If 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.