Voices of CALYX on the horizon

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Olivia Awbrey


2016 is a big year for CALYX. Not only is Oregon State University receiving a mega grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to e-publish texts originally from CALYX, and not only is it the journal’s 40th ANNIVERSARY, but we are also launching our audio archive, Voices of CALYX! The name is still undergoing review, but whatever it’s going to be called, I’m very excited to start the series.

Over the past 3 months I’ve received more than 50 recordings of our authors reading their work in a live setting, with more pouring in each day. I’ve had the privilege of listening to these recordings for the first time, which has given me a sense of our authors’ wide array of talent and style and voice. The point of the project is to allow authors to lend their voices to their original work and read it the way they intended their piece to sound. Having read many of the poems prior to listening to them, I was often surprised – and pleasantly so – to find that how I originally imagined a poem or a short story to sound was quite different from what the author intended.

With the holidays right around the corner, and with many of us traveling and escaping the buzz of computers and the internet for the next few weeks, we’ve decided to start the series on January 1st, 2016. This gives me some extra time to finish up any audio touch-ups, make any last edits to your bio and answer sections, and also figure out a more pleasing aesthetic display of the archive. We’ll be releasing recordings one at a time in no specific order, but when your piece goes up you’ll be hearing from me!

I would also like to invite you all to send in a picture of yourself to be featured with your recording! If you decide you would like to do that, just send a .jpg to the same email you’ve been sending your recordings to.

This project has been so much fun, and I’m so happy with how it’s as turned out so far. Once it’s up in the new year, I invite you all to listen to your own piece, as well as the pieces of your fellow CALYX authors!

Empowering Women through Education and Creativity in Batey Lechería


Olivia Awbrey

A couple of weeks ago I got to Skype with the women who founded Project Girl, the Dominican Republic-based, student-led initiative that aims to foster a safe sense of community and educational support for young girls and teenage girls living in the batey Lechería, an impoverished community resting on the south side of the Caribbean island. I chose the term “women” because, despite the fact that Sara, Jahaan, Luisa and Andrea are only just about to finish up their last year of high school, they have already, in a very sincere way, grown up to be impacting and contagiously confident women.

I spoke with them in the midst of their objectively busy schedules: all of them are finishing up their last year of high school, applying for colleges in the United States and the Dominican Republic, partaking in music leadership programs and volunteerism, leading robotics teams, all the while interviewing upcoming high school seniors to take their place in the directors roles for Project Girl. But beyond their extracurricular activities, they all agree that what brings them together is their shared passion for feminism, social justice, and creating sustainable programs that work towards equity. These principled forces, combined with what seems like their indefatigable ability to be giggling vessels of energy, are what drive Project Girl.

Sara, the director and lead-founder, says that Project Girl was an idea she’d been mulling over since she was in 8th grade. “In 2005,” Sara says, “there was a huge tropical storm [Tropical Storm Alpha] that hit near batey Lechería. My mother, who is a social worker, went there after the storm to donate milk and other items that the people there needed.” In the aftermath of the storm, which caused 17 deaths, Sara says is when she was first visited the batey Lechería. “And then in July 2014,” Sara says, “I spent the summer working with my mom on projects for women in the batey, and that’s when I realized I wanted to start a relief project for girls my age, for girls who were going through the same phases as me.”

Project Girl organizes self-esteem boosting workshops, sexual education classes, team-building exercises, and a summer camp for young girls who live in batey Lechería, and the goal of the campaign is to create a sustainable girls empowerment program within the batey, helping to lift young girls out of poverty through education and self-affirmation.

Bateys are small, densely populated communities of low-income families, many of whom are descendants of Haitian immigrants who have lived there since their relatives immigrated in generations past. Originally, bateys were communities of families who worked on the sugarcane fields. Since the 90s, however, many of the sugarcane fields have shut down, putting hundreds of families out of work and further marginalizing them. Luisa, Project Girls’ secretary and a native of the Dominican Republic, says it’s important to note that the residents in bateys largely identify with a Dominican upbringing.

