Two Brevity Authors Win Rona Jaffe Awards

September 15, 2016 § Leave a comment


Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas

We are pleased to announce that two recent Brevity contributors, Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas and Danielle Geller, have been awarded 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Awards, given annually to six women writers who demonstrate excellence and promise in the early stages of their careers.

Cabeza-Vanegas’ brief nonfiction essay “Pain Pays The Income of Each Precious Thing” appeared in Brevity’s 50th issue. Geller’s piece “Blood; Quantum” appears in our most recent, 53rd issue.


Danielle Geller

Celebrating its 22nd year, the Rona Jaffe Awards have helped many women build successful writing careers by offering encouragement and financial support at a critical time. The awards are $30,000 each and will be presented to the six recipients on September 15th in New York City.

The other recipients this year are Jamey Hatley (fiction), Ladee Hubbard (fiction), Airea D. Matthews (poetry), and Asako Serizawa (fiction).

Celebrated novelist Rona Jaffe (1931-2005) established The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards program in 1995. It is the only national literary awards program of its kind dedicated to supporting women writers exclusively. Since the program began, the Foundation has awarded more than $2 million to emergent women writers, including several who have gone on to critical acclaim, such as Elif Batuman, Eula Biss, Lan Samantha Chang, Rivka Galchen, Rebecca Lee, ZZ Packer, Kirstin Valdez Quade, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Tracy K. Smith, Mary Szybist, and Tiphanie Yanique.

Submitting is Not a Dartboard

September 15, 2016 § 6 Comments


Allison Williams, Brevity‘s globe-trotting social media editor, writes often for this blog on issues of dedication, endurance, and inspiration for writers. Some of those blog posts, along with plenty of new material, have been assembled into Williams’ first book, Get Published in Literary Magazines: The Indispensable Guide to Preparing, Submitting and Writing Better. Brevity Editor Dinty W. Moore recently asked Allison a few questions:

Dinty:  There is so much advice for new writers out there. What are you hoping your book will accomplish?

Allison: I want to reposition the submissions process as a matter of great diligence and skill with a dash of luck and timing, rather than the other way around.

Even for writers with a publication record, submitting is scary—we’re all terrified we’re sending to a magazine that’s actually way out of our league, and we all worry that our ego is telling us our work is better than it really is. So I made a point of including a chapter on figuring out how good your own work is, and how a writer can analyze a literary journal and see if their own work is at that level. If it isn’t, they have the option to seek a magazine closer to their level (which might be higher!) or to use what they discover about the magazine’s content to improve their own work. I’m hoping that even for writers who don’t feel ready to send out work, they can still use the book to write better, and start reading widely in the places they want to publish, so they’ll feel more on top of the submissions process when the time comes.

I’m also demystifying the actual, physical process of submitting. It’s not a lottery and it’s not a dartboard. Writers can be reasonably methodical about assembling a list of magazines and building a pattern of submitting—whether that’s daily, weekly, once a month, whether they’re focusing on one piece and submitting simultaneously or firing out ten pieces at once—that works for them.

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Not Your Best Submission Strategy

Dinty: In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception writers have about publishing in literary magazines?

Allison: It’s a double-barreled shot of inadequacy: We think editors are eager to reject us, and that rejection means we suck.

In fact, most editors are almost comically eager to discover and promote writers new to them. Their dream is to open up Submittable one morning and find a pile of amazing submissions they can nurture into publication, so their next issue is practically done. Editors love finding brand-new writers, they love helping people debut, and every single one of them wishes they had time to give feedback and advice on the submissions that are “almost there.”

Feeling bad about rejections is normal, but rejections are normal, expected and necessary. Think about going out for dinner—you pick the thing you want most off the menu, based on what looks good, maybe what the waiter recommends, and your mood at the time. You’re not looking at every other dish and thinking it’s garbage, right? Choosing the fish doesn’t make the pasta terrible. And maybe when you pick the fish for your entree, you don’t want to also have smoked salmon for the appetizer. Putting a literary magazine together works the same way. Out of a pile of good, better and best things, the editor selects pieces that strike their personal taste, that fit well together, and that suit the overall tone of the magazine. Your essay about childbirth may be phenomenal—but they just did a special issue on mothering. Or they only have one essay slot this month, and they feel like the essay on the Deaf community complements the poem about meaning in silence. Maybe they have six “best” poems, but they’re all sonnets, so they pull two of them and pick two more poems from “better” and one from “good.”

