Featured Bookmarks: The Literary

Featured Bookmarks: The Literary

December 2018

By DeWitt Henry, Literary Bookmarks Editor

Monthly link highlights to online resources, magazines, and author sites that seem informative and inspiring for working writers. Most are free. Suggestions are welcomed.

The Best of the Net

Front banner of the Best of the Net 2017 website

An online annual, The Best of the Net was begun by Erin Elizabeth Smith in 2006 to recognize and promote the “best” of online publications and to supplement (and rival) the best of print annuals from Houghton Mifflin, the Pushcart Prize, the O’Henry Awards, and the Best American Nonrequired Reading, none of which—still!—appear to fully regard the literary Net as an “innovative and continually expanding medium.” The latest edition includes work published online in 2017, and the best of 2018 (submissions closed in September) will appear in Spring 2019.  Pointedly, Smith avoids print for the anthology itself.

Assisted by a Managing Editor, and with different trios of guest judges each year, she follows a democratic procedure similar to that of the Pushcart Prize. Editors of online publications or authors themselves may submit stories, essays, and poetry published online between July 1 and June 30. Submissions must have originally appeared online. Journals and presses may include up to six poems, two stories, and two works of creative nonfiction; while individuals may send no more than two pieces. All participating journals, presses, or individuals receive a link from the site when the issue is released; and a complete list of finalists is also published.

Screened finalists are submitted to the guest judges, who are published writers with ties to the non-print universe. Some nine so far have been writers I recognize and admire—including Kazim Ali, Kathy Fagan, Michael Martone, Marilyn Kallet, John McManus, Lee Martin, Erin Belieu, and Dorianne Laux, but most are new to me. Yet all are well credentialed. 

The result for 274 submitting journals and presses in 2017 was three winning stories out of eighteen finalists (judged by Gabino Iglesias), three winning essays out of eight (judged by Nicole Walker), and sixteen winning poems out of thirty-one (judged by Eduardo C. Corral): not a door-stop compendium, but more like a single issue of a well-edited magazine.

Jennifer Lynn Christie’s “Alien Love” from Atticus Review, 2017’s first-prize story, is a gothic story of a needy and perhaps deranged teenage boy’s sexual awakening first by being touched by a female octopus in an aquarium and then by a co-worker, a divorcee with a six-year-old son. The story’s bizarre, surreal imagery and action leads to the teenager’s rejection, and to his chilling, poignant “alienation” and possible crimes. Poe meets Roald Dahl. The nonfiction first prize is Whitney Egstad’s “The Evolution of a Trigger” from The Rumpus, a powerful account of a female rape victim’s lifelong trauma, her ambivalence toward her father and later her husband—centered on their pride in guns—and her fears for her daughter. The sixteen poems presumably share first prize and also share a rawness of social protest: “they can’t kill us/ until they kills us./ They can’t kill us” (Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib from The Rumpus); “a country with 180,000 orphans,/the irony of barbed wire” (Roy G. Guzman from Jet Fuel Review); “Under my arms, / I held two countries, the taste of their mud/ exactly the same” (L.S. McKee from Madcap Review).

Among these winners, there appear no ventures into mixed-media. and the anthology site itself deserves more elaborate graphics and design, since such features are typical advantages of the “expanding medium.” Otherwise, this is a generous and essential annual, and may help open the pages of the print anthologies to more online publications and writers; as well as introducing online publications and writers to a wider online audience.

Speculative Nonfiction

A grey-blue background with "Speculative Nonfiction" written layered in white

This startup promises to become a prominent addition to the creative nonfiction field. Founding editors Robin Hemley (author of twelve books) and Leila Philip (author of four books) first called attention to the term “speculative nonfiction” at two recent panels at AWP conferences, followed by further discussions at the NonfictioNOW conference (founded by Hemley in 2005, and billed as “the leading international conference for literary nonfiction”). Apparently, the term has acquired enough buzz that Grub Street in Boston now offers a workshop devoted to it. Several years ago, similar buzz was generated by editor/critic John D’Agata around the term “lyric essay,” in an effort to expand the rigid categories of journalistic writing, personal narratives, memoir, and academic essays. Both in their written manifesto and a podcast interview about the start-up, Hemley and Philip aim to “create an arena of conversation” about the imaginative properties of “fact” and to resist “lopping off a genre just where it gets interesting.” Hemley cites the example of the moth in Virginia Woolf’s “Death of a Moth,” which serves a symbol, whether or not there was a literal moth. Philip cites Emerson’s “transparent eyeball” and the Transcendentalists’ search for spiritual values in the facts of a landscape.

