(Intern Journals) Top 5 Most Influential Books in my Life by Women

On Monday, I posted onto our Facebook page a link to an article by The Guardian which listed the 50 most influential books written by women. While I can agree that list is full of novels I have enjoyed reading in the past, not all have been influential in my life. Thus, here are the top 5 most influential books in my life by women (in no particular order):

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
This was one of the first novels I read as a kid. I was an avid reader; I’d hole myself up in my room for hours on end. When I found this novel, I was really excited and surprised that someone would write about fieldworkers and about a Mexican girl. Esperanza Rising tells the story of a rich Mexican girl who is forced to move from her life of luxury living in an Hacienda to the fields of California/Texas when her father dies, and the family (her and her mother) loses all their money to her evil uncle. I had to yet to discover House on Mango Street, so for me Esperanza was the first character I could ever relate to.


The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
I read this novel a couple of years ago in my American Women Writer’s course. The plot structure and Morrison’s use of first person made the book memorable to me, but what really impacted me was the novel’s commentary on beauty and race. The Bluest Eye reflects on how standards of beauty in this country can impact someone’s life, whether it is a young child or a grown man, and how a community’s response to these internalized standards can affect everyone. The Bluest Eye is truly a remarkable novel, and really made me reflect upon my own struggles with my identity and standards of beauty.

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
My first introduction to the genre of magical realism (now one of my favorite genres) was through this novel. Before Allende, I’d never read a novel by a non-American woman or a South American author. The House of the Spirits tells the story of Clara (hey, like me – also the first time I’d seen my name in a novel) and the Trueba family. The novel follows four generations of Truebas and their rise to power, and their resulting downfall during the Chilean revolution. Allende’s novels almost always have a female protagonist, her other works include Eva Luna and Daughter of Fortune.


The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
I spent half of my life reading the Harry Potter series and watching each film. I received my first Harry Potter book on Christmas. The Harry Potter series tells the story of a young boy wizard who is thrown into the middle of an upcoming wizard war, it is a fantastical novel with trolls, dark wizards, moving trees, giant spiders, flying cars, and much more. It’s a bit sad that Joanne Rowling had to use her initials in order to get the series published. It was a large part of my childhood, and I can’t help but get nostalgic every now and then because it introduced me to a new world where I could escape and anything could happen.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
ImageI’ve read and re-read this novel at least three times. The story of Anne is inspiring, and her character is sassy and lively. This novel tells the story of Anne Shirley, an orphan who is sent to live on a farm, and her adventures on the island of Prince Edward. I remember often longing to find my “bosom friend” and my Gilbert Blythe (my first imaginary/fictional love).  

I asked this on our Facebook page, but what are your top 5 most influential books by women?

Between the Lines: Lynn Casteel Harper

Now that you have, hopefully, had a chance to read the full version of Family Fest, Lynn Casteel Harper’s compelling, insightful essay from the Summer 2012 edition of the CALYX Journal, please enjoy this equally thoughtful interview she did about the piece.

Summer 2012 CALYX Journal

“Family Fest” is set during a weekend-long Christian music gathering, which your narrator does not seem to regard highly. What made you choose this backdrop? What effect does it have on the narrator’s perspective?

I actually have some affection for southern gospel music and the groups I’ve come to know over the past few years.  I enjoy, in moderation, the tight harmonies and the un-ironic happiness exuded from stage. But when I found myself immersed in this intensive environment for three days, I simply could not ignore the deeply troubling way the event had merged faith with a particular portrayal of family.  The fact that only certain versions of family were given the microphone—and only these “family stories” could enjoy public narration—got me thinking about all the audience members whose families did not fit the sanctioned narrative.  It got me thinking about my own stories.

The wedding of faith to one kind of family narrative haunted me, particularly as I began to consider my friends (“Melody” and “Justin”) whose theology was similar to the theology represented on stage but for whom these idealized notions of family had shattered in the face of hard realities.  The sacralizing of a particular narration of family does not just happen on the gospel music stage.  My long weekend of immersion in this “Family Fest” family hit this fact home to me.

This piece is often concerned with untold stories, or those which are hidden or ignored because they are uncomfortable. In your opinion, how do untold stories affect their keepers and their subjects? How are they best dealt with?

It’s not that I was hearing untrue stories from the stage; I just sensed how partial the stories were—all happiness and new life and strong faith.  The truth of Melody and Justin’s family life casts an uncomfortable shadow.  It is messy, sad, and confusing, but every bit as real as the testimonials on stage.  And in our culture that has a hard time facing up to finitude, we don’t know what to do with darkness other than hide from it or deny the power of its existence.  But just shutting up about it seems dishonest and serves to reinforce the same sentimentalized stories of family.  If the stories we circulate—both culturally and personally—are only those which are predictable, flattened, simplistic, then what gets lost is a fuller accounting of this life.  What gets lost is the freedom to express a range of experiences—a freedom that can give rise to greater understanding of self and other, greater compassion even.