There is no writing life that doesn’t include rejection. Even if I self-publish my own literary magazine, filled with my favorite of my own work, not everyone’s going to buy it. So as tough as it is, and as much as it stings and feels personal, rejections are proof a writer is doing their job and sending their work into the world. If writing is your desired profession, treat rejection like a meeting at a corporate job—you don’t love it, and it’s always a pain, but it’s part of the job you do in order to keep doing the other parts you like. If writing is your beloved hobby, remember that you don’t hit a home run every time, and those doubles, singles and strikeouts are helping you become a better hitter.

Easier said than done, of course, but I will say that since I started submitting more often and more widely, each individual rejection stings less.

Dinty: I know the landscape changes quickly, especially now that so much literary publishing is happening online, but here in September 2016, Can you name five or so solid magazines you’d recommend that talented but not-yet-widely-published authors investigate and consider?

Boulevard mentions they are “very interested in publishing less experienced or unpublished writers with exceptional promise.” And they pay!

Smokelong Quarterly publishes flash fiction and chooses a new editor to curate each issue, so there’s a variety of taste in the pieces they select.

Linden Avenue Literary Journal is an up-and-comer with a great editor, Athena Dixon, at the helm. They publish “poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction that highlights the intersection between art and everyday life.”

Drunken Boat does a series of themed “folios” and is a great place to submit work that’s grounded in a specific culture or community.

And Sixfold is unique—they produce an online literary magazine, but the content is determined by voting among all the submitters (it’s fair, and thoroughly explained at their site). Each piece goes through at least one round of six readers/fellow writers who provide feedback on your work, and I found the brief critiques useful and totally worth the $6 submission fee. If you’ve got a piece you’re hemming and hawing on, it’s also a place to find out if it’s really “ready,” because if it doesn’t make the magazine, the comments help you figure out what needs improvement without feeling like you’re establishing a reputation with a particular editor.


Dinty W. Moore founded Brevity magazine in 1997.



Three Commandments for Writing About Race

September 14, 2016 § 3 Comments


Xu Xi

A Craft Essay by Xu Xi 許素細 to accompany our Special Issue on Race, Racism, and Racialization: 

Race, unlike a monotheistic god, no longer has a singular ancestry. There are those who like to think it still has, but that paradigm shifted centuries ago.  Thus the first biblical commandment, about a god liberating people from bondage can apply to freedom from a singular notion of race, and, by extension, to writing about race, freeing yourself from the “problem” of race.

There’s a race problem we need to write about and it goes something like this: I’m better than you because I’m the superior race, regardless of how I live.  C.Y. Lee 黎錦揚 forgot about race (and even his natural language Chinese) when he first showed up in the U.S. in 1943 as an aspiring playwright.  When no one would stage his play with Chinese characters, he heeded advice to try a novel and wrote The Flower Drum Song, about people in San Francisco’s Chinatown, turning life as he witnessed it into art.  His book is funny, ironic, heartbreaking.  His early success with mainstream America did not endear him to perceived anti-Orientalist sentiments in subsequent years.  But in today’s global, hybrid world, Lee’s stories of Chinese life in the U.S., about people living a separate racial reality who somehow survived, endures.

So here’s my first commandment:

Stop writing about race and write about how people live instead.

By contrast, the multi-racial, transnational existence of many centers around race, which in the U.S. pings against religious and national identities. The third biblical commandment tells believers not to take their supreme deity’s name in vain.  When it comes to race, however, just what is supreme?  As a teenager, I loved The Supremes’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” because it pinged against the notion of barriers.

It’s simplistic to muddle race with religion and nation, even if muddled detractors insist on supreme deification.  Neela Vaswani’s memoir, You Have Given Me A Country, sublimates all three into a center through what a reviewer describes as her “big hearted” approach.  We are increasingly products of multiplicity arising from the racial muddle that is our world.  Vaswani particularizes her background of an Irish-Catholic mother and Sindhi-Indian father in a cross-genre memoir that is historical, factual, metaphorical.  My favorite sentence that opens the book — “I pledge allegiance to the in between.”

Which brings me to my second commandment:

In writing about race, never take the truth in vain.

And finally, the question of false witness against neighbors.  In writing creative nonfiction about race, we who care most about race are both observer and witness.  The human condition of the 21st century has made uneasy neighbors of many races who are still learning to speak to each other.  Writing about race is uncomfortable, especially if what we have to say about our “neighbors” is ugly, not pretty.  Yet if we don’t, we do a great disservice to our art.

