Trout and Other Mythical Beings by Arthur Wayne Glowka: A Review

“He was ashamed to admit he was glad he felt relived that his wife was dead. But he would have been dead if he had shown up on the door step with rife and a full set of camos (“good to-10 degrees Fahrenheit”) and a bottle of deer urine.

Arthur Wayne Glowka

I met Arthur Wayne Glowka (who goes by Wayne) when he was the Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Reinhardt University where I received my MFA in Creative Writing. He’s a former English professor. He also an actor, director, playwright, and woodworker, often found exploring the woods with his wife Beth. He plays too many instruments to list, and actually handcrafts some of those same instruments. He “retired” last year, and I use quotation marks around “retired,” because if you know this man and see what he gets himself into on a daily basis, it looks nothing like retirement. I’m a Generation- Xer and I find his adventures a little exhausting. His energy would compete with the energy levels of my Millennial and Gen-Zer friends. Glowka is a true Renaissance Man. He is someone who ventures down many rabbit holes and now has written an extremely amusing novel about a very dark subject—the loss of a spouse—called Trout and Other Mythical Beings.

At the tender age of sixty-five Harry Mature’s wife, Mary, his wife of forty years, passes away and Harry doesn’t skip a beat. He heads straight to the liquor cabinet Mary locked up twelve years ago. Harry is a lot like Mary’s locked liquor cabinet, though—so much repressed joy and too long neglected needs. He’s been locked away from all his vices, but he promptly makes up for lost time: scotch, cigars, guns, ammo, shooting range, deer hunting, online dating, trout fishing, women, sex, sex, sex, and you better believe it, a motorcycle. Every day is a new adventure in male freedom. Trout And Other Mythical Beings is hilarious with a dry note of sadness. Instead of grieving, Harry fills the void with everything he’s missed out on being in an unhappy marriage.

Readers of the feminine persuasion may balk initially reading some of Harry’s thoughts towards his deceased wife, daughter, and grandchildren. He has a lot of disdain for his family. After he kills a deer, Harry’s daughter Kat leaves him a note on his front door cancelling Thanksgiving and Harry reflects on his two granddaughters: “They made self-loathing comments about white privilege, and planned to attend exclusive colleges in the Northeast, where they would major in victim studies and marry the sons of corporate CEO’s—unless they decided to be lesbians or “men that menstruate.” It’s harsh, but Harry and Kat are both stereotyping each other. Mostly, this is the case because neither know anything about the other; they make assumptions. Everything went through the mother. Plus, in Harry’s eyes Kat, the antagonist in this story, is seemingly more concerned with keeping him on the straight and narrow. She leaves “to do” lists that have to be about the worst “to do” list of all times:

He saw a list of things for him to do: go to the courthouse and change the car title; provide copies of the death certificate to banks; financial planners, insurers, and governmental agencies; liquidate assets to pay what was owed to the hospitals, doctors, labs, the undertaker, and the florist; order a head stone (Kat had circled the one she liked and specified the desired wording); and get the house cleaned up (she had attached a card for a housecleaning service).

I was reminded of when my own father passed away. The day after he died, I was at the DMV taking care of a similar “to do” list for my mother. She didn’t ask me to do this. It was my way of avoiding his death, and I so understood Kat’s position, but reading Glowka’s novel I was also annoyed for Harry. It made me see another side of how people deal with death. Kat treats Harry like a noncompliant child. You’ve got to feel sorry for a guy who has worked all his life, finally retires, and his wife gets breast cancer and dies soon after the diagnosis. My sympathies for him are less about Mary’s death, however, and more about Harry never having a voice or a say in his own life. Though the tone is matter of fact and Harry comes off a little heartless, I think anyone who has been in a relationship—a relationship that should have been killed and buried years ago—can relate to Harry’s feelings. Death has made Harry come to life and he wants to experience everything all at once.

Harry is on a journey of self-discovery pursuing his wildest dreams and even some boyish ones such as hunting and catching that mythical trout. The trout is a very real trout, but it also symbolizes everything that has been denied him. He goes on these mini adventures, and though he’s bumbling through much of it, he comes out on top. In fact, Harry pretty much gets everything he sets out to get—a buck with massive antlers, a beautiful trout, as well as a slew of sex-crazed women throwing themselves at him. Harry is a real horndog and so are the women he meets. Prepare to blush a little. But Trout and Other Mythical Beings has the quality of being a tall tale, so much so, you wonder if the trout he caught is as large as he describes it to be or the woman as beautiful and unable resist him as he perceives. Men have been lying about the size of the fish they caught, amongst other things, since the beginning of time and I suspect Harry is no different than any other man when it comes to sizing questions. Mythical heroes are not ordinary men and while Harry may not seem your typical mythical hero, in his mind he is.

Trout and Other Mythical Beings has all the elements of a mythical quest: tragedy, comedy, irony, and romance. Though Harry completes each quest at the end of each experience he discovers he isn’t completely satisfied. He wishes for a friend, a companion, someone to share in his accomplishments. He never thinks of his wife, though. She wouldn’t approve of any of his new life choices, nor would his daughter who is essentially a replica of his wife. He never really stands up to his daughter. He simply ignores her (much to her chagrin) and does what he wants anyway, piling up adventures and chasing the next dream.

Some of the best and hysterically funny scenes are when Harry discovers online dating. He goes after everything like a man who has been newly released from prison and definitely a man who missed the sexual revolution tucked neatly away in a conventional marriage: “There was hunting, and there would soon be fishing too, and there was something he had not planned on: dating without a purpose When he was young, he dated to pursue a wife.” The sex-escapades are described using hyperbole, purposely overly embellished, and designed to make the reader snicker. When Harry and Debbie finally hook up, Glowka piles on the Norse mythology to describe the scene: “Debbie explored Odin’s chest and stomach and soon found the trunk of Yggdrasil, the World Ash Tree, with its roots and holding together the Nine Worlds with their various wells.” Perhaps, Harry’s life was so dull and routine that anything that comes his way post-wife is super sparkly and new. I’m still pondering that. I mean “mythical beings” is part of the title and just look at the cover. A lady emerging from the water with a fish in her mouth! Plus, there’s an element of satire throughout the novel, so ultimately, the reader will have to decide that one.

It isn’t until Harry meets another widower, Debbie, a 58-year-old, Harley-riding, giant of a woman in an all-female biker club called the Shield Maidens that he discovers what he’s been missing. Harry was covering up grief with his follies, pursuing everything to avoid feeling. He hadn’t mourned his wife, and for all the contempt he seems to have had for her they were still married for forty years. He does have his moment to mourn eventually. There’s a lovely scene where the two journey to the Georgia National Cemetery that hit me a little hard. Trout And Other Mythical Beings is set in North Georgia; Cherokee County was my old stomping grounds as a young adult. My father is interned in the Georgia National Cemetery and the ride Glowka describes up to the to the cemetery choked me up a bit. Harry needed this, but more than anything he needed someone like Debbie who becomes first a friend and then a love interest. That’s what Harry was truly seeking all along–human connection.