Sara spent the fall of 2014 visiting the batey every weekend, meeting girls and putting together the numbers that motivated the project’s beginning. Sara found that out of the 1,360 residents in batey Lechería, 47 of them were women between the ages of 19 and 24 who had dropped out of school due to pregnancy. Sara also found that of the 105 girls who were aged 12-18, 13 of them were pregnant or mothers.

What’s striking about these figures is not necessarily that young women are becoming mothers at an earlier age than women in other countries, but that young women who are pregnant often have to replace education with motherhood. From my understanding of Project Girl, it isn’t necessarily that being pregnant is bad, but more the issue that earlier pregnancies change the direction of young women’s lives, altering future opportunities for education and fair placement in the workforce.

Project Girl is fighting gender norms in a big way in the Dominican Republic, a country in which machismo is normalized and often praised. The girls said that one of the most difficult workshops to lead was their “gender norms” workshop specifically for boys and young men in the batey. Sara said the workshop was “chaotic, initially.” “We brought one of our male classmates to the workshop to help relate to the boys,” Sara said, and Luisa and Andrea explained that it was difficult to earn the boys’ respect and attention despite being the leaders of the workshop.

Luisa and Andrea, both of whom grew up near batey Lechería, said that the hardest thing to break through was the machismo attitude they’d been surrounded by their whole lives. When they asked their male audience if a women could be the president of the Dominican Republic, the boys answered with an affirmative no. 

It wasn’t that they didn’t think [a woman] could be president,” Luisa said, “ it’s that they think women would be eaten alive by male politicians. The boys don’t think that women are lesser than, but they believe that women shouldn’t be messing with gender roles because of this strong machismo attitude.” Andrea followed up by saying that the experience was eye opening for them, and that “having a workshop with the boys helped to eliminate the notions that Dominican boys have of Dominican girls.”

Given all the workshops Project Girl has led over the past year, this powerful quartet agreed that the summer camp has been the best part of their initiative so far. The camp is open registration, and set in a community education space. The camp focuses on fostering open communication about gender, women’s empowerment and self-image. They work on team-building through dodgeball and soccer activities, which help to create a trustworthy space for supportive discussions about sexual education. At the end of the camp, the girls receive a diploma for having participating in the camp and the summer-time activities.

Earlier this year, the quartet presented their project at the Global Issues Network Conference in Rio de Janiero to a room full of eager listeners and global student activists – a major accomplishment for a project that began a little more than one year ago. It’s clear that Sara, Jahaan, Andrea and Luisa hope to see Project Girl – now a club of their school – continue on for years to come, providing a strong safety net for girls growing up in low-income communities who have less access to educational and economic resources.

When I asked the founders of Project Girl what kinds of changes they’ve seen since they started Project Girl as a club at the school, Andrea said, “It’s common to make the changes more dramatic than they are. It’s a long, difficult process, that’s why we want it to start as a club – so it will keep going.” It’s true, changing engrained gender norms and perspectives takes centuries of re-education and social development, at both a small and large scale. It’s clear that Project Girl began with a far-sighted vision to make small transformations within their local community. Luisa added, “there is change. It’s small and its subtle, but it’s enough for some girls to recognize how important [gender norms, education and self-empowerment] is; all of these issues are so engrained in [our] lives; I believe it was a enough for some of them.”

If you’re interested in supporting Project Girl, you can get in touch via their website: http://projectgirldr.tumblr.com/ or check out their Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/projectgirldr/) for updates on their ongoing workshops and projects in batey Lechería!



Getting to Zero

Alicia Bublitz

I walked out of the house today wearing plaid pants and a cape (ask anyone at the office, I’m the wacky style one). As I was driving to CALYX I realized I look like a young(er) Professor McGonagall. Well, I could use a bit of magic and her steely determination today because I have decided the time has come: It is time to clean out my e-mail.