Let’s consider a writer who crossed borders and wrote about another uncomfortable subject, sex.  In 1953, Vladimir Nabokov completed Lolita, his first English language novel.  He had difficulty publishing it, was even advised to use a pseudonym which he, happily, decided against.  One editor suggested he turn “Lolita into a twelve-year old lad” to be “seduced by Humbert, a farmer” and to write this in “short, strong, ‘realistic’ sentences (‘We all act crazy . . . I guess God acts crazy’)!

In his essay “On A Book Titled Lolita,” Nabokov says it took him “some forty years to invent Russia and Western Europe” and that writing this novel was “the task of inventing America.”  But the story is also about a pedophile, a reason the book met resistance.  “My creature Humbert,” says Nabokov, “is a foreigner and an anarchist, and there are many things, besides nymphets, in which I disagree with him.”  Yet this did not prevent him from fully inhabiting Humbert’s skin.

“That my novel does contain various allusions to the physiological urges of a pervert is quite true.  But after all we are not children, not illiterate juvenile delinquents, not English public school boys who after a night of homosexual romps have to endure the paradox of reading the Ancients in expurgated versions.”

Nabokov would not compromise, which is why Lolita remains one of the more important, perennially controversial, canonical works of literature.

My third and final commandment:

Never, ever bear false witness against yourself in what you observe of race, regardless.



Xu Xi  許素細 is author of ten books, most recently the novels That Man In Our Lives and Habit of a Foreign Sky, a finalist for the Man Asian Literary Prize; the story collection Access Thirteen Tales.  She has also edited four anthologies of Hong Kong writing in English.


How We See One Another: Editors Castro and Sukrungruang in Conversation

September 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

Guest editors Joy Castro and Ira Sukrungruang discuss what they hoped for and what they learned in assembling Brevity’s Special Issue on Race, Racism and Racialization, which went live yesterday.



Joy Castro

Joy Castro:  Editing this issue with you has been a fascinating process, Ira, and I’m really glad to have gotten the chance to read these essays.  Can you talk about why you wanted to edit an issue about race and racialization at this particular vexed moment in U.S. racial politics?

Ira Sukrungruang:  Because I couldn’t sleep. Because I felt helpless. Because I remember what the novelist Marlon James said at the 2015 American Book Award Ceremony in San Francisco, about the difference between a non-racist and an anti-racist. I was sitting there with my then-fiancé, now wife, and I was moved to silence. She was moved to silence. When a heavy truth is delivered sometimes the body freezes to let it all in. What Marlon said made absolute sense, and it was simple. Non-racists say they aren’t racist and do nothing. Anti-racists are not racist and are active in ridding the world of racism. If you are a non-racist you are part of the problem. You see the world burning, and you do nothing to stop it.

So, why not start a conversation? Why not wrestle away the talk of race from political figures who are empty in their rhetoric, or dangerous in their accusations? To me, a lot of their talk is non-racist talk. It’s pointing out the problem and nothing else. Or saying, quite plainly, we do not have a race problem, or, worse yet, people of certain races are the problem. This is scary.


Ira Sukrungruang

My racial awareness came about through reading. What I was seeing in literature I wasn’t seeing anywhere else. The gray areas. The minute moments of inequality, the everyday lives of people of color. Those struggles. Those joys. In literature, race wasn’t about color alone. It wasn’t about difference. In literature, race is made complicated. Race is seen through a myriad of views. Played out not only through violence and hate and injustice, but love and understanding and empathy. The authors I read, you included Joy, had things to say that triggered a tuning fork in my bones. It was this reason I became a writer, to be part of this tribe, part of an ongoing conversation about race via the written word. So when Brevity asked me co-edit this issue, I couldn’t say no. To co-edit it with you, doubly so.

How about you, Joy? Why do you think an issue about race and racialization is necessary now, more than any other time in our country?

Joy Castro:  Well, I’m not sure I’d claim it’s more necessary now than at any other time, because the history of the United States has never not been racially vexed, and intervening with multiple voices on the topic of race and racialization could have been useful at many, many points.

What I do think is that it’s more possible now.  Very possible.


Read the remainder of this conversation in the latest Brevity, and stay to read the essays as well.


Brevity’s Race, Racism, and Racialization Special Issue

September 12, 2016 § 2 Comments

philyaw_Brevity’s 52nd issue, reporting and examining lived experiences of race, racism, and racialization and the intersections between race and gender, class, dis/ability, and language, launched today.