Trout and Other Mythical Beings, as all myths should, has an epic ending. The whole novel will make you giggle and some of my favorite scenes are the interactions between the new, leather-clad, motorcycle riding Harry and Kat, who thinks her father has lost his mind. The collision of those two personalities is wonderful. Those are the scenes you start reading faster to discover Kat’s reaction and go back and reread. For all its comedy, the novel does touch on serious subjects—disease, suffering, death, grief. Kat went into overdrive and Harry simply ignored his wife’s death, replacing the void with camo, women, and an Indian motorcycle, and that’s okay. It’s valuable to recognize people react differently. There’s not a right or wrong way to deal with death. In the end there’s a reconciliation between father and daughter that probably never would have occurred if Harry had died before his wife did. I think good fiction ought to say something and send a message, however, it can’t be forced, and it should be cleverly articulated. That’s what Glowka has done with Trout and Other Mythical Beings; he’s used the art of comedy to interpret tragedy in an incredibly unique and invigorating way.

Get your paperback copy of TROUT AND OTHER MYTHICAL BEINGS by visiting Bear Book Market at 21 North Grove Street, Dahlonega, GA, via Bear Book Market’s online store at Bear Book Market, directly from the author by emailing him at a_glowka@yahoo.com, or via Kindle E-book.

Want to meet the author, attend a reading, and hear some banjo playing? You do. You sure do! Here’s your opportunity:

Etowah Valley MFA Program Summer Residency Reinhardt University Waleska, GA July 10, 2021, 8:00 pm: Trout and Other Mythical Beings: A Reading from the Arthur Wayne Glowka (a maybe a little banjo). Directions

More about Arthur Wayne Glowka:

Photo by Beth Glowka

Arthur Wayne Glowka (born in Weimar, Texas, in 1952) grew up in San Antonio, Texas, in the shadow of the Alamo, and heard heroic tales about its fall from an early age. The Irish nuns who ran his elementary school directed him to books about King Arthur and Robin Hood, and his study of Spanish in high school has led to a lifelong fascination with Latin America and Spain. He studied English at the University of Texas at Austin (B.A., 1973; M.A., 1975), where he fell in love with medieval tales told in their original languages. Before pursuing his doctorate in English at the University of Delaware (English, 1980), he spent two years away from formal study to fish and to plunder libraries and used bookstores for books on fishing and a wide variety of other subjects. His scholarly publications have treated metrics, the legendary history of Britain, Geoffrey Chaucer, dialectology, lexicography, and Flannery O’Connor. He has served as an editor for academic journals, most recently James Dickey Review. His creative publications include an epic about the Texas Revolution (The Texiad), a series of medieval romances retold for contemporary readers, plays, and a novel (Trout and Other Mythical Beings). He was Professor of English at Georgia College (1980-2007) and the Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Reinhardt University (2007-2020). He retired from teaching and administration in July of 2020—but not from writing, woodworking, music, and hiking.

 To follow Trout and Other Mythical Beings on Facebook.

                      

                       

      

           

                       

                       

                       

                       





A Talk with The Weight of Ashes Author, Zachary Steele

DM: The beginning and the ending! My God! How long did you work on those sections? Did you outline? Do you write scenes first? What’s your process?

ZS: In many ways, this book was a gift to me. I’ve never had to work so little on a story or so hard to write one. The opening page was the first thing I wrote and sat in a file for a year while I finished another manuscript. It was so good, so perfect, I knew I had the voice and tone in place. The ending went through a few revisions, but the idea of a found family was there all along. I’m a notorious “edit as I go” writer and want to have the best version I can produce done before I move on. It may slow things down, but it helps me ensure good pacing and plot so subsequent edits aren’t as painful.

DM: Did you find it difficult to write from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old?

ZS: Not at all! I’m a child at heart. I find comfort writing from the vantage of the boy who I was. In the end, though, every writer needs to dig deep into the perspective of their characters, no matter the age. A character isn’t alive until you can feel what they feel.

DM: The structure was brilliantly done, and the pacing was spot on—short chapters designed to keep the reading saying to themselves, “Okay, just one more chapter.” How hard was it to maintain this sort of pacing?

ZS: Given that I wanted this book to appeal to teens—to give them a story of grief to potentially help them understand their own—the chapters needed to be short. Too much meandering in the story or in Mark’s head and memories and younger readers would let it go. But I do enjoy encouraging readers of all ages to read on by keeping the pacing swift!

DM: Talk to me about how important music was to The Weight of Ashes. I know you created a playlist (by the way, I’m stealing this idea from you for my novel). Also, where can readers access it?

ZS: Oh, music is vital to me. It awakens my creative spirit. Every story I write begins with a song. For this one, it was Like a Prayer. Scenes evolve out of the music I select. So, it just seemed like a cool idea to create a soundtrack for readers to see what inspired me. The Weight of Ashes Soundtrack can be found on Spotify, through my profile or listen to Steele’s Spotify Playlist: The Weight of Ashes Soundtrack.

DM: Did you read many YA books before writing The Weight of Ashes? If so, what are some examples? Any specific books, movies, TV shows that inspired this book?

ZS: I read anything and everything I can. One of the unfortunate side effects of founding and running a writing organization is that most of my reading is selected for me. Work of speakers, members, Broadleaf board members, etc. I’d say elements of King’s The Body and Pet Sematary definitely inspired the story. It’s hard to miss those. But everything from Harry Potter to Stranger Things to any friendship adventure I’ve read or seen influences me in my writing.

DM: The Weight of Ashes is a work of fiction, but you mentioned the story was inspired by personal events. Do you think you worked through the trauma by writing this book? Or did you stir it up and maybe make it worse for a time? What would you advise to other authors attempting to write about traumatic events?

ZS: Halfway through this book, my 13-year cat companion Maggie died of cancer. Came out of nowhere and it hit me hard. She and I had been through a lot of life and trials together and it made going back to Mark’s journey that much more difficult. And important. But writing helped me process that grief, as well as the lingering grief I’d carried through my life over so many other losses. The only real advice I can offer to anyone attempting to write about traumatic events is to find a quiet place to let it out. Let it happen. Feel everything you’ve been holding back. We repress so much just to endure pain and come out whole. You have to say it. Make it real. It’s the only way to heal.

DM: I mentioned in my review that there was a speculative fiction element to The Weight of Ashes. I loved that aspect! It teetered to the point I wondered how it would end. Will you talk about genre-bending with this novel?

ZS: One of the more important things a writer must do is filter the reader’s knowledge through the eyes of the characters the story is told by. I wanted to make sure the reader only knew what Mark knew. He believes his brother can be resurrected. He believes the witch will do it. His friends are skeptical. The reader has to decide for themselves and I wanted that to be a difficult choice.

DM: What is Zachary Steele getting into next?

ZS: I’ve been working on a young adult fantasy series for some time. The Fallen Hero is the first book in that series and will have a home soon (I’ll definitely announce it!). It’s about a young boy who discovers the world of his favorite fantasy series is real and in need of a hero to save it from a rising darkness. We all want to be the hero of our favorite books.

DM: I so appreciate your time answering all my questions and I really enjoyed The Weight of Ashes. I wish you much success with your novel. Also, thanks for all the work you do encouraging us writers, helping us network, and giving us recourses to become better at our craft. You have a place in writer heaven.

ZS: Thank you so much! I have always believed that writers have to stick together, to support one another. We write alone, live in our heads, and create worlds as a means to escape our own. We absolutely need a community to help us stay rooted in our lives.