For the pilot issue, they solicited essays from their Advisory Board and Contributing Editors (consisting mostly of well-known authors, teachers, and editors of established literary magazines and presses). “The range of submissions exceeded our expectations,” they write, “as did the creative bold ways each writer responded to our call to action to explore the ‘speculative’ in nonfiction; essay after essay reflects a vital core of creative excitement and discovery.”

They subtitle the issue, “Beyond Truth vs. Fiction” (implying that each issue will have its own sub-topic). The essays range from Margo Jefferson’s consideration of African-American musicians’ sweat vs. perspiration vs. diaphoresis to Lina Ferreira’s account of trying to deny the agony of a blown knee. From Lia Purpura’s compound metaphors in “Walk with Snowy Things,” to Inara Verzemnieks’s imagined thoughts of a ninety-one-year-old man in “What We Have Lost Because We Did Not Know To Ask.” From David Shields’s ending a series of one-line questions with a riff on speculative and speculum, to Ander Monson’s projection into the character Blain in the film Predator and then into Jesse Ventura, the actor who played the character.

My two favorites are shrewdly comic.  Jerald Walker’s essay, “Advice For An Honorable Man,” is a hilarious account of what might have happened to the writer as a black professor on a train trip; sitting beside a sleeping white woman, he accidentally drops his pencil and it rolls to rest under the woman’s buttock. He then imagines the catastrophes of misunderstanding that could result should she wake up as he tries to retrieve it. Xu Xi’s multi-layered satire “A Brief History of Deficit, Disquiet & Disbelief by 飛蚊FeiMan” verges on science fiction while talking back to Jonathan Swift, “as all post -colonial -historical -national -reality writers from Asia should feel compelled to do.” Xu Xi imagines a recently published found ms. that describes the demise of a respected journal published on a floating island between China and Japan, where Gulliver has travelled and sired a mixed race.

Unsolicited submissions will be considered between 3/15–5/5 for an issue scheduled for mid-2019. More detailed guidelines TBA in January, possibly with a new sub-topic. Previously published work will be considered. They also plan to publish “speculative” book reviews. There is no mention of payment.

On the Sea Wall

Dark grey background with the logo for "On the Seawall" in whiteRon Slate, a highly regarded, award-winning poet (see here), decided in 2007 to convert what had been his professional blog to a “regularly refreshed book review site.” Hence On the Sea Wall was born. In the Spring of 2018, he redesigned and relaunched the site as “a community gallery” that can “accommodate diverse commentary, new writing across genres, and art…the site will present and discuss poetry, innovative fiction, literature in translation, and cultural discussion via essays and reviews.” He is aided by contributing editors: Daisy Fried, Tarfia Faizullah, Dean Rader, Kyle Dargan, Elaine Sexton, Mark Athitakis, Lisa Russ Spaar, Victoria Chang, Kimberly Grey, Philip Metres, David Roderick, Airea Matthews, and Jonathan Farmer.

The home page offers an attractively boxed and dated feature, and a quilt-like array of smaller boxed past features with headings by color-coded category: purple for Fiction, Poetry, and Essay; maroon for Commentary. Each framed box is also illustrated by an author photo or cover image, and has white type against a gray background. A contributor’s note is included at the end of each work. The site is structured to engage and encourage more reading, from item to item. Click on one poem, and at the end appears a choice for “previous” or “next,” or a “more to consider” column, which takes you, perhaps to a review. At present the home page offers twenty-one items, which are recycled on the other pages, dated in October and November. New items appear and accumulate by date. Segregated pages for Commentary and for Writing open from the tabs at the top, and an “older” tab at the bottom leads to items dating back to earlier months. There is a search tab, but no archive list as yet.

Recent poets include Randall Mann, Robert Wrigley, John Yau, Stuart Dischell, Leah Umansky, Kristen Tracy, Andrea Cohen, Shane McCrae and Carl Phillips; fiction writers Adrianne Harun, Maria Mitsora (translated from the Greek); essayists Gary Fincke and, Nichole LeFebvre. The reviews include Dean Rader on Natashe Trethewey’s poems: “They engage faith. But most of all, they empower language to articulate that which we choose not to say or can’t say. They speak for those who will not or cannot speak for themselves.” And: “Trethewey’s poems seek to re-center the marginalized. In fact, Trethewey has spent her career writing poems about people who do not normally appear in poems.” Slate himself reviews essays by Terrance Hayes. The mix is perceptive, sophisticated, and urgent—in keeping with the sea wall as a stay against the flood, “communal and/or personal.”

Subscriptions are free via RSS and email. Submissions of “original or translated writing” are welcome (poetry, short fiction, essay, text and image, cross-genre) and are promised a fast response: “No one should have to wait six months for an editor to stop tweeting and read her/his submissions.” Slate also warns that he may offer suggestions. “Editors are people who help writers improve their work for publication.” Writers of commentary and reviews should query before sending.

Copyright 2018 Woven Tale Press LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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