We are bombarded by narratives of winning, success, overcoming—in the pulpit, popular books, movies, advertisements, talk shows.  It’s an insidious triumphalism.  Untold stories are those that we fear will not be accepted, because they are our stories that don’t have the “right” ending.  It takes courage to tell them, and I don’t recommend telling them unless one is prepared for rejection, especially by those people one loves most.  I recommend some reticence even—not hiding but exercising some discretion about when, where, with whom to share.  I’m actually working on a piece on the importance of reticence, because I think there’s a cultural loss when we don’t balance telling with withholding.  Don’t cast your pearls before swine, but also don’t hold your precious truths under lock and key.  It’s a delicate balance.  I’d be lying if I didn’t share that I have written and agreed to publish “Family Fest” only with much fear and trembling. As a minister and a writer—both professions that require truth-telling, which often means exposing shadow—I assume some vocational hazards.

I think we have to begin to speak and hear and grapple with the truths that neither feel good nor lend themselves to triumphal narratives.  We have to grow up as hearers of difficult truths; we have to learn how to hold messy stories without needing to “fix” them.  Otherwise, we end up swapping superficialities and skimming the surface, never getting to the marrow of life.


There are many different kinds of families represented in “Family Fest”: newlyweds, grown children, worried parents, a pregnant bride, etc. What is it that defines a family? What purpose do families serve in our society?

Our families of origin are those people we didn’t choose but to whom we are tethered, for good or ill.  We grow up within, because of, and despite of them.  We must reckon with them, and they with us.  They perpetually remind us that we cannot escape the complicated negotiations, the blessings and curses of community.  Our families teach us the realities of life lived together; they are the first “society” we navigate.

We all have that one crazy relative that makes our lives look “together” by comparison.  And you think, “There’s no way I’d ever have anything to do with Aunt Tilly if she weren’t part of my family!”  Families often force us to encounter radical difference and to learn how to deal with it.  I think these are good habits to develop—getting used to being thrown together without killing each other, even learning how to love one another.  This is good for democracy and for living in a pluralistic society.

But often times our families become an end in themselves—little sovereign nations—demanding unquestioning allegiance and devotion.  They end up promoting insularity that is more concerned with conformity and “me and mine” than with any other form of devotion or the development of any other relationships.  If my best friend were to die, I would get no bereavement leave from work; if a remote relative dies, I would.  This seems odd to me—our society’s categorical elevation of bloodlines over other kinship ties.

I find it troubling that no family I know fits the sentimentalized, idealized model, and yet we seem to cling so fiercely to its narrative superiority.  Because certain conceptions of family have become so sacralized, it is very hard to offer textured and complicated accounts and definitions of family. Nevertheless, I hold out hope that we can make way for more expansive notions of kinship, when we begin to share more full-bodied and honest renderings of actual familial relationships.

 

As a Baptist minister, how does your faith relate to your writing?

I see writing as an extension of my faith.  I try to listen for the still, small voice within, and to other voices of faith—living and dead, within scripture and without.  And I hope to emerge with something honest.  I have to trust—this is the faith part—that this “something honest” that I’ve given shape to in words on a page might just speak to someone else, to some truth she knew but could not yet communicate.  The act of writing is a spiritual discipline, a practice of attention to what is going on inside of me and outside of me.  I guess you could call it a form of prayer—my way of attempting to connect to a larger life.  I say “attempt,” because writing, like faith, is about approach not arrival.

I hope my writing can increase a sense of possibility and hope in the world—not through avoidance or glossing but by looking hard into it and not turning away.  This is why the cross is such a conflictual source of inspiration for me; it is the constant reminder that I can’t escape the tragic, wherever I find it, in any search for truth.  I can’t ever preach light without holding the dark.

 

Here at CALYX, we love to hear women’s voices stand out. Where do you turn to see new female writers and artists share their stories with the world?

I try to get my hands on new literary magazines as much as possible.  I’m also privileged to be part of a faith community in which women preach almost every Sunday; I am privy to their sermonic artistry weekly.  But, to be perfectly honest, I traffic mostly with the dead these days!  I recently visited Emily Dickinson’s home and had the tremendous experience of standing in the bedroom that incubated her genius.  I’ve felt compelled to turn back to her in recent weeks.  I try to follow threads. For instance, I read a Patricia Hampl essay recently, which lead me to her memoir I Could Tell You Stories, which lead me to reconsider Sylvia Plath and to discover Edith Stein. A recent re-reading of Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm reminded me of the power of a mysticism-tinged, unblinking telling of truth. I am in the middle of the book of Job and love rediscovering how gritty the Bible is.  I’m not sure a more honest grappling with the raw “stuff” of life exists than in Job; innocent suffering, grief, well-meaning but miserable friends—it’s all there.  Some new writers to me aren’t necessarily “new” in the chronological sense.  For instance, I’ve just started reading Adrienne Rich after her recent death.  I am mostly non-systematic in my reading; I simply try to read good writers wherever, in whatever century, I can find them.