TO PREORDER: The Weight of Ashes by Zachary Steele is available from the following Atlanta-based bookstores: A Cappella BooksEagle Eye Book ShopFoxTale Book Shoppe, Little Shop of StoriesTall TalesStory on the Square. Support your local bookstore!

Cover Art by Katie Lynn Photography

To listen to Steele’s Spotify Playlist: The Weight of Ashes Soundtrack.

Want to know more about author, Zachary Steele, including author events and information about Broadleaf Writers Association? Broadleaf Writers Association Founder & Executive Director Zachary Steele is the author of Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO, Flutter: An Epic of Mass Distraction and The Weight of Ashes. He has been featured by NPR, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Publishers Weekly, Baby Got BooksShelf Awareness, and was nominated for the Sidewise Award for Alternate Fiction. Currently, he is hard at work prepping The Fallen Hero for release in 2022. You can follow his ramblings on writing and life at http://zacharysteele.com/.

The Weight of Ashes by Zachary Steele, a Review

The sun rises without your blessing. But you can’t face the day until you wake. Sleeping through the light doesn’t mean the day didn’t happen.

Zachary Steele The Weight of Ashes

I haven’t met Zachary Steele in person…yet. He’s the founder and executive director of Broadleaf Writers Association, a nonprofit educational organization made up of writers and designed to help writers from all genres, backgrounds, and levels learn about the industry and improve their craft. I’ve followed the activities of the organization for a while, but recently joined during the pandemic, so I’ve only seen Steele on Zoom. But the writing world in the South is a small circle and once you enter it you inevitably circle back to the same people. That is, you run into those people who put themselves out there helping other writers navigate the mysteries of the industry. Steele is out there hitting the proverbial pavement doing his share, loading up on author karma by hosting authors events via Zoom or overseeing writer’s conferences. And somehow, on top of all his endeavors, he managed to author a book—a very good book—called The Weight of Ashes.

The Weight of Ashes, set in Hogan, Georgia during the 1980s, is a literary fiction novel that would appeal to both a young adult and adult audience. Protagonist, thirteen-year-old, Mark Murphy, is on the cusp of life when he’s hit with the tragic death of his big brother, Mitch Murphy. Mark loses more than a sibling with Mitch’s death. Their father left the family at a young age and Mitch stepped in as Mark’s father figure, protector, and mentor. His mother, reeling from the loss of her son, starts to drink heavily. To make matters worse, Mark’s cousin, Gordon, the villain of the story, caused the car accident in which Mitch was killed. Mark not only wants his brother back; he also wants revenge. And he believes the answer to both of his desires may be found with the witch who lives on Spook Hill. There’s a cost to bringing Mitch back, though. And there’s no way he can make it past his mother and her boyfriend, Officer John, and his police force, or bully/psychopath, Gordon, or the perilous wilderness to get to Spook Hill, without the help of his friends, Mo, Reggie, and Dunk.

Though The Weight of Ashes tackles death, loss, and grief, Steele created a plot that feels more like an adventure story focusing on the power of friendship. Because of the tight friendships between these characters, the novel reminded me somewhat of the 1985 blockbuster movie, The Goonies, or for a more modern reference, the hit show, Stanger Things. The language, tone, and plot suggest an element of speculative fiction. It hovers on the border making the reader wonder if there’s something supernatural at hand.

The story is told in first person point-of-view from the perspective of Mark, but the other characters are well-rounded and have personalities that complement each other and the plot. The chapters are short and tend to end with cliffhangers (though not in an ostentatious way), which is probably why it reminded me of the movie and TV show I mentioned. Steele’s style is episodic; he builds one wonderful scene upon another. Yet, the story isn’t completely linear. The reader isn’t simply led down a straight path wrought with conflict. Steele’s pacing is excellent. He does a nice balancing act with flashbacks, featuring Mark’s memories of his deceased brother and their mutual love for baseball and the Atlanta Braves, which enriches Mark and Mitch’s relationship for the reader and develops very relatable and sympathetic characters.

The Weight of Ashes is a Bildungsroman, or coming of age, novel with fairytale elements where the protagonist Mark enters the woods and comes out wiser, perhaps not quite a man but with a self-awareness he didn’t have before entering the woods. Mark must confront actual obstacles—avoiding the police, Gordon, flooded creeks, dangerous animals—to accept his brother’s death. As I mentioned, he cannot do it alone, which is one of the main issues Mark comes to understand. Here’s a moment where Steele alludes to the classic novel, The Wizard of Oz: “We moved along the drive like Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow walking through the forest. About halfway, between a trio of dangling vultures, I came to a stop.” This is the scene where the teens have finally made it through the obstacles presented by the forest and arrive at the witch’s house. It echoes the journey Dorothy and friends made down the yellow brick road to meet the wizard complete with flying monkeys or in Steele’s novel, “dangling vultures.” Steele also references The Hobbit, which was huge (still is) back in the 1980s for this age group. Authors don’t randomly do shout-outs. Bilbo was an adult when he goes on his adventure, but it’s still a classic Bildungsroman novel and a fairytale as well–like The Wizard of Oz, like Steele’s, The Weight of Ashes. The fairytale structure is a classic way of telling a story; I think it works well for any age group but is particularly effective for this story and for YA readers who may be more comfortable and open to reading a tough topic in a structure they’re accustomed to reading.

Even with an adventurous plot and characters geared for a younger audience, the subject matter—grief—is quite serious and transcends all ages. Mark goes through all the stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The message is the same whatever the age of the reader. You should lean on your friends and your family to help you get through the tough times, and I commend Steele for borrowing from his own experiences to help teens, young adults, and adults realize they’re not alone.

There’s a real sense of nostalgia winding throughout the novel. Remember when you were thirteen? Remember how important your crew was? Well, that’s the peer group Steele created here. If you’re an adult reader, it’ll take you back to that magical age when everything seemed like it was all about to happen. Steele simultaneously captures the character’s childishness and insecurities around entering adulthood, mentally and physically. I think the character Dunk says it best here: “We aren’t kids anymore. We’re hormonal superheroes, fighting the villainy of a sex-crazed world.” These characters are at that age where anything seems possible, and their excitability comes out in a humorous and highly entertaining way.

Readers may become wistful remembering their teenaged years reading this book; The Weight of Ashes is full of pop cultural references from the 1980s that sets the tone. Forty and fifty-something-year-old readers will recognize shows like Family Ties and Star Trek’s: The Next Generation, or Jason Vorhees from the movie Friday the 13th. You can practically hear a soundtrack playing while reading this story with all the musical references to Madonna, The Bangles, Ozzy Osbourne, and Whitesnake, just to mention a few. Music was everything in the 1980s. What you listened to dictated what group you hung out with—the jocks, the skaters, the punks, the metalheads—and this book was reminiscent of my childhood. If you genuinely want to go down memory lane, Steele created a playlist on Spotify that accompanies The Weight of Ashes. Get a copy and tune in here to listen: The Weight of Ashes Soundtrack.

Steele’s, The Weight of Ashes, comes out with a bang, more fireworks, then more fireworks, and ends with another bang. The first chapter took my breath away. And I don’t think I’ve read a more perfect ending to a novel in years. When the beginning of a book doesn’t grab you, you put it down, you never read it. You may say something like, “I just couldn’t get into it.” If the ending sucks, you never forgive the writer, and you may not ever read that author again. I won’t go down the road of Game of Thrones. Just saying…I guarantee you have the best of both worlds with The Weight of Ashes, including a middle full of surprises—tragic, scary, fun, lighthearted—that make you appreciate your friendships and even feel compassion for the bad guy at the end. Steele took a challenging topic and made it accessible for every age. Applaud, applaud.