Our Special issue includes work by Roxane Gay, Kendra Allen, Julie Azzam, Sasha Bonét, Harrison Candelaria Fletcher, Sarah Chávez, Tyrese Coleman, Alice Rose Crow, Bradley Donaldson, Katelyn Hemmeke, Jacob Hilton, Deeshaw Philyaw, Lisa Romeo, Sejal Shah, Samuel Stokley, Christina Tang-Bernas, and our first ever student writing competition winner, Danielle Geller. Our special guest editors are Joy Castro and Ira Sukrungruang and our guest artist is Damon Locks.

The issue would never have been possible without the focused efforts of our Special Projects Editor Sarah Einstein.

The brief essays we present cannot, of course, cover the subject completely, and there were many crucial voices and perspectives we could not fit into this issue. We received over 400 submissions, and we hope that every author who sent work to us that we couldn’t publish here will send out those works until they are published elsewhere, because this is a conversation that should not—cannot—be limited to special issues and certain journals. This is a conversation that needs to be happening all the time, everywhere.

Our hope is that these essays will spark the conversations that we, as a nation and as citizens of the world, desperately need to be having about how race is constructed, the many great indignities of racism, and the ways in which racialization serves the interests of those systems which rely on the marginalization of the other in order to maintain power. The goal of this issue is not to try to host this conversation in all its complexity, but merely to offer up a number of points of entry from which the reader can find her own way into that conversation.

Thanks for reading.

A Review of Angela Palm’s Riverine

September 9, 2016 § 4 Comments

palm.pngBy Karissa Womack

I grew up a river rat, near the banks of the Cahaba. Dad took me down to the river, an eight-year-old made of bones, where I paddled my first Dagger boat. The only rule was that I had to keep my head above the chicken water, what with all the waste dumping. You didn’t want that stuff in your mouth, never mind exposing your skin and scratches.

Angela Palm was raised along the rural floodplain of the Kankakee River, which had been rerouted a century before to create farmland. Confined by the boundaries of her backyard, the yellow space on a map between “two pink-dot towns,” Palm looked next door for her youthful ideations of love and escape.

In her Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize-winning memoir, Riverine: A Memoir from Anywhere but Here, Palm divulges the trauma of growing up, her internal struggle projected upon and mixed up with the landscape. She falls in love with her next-door neighbor Corey, watching him through his bedroom window. After he commits a brutal act of murder that shakes her small town, Palm spirals away from him and eventually out of the floodplains for college, and later, married life in Vermont.

The men Palm loves and the wrongs they have committed cause her to question versions of herself, trying on labels, “girl who had possibly loved a murderer,” in the same way city girls might try on dresses. Her fixation with Corey sparks a deep, evolving interest in the criminal justice system, which she studies in college. Ultimately, she is drawn back to the Kankakee, into a friendship with Corey as he serves out a sentence of life without parole. Palm meditates on this magnetic pull forged between them in childhood, “What sticks and what doesn’t in the unseen expanse of the mind, what brief experiences get built up in the memory and become the icons of a life lived.” Corey is her icon and her pariah.

We take the river with us. I am drawn, as well, into the correspondence of a man serving life without parole. Unlike Palm, I never loved this man, but my childhood and the landscape of my town were altered by his crimes, by a story that pulls me back. Palm’s words resonate, “We never really escape the landscapes we inhabited as our brains developed.”

Her lyrical prose swims intelligently through reflection and memory. Her childhood is rendered with gorgeous sharpness, “Where hologram children play forever and eat electric blue Popsicles and never wash their hands and sometimes spear fish with arrows.” Like the Kankakee, her memoir’s narrative route is drawn back to the farmland of braided essays. By laying bare the most intimate traverses of her own mind, Palm guides us towards empathy, asking readers to consider the depths of our compassion.

Riverine is a map traversing three sections: water, field, and mountains. After journeying away, she writes the narrative of a place she had vowed to leave and lost touch with, “I could not knock on the door of any of these houses. I would not be let inside.” It has been a long time for both of us.


Karissa Womack is an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at the University of South Florida, where she serves as the Creative Writing Program assistant. She is the interview editor for Sweet: A Literary Confection.

Get It On The Radio: Taping and Telling

September 8, 2016 § 1 Comment

On Tuesday, I wrote about the process of pitching radio stories. What happens next? Much of that depends on who accepts your pitch (or whether your name comes out of the hat at The Moth). Here’s what some of those processes looked like for me.

moth_logo_cover2The Moth

The Moth StorySLAM is one of the most accessible ways to practice radio storytelling and potentially end up in a bigger show or on the air. Moth stories are told live without notes, and (loosely) on a particular theme, announced ahead of time. Just show up at a local storySLAM and add your name to the list. Ten storytellers are picked from a hat, and each one has five minutes to tell a true, first-person story. Audience teams score the storytellers (don’t worry, everyone is enthusiastically supported by the whole audience); the winner moves on to the invitation-only Grand Slam. Grand Slams are in bigger venues, and every storyteller has won a local slam.