***

Lynn Casteel Harper is a Baptist minister serving as an interfaith chaplain at a retirement community in New Jersey. She writes for the religion section of The Huffington Post. Her work is published in shady side review, Freerange Nonfiction’s Freshly Hatched, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, and the Journal of Religion and Abuse.

Diana Simpson, Intern Extraordinaire

A Word on “Family Fest”

 Dear Readers,

Although the staff and volunteers of CALYX take great pride in our careful and sometimes overly nitpicky editorial process (“you want me to do what with that comma?”), we do make mistakes from time to time. We must inform our readers that one such mix-up made it into the printed pages our Summer 2012 issue of CALYX: because of a formatting error, page 52 is missing text from the thoughtful and rich essay “Family Fest” by Lynn Casteel Harper.

This stings a bit because the issue is so lovely–we of course wanted it to be perfect. I’d like to think it’s still one of our best issues (read it for yourself and let us know what you think).

We offer our apologies to both Lynn and to our readers. To read the complete and correct version of “Family Fest,” please click here.

Thank you for your continued support of our little team!

Your (very human) senior editor, Rebecca

Warning: contains beauty, truth, errors.

Between the Lines: Jody Joldersma

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A detail photo of Jody Joldersma’s sculpture, “The Birth of the Homonucli,” is the cover of the Summer 2012 edition of the CALYX Journal. An expanded view of the sculpture is included in the full-color art section inside the issue, alongside more images of her work and the work of other women artists. She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about everything from homonucli to science fiction.

Jody Joldersma


You write on your website about your move to New York, and its basis in your desire to “join the other deviants in NYC.” What compelled your move from New York to Seattle? Is there something about the community of artists in the Northwest that drew you as well? 

My mother was a hippie and most of my family worked with the land in some capacity so a spirit of naturalism and exploration were strong in my youth growing up in Pennsylvania. The west coast symbolized the pioneering spirit to me, a fantasy of untouched nature instead of rivers and forests that were decimated by coal mining, pesticides, and mall culture. The grunge movement and a show called Twin Peaks were big when I was young so the Pacific Northwest created a dreamlike vision that resonated with my artist sensibilities. I didn’t plan to end up in Seattle, after NYC I spent a year in Chicago before continuing my migration west. Seattle boasts a community liberal enough to enjoy the arts while also being small enough for it to be easily accessible.  While the weather can be daunting at times my quest to find ‘deviants’ has definitely been most successful here.

 
The cover art for the Summer 2012 issue of CALYX Journal is a detail photograph of your sculpture, “The Birth of the Homonucli.” I had never heard the term homonucli before, and in researching it have realized it’s kind of a fascinating term. How did you first hear the word, and how did it make its way into the title of this work? Did the title come before or after you made the sculpture?

At the time I needed to do a piece for a January show about origins so I played with the tongue in check idea of a fish giving birth to a world tree. I still wanted another element to complete the concept and something I was reading at the time gave me the idea to add the little men in the tree.  The book discussed the primitive belief people once held that woman had a passive role in fertility- that a fully formed human existed in sperm, which were known as homonuculi, and that women were just ‘planting pots’ for men’s fertility rather than the equal donation we now understand both parties give chromosomally.  I want to say it was Natalie Angier who first introduced me to the term but I can’t be 100% sure of that.

 
 I love your use of found objects in your sculptures, including “The Birth of the Homonucli.” Can you speak to the process that goes into finding and utilizing those objects? Where do you look? How does the idea of re-purposing materials relate to your feminism, if it does?

I check thrift stores, salvage yards, dumpsters, and maintain an array of special objects often given to me that seem viable for future projects. I was quite poor as a child so re-purposing–first to create toys then art–has been a lifetime preoccupation that bought me the world with the only price tag of developing my imagination. In The Birth of the Homonucli for instance I sculpted the fish out of a wire frame which I then covered with Netflix mailers as the ‘skin’ of the animal. The branches were recovered from a yard waste bin, the container the sculpture is in was reclaimed from a salvage store and once was a locker. In our every day lives I think we are often shielded from seeing how much disposable stuff we constantly are both being bombarded with, as well as, help to create. As an artist I seek to balance this problem both in myself and for my viewers.  Ultimately it’s about the responsibility of creation, which has obvious implications for women and feminism.