TO PREORDER: The Weight of Ashes by Zachary Steele is available from the following Atlanta-based bookstores: A Cappella BooksEagle Eye Book ShopFoxTale Book Shoppe, Little Shop of StoriesTall TalesStory on the Square. Support your local bookstore!

To listen to Steele’s Spotify Playlist: The Weight of Ashes Soundtrack.

Want to know more about author, Zachary Steele, including author events and information about Broadleaf Writers Association? Broadleaf Writers Association Founder & Executive Director Zachary Steele is the author of Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO, Flutter: An Epic of Mass Distraction and The Weight of Ashes. He has been featured by NPR, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Publishers Weekly, Baby Got BooksShelf Awareness, and was nominated for the Sidewise Award for Alternate Fiction. Currently, he is hard at work prepping The Fallen Hero for release in 2022. You can follow his ramblings on writing and life at http://zacharysteele.com/.

A Conversation with Author and Poet, Janisse Ray about her New Collection of Poetry, Red Lanterns

DM: Your poem “Red Lanterns ” is so rich with symbolism. Because the collection is also called Red Lanterns, I felt a need to get to the bottom of this poem and I looked up various cultural meanings for red poppies (i.e., fallen soldiers, good luck and fortune). Poetry is so subjective, and I still feel this poem is a mystery. I have my thoughts, but will you please talk about the inspiration for this poem? Why red poppies?

JR: This poem started when my now-grown son’s stepmom called me to say he had been gathering poppy flowers. She had found a glass jar of them hidden under his bed. He was a teenager, and I’m sure he and his friends were attempting to experiment with the mind-altering affects of substances like opium, made from poppies. I was not worried. I was thrilled, to be honest, that my son was recognizing the incredible power of plants and the treasure chest that plant medicine can be. Plants have been very powerful in my life, medicinally and spiritually and culturally, and I’d like for that to be true for my son.

Around the same time, my mother (who never smoked) was diagnosed with lung cancer and had a lobe removed.

You’re right that a lot of layers are swirling around in this poem, some more visible and highly developed than others: the beauty of flowers, the use of poppies in marking graves, death, plants as medicine, even western medicine versus alternative medicine, my relationship with my mother, mine with my son, how a family holds together or doesn’t hold, the things we can’t provide each other, the holes in all of our hearts, what we keep looking for to fill those holes. It’s complicated, suggestive, metaphorical, not entirely revealed (not even to me, who wrote it!)

I admit, yes, there’s a strange juxtaposition here even in the title phrase: lanterns mean illumination but the lanterns are red. Red is such a powerful color–it signifies warning, it’s loud and unapologetic, it’s the color of blood. And it’s also beautiful, it repels bad luck.

In a literal sense, the red lanterns are the poppy blooms, and they can be illuminating in the mind-altering sense of the word.  

I’ve never voiced this before now, but probably at the bottom of this poem is a deep grief about the life most of us inhabit, which is one of material possessions, industrialization,  machines, and clear-cuts, versus the one portrayed in the image of my son “at the river, swimming in a silver pool.” Perhaps the poem is seeking something to bridge those two opposites, and the garden of poppies is that. Yes, maybe the poppies are a bridge, between life and death, wellness and illness, the natural world and the built world.

DM: You mentioned that these poems span decades. How did you decide to organize them?

JR: Thank you for asking such good questions. Although I began as a writer of poetry, back in high school, I fell in love with nonfiction in grad school. I knew I wanted writing to be a profession not a hobby, and I was not going to be able to make a living with poetry. So I haven’t published much. This is only my second collection. My first book, A House of Branches, was strictly eco-poetry, and I felt as if some of the poems didn’t fit in it. With this collection I expanded my definition, which is why you see love poems or death poems here. As far as organization, I had no clear reasoning for their placement, except in general themes—the poems about romance are together, for example.

DM: Your poem “Ode to Joy” commemorates Troy Davis, who was convicted in Georgia for killing an off-duty police officer. Even after most of the witnesses recanted their original statements, lack of physical evidence, and pressures internationally, Davis was put to death by lethal injection. I mentioned in my review that odes are meant to be sung, and I loved the imagery around the choir in the church, but why use the term “joy” in the title? Is it ironic?

JR: As an activist—especially an environmental activist—my work is trying to save life and lives. The experience trying to save Troy Davis’s life hit me hard. All my life I have opposed the death penalty. I was taught as a child the Biblical scripture of “Thou shalt not kill,” and I take it seriously. So yes, “Ode to Joy” is ironic. But one day not long after Mr. Davis’s death, I was listening to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” which is the fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony. That section is based on a Friedrich Schiller poem called “Ode to Joy.” Here is a stanza from it: “Gladly, as His suns fly/ through the heavens’ grand plan/ Go on, brothers, your way,/ Joyful, like a hero to victory.” In some ways, of course, the poem is “Ode to Troy,” but when I think about him, I think he deserved the honor of finding joy even in the injustice, even in the brutality.

DM: What poets do you turn to for inspiration? Which ones were the most influential for this collection?

JR: Well, let me start a list here of poets whose work I admire, most of them are earth poets in one way or another, and some of them mystics (in no particular order): Pablo Neruda, Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Pattiann Rogers, Rainier Maria Rilke, Walt Whitman, Rumi. I deeply admire the work of Daniel Corrie, who is far too obscure but very much alive and at work today. He lives in southern Georgia as I do and writes geologic, earth-shifting, brilliant poetry. I think he’s the best poet at work in the United States today.

DM: Were any of these poems the result of your earlier essays? Or, vice versa, are one of these poems “expanding” into longer form?

JR: No, the poems come from a very different origin-point and sensibility than the essays.

DM: What advice would you give aspiring poets in terms in terms of crafting and publishing?

JR: I would repeat the same advice that everybody offers, which is to keep reading, keep writing, keep dreaming, keep hoping. I would add that art is about building a culture and a civilization—it’s not meant to be used by attention-seekers. It’s about meaning. Yet, some of the current ethos in poetry is toward flippancy and shock-value and the look of words on the page.

DM: I’ve read articles indicating that poetry readership is declining compared to other literary arts? What do you think needs to happen to change that? Or do you agree with this statement?

JR: I thought this for years, until the day Mary Oliver died. Our nation went into mourning. Oliver was mourned on national news, on millions of personal social media posts, on blogs, in magazines. That’s when I realized how very wide her reach had been, how many people had read and been moved by her words, how beloved she was. It was a transcendent moment.

Dawn, my larger concern is the decline of all literary arts. I recently purchased a newly released novel at a bookstore that I found unreadable. It was well marketed but poorly crafted and poorly edited. This happens far too often in my life. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of writers are publishing beautiful, ground-breaking, transformative work. However, so much of what is touted as literary these days is sloppy drivel. This is unfortunate because it confuses readers. Books are one of the most powerful tools we have for human transformation. When a reader picks up a book that is unreadable, some light inside that person dies. Some first opinion is made that can not easily be changed. We lose a human. There are a number of reasons for this sea-change, and they would take a very long conversation, but some of it is driven by the publishing industry, some of it by our need to be seen and heard, some of it by the movement toward unvetted self-publishing, some by a crazy desire to divorce one’s self from the past, even the good parts of the past.