Book people (surprise, surprise) use a lot of words, and I inherited even more of them—I spent the first almost year on the job terrified of deleting anything because I didn’t know what I would need in the future. However, the time is here. Sure, I’m just archiving a lot of stuff rather than sorting it, but hey, if you e-mailed me in 2013 and I didn’t get back to you, sorry; I was really new and probably didn’t know the answer anyway.

It may be a procrastination technique, but I maintain it is also a productivity technique—a clean inbox, like a clean kitchen, is something you can look forward to coming home to. Rather than dreading opening my inbox, tomorrow I hope to feel a little less gut sinking panic at the log-in page. My to-do list, well, we’ll talk about that some other time.

So here’s to accomplishing a New Year’s resolution either early or really, really (embarrassingly) late!


(you may not be able to tell here, but I’m usually the totally overdressed one)


Project Girl – Batey Lechería

imageHello Calyx blog readers! This is Olivia, one of CALYX’s interns. My first blog post is a prelude to a longer interview that will be up next week. It’s about Project Girl, a student-led initiative in the Dominican Republic focused on breaking the cycle of poverty for young girls in the DR through educational workshops and community-building activities.

Built on a mutual passion for education, feminism, and equity, Sara, Jahaan, Andrea, and Luisa have been hard at work expanding opportunities for young girls in Batey Lechería through a curriculum they developed based on their own experiences growing up in a country where women are not always encouraged to finish school.

A longer interview with this fem-quartet is forthcoming! We’ll cover the history of Project Girl, and give a look into the kind of work they have been able to do in areas of high need in Batey Lechería concerning girl’s and women’s education. Until then, you can check out Project Girl DR’s website.



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Our readers are just racing along through the current submissions this period, and we are already finding a lot of material that we want to send to the Editorial Collective for further discussion. I’m sending out preliminary notices a little early this year, so here are some things to consider if you receive a “held” message.

Once a held submission is discussed (any time between January and April), you may receive any of the following responses: Revise and Resubmit, Conditional AcceptanceAcceptance, and Decline. Here’s how to unpack that:

  • If you receive feedback that encourages you to “revise and resubmit” a piece, it is because the editors believe that small or substantial changes would make it a good fit for CALYX, but that it isn’t right for CALYX in its current form. If you do choose to revise and resubmit, please take the suggestions seriously. If the suggested revisions are ignored, our editors will likely not select it again.
  • If you were held a previous year, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be held again. The decision process is a fluid, organic thing, which can be frustrating. If you received a “revise and resubmit” notice last year, efforts will be made to consider it in light of the changes that have been made.
  • If you receive a notice that declines your submission but encourages you to submit again, please note that such a suggestion is quite sincere. Anyone held for the final round has been positively considered by at least two readers, and even if you weren’t selected this round, we find your work compelling.
  • If you receive a conditional acceptance, there will be small changes required before we publish your piece. If you choose not to make those changes, you may withdraw the piece at any time.
  • If you receive an acceptance, please take note that we accept material for two issues during this period. The work accepted for this round will be published over two volumes (29:3 and 30:1) in 2017.
  • If you’re a poet, we may not be holding all of your poems. We allow up to six poems per submission, so it’s possible that we’ll hold and discuss as few as one or as many as all of them. If you’d like confirmation of which poems are held, you can always email me at editor@calyxpress.org.

This is just the first waves of notices, so remember to keep submitting! We’re open until December 31, and we’ll be reading and responding steadily through March.

CALYX Open Submission Timeline


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CALYX is currently accepting poetry and prose through December 31. Our readers have already started on the initial submissions, so now seems like a good time to lay out the timeline for this submission period and what the writers can look forward to. Full guidelines can be found calyxpress.org/submission.html, but here’s what you can expect once you’ve submitted:

Now – December 31: Send us up to 6 poems or a 5,000-word max story (fiction or nonfiction). Simultaneous submissions are fine, but we don’t accept previously published work. You are free to submit in both the poetry and prose categories. We have a lot of people who accidentally submit under “Book Reviews,” so make sure that you choose the appropriate genre when you submit so that we can file them accordingly!