 

Summer 2012 CALYX Journal

You work in a wide variety of mediums, many of which are showcased in the new journal—what determines whether an inspiration becomes a sculpture or a painting? How does form influence your process and vice versa?

Art is both a very complex form of communication and a simple one. One can share instantly in one visual image what it could take pages to communicate through language. Yet there is no guarantee the viewer will ever understand it. That is the risk of communicating through the visual realm and also the benefit.  Each time I make something as an artist I’m trying to share a piece of information I think will make the world more complete even if it is in some minuscule way. The medium I choose is entirely dependent on how well it will work to communicate my vision and also function within the context of where/how it will be displayed.

 
You mention being inspired by science fiction and since we are an art and literary publication, I’m curious—what science fiction has most inspired you? Are there any books or stories you would recommend to our readers?

There are too many to possibly name. I spent much of my childhood glued to books and it still remains a major part of my life.  As far as sci-fi Dune, Ender’s Game, and many Marion Zimmer-Bradley books were early influences. Octavia Butler, Joanna Russ, and Frances Perkins Gilman (Herland) succeed in transforming the sci-fi/fantasy genre into their own unique visions. Margaret Atwood’s books are all spectacular especially A Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake. Kurt Vonnegut, Ken Kesey, Mary Wollstonecraft, George Bernard Shaw, Shirley Jackson, Andrea Nye, Carol J. Adams, Inga Muscio all functioned for me as crucial deprogrammers.  Edith Wharton, George Sand, Dorothy Parker, Pearl S. Buck, Lynda Barry, Carson McCullers, Truman Capote inspired me in their honest reflections of aspects of life.

***

Jody Joldersma is a fine artist and illustrator based in Seattle, WA. She has a BFA in communication design from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. She has also worked in the art department of New York Magazine and in Chicago for Northwestern University Settlement House integrating art into the classroom. Her sculpture, “The Birth of the Homonucli,” is the cover of the Summer 2012 edition of CALYX Journal.

Kate Frank, Intern Extraordinaire

Between the Lines: Sara Kirschenbaum

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Sara Kirschenbaum’s photograph, “Pears,” can be found in the Winter 2012 edition of CALYX Journal. Here’s what she had to say about everything from photography to feminism to food.

How has your personal visual style evolved throughout the years?

I had a very strong visual inheritance. Both my parents are artists and Bauhaus educated. My mom went to Black Mountain College and my father to the Chicago Institute of Design – both Bauhaus institutions that were started by the exiled faculty of the original Bauhaus in Germany. My artistic task as a young child was to figure out the rhyme or reason for what my parents liked or didn’t like. It is certainly time now for me to find my own taste but I don’t. I love my family’s aesthetics, which embrace things as disparate as a crushed pair of glasses on the street, a child’s drawing, and Yves Klein’s blue. I’ll stick with this particular style, like a family crest.

Sara Kirschenbaum's photo, Pears

Pears by Sara Kirschenbaum
(from the winter 2012 issue of CALYX)



Is there any correlation between what you photograph and what you write?

All my work – in writing, ceramics, drawing and photography – is in the pursuit of truth. I am non-fiction all the way. When I read the NY Times Book Review I don’t even glance at the fiction reviews. I’m not proud of it, but non-fiction is what lights my fire. So when I photograph a pile of pears, I am trying to share what it is I find beautiful or poignant in reality. I am also specifically paying homage to randomness and how adept Mother Nature is at varying and scattering things uniformly: sand, leaves, shadows and pears.

 
What is the most challenging or unexpected photograph you’ve ever taken?

The most challenging photo I’ve taken is of a photograph I found in a pile of papers on my father’s desk. It was a photograph of a dead child. I cradled the curled black and white photograph in my hand and carried it to where my parents were watching TV and asked, “What the hell is this?” My father said, “That’s a little girl I found in the war.”
It turns out that in the Second World War my father and his regiment found a whole arena of dead bodies in Leipzig and he was particularly moved by the corpse of one little girl not even two years old. He went to the trouble of borrowing a fellow soldier’s camera and taking her picture. He somehow got the film developed in the war zone and kept the photo with him throughout the war and then, when he came home, on his desk for the next 65 years.

I wrote an essay about finding this picture and subsequently faced the dilemma as to whether to offer my photo to J Journal, the publication that accepted the essay, and whether to post it on my website along with the essay. I felt a profound allegiance to the girl and her family. It is quite possible that no one survived the German attack who even knew of the girl’s existence. It almost certainly is the only surviving picture or trace of the child. I imagined conversations with the girl’s mother – would she want the world to see her daughter in that state? Was it important for someone somewhere to know she ever existed? In the end the journal decided not to publish the photo and I decided to post it on my website. I felt a tremendous moral responsibility in this decision. The essay and photo can be found here.