DM: In “Rant, Wonderfarm,” you used a term “Ecozoic,” which sadly, I had to look it up. Will you explain to the readers who may not know what it means what this term means, and what it means to you in “Rant, Wonderfarm?”

JR: Geologists have given names to eras in the development of life on earth, Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic. The extinction of the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago began the Cenozoic era, which has been one of extinctions. Thomas Berry coined this term in the 1980s to change the narrative from one of destruction to a more hopeful one. In the Ecozoic era we humans will have learned to live more sustainable lives on the earth. So it’s a term of hopefulness, of possibility, of restoration, of rewilding, of integration. That’s how I use it in the poem—in this case in honor of so many people who are choosing to spend their lives in careful consideration of the land, especially on the land.

DM: What does your writing routine look like in a day?

JR: If I am free to do so, I write all day every day. In that case I work at a desk in an upstairs study in our old farmhouse. If I am not free, and often I am not, I write whenever I can, jotting ideas or scenes or overheard conversations or notes in my journal.

The pandemic caused a disruption in my writing life because my daughter has been unable to go to school. She does Virtual School at home, and this requires one of us parents to sit beside her. So half the week, these days, I am my daughter’s teacher and tutor.

Your question makes me rueful. For one thing, the answer is informed by the fact that I’m a woman, and women in our society are often assigned caregiver roles. My father died in December 2019 after a long, long illness, and I was one of his primary caregivers. Since his death I have helped my mother get back on her feet. A neighbor became sick last summer, and I was her primary caregiver for the last weeks of her life. My daughter needs a tremendous amount of care. So there’s that.

I am also reminded, in answering this question, of economics. I was born poor, and because I chose writing as a profession, I relegated myself to a certain poverty. Slowly this is changing for me, but I have to acknowledge that often writers cannot accomplish the writing life and routine they desire if they also have to support a family. This was my case. Before the pandemic I traveled a lot to paying gigs, which was a great honor and good fun and intellectually stimulating but which interrupted any kind of writing routine I desired.

There’s that too.

DM: What’s next the big thing for Janisse Ray? Any events your fans need to know about?

JR: This is May 2021. I am in the middle of copyedits for a collection of essays (Wild Spectacle) due out from Trinity University Press in October. I’m excited about this—the essays are exciting. I have one last round of revisions for a piece coming out in Still, and I’m working with Karen McElmurray on that. It’s about the death of my neighbor, and I’m trying to get it right. For a month in July I’ll be in residence at Oak Spring Garden outside DC working on a project on pitcher-plant bogs. I’m putting a book proposal together for another really fun project that I won’t talk about, in order to keep the spirits happy. I have finished a manuscript about writing and craft, and I’m in the middle of revisions with it; I like it. And the last thing—I am working on a novel. I’ve written one other novel that I never attempted to publish because I can tell it’s not good enough. But I think I’m figuring out fiction, and I feel hopeful about this novel. It’s based on a true story of what happened to some children in the 1940s.

DM: Your husband, Raven Waters, painted the image for the cover of Red Lanterns. Is that the first time you two have collaborated on one of your covers?

JR: Living with a painter is thrilling. Raven’s work is a source of constant inspiration to me. For one thing, he is extremely dedicated and exceedingly prolific, as anyone who follows him on social media knows. His studio is in the middle of our large kitchen, so there’s art happening much of the time right in front of me. Right this very moment he is outside building a studio—I hear his hammer. So the time will come when he is painting in his own space, but for now I love watching art materialize on his easel.

Regarding collaboration, I think this is the first cover. Raven drew a map of my grandmother’s farm that was part of the book Wild Card Quilt. He took the photo of seeds that is on the cover of The Seed Underground. One of his paintings of a cowboy illustrated my tribute to William Kittredge that appeared in Terrain magazine (“Hole in the Sky”). He and I worked together on a small anthology about Moody Forest, years ago, which is now out of print.

Collaborating with visual artists is deeply satisfying. The landscape painter Philip Juras did the painting on the first book of poetry. Photographer Nancy Marshall took the art photographs in Drifting into Darien. Johnny Dame’s awesome painting is on the cover of Pinhook. These are artists I personally know and love.

Since we’re talking about collaboration, I’d like to expand this idea and say collaboration with artists has been a lovely benefit. I’m thinking here of co-edited anthologies, and also of the show that the superb musician and songwriter Randall Bramblett and I did together at Word of South this year.

DM: Thanks so much for this opportunity. I thoroughly enjoyed diving into Red Lanterns. I always say poets are rock stars and you certainly meet the mark.

JR: Dawn, thank you so much for providing this opportunity. I’ve enjoyed this unexpected collaboration with you. You put a tremendous amount of thought and wisdom into these down-to-earth, inviting, thought-provoking questions. Thank you for giving me the chance to speak.

TO PURCHASE Red Lanterns: Signed copies are available on Janisse Ray’s website: www.janisseray.com/bookshop.

MORE ABOUT JANISSE RAY: Janisse Ray is an American writer whose subject most often falls into the borderland of nature and culture. She has published five books of nonfiction, including Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, a New York Times Notable Book. Her collection of essays, Wild Spectacle: Seeking Wonder in a World Beyond Humans, is due out October 2021. Red Lanterns is her second book of eco-poetry. Ray has won an American Book Award, Pushcart Prize, Southern Bookseller Awards, Southern Environmental Law Center Writing Awards, Nautilus Award, and Eisenberg Award, among others. She has been inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. She lives on an organic farm in the coastal plains of Georgia.

Red Lanterns, Poems by Janisse Ray

Cover Art by Raven Waters

Make Art . Live Art. Farm Art. Go Home. Come Home. Savor.

from “Rant, WonderFarm” by Janisse Ray

Janisse Ray—writer, poet, environmental activist, organic farmer—probably doesn’t need an introduction. She’s an award-winning writer with literary achievements too many to list. I met her while I was a graduate student, and everyone, not just the students but the faculty as well, was a little in awe of her. I think writers, and especially new writers, feel insecure in their flesh. We’re still working out our voice and craft, and Ray is the real deal! Yet she was so also very down to earth, such a kind and friendly person.

Ray was the keynote speaker at the commencement ceremony for the students one year ahead of me, and she told a hilarious story about the family mule, Tecumseh, who found his way inside their house in south Georgia. Tecumseh, as mules are prone to do, would not cooperate. This story has stuck with me for years not simply because it was hilarious, though it was, but because how Janisse told this story. Storytelling is not just about this happened and then that happened; it’s about wielding your experience, imagination, memories, and craft in such a way that you engage others, so they feel as if your story is also their story. This is what Ray has done with her latest collection of poetry, Red Lanterns. These poems mutually celebrate and mourn the current state of our world—what we should honor and love, what we stand to lose, what we will never get back—and all captured by one of the most talented storytellers of the South.

Red Lanterns is a mix of love and protest influenced by Romantic and Beat poets and melded with Ray’s special type of word magic. Most of the poems are what you may categorize as eco-poetry. For those unfamiliar with the term, its main emphasis is to bring awareness to environmental issues, looking at the world in a non-anthropocentric manner, with humankind being part of the problem itself.

