difference. To keep the importance of storytelling and poetry and craft vibrant at a time when those in power will be doing anything but.
Let’s go ahead and keep writing like motherfuckers, and keep fighting like motherfuckers. Always stronger together, and always looking right at the truth.