Many of your photos involve patterns of food and in nature. Do you have a favorite food to photograph and a favorite location in nature?

I grew up in Chinatown, NYC and I find the best piles of fruit and vegetable there. The streets in Chinatown are filled year-round with street sellers and their wares which they stack with precision. So when visiting NYC I always take photos of strange and wonderful Chinese fruits and veggies. Lychees are perhaps my favorite with their pinkish brown peels. I also like to photograph food at local farmers markets around Portland, Oregon where I live. The pears that I photographed for this magazine were found on the “Fruit Loop” around Mt. Hood. Here is a link to some more food photos.

As to my favorite location in nature to photograph, hands down that has to be nature’s most subtle and nuanced canvas – the beach. I have thousands of photographs of sand and water. Here are links to some sand photos and some water photos.

Do you identify yourself as a feminist and does this view manifest itself in your artistic endeavors?

I am absolutely a feminist. I came of age in the feminist-rich seventies and eighties. I joined a “women’s consciousness raising group” in college. I loved my women’s studies classes. My mother too is a feminist and as a woman artist struggling to gain traction in the male dominated art world of NYC, she marched with protest signs outside prominent galleries that had not a single woman artist represented! My father has feminist inclinations as well. Although he didn’t share the work of raising the kids and keeping house, he fought hard, at the industrial lighting factory where he worked as a designer, to get women in that workplace. Feminism is who I am. And it must manifest in my artistic endeavors although I am not able to extricate the influence.

***

Sara Kirschenbaum is a writer and artist living in Portland, Oregon.  She draws from the model on paper and clay, and takes photographs.   Her work has been shown in Portland and in Switzerland.  She has been published in Fiction International, J Journal, Kalliope, Mothering Magazine, The Oregonian, Poetica, Portland Parent, and Portland Tribune.  She has been a commentator for NPR’s Marketplace and has been published on Salon.com.  She is currently seeking a publisher for her memoir about postpartum OCD.

Caitlyn, Intern Extraordinaire

Between the Lines: Rosa del Duca

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Rosa del Duca’s, “The Script,” can be found in the Winter 2012 edition of the CALYX Journal. I wanted to find out more about this engaging author and how her story took its shape. 

Rosa del Duca

Some people think that the military is not an ideal environment for fostering creativity. What was your experience in the military like in terms of the influence it had/has on your writing? Did you do much writing while you were active? How has your writing evolved since then?

I’d have to agree that the military is not an ideal environment for fostering creativity.  I wasn’t very creative while in the National Guard.  Part of it was because I was a full-time student and working part time in addition to drill.  And it was partly due to the fact that being a soldier, especially at first, is all about conforming, doing what you’re told, keeping your mouth shut, and playing by the rules. The rigidity bleeds over into civilian life.  I remember coming back to classes at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo a few days after completing my AIT job training.  For at least a week I couldn’t help but stand at parade rest when speaking to my professors, and answer all their questions with a “ma’am” or “sir.” It was automatic.

Writing was a passion of mine before I joined the Guard.  And once I got out and gained some much-needed distance, writing about my military experience was cathartic—still is cathartic.  I’m working on a full length Army memoir because I still feel this searing need to explain myself. It’s all wrapped up in the guilt and anger and shame I feel from joining at 17 and then declaring myself a conscientious objector four years later.

I don’t know that the military has influenced my writing.  It’s just given me a glimpse inside a culture that many Americans aren’t privy to. And because I feel like I was somewhat exploited, being held to a six-year contract when I was just 17, I feel like it’s my responsibility to inform other young people who are thinking about doing the same thing.  There was so much I didn’t know.  There was so much I wasn’t prepared for.  A lot of it has to do with the fact that I joined before 9/11, but another time like that will come.  Another 17 year old country girl will think the Guard is a responsible and mature way to pay for college.  She’ll think she has it all figured out.  I hope she waits a year or two or three before signing her name.

In “The Script”, as the men are being punished on the CAT 5 day, you say, “I didn’t want to be spared just because of my sex” ; in your military experience, did you find that you had to work harder as a woman to gain respect from your peers and authority figures?

There’s this strange dichotomy women in the military have to work out for themselves. How much do you want to be seen as a man, and how much as a woman? You are supposed to be seen as a man. Your uniform is exactly the same as a man’s, so you have the shape of a man. You are reprimanded for standing with one hip out or walking “like a girl.” Make-up and nail polish are banned.  Well, I’ve heard nail polish is allowed in earth tones, but I’ve only seen a few drill sergeants wear it. Displays of emotion are ridiculed. You are expected to imitate a man in every way, and when a hint of femininity slips out, try your best to cover it back up. Once, in the chow hall at boot camp, right before I’d dumped my tray, a drill sergeant blocked my way to the trash bins. He asked me if I was wearing lipstick. Of course I wasn’t, and told him so. He made me wipe my mouth with a napkin as proof and show him my clear chap stick before he would let me go.