The Romantic poets are generally known for expressing a deep love for the world and its natural landscape, but even Wordsworth was not all butterflies and rainbows, using poetry, for example, to bring attention the cruelty of child factory workers of 19th century England. When I received my copy of Red Lanterns, it included an invite to a Zoom meeting; Janisse wanted to take a photo of faces of her readers holding up Red Lanterns. She also asked if we would individually read a few lines or a stanza from her poem, “Trees.” She was gathering different voices to later share recorded collective voices on social media. Poems are meant to be heard, to be read out loud, so I thought, what a wonderful project, but also, experiencing this poem in a group-read made “Trees” so much more powerful. Try it yourself and read these lines from “Trees” out loud:

We live among trees, / sleep under them, / pass by and through them, / yet we mostly do not see them. / Mostly we are oblivious // They shade us, shelter us, envelope us, moisten us. / They give us oxygen // They feed us, offering their seeds, their nuts, their fruit, / their pomes, their leaves // They make music for us—percussions, rattles, shivers. // And every day we destroy them. / We cut them, burn them, run over them, / scar them, skin them…

Obviously, this isn’t the whole poem. You need to get your own copy of Red Lanterns! Focus on the tension-building here, though. First, Ray establishes the glory of trees and what they provide. This is followed by almost a question that we must ask ourselves, “Why do we destroy something so valuable to our own existence?”

There’s a dark romanticism about her poetry, as if she’s discussing being in a relationship with an abuser or even someone who takes and takes, never giving back. Many of Ray’s poems explore the same themes as those in the film Mother!—the one-sided relationship we have with Earth. Ray doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Yet, while she pushes readers to consider their relationship with the planet, she does it in manner that celebrates the simple wonders of nature, which is what a Romantic poet does best.

In two of Ray’s “dark romantic” poems, “Rant, WonderFarm” and “Mr. Coal,” she juxtaposes pristine, almost sacred, images of the natural world against environmental destruction caused by pesticides and mining. The devastation isn’t limited to the landscape, however; everything has a consequence, and both humans and animals alike suffer. In “Rant, WonderFarm” the devil is Roundup and the chemical spraying of farms. Even so, there’s a sense of hope at the end of this poem. I love this stanza: “We’re building soil now, / finally building soil: / local soil. Organic soil. Soul soil,” because it reminds me of a prayer— simple, powerful, persuasive. Ray mentions names of farmers—a community of farmers in this poem—and even with the dark side of farming that’s present, the communal sense stands out as the victor. With “Rant, WonderFarm” I had a vision of the farming life depicted by Georgia artist, Mattie Lou O’Kelley. I know farming isn’t as simple and neat as the paintings of O’Kelley, but the recognition and holiness of community stand out in both O’Kelley’s and Ray’s work, which I believe is the message Ray is conveying in “Rant, WonderFarm.”

In “Mr. Coal,” Ray draws from the Southern Gothic and personifies Mr. Coal as a “dirty thief,” a “home-stealer,” the devil, himself:

Right where the blood comes in is where / Massey tore down the mountain. / Mr. Coal lives down there under /ground. Wants to pull us all down with him: / Your people are all sick, what you got to live for? he asks. / Down here, we can make us a bright light, / come on down. /He says with his face dirty, / his teeth black, little halfmoons, / under his fingernails pitch black. / His tongue is black. / His heart is darkest of all, Nothing but a lump.

Though Ray alludes to a specific mining area in Breathitt County, Kentucky, the poem could easily speak for any of the mining communities of Appalachia. This poem is a powerhouse of blended imagery—the deplorable conditions and practices of mining companies, black lung, mountaintop removal, polluted water and land, loss of homeland, and the list goes on and on. What made this poem resonate with me was the narrative voice. Ray uses the vernacular of the miners and mining families, and this is crucial. One of the reasons the marginalized peoples of these mining towns have been dismissed is because of stereotypes around rural people being ignorant, and largely this has to do with how they speak. If you want a better idea about these misconceptions regarding impoverished Appalachians, watch the documentaries, Hillbilly or Harlan County, USA.

“Mr. Coal” is artfully crafted. It personifies Massey (Massey Energy Company) as the devil whispering in the ears of the townsfolk. It gives voice to a people who have had extraordinarily little voice (their health, the rights of their land, their future), as it portrays a no-win situation where people are dependent for their livelihoods on the very thing that kills them.

While many of these poems could be categorized as protest or activism poetry drawing from the Beat poets, one of the most significant poems that addresses our current societal state is “Ode to Joy.” Troy Davis was convicted for killing an off-duty police officer in a robbery gone bad; the poem depicts the hours immediately before Davis was executed. Most of the witnesses against him later recanted their testimonies; no DNA evidence or the gun ever linked Davis to the crime; and he maintained his innocence to the end. He was executed by lethal injection while hundreds prayed outside for him and while international leaders and amnesty organizations sent pleas for mercy. This poem pays tribute the protestors who stood vigil outside Jackson State Penitentiary.

It is an intense poem, perhaps a crossover between flash and poetry, but with more poetic elements, especially the repetition of “I am Troy Davis” threaded throughout that hits you in the chest. The repetition of Troy Davis’s name and the line “I am Troy Davis” gives the poem rhythm, a musical quality (something the Beat poets incorporated), but remember, odes are meant to be sung. “Ode to Joy” describes what it’s like to be part of a movement, of protest, of giving voice to those who are not heard, who need your voice. It honors the spirit of protest regardless of the result.

It’s also about loss. In the poem, there’s a stay in the execution and a sense of joy pervades the crowd. The narrator leaves and enters a church where a choir is singing. The choir keeps singing even with the stay. It was a short stay, however, and Davis was executed. There’s this sublime image at the end of the poem of the narrator’s soul floating over the city of Jackson, “over the church with its doors flung wide and its roof cracked open to the stars.” It’s a paradox. Did the choir with the sheer strength of their voices crack the roof open or is our system so flawed it can even break a church? It’s probably both. The poem is brilliantly crafted and reminds us that we are all Troy Davis.

Along with eco-poetry, dark romanticism, and protest/activist poetry, Red Lanterns is also about grief. There are some very intimate poems; I wondered if they were autobiographical since the narration was so close, honest, and very personal. The collection is well-balanced and approachable. While there are some strong words against humankind and the wounds we’ve inflicted on the planet—wounds we have inflicted against ourselves—Red Lanterns judiciously celebrates the simple pleasures of nature, love, family, friendship, and community, which I’m pretty sure sums up Janisse Ray.

TO PURCHASE A SIGNED COPY (yes, I said signed) please visit Janisse Ray’s website at: www.janisseray.com/bookshop

MORE ABOUT JANISSE RAY: Janisse Ray is an American writer whose subject most often falls into the borderland of nature and culture. She has published five books of nonfiction, including Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, a New York Times Notable Book. Her collection of essays, Wild Spectacle: Seeking Wonder in a World Beyond Humans, is due out October 2021. Red Lanterns is her second book of eco-poetry. Ray has won an American Book Award, Pushcart Prize, Southern Bookseller Awards, Southern Environmental Law Center Writing Awards, Nautilus Award, and Eisenberg Award, among others. She has been inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. She lives on an organic farm in the coastal plains of Georgia.

If you enjoyed this read, please share on social media and tell you friends and family. Be on the lookout for my interview with Janisse Ray about her collection, Red Lanterns, next Saturday, May 15th.

