November 12, 2013 § Leave a comment
SWEET: A Literary Confection is entering its sixth year and the folks at Brevity are plenty pleased to wish a happy, productive birthday to one of our favorite online counterparts. Under the direction of co-founders Ira Sukrungruang, Katherine Riegel, and K.C. Wolfe, SWEET has from the start offered consistent high quality literary energy food. In this guest post, SWEET staffer Christine M. Lasek interviews the magazine’s co-founder Ira Sukrungruang:
SWEET is truly a “labor of love” (i.e., a lot of hard work that you’re not paid for). How were you inspired to start this magazine, and how has your concept of the publication changed since its 2007 inception?
When did Sweet start? Sweet started in a car in upstate New York, on a county road, in the middle of a blizzard, the snow like a blanket over the windshield. Katie Riegel and I were driving home and I said, “Let’s edit a magazine. Let’s get crazy.” And it was crazy, wasn’t it? To start another literary journal in a world filled with literary journals? But as Ted Kooser said, what’s the harm of another poet in the world? What’s the harm of having more poems and essays in our lives? What’s the harm in littering the world with literature?
Six years later, here we are. And the biggest surprise for Katie and KC Wolfe–the founding editors—and I is how we still retain this excitement of editing a magazine. We love it. We all teach, we all have busy lives, and so editing Sweet is our break from our lives. It’s six years, and we keep growing, keep falling in love with everything we publish. Sweet is our way of giving back to the literary community, the reading and writing life.
Even though SWEET doesn’t publish “themed” issues, it is often the case that the work in each issue has similar thematic threads. Can you talk about this generally, and speak specifically about issue 6.1, which has the theme of “impressions”?
There are a lot of ways of defining impressions. The impressions we leave on others. The impressions that we leave on the world. An impression is a way of defining who we are, and how we are viewed. The work in Sweet 6.1, especially the essays, speak to this need of understanding the impressions we make in this life.
From 36A: “…I couldn’t be a cheerleader. I had no bust. I was a Jew.”
From Dream Child: “I was alone in this dark apartment. My daughter, my Little Lamb, was nothing; less than nothing, and dreams.”
From Freight: “Over time more stories will entwine themselves in these vines and flowers…I still need to be the keeper of memory, need to throw light on the freight of yesterday.”
From The Beginning and the End: “She sucks a breath into liquid lungs, and her body falls into itself again.”
From Buddhism 101: “But I believed if I could just let go of my insistence on the solidness of myself, if I could just see things as fluid and interconnected, if I could tap into the eternal clarity of this, in the gleaming northern star above the Bodhi tree, in the stillness of my inhalations and exhalations, I could know bliss. I could never know pain. ”
If anything, impression made.
Do you have a favorite among the 16 issues you have published?
I keep saying this–and this by no means is me avoiding the question–but I keep saying that the newest issue is the best issue we’ve published. I’m swept away by the poems and essays; all of them we’ve had the honor to publish over the years have engrained themselves into my body, my being, a metaphorical tattoo. That, to me, is the point of good literature. That it awakens us. That it breaks us in all the right places. That it elevates our understanding of our place in the world. I live with Geoff Schmidt’s essay “Otis and Jake” in my bones. Ruth Awad’s piece, “In the Skin,” is in my skin. I’m winged away by the swifts in Amy Monticello’s “Chimney Swifts.” I am made aware of my body, as Wendy Rawlings is in her essay “36A.”
Tell me about SWEET’s publishing arm, SWEET Publications, including any projects that are on the horizon.
Why stop at a magazine? I’m a dreamer. My other editors have to sometimes reel me back in. But this was something we all wanted to do. We wanted to publish books. Books by authors who did not have books. Books by contributors of the magazine. Books that were beautiful to touch, to hold. We wanted readers to not only take pleasure in the word, but in the product. The book was going to be art in and of itself. Sweet is blessed with staff members who are also artists like RC Stephens, Gloria Muñoz, and the head of Sweet Publications, Jim Miller. We wanted to create limited edition handmade books, and have those books available in e-format or PDFs. The designers of the books read and work closely with the authors. We have three books so far. Amy Monticello’s Close Quarters, Megan Gannon’s The Witch’s Index, and Donna Steiner’s Elements. We are working on a compilation of poetry published in Sweet in the last five years. Have I mentioned we love what we do?
What advice do you have for aspiring poets and essayists that hope to be counted among SWEET’s authors? What about for writers who hope to start their own literary magazine some day?
To writers: Send. Send again. Send better. Believe.
To future editors: Do it because you love it. Do it because you want to bring the world a gift of words.
Ira Sukrungruang is an Associate Professor of Creative Nonfiction at the University of South Florida. He is a Chicago born Thai-American whose cultural identity often features prominently in his work. His memoir, Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy, was published in 2010, and his book of poetry, In Thailand it is Night, was winner of the first Anita Claire Scharf Award.
Christine M. Lasek teaches creative and technical writing at the University of South Florida. She also serves as the Public Relations Officer for SWEET: A Literary Confection. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Pearl Literary Magazine, Tampa Review Online, the Coal City Review, and elsewhere.