It goes beyond just wanting you to be as physically and emotionally strong as a man. I can only assume the same motivation was behind the drill sergeants walking in the female barracks one day, examining all our faces, and then punishing those whose eyebrows looked like they had been plucked.

That’s what burns. The impression that any and all feminine traits are flaws to be corrected. Because you do want to be strong and impervious and equal, but you also want to feel accepted as a woman. And recognized as a woman. Recognized by the men you’re training with. So there’s this constant tight rope walk, this constant gauging and censoring and monitoring. While half of you wants to blend in, to pull your weight, to prove yourself as unemotional as the guys, half of you wants to reclaim your femininity, to still look pretty somehow, to flirt (after all, you are surrounded by hot, fit guys), and to feel justified in feeling and showing those feelings. You’re only human.

Tipping the balance either way can ruin you for the rest of the training cycle. Play it too tomboy, and the guys will see you as one of them, which can be thrilling and rewarding, but can also make you feel like shit when they crack comments like, “I don’t trust anything that can bleed for a week and not die.” Or when they start talking about the flavor of their girlfriends’ pussies or what girls from other platoons they’d like to fuck while you’re just standing there, staring at the ground, willing them to remember that you’re a woman. Play it too feminine, or get romantically involved, and you can be seen as a weak link, a stupid “chick,” or some kind of slut who deserves to be fantasized about by a group of guys.

Winter 2012 CALYX Journal

Do you have a particular creative process when it comes to writing fiction and creative nonfiction? Are those processes different from one another, and, if so, how?

Writing fiction is very different from writing nonfiction for me.  My Army story really is like this little animal, trying to claw its way out whenever I start a new essay.  To get inspired, I reread partial journals I kept while I was in the Guard.  I also have a stack of letters people wrote to me while I was away at training, copies of letters I wrote back, a few pictures, and a copy of my conscientious objector packet.  I like to let the weight of what I was feeling, (trapped, depressed, alone, disgusted, guilty, exhausted) settle back on to my shoulders.  It always works to inspire me to either write something new or revise something I’ve already started.  But it often leaves me in a funk and I don’t think I’m very fun to be around when I’m working on nonfiction.

Fiction is completely different.  I feel a huge sense of freedom, especially when I hit a rough spot. If something isn’t working, I can make plot/character/setting/theme changes much more easily.  And it’s liberating to make up all the details, or rely on research instead of racking my brain for scraps of memory.  Nonfiction feels confining comparatively, but then again, I’m more driven, focused and passionate when I write nonfiction because it’s so close and personal and raw.  Maybe it’s because of the safety of the fictional world that I tend to work on my novel and short stories more.  Hmmm, I should really do something about that.

Your biography says you are also a songwriter. How has music influenced your writing and vice versa? Who are some of your musical influences?

I’m influenced by a lot of the original folk musicians, including Neil Young, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, and Bob Dylan, but the new wave of folk rockers too, including M. Ward, My Morning Jacket, Iron and Wine, The Dirty Projectors, and Bon Iver.

Some of my most favorite songs are songs that tell stories. For instance, Dylan’s The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.  And I’ve come to learn that I’m most satisfied with my songs that are driven by narrative. Whether it’s fully reflected in the lyrics or not, most of my songs are little stories in my head.

I started a band this past year called The Eiders. One of the songs on our demo is (in my head) the story of a political science major who goes to Madison Wisconsin in the spring of 2011 as some kind of aide to Governor Walker.  He arrives all idealistic and ready to be engaged and do great things, but as the protests escalate and the political stonewalling intensifies, he grows disillusioned. He ends up going back home and telling everyone little white lies about where he went, and what he was doing the past few months.

The story grew out of me sitting and thinking about the rhythm and tone and progression of the song.  Our lead guitar player usually makes up the music and I write to it. By soaking in the emotional undertone of the music, a story or idea usually buds. And then comes the hard part—choosing just a few words to convey the emotion of that story, and then matching a melody to those words to capture the right feel.

There’s a song on the demo that’s Army inspired too, about the Forth of July at Ft. Lee, Virginia. So I suppose even in songwriting I do a mix of fiction and nonfiction.  If you’d like to hear the songs you can find them at: http://theeiders.bandcamp.com/.

Do you have any words of wisdom for women who are looking to establish themselves as writers?