EARTH DAY FLASH FICTION

If you are disturbed by this image, you should be. But at least we can take images such as this one and use it to create and educate like my friend, Professor Maria Klouda, did when she offered her students extra credit to write a piece of flash fiction using the image of this poor, poor, poor whale as inspiration. Enjoy! My challenge for my writer friends is to use this image to write a piece of flash fiction and submit your piece. Please share with me in the comments as well. I’ve provided three paying markets currently seeking flash fiction. Easy, easy, easy. All you have to do is write, submit, and share.

Thanks to the two students who contributed to this little project!

Although we celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd, let’s make every day Earth Day so we don’t have to be disturbed by images like this one.

I’ve also included three paying markets seeking flash fiction. Get out there and submit!

Fishy Fantasy by Ivey Chastain

The man swallowed his pill before entering the fish market.

“What’s the specialty?” he asked the fisherman.

“Same as yesterday but these are more vibrant than usual,” the fisherman said reluctantly.

He ignored the fisherman’s reactions. He could tell the fisherman hadn’t taken his pill.

The fisherman hesitated, wrapping the fish the man bought.

Later that evening the man noticed his vision fading. He knew he would need more pills soon. He lifted his fork to take a bite of fish and suddenly remembered the fisherman’s hesitation.

Glancing down, the man dropped his fork. On his plate—a rotten fish filled with bits of colored plastic was swimming in black oil.

Plastic Food by Andersson Jaxon

“It’s normal for me to be weak after such a long migration to lay my eggs,” the turtle said to herself. After such an arduous journey the turtle was tired but was still eating plenty. However, as she ate more, she continued to feel worse, often choking on the jellyfish and not knowing why. “It’s all because of the journey and laying eggs,” she lied to herself as she became weaker by the day. She kept lying to herself hoping it would get better. Seeing her hatchlings in the same state she realized too late that those “jellyfish” they had been been eating for so long weren’t jellyfish but plastic bags.

Paying Markets Seeking Flash Fiction

Midway Journal’s -1000 Below: Flash Prose and Poetry Contest for a chance to win the $500 grand prize! Opens: March 1st & Closes: June 1st; Charges a $10 fee. See Submission Guidelines: -1000 Below: Flash Prose and Poetry Contest (midwayjournal.com)

Reflex Fiction– Quarterly international flash fiction competition. Reflex is looking for stories between 180 and 360 words with a choose your own submission fee. See Submission guidelines: Flash Fiction Competition and Print Anthology – Reflex Fiction

The Lascaux Prize in Flash Fiction: Stories may be previously published or unpublished, and simultaneous submissions are accepted. True stories are welcome as long as they’re written in a narrative style. Winner receives $1,000 and a bronze medallion. Finalists receive $100. Winner and finalists are published in both the online and annual print editions of The Lascaux Review. There’s a $15 fee for submissions: See Submission Guidelines: Contest Guidelines | The Lascaux Review

Happy Earth Day!

A Conversation with Author and Activist, Anjali Enjeti on her Latest Collection, Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change

In your essay, “Anger Like Fire,” you celebrate rage. That essay resonated me, because as a woman, and as a Southern woman, rage is, to put it mildly, discouraged. Do you think it’s a Southern issue? Why are men allowed to express rage, but it’s not okay for women?

Unfortunately, we still live in such a misogynistic society, where women’s emotions are either denigrated, minimized, erased, ignored, or judged. And oftentimes, we experience major repercussions for expressing our anger. It’s a problem everywhere, but I do agree that it sometimes feels as if the taboo of women’s anger is heightened in the Deep South.

All of the stereotypes about southern women are that we’re quiet and well-mannered and keep our feelings to ourselves. But we’re not. And I think because anger and rage are associated with power, and power is associated with masculinity, it’s more acceptable for men to express rage.

Women’s rage, though, can be so productive. We raise our voices to demand change. We march in protests. We advocate for our families and our communities. We organize voters. We fight for various causes.

I loved the poetic structure of your essay “In Memory of Vincent Chin, An Elegy in Nineteen Acts.” It’s chilling, heartbreaking; his murder was senseless. It stuck out to me because you leaned on a poetic form to lament Vincent Chin’s murder rather than the essay form. In Act XIX, Afterlife, you contemplated Chin’s honeymoon which is so different than your nonfiction essays, because you added this fictional detail. Will you elaborate on your decision to tell Chin’s story in this manner? Was there any particular elegy you used for inspiration?

The Vincent Chin essay is probably the hardest piece I’ve ever written in my life. In fact, I spent years wanting to write an essay about him, but I couldn’t figure out how to begin. Then I decided I would just try to create some kind of an outline first. It took some of the pressure off of me to not have to think about the piece in strict prose. So, I started with the list of events that’s in the beginning of the essay, which examines, more broadly, the history of Asian Americans.

A dear friend invited me to a reading in Nashville, along with a few other writers. I didn’t have any new completed work to read, so I told them I’d read some notes for an essay I was working on about Vincent Chin. When I was finished, they told me not to change it – that the form was crucial to the function of the piece.

That’s why the entire essay is told in relatively short Acts – it’s essentially a cleaned-up version of the outline I wrote for it.

Initially, I was going to end the essay with the words inscribed on Vincent’s gravestone. But that ending felt so unfair. Vincent was so much more than his death. He was a man who had dreams and was about to embark on starting a family and a new life when Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz brutally murdered him.

I am an Asian American activist today largely because of Vincent’s life and death, and the Asian American movement that followed. But I wanted to do something more for him. It dawned on me that I could offer Vincent a very small piece of what was so cruelly taken away from him – I could pen a glimpse of what his life could have been. That’s why I end the essay with Vincent and his fiancé Vicki on their honeymoon in Aruba. That last segment is the only piece of fiction in the entire essay collection.

Feeding off my previous question some, I mentioned in my review of Southbound that I clung onto the theme of masks, whether it was a literal mask—the white hoods of the Ku Klux Klan, the mask of Evangelists, or the mask of silence. Was that a theme you considered when putting these essays into a collection, or was just something I embraced personally in Southbound?

Masks are definitely a theme in the book. Masks can be tools for protection. When we are feeling vulnerable, they help us feel safe. But sometimes our masks, while keeping us safe, lead to other people’s pain and trauma. And if we’re hiding, we’re not resisting. We’re not challenging the forces that not only caused our trauma, but cause other, more marginalized folks’ trauma.

This is what I tried to convey in Southbound. That while masks are great for hiding behind, they’re difficult to see out of. If we are spending a lot of time hiding, we’re not necessarily seeing who else is being harmed, and to what degree.

In “Virtual Motherhood” you talk about your experience of new motherhood, discovering a platform and the online parenting community, which led to you blogging and writing about parenting and your eventual journey towards activism. What do your girls and your husband think about you as mother-activist and spouse-activist? I got the sense that motherhood fueled your journey. How in the hell do you manage your time?!

I’ve been involved with activism since I was in college, but yes, parenting has definitely shaped my work and shifted my vision. I worry, all the time, about what kind of world all our children are inheriting from us, and how we can make it a safer, healthier, and kinder place for them.

Activism is a family activity at our home. My husband does this work alongside me, but when we get closer to an election, he takes over the house and the kids so I can meet with voters in person to get out the vote. My daughters are 19, 16, and 13, and have been involved in political volunteer work for many years.

