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.
March 1, 2012 § 25 Comments
By Patrick Ross
“If you’re going to show anyone’s ass, it’s going to be your own.”
Cheryl Strayed doesn’t think much of Joan Didion’s assertion that writing memoir means selling others out. Her contrarian position resonated from the podium at AWP’s session “Selling Out Everyone You Love: The Ethics of Writing Nonfiction.” The Pushcart Prize-winning Strayed told a packed ballroom of 300 writers that she didn’t aim to embarrass her ex-husband when writing about her failed first marriage. In nonfiction, she said, “I show more about myself.”
There is no way to control the reaction of another to appearing in your prose, however.
“If you were to see yourself through your friend’s eyes, you wouldn’t recognize yourself,” said The Rumpus founding editor Stephen Elliott. Even when a subject grants permission for you to portray them in, print, they may be hostile to the result. “They don’t mean,” Elliott said, “‘You can write about a side of me I don’t know I have.”
Hostility can come from any source. “My father threatened to sue if I ever wrote about my family again,” The Sun associate publisher Krista Bremer said. A few days after the publication of an essay about her parents that revealed no dark secrets—no incest, no abuse, no pathology—Bremer found herself sitting on sizzling asphalt beside her mailbox, digesting the “furious scrawl” of her father’s handwriting.
“’Congratulations,’” Bremer said a writer friend told her. “‘If you pissed your family off that much, you got it right.’” Bremer said her father only disputed one fact—her mother drank tonic water with vodka, not gin—but it was what was unspoken that rocked him. “The spaces between the words,” she said, “had been the most difficult for him to contemplate.”
It’s important to remember, said multiple memoir author Lee Martin, that “you volunteer to be a character in your memoir, but others don’t.” Martin first disguised his memoir writing as fiction, but that didn’t lesson the frustration of family. After writing a short story about an anecdote regarding his father that was shared with him by his aunt, his source of information dried up. Martin had betrayed his parents, the aunt said, informing him that “’I’ll never tell you another story about the family again.’”
Yet all of these writers continue to craft and publish memoir. They seek to examine the human condition by telling the truth about others and themselves, as best as they can recall.
There are other reasons to write memoir, said essayist Poe Ballantine.
Years ago a short piece of fiction Ballantine wrote based on his life paid $300, but a subsequent story paid only $200. The publisher informed him the first essay paid more because they thought it was an essay. “‘Oh, you pay more for essays,’ I replied.”
Ballantine’s essay-writing hasn’t stopped, he said. “I have an inexhaustible catalogue of suffering and failure.”
Patrick Ross is a writer and an instructor with The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
February 8, 2011 § 1 Comment
Another report from guest blogger Margaret Kimball, reporting on the panel To Tell You the Truth: Strategies in New Nonfiction at the most recent AWP Conference:
I just left a panel featuring the writers Stephen Elliott, Nick Flynn and Ander Monson, introduced by Graywolf editor, Jeffrey Shotts. Eula Biss, notably the only woman scheduled to speak at the panel, was snowed in in Chicago, alas. Here are my notes, by author.
Introduction (Jeffrey Shotts)
Nonfiction moves beyond reportage into the territory of tangents, dead-ends, errancy and wonder. Just because an essay is pursuing something, doesn’t mean what it’s arrived at is what it’s gained; the form is an alternative to judgment. A question we need to ask ourselves is: do we read nonfiction to experience art or to learn information? An essay, an illustration, a design is fixed in time and space and artifact; the essay is thinking, frozen. A virtual space the viewer/reader can inhabit for a while.
Strategy, part of the title of the panel, implies we as creatives know where we’re going; but strategy only enters the process after the thing is written or made. A filter is a critical utility in order to determine feedback that is helpful from that which isn’t. This relates to aesthetic vision; without a personal vision, you cannot write, cannot make. There are three reasons a person will read a memoir:
- Perfect/beautiful/really nice sentences.
This is built while maintaining story and character and narrative. Themes that digress from the narrative can only emerge if enough tension is built. The self is the thing around which the tension and everything else exists.
This is not about not lying. Lying requires intent but honesty is bordered by self-knowledge…in order to write honestly, you have to evaluate yourself intensely, honestly.
The reader is the most important person, needs to be the first concern of the author. By making characters singular (e.g. only good or only bad), you’re hiding something from the reader. By worrying about someone’s feelings, you’re putting something ahead of the reader. This cannot happen.
Stephen ended gloriously, “I don’t know. I just came up with this.”
People hear what they want to hear. They project their needs and desires and lives onto your work. So one of our functions is to create a screen that others can project onto in order to make meaning from their experiences. We are not writing from the soul; instead, we need to uncover our deeper purpose. Why do we cling to the stories we’ve told ourselves? What is behind them? What do the stories hide? The stories are important only as a threshold to cross. Here is the formula (to which he then said, a la Van Wilder, “Write this down.”:
- Hear the stories you tell yourself about yourself. The stories you always tell.
- Start with a random image and discover its meaning.
- Ask yourself what you think you know and how long you’ve known it.
- Let the story lose its thread and push further into the unknown.
- The point where language breaks down is a useful edge, revealing to us the space between the familiar and the unknown.
The story (the essay, the book) is not about what happens to us but how we perceive what happens to us. The process of writing is more about what we don’t know, is more about discovering the hidden pattern beneath the world. Something happened; some things actually do happen. We need to come up against the reality of the world and perceive them.
Essays are technologies are designed to handle infinity; they expand and allow us to expand into them, outward from them. They chip away at the stability of the self. What is interesting is the limitless; what is interesting are the limits. The interiors of our brains are the most readily available infinities. Look at Billy Idol’s album, Cyberpunk, album cover which came with a floppy disc and instructions to use with a color Macintosh. 1993.
This is a document of what we thought at one point the future might have been. In other words, this is a document of the way Idol’s brain worked at one point in time; it’s a mind we can enter into. The essay-the text, the form and the white space-are places to study, to imagine, to illuminate the dark spaces of our minds. Through essays we illuminate the world around us, editing it down so facts and ideas get their own tiny spotlights.
From the Q & A
What are other ways to think about tension?
- Tension can be generated by: waiting for something to happen; between two people in a room (keep them in the room together as long as possible); syntax/diction; the tension between the unknown and the known and how it gets discovered; tension emerging from subject-switching and disconnection.
Any new mediums you’re using?
- The website for Vanishing Point is used to interact with the text, to undercut what’s happening in the book. There’s a critical element of play important [to the process of discovery]. The web pages constantly erode/modify/self-edit the original; in this way, the web is a performance. (Monson)
- The written word can be as fluid as the stuff on the web. It can contain a kind of archive of information uncontainable in the book . (Flynn)
- The Rumpus is a space in which creative energy is spent in writing emails. We pass along information (about the self, about the world) this way. As writers, we have a smaller audience but create deeper connections with them. That’s what this is about. (Elliott)