What a flattering question!  I don’t consider myself “established” yet, but this is what I’d suggest for writers looking for that first publication: Write, revise, share, revise, share, revise, edit, edit, edit, and then submit like crazy.  On a more practical note, something that really helped me when I was ready to start submitting to literary magazines was the Literary Database.  It’s basically a spreadsheet of hundreds of lit mags with some useful facts about each one.  For me, it was worth the small fee. Duotrope is a free online resource that works the same way.

***

Rosa del Duca is from Montana, but now lives in Northern California. She divides her time between teaching at San Jose State University, producing at NBC Bay Area, and writing fiction, non-fiction, and songs. Her work has been published in Cutbank, Grain, and River Teeth. Her creative non-fiction piece, “The Script,” is published in the Winter 2012 edition of CALYX.

Christina, Intern Extraordinaire

2012 Lois Prize: What good are contests anyway?

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With the start of the 2012 Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize reading period, I’ve been thinking a lot about why people submit (or should submit) to literary contests. I recently had a conversation with a friend that went something like this:

Me: Hey friend who is also a poet. You should submit to the 2012 Lois Prize. It’s great. Emily Warn is our judge and she’s, like, amazing.

Poet Friend: Is there a reading fee?

Me: Yep, it’s $15 and 100% of the fee goes to produce our 2012-2013 CALYX Journals. You can be part of the magic!

Poet Friend: $15!! You must think I’m made of money. Only my poems are pure gold! You’re no friend of mine–get lost!

(Okay well the conversation didn’t really end like that, but you get the idea).

Sound familiar? Given the tiny budgets of most literary magazines, recent cuts to arts-related funding, and the fiercly competitive publishing scene today, it probably does. Lost of magazines have contests and they do it both to support themselves and also to promote the work of the best new writers. Lots of writers submit to contests. Lots of them don’t (or can’t).

While it’s true that submitting to contests take an investment on the part of the writer, the benefits are great. Here’s a few that come to mind when I think about CALYX’s prize:

  1. You stand to receive critical attention from a great poet. This is a way that your writing can be taken seriously and your talent can be recognized by someone who knows great writing. In this case, it’s Emily Warn (big time Copper Canyon Press poet and co-founding editor of poetryfoundation.org…don’t tell me you don’t look at that site every day like I do…). If she picks your poem as the winner, I bet you’ll feel pretty great.
  2. You could win $300 cash. It’s true that this isn’t the biggest prize out there today, but we also get fewer submissions than, say, the $1,000 or $10,000 contests that you might hear about. What it comes down to is that someone is going to win that check for their writing—why shouldn’t it be you?
  3. Your reading fee goes to support CALYX’s production costs. This is a way that you can support our mission and our magazine while you get something in return—attention poured lovingly over your poem, the eyes of our judge, and potentially publication and a cash prize.
  4. Every US contestant gets a free issue of the journal in thanks for submitting. That’s a $10 value. And who doesn’t love getting something in the mail?
  5. It’s fun? Haven’t you ever submitted to contests before? I once won a pair of sweet yellow sunglasses just from entering a contest through my favorite cartoon program…contests exist because people like to see if they’ll win something.
  6. It’s a good way to professionalize your writing and take yourself seriously as a poet. Just like sending work out regularly for publication, it’s a good habit to get into the practice of submitting to contests run by journals and presses that you admire.

There you have it. You can even save yourself the paper and stamps by submitting online this year. Thanks for your support of our contest–if you want more information about our contest, you can read more about it here.

My Favorite Conversation at AWP (or “why I love submissions that make us snarl”)

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ImageIf you couldn’t tell from our snarky twitter tags (#nooneputsbabyinthecorner), the CALYX table this year at AWP was on the polar icecap of planet book fair. Despite our distance from the hustle and bustle of the central corridors (or perhaps because of it) we still had a great turn-out at the table: authors stopping by to say hello, new writers who were unfamiliar with our journal, old friends, new readers. All of them were happy to chat about CALYX and hear about the new staff’s plan for the coming years.

My favorite experience meeting someone takes a bit of set-up to explain properly. It started on Thursday when I went to a great panel hosted by VIDA called “Troubling the Label: When Does a Text Become Feminist?” This panel addressed so many of the issues and questions that we talk about around the CALYX editorial table—how do we consider a piece of writing “feminist”?  Do we as gatekeepers/editors have the right to judge writing as feminist or not—or is that better left to our readers? How do labels like “art and literature by women” exclude gender-queer individuals?

One of the panelists brought up an interesting point—that journals must define themselves as feminist not only through the work they publish, but also through how they conduct themselves as an organization.

As a CALYX editor, this made me twitterpated with pride. Since 1976, we’ve been practicing collective, non-hierarchical decision-making. Rather than a top-down process with a famous guest editor or a graduate student round-up, CALYX reads its “slush pile” (is it okay that I cringe when I say that? even if work isn’t right for us, I hate to say that someone’s creative effort is like dirty snow) collaboratively—every piece of work that comes to the journal is looked at and voted on by two readers.