December 1 – January 31: Every single submission we receive is read by at least two of our amazing volunteer readers. Our readers are experienced editors, writers, and teachers. If a submission is approved by two readers, it’s held for final discussion with the Editorial Collective. All submissions (held or not) will receive a notice around this time regarding the status of their material. Unfortunately, we cannot give personalized feedback for everyone who submits, but all submissions are read with great care and attention to detail.

January 1 – March 31: Our Editorial Collective meets once a week to discuss the poems and stories that are held by the readers. While we don’t do a “majority rules” approach, the collective does have to generally agree that a piece should be included in the journal. Please be assured that there is both exhaustive discussion and compelling debate, and it’s quite a thing to see sometimes. Even pieces we haven’t accepted have been championed, dissected, and read aloud. Every submission discussed by the collective receives personal feedback. If your piece is held and you don’t receive a feedback message by April 30, PM me at editor@calyxpress.org.

All material chosen this period will be published in Vols. 29-3 and 30-1, which will be released in 2017. Happy writing, everyone!

“No Complaining on the Yacht”: Women in Writing and Publishing


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Last night I attended “Transmit Culture: Women in Writing and Publishing” at Portland State University. It was a panel featuring author Karen Karbo, Tin House Press editor Masie Cochran, and our own Alicia Bublitz.

There was a lot of discussion about what it means to be a woman in publishing and how marketing women’s writing has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. (Anyone else remember Chick Lit and its candy-pink covers? Good luck being taken seriously!)

All three of the panelists did a great job of talking about the VIDA numbers and their own numbers on the diversity that goes into their reading lists, teaching lists, or publication schedules. A lot of statistics were brought up to illustrate what most of us already know: women are underrepresented in publishing across the board. So are trans writers, LGBTQ writers, writers of color, and impoverished writers. But what I heard at the heart of the discussion wasn’t really numbers, it was the sense of unfairness, the sense that in small and not easily identifiable ways, women are being reduced and pigeonholed in the writing world.

I could discuss the panel at length because it was fascinating, but I want instead to just list a few of the points that stuck out to me and generate some discussion. In the comments section or on Facebook, I’d like to know if these sensations ring true to you, if you have your own anecdotal evidence, or if you feel strongly to the contrary.

  • The idea of “Dinner Party Names” vs. “Bedside Table Names.” When Masie asked her interns at Tin House why they became interested in writing, most of them initially listed Steinbeck, Hemingway, Faulkner, etc. before admitting that what they’re currently reading is actually Roxanne Gay or Mindy Kaling. Does anyone else find themselves doing this–listing “classic” male authors to impress others?
  • Foundational sexism in the way we read. Who else read predominately white male authors in high school (with other classes for women or writers of color) and learned to use those authors as the barometer for what constituted a classic?
  • The one-way street of reading. Women are encouraged to read books by both men and women, but men are expected to only read books by or about men and are even shamed for reading books by or about women. That could certainly explain the disparity in the publishing numbers!
  • The aforementioned “Book-shaming” is enforced by society at large rather than one sex in particular. Karen had an ugly anecdote about a male participant winning a free copy of the book she wrote about Katherine Hepburn. When he went to pick it up, the woman handing it to him said, “You’ll want to give this to your wife.” Seriously, WTF is that?
  • Social media presence. Are men just allowed to live in caves and leave their personal lives out of their art? Can they brood on their book jacket cover and be sort of homely and still make it in the writing world? Related question: Are women allowed the same opportunity?

At some point in the discussion, Karen said “There’s no complaining on the yacht” because everyone on that panel was a professional publisher, editor, or writer. It takes privilege (money, time, education, opportunity) to get to that point, which many talented people don’t have. But I think “Don’t complain” is a common thing to say to women, so I say “Let’s discuss” instead.