You’re on your own for the local slams, but it helps to practice your story over and over, especially the ending. A clean, powerful ending compensates for a multitude of rambling sins! It’s also important to be inside the time limit, because laughter and mid-story applause add time. Shoot for four minutes–that also gives you time to pause for moments of emotion or laughter. For the Grand Slams, one of the Moth’s producers in New York will work with you via phone or Skype. For example, I pitched “filling the bird feeder for my grandmother right before she died,” “scattering my own dad’s ashes at a major political funeral in India,” or “being a terrible prostitute” (believe it or not, they’re all funny). Producer Jenifer Hixon helped me find the most powerful thread, and listened to me over three phone calls while I figured out how to start the story, get to the good parts quickly, and end clean.

The Moth records all stories told at local and Grand Slams, and some are selected to be on the radio–not always the winning ones, so you have a chance no matter how you score. I also tape myself by setting my phone in an inconspicuous place, so I can listen after and hear how the story went and pick up audience reactions I didn’t notice through my own nervousness. Tape also helps me shape the story into a written essay, and I’ll submit that version to print venues.


loveme_promoLove Me and Definitely Not The Opera

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has some great story-driven podcasts. Definitely Not The Opera ran for 22 years; Love Me was an eight-episode season. I signed up for the DNTO “pitch list” at their website. Each week, an email went out with the next episode’s topic, and I submitted probably 35-40 pitches over two years and got picked up three times. Love Me sent one story call for their season, to people from the DNTO list among others, and I pitched three stories to them and sold one. For CBC shows, a Canadian setting or connection helps (I’m Canadian) but isn’t mandatory if you’ve got a great story.

Major-network podcasts often rent time at a recording studio or local public radio station near the storyteller. I taped in studios in South Africa and Florida before buying a good-quality microphone for my computer. Now I’m able to tape in any quiet location, as well as doing “tape sync”–recording another storyteller locally, while the network interviewer talks to them on Skype.

My biggest challenge was not sounding “rehearsed.” Performing live at the Moth, practicing and tightening my story had been an advantage, but both DNTO and Love Me needed a more conversational sound. In each case, I ended up telling my story once, then being interviewed by the producer. S/he asked questions and I responded with chunks of the story told off-the-cuff; then the producer edited the takes together to get the sound and style the program needed. For this type of show, it’s truly OK to have your pitch and a sense of the story rather than planning every moment out.


sj_itunessquare_wnyc_350Snap Judgment

One of my bucket-list venues, I got on the pitch list for Snap Judgment by sending an email. They also accept many pitches through the submission form on their website. My first try wasn’t so good–I got a call from a Snap producer in response to a pitch, she asked me to think more about transformation/change in the story, and I dropped the ball by not calling her back in time (life events happened).

But last week I got an email, “Hey, I heard you on Snap Judgment!” My first thought was there’d been some mistake, maybe it was the actor from Girls, but no–Snap Judgment picked up a story I’d told on Love Me. Surprise! Another credit without doing anything!

My hope now is that since their producers have heard me tell a story, perhaps they’ll accept a future pitch.

How does this work for you, Brevity reader and first-time radio storyteller?

  1. Go to a story slam (Moth or any other brand) near you. Listen to what the audience loves. Listen to what you love. Think about how you’d take your powerful personal story and deliver it to an adoring audience.
  2. Practice pitching. It’s OK if it takes fifty–or more–pitches before a producer bites. Keep focusing on how your material fits specific shows, and tailor your pitches to suit their style. There’s no blacklist of “uurgghh why does this person keep emailing us…” so keep trying. If one show doesn’t bite, reframe your story so it feels right for someone else and pitch again.
  3. You don’t need to own any recording equipment to get started. It’s been convenient for me to have a digital recorder and a mic, but if they want your story, they will figure out how to tape you. That’s their job. I went to Oman last week to tape-sync and the producer set it all up–all the storyteller had to do was lock his cats out of the room. If you do enough radio to start needing equipment, Transom has great product reviews and recommendations.

Even if you never sell a radio pitch, the process of thinking about your personal experiences from different angles can help you transform that material into essays. And doing radio is fun! Writing is so often a solitary pursuit, it’s a joy to talk with a producer, hear immediate feedback, and collaborate on the shape of a story.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the host of the upcoming Brevity Podcast.

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