If the two readers feel that there’s promise in the work, the piece is held and sent to the editorial collective, a group of six editors from different ages, cultural and educational backgrounds, and aesthetic tastes (not exactly like this). We usually “hold” about 15% of all work received. Our editorial collective then reads—and discusses every piece. We argue, we debate, we stand up for our own unique taste and what moves us as readers—and we end up with a journal that speaks to many different women with tastes as diverse as ours.

One of our recent disagreements was over some poems from a young queer-identified writer. Half of the editors loved her work—found it funny, fresh, and sharply written. These poems didn’t resonate with the other editors. This split may have been a generational gap, it may have been an aesthetic disagreement, I’m not sure. We’re all taking more time to think about the poems and we’ll talk about them again next week.

And during AWP, this particular poet came to our table to introduce herself. I was so excited to meet her—not only because I have a crush on her poems, but because she put a human face on the whole controversy.

What it comes down to is that even if we decide (as a group) that her poems don’t fit with us, I’m grateful for the chance to have read her poems and for the conversations that she sparked. “Rejection” can be a hard word to swallow, but at CALYX it can be even more complicated. When editors agree that they must reach a fair consensus, sometimes writers fall victim to the compromises we make as a group. Sometimes we miss out on great work because we can’t make an agreement—but we always end up with a diverse group of writers and styles in the work that we do publish.

I love being an editor because I love reading. As senior editor (and the leader of the editorial posse), I’m especially excited when we get submissions that challenge our assumptions about what is art or poetry or what makes a story “good.” I love discussing work around the table that makes us snarl a little bit—if the writing forces us to have a meaty conversation, I can guarantee that it does the same for our readers.

-Rebecca Olson

How CALYX Celebrates Valentine’s Day: Poems, Chocolates, and Deals for our Readers!

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Dear CALYX readers,

Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. For some, this means a candlelit dinner. For others, it means Chinese takeout and sappy romantic chick flicks. CALYX, on the other hand, would like to share the love by giving our readers some great deals.

The poems in Idleness Is the Root of All Love by Christa Reinig, translated by Ilze Mueller, tell a love story of two older lesbians throughout the course of a year. Written in journal form, the prize-winning German poet Christa Reinig passionately, humorously, and critically discusses her love, dreams, and fears. To celebrate the holiday, you can now purchase Idleness Is the Root of All Love and a box of Bursts Chocolates for just $16.95, or the book separately for $6.00. This is a great gift for a friend, a lover, or for that special someone-yourself.

If you would like to purchase Idleness Is the Root of All Love and a box of Bursts Chocolates, please visit http://www.calyxpress.org/ValentineBookSpecial.html.

Here are some poems from Idleness Is the Root of All Love to get you in the Valentine’s Day mood:

April

20 Thursday       It’s lovely touching

in cotton shirts

lovelier still in silken shirts

loveliest skin to skin

23 Sunday           As we eat artichokes

our plates get fuller and fuller

we love each other

more and more every day

24 Monday         Everything tastes

like biting into paper

if you’re not there

to enjoy it with me

25 Tuesday         I close my eyes

and you are there

I open my eyes

and you are there

26 Wednesday   (Two old cars at the junkyard):

If we weren’t such wrecks

we wouldn’t have hit it off with each

other

so well

(Pages 30-32)

The Start of Something Good

Greetings CALYX readers!

First and foremost, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Ann Grimm, and I am the new intern for CALYX. As a budding feminist with a background in journalism, CALYX will allow me to pursue my passion in feminist press.

I am finishing up my Journalism major and Women and Gender Studies minor at the University of Oregon (sorry Beaver fans). I believe that home is where the heart is, and for this gal it’s in the northwest. Despite spending my adolescent and awkward teenage years in Denville, New Jersey, my roots have always been grounded in Seattle where my family now resides.

In the last three and a half years at the University of Oregon, I have acquired a close-knit social circle thanks to my Delta Gamma sorority and intramural basketball memberships. I have found that my passion for women’s studies leads to many fervent discussions within these circles, which often leave my friends questioning the societal norms. Sometimes they are thankful I spark these conversations, and other times they find it outright annoying. Either way, I’ll never stop.

Much of this passion (along with my bookworm tendencies) is a large reason why I am so ecstatic to be interning with CALYX. Their mission embodies my core values by continuously publishing diverse literature from an array of women writers and artists. In doing this, CALYX provides readers and society a chance to recognize different abilities and viewpoints that would otherwise go unpublished and unnoticed.

And now, I get to be a part of it!

Ann Grimm

CALYX intern.

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