The Third Character


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*Note: Spoilers below. Go read the book.*


Alicia Bublitz

As Brenna has already told you, several of us from the CALYX office took a road trip to Vancouver, BC to see the Vancouver International Film Festival showing of Into the Forest. We live(ish) tweeted, ate poutine (because, Canada, eh!), and extensively discussed our reactions. Much like other reviewers I found the film to be beautifully acted and a striking contrast to more traditional novels that address social collapse from the outside in rather than focusing on the very personal realities of re-learning life. I had strong feelings about Eva’s dancing—in the book she is a ballerina, here they made her a modern dancer—but more about that later.  The part that has, fascinatingly, stuck in my mind is the most neglected (literally) third major character of the film.

What we saw was a deliberate and holy narrowing of focus, but not possibility, to a trinity of family and home.

It’s not, as several reviews have argued it should be, the forest itself. I found Patricia Rozema’s “direction” of the forest to be beautiful and realistic—I didn’t feel it necessary for it to be scarier, looming, or encroaching; the scariest interactions are with other desperate people, something I felt to be realistic. The gorgeous presence of the forest outside of Eva’s studio windows, indeed all the windows, seemed to me to encompass the land that is waiting to sustain and embrace the sisters, but that they hold at bay, to the extent of covering windows and boarding up doors for as long as possible.

No, it is their house that I found to be the fascinating third to their duo—a fickle and somewhat crotchety character mirroring the ways in which society has failed to keep these girls safe. It begins somewhat obviously when the power goes out. They literally speak to the house (“lights on”) and receive no answer, but then the house begins to speak to them. The static from their emergency radio, the drips as water enters through the unpatched roof, the creaking groan of the timbers as rot takes hold. The house is ever changing and constantly communicating its power over the sisters.

Perhaps this was clearer in the book, but as a very visual person I found the hulking presence of their house as it slowly falls down around them to be an inspired directorial choice. The powerful dystopic statement of two young women confined to home and hearth as childhood dreams are destroyed felt terrifyingly possible. Eva and Nell are literally being stifled—Eva must leave the house to be able to safely give birth, the mold and decay of the house makes it unhealthy to inhabit, and neither sister can grow past regretting what has been lost while confined to the clearing of their childhood.

Perhaps because of the ways in which our society regards home and hearth, kinship work, child raising—in short ‘women’s work’—to be unworthy of great literature, this has been overlooked by many who felt that the movie should be bigger in scope. Instead what we saw was a deliberate and holy narrowing of focus, but not possibility, to a trinity of family and home. As such, it was fitting that when a third arrives, Eva and Nell are finally able to break free of walls and redefine themselves.

The “Man” Booker Prize and the Problem of Prizes


Unless you live under a twitter rock you will have seen that Marlon James has won the Man Booker Prize for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. He is the first Jamaican, and, from the sound of things, the first author to use so many swear words to win the prize. We’re so excited about the swear words we might even be willing to overlook the 1/3 representation of woman authors on the short list (we had a good run at it Hilary Mantel; waiting for your trifecta with The Mirror and the Light! And, let’s face it, more of the PBS series…)

Prizes are an essential part of the writing world–they mark you down as a serious author even when ‘Fifty Shades of this Week’s Fad’ is outselling you by a thousand percent; they are part of what keeps small presses and small bookstores in business, and they are part of the way we honor authors and weed through some of the thousands of new releases. And, with no disrespect intended to all white male authors out there, here are two reasons we’re so excited the prize winner is not a white man:

  1. The stories of ‘the other’ are more likely to be genre-ized (I’m sure that’s a word). Work by women is chick lit, work by people of color are ‘immigrant stories’, etc.; there is deemed to be no literary market for their stories. Look at Ursula K. LeGuin, a prolific and powerful writer who’s been being published since the 60s and is only now in the last decade collecting major non-genre awards. Highbrow continues to be unfortunately white and male.
  2. Along with the award comes a greater visibility of your entire body of work. Honors like the Nobel Prize and Poet Laureate positions, not to mention fat speaking fees, endowed chairs, and plum visiting professorship gigs are based on an author’s entire oeuvre, so if women and people of color aren’t being recognized for the ‘regular’ awards they won’t be selected for these major positions.

So, congrats to Mr. James on his win and to the prize committee for the racial diversity of the shortlist (more women, more women, more women!). And we’ll read A Brief History of Seven Killings as soon as we have time to sit down with all nearly 700 pages of it; better make it an e-book or you may end up with carpal tunnel.

On ‘Into the Forest’ and How to Live Correctly


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Brenna Crotty

Last Thursday, I had the tremendous privilege of attending the Vancouver International Film Festival, where I was able to see an early screening of Into the Forest, the new Patricia Rozema film based on Jean Hegland’s novel of the same name. I also had the privilege of posting cheeky tweets about it throughout the day, but now that I have finally digested all of the incredible poutine I ate along the way, I’m ready for something a bit more long form. Let’s get reviewin’.


“What do you mean this is a post-apocalyptic movie with no male lead?”

There is a crucial scene early on in Into the Forest that involves sisters Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) fighting over a 5-gallon canister of gasoline. With the power out for months and the world slowly descending into violence and chaos beyond their property, five gallons of gasoline means electricity, music, showers, TV, popcorn, and a brief foray back into civilization.

Eva wants to use the gas. Nell insists that it be saved for an emergency. But the question that looms behind this debate is, “What good is five gallons of gasoline going to do in the long run? How much can it stave off the inevitable?”

I liked this movie for its small moments, for the way it breaks the world and people down into little pieces. Lack of power is represented twofold in the argument over the gasoline. The devolving civilization beyond their borders is hinted at through rumors but never truly explored. The gorgeous cinematography unfolds the situation slowly, focusing on fingernails, chocolate candy, table corners, and edges before expanding out into the greater natural world. The sisters’ house and their relationship becomes a microcosm for examining the apocalypse on a larger scale. How do you survive with limited supplies? How do you continue to trust? How do you relearn to treat others well?

Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood are outstanding in this film, portraying a deep bond while still making the strain of survival real and raw. Page’s Nell is tough, uncertain, and unwaveringly practical, while Wood’s Eva is passionate, animalistic, and deeply in tune with her own body. The camera work pulls no punches in couching both of their experiences in the the visceral. It allows them to have flawed complexions, chewed fingernails, bloody thighs, blistered palms. The life they build together is a tough, frightening, and dangerous one, but it is inspiring to watch them do it.

Into the Forest is not the first film to ponder what will happen if the structures of our society breach. In the years since CALYX published the novel back in 1996, we have become obsessed with post-apocalyptic stories. The Walking Dead, The Book of Eli, Mad Max, The Road, and many others are all dystopian accounts of the end of civilization. In most cases, their storylines have the same end goal: Rebuild society as well as you can. Try to return civilization to its previous safety and glory.

This is not the story of Into the ForestInto the Forest is about learning how to live correctly. It looks critically at the way that Americans consume–mindlessly, constantly, and with no thought as to where their food or water or power comes from. I understand that Ellen Page has spoken before about how difficult it is to make a movie with two female stars, and I’m not surprised. Because this is not a traditional male take on the apocalypse. It’s not really about fighting or surrendering or leading or hoarding or any of the traditional themes. It’s about reconnecting with the way we used to live as a species, the way we used to have a symbiotic relationship with nature and each other. The film is quiet, measured, and firmly character-driven.

As someone who has read the book, I’ll be interested to hear about other people’s take on the movie. For me this was a supplemental piece, beautifully powering the story and themes I already knew. In preserving the events of the plot, the movie glosses over some important scenes and themes from the novel, so I’m excited to learn how those new to the story view the film. Stay posted for updates on when it comes to the states and where you can see it.