I didn’t push any of them toward it. When they were younger, I’d invite them to join in, but if they didn’t want to participate, I let it go. But they saw how active and engaged I was, and how I made this social justice work a priority in my life. Gradually over time, they started making it a priority in theirs. My oldest daughter now does work for political campaigns. My middle daughter canvasses and attends numerous protests. My youngest daughter spent weeks putting thousands of labels on campaign postcards.

I’m very lucky because I work from home. So, I don’t have a commute, and this gives me extra time. I also teach in a low residency MFA program, and am freelance writer and author, and this affords me flexibility. But I basically end up working all the time and never getting a break, and it’s taken a tremendous toll on my heath. So, I’m desperately trying to find a better balance and rest more. Fingers crossed I have it all figured out by 2022.

You’ve mentioned in conversations and lectures I attended that publishing your memoir, The Parted Earth, and your essays, Southbound, was a struggle. Do you think it was about timing? Were publishers afraid to get behind what you were saying? Or do you have other thoughts on why you work is being published now verses years ago?

It’s really hard to know. Publishing is such a crap shoot in general. Certainly, luck and timely play a significant role.

I did not bother looking for an agent for Southbound because I knew, as a debut author, that I was not going to be able to sell a collection of essays like this one to a big press. I couldn’t even envision it with one of the big presses. So, I only researched small presses and university presses that had a solid reputation with respect to nonfiction. University of Georgia Press was at the top of my list because I have loved so many of their literary nonfiction books.

The very first book I tried to sell 13 years ago was a collection of essays. I couldn’t get anywhere. The second book I tried to sell was an anthology of essays by multiple authors. That book got an agent, but she couldn’t sell it. I love the essay form, and I love to read collections of essays. So, to finally have Southbound out in the world feels surreal!

I’m probably not the first person to ask this, but would you ever consider running for office?

Truthfully, I have zero desire to run for office. My skill set and my passion lie in getting people to the polls. That’s the work I find most rewarding.

But also, I try to be very protective of my creative side, and purposely avoid doing work that taxes my creativity too much. Running for office or serving as an elected official would greatly diminish my capacity as a writer. I need to preserve that creative side of my brain as much as possible and doing organizing work as a volunteer allows me the flexibility to do this.

You mentioned you’ve been in arguments in-person and on social media. Are you prepared for backlash from the Far Right when Southbound comes out?

I suppose I’m never prepared for trolling. It takes a toll, and at the end of the day, I’m human. But I’m also used to it. I write a lot about politics. I put myself out there regularly. I’m prepared for the backlash, even though the backlash can sometimes be cruel.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve recently finished several wonderful books, including two collections—Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Life of Church Ladies, and Tyrese Coleman’s How to Sit. Next up is Suchitra Vijayan’s nonfiction debut book, Midnight’s Borders.

What can your fans look forward to reading next? Are there any events on the agenda we need to know about?

I’m currently rewriting what was my first novel. It takes place primarily in the 1990s in North Georgia, a place close to my heart, but it does zig zag a little bit to other parts in the world and other decades.

For current events with Anjali Enjeti, visit her event’s page at: Events – Anjali Enjeti

Southbound is available for preorder: Southbound: Essays – Anjali Enjeti

MORE ABOUT ANJALI ENJETI: Anjali Enjeti is a former attorney, organizer, and award-winning journalist based near Atlanta. She is the author of the essay collection Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change, and the novel, The Parted Earth. Her writing about politics, social justice, and books has appeared in Harper’s BAZAAR, ZORA, Courier Newsroom, Mic, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, The Nation, and elsewhere. She teaches in the MFA program at Reinhardt University and is the co-founder of They See Blue Georgia, an organization for South Asian Democrats.

A Review of Southbound: Essays on Identity, Heritage, and Social Change by Author Anjali Enjeti

The problem with masks is that it’s very hard to see out of them.

Anjali Enjeti, Southbound

I met Anjeli Enjeti during my residency when I was a graduate student getting my MFA in creative writing at Reinhardt University where Enjeti is an instructor for the MFA program. Anjali was exotic to me, not because of her brown skin, her mixed race, or her ancestry that she speaks about in Southbound, not even because she has such an amazing background, attorney turned activist turned journalist and author, but because she’s a non-fiction writer and to fiction writers these folks are captivating but also intimidating. My God! They tell the truth! From that experience, my biggest regret was not mentoring with her, not taking her workshops in non-fiction, but I was quite frankly scared. Then I listened to the graduate student readers, those who she mentored, and I regretted that my fear got in my own way. She taught these students to not only find their voices but to articulate them in a powerful way that still resonates with me today. With all that, I knew what I was getting into when I began to read Southbound. It wasn’t going to be easy. There would be no hiding behind fiction.

At the beginning of this post, I quoted Enjeti’s words: “The problem with masks is that it’s very hard to see out of them.” I clung to these words while reading Southbound. The human mind attempts to find connections and for myself these particular words connected the entire collection thematically. Enjeit was referring the mask of silence here, specifically hiding behind a mask as a child who laughed off racist comments directed at her—a defense mechanism. Yet, those masks appear over and over in Southbound. What I believe Enjeti to be saying is that you don’t have to put on a literal mask like the white hoods the Ku Klux Klan members who shot five Black women in Chattanooga in 1980 wore in her essay, “Treatment.” There are all types of masks. In that same essay the mask assumes Southern Christian morality and righteousness hiding behind religion, preaching against homosexuality and calling AIDS a plague on gays. But the mask probably most familiar to us is the mask of silence. Simply ignoring injustice or remaining silent because I didn’t do it, or it doesn’t affect me personally is a single silence that multiply into another silence until there are thousands of little silences. That’s what resonated with me personally with Southbound because that’s the mask I have worn myself.

Some of Enjeti’s individual experiences really hit home for me. Enejti moved from the Midwest to Chattanooga, TN a few years before I moved from Missouri to Georgia. In her essay “Southbound,” she relates her experience of visiting Confederama, a tourist trap that featured dioramas of miniature Union and Confederate soldiers fighting at key battle sites for the Battle of Chattanooga. A young Enjeti comments on the weirdness of this place to her parents. I was instantly transported to my first experience of Southern weirdness the summer my family moved to Georgia and we visited Stone Mountain. This was the late 1980s. That night my family and I watched a laser show celebrating the big dogs of the Confederacy—Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis—chiseled into the mountain and coming to life. Amongst fireworks, rebel yells, and adults waving Confederate flags screaming, “The South will rise again!” I had a similar experience to what Enjeti wrote about in her essay. I wondered if the laws were different here than the rest of the country. Was there a different government? And if they were rising again, now that I lived here would I have to be part of it? Enjeti states Confederama was “jarring for me as a young child” because of how “unapologetic, misinformed, and prevalent this celebration felt. It was if the South had won the Civil War, and the War had ended only yesterday.” I wanted to know more about this Confederama place that reminded me of Stone Mountain, so I searched for images and in the process, I discovered a 2015 post made by an individual who stated that, “Confederama, unfortunately, fell victim to political correctness and now exists farther up Lookout Mountain, I hear, in an altered and watered-down form…as I recall, there was a distinct Confederate bias. I remember thrilling to the tiny red flashes of guns being fired as a somber recording gave the history lesson.” Isn’t that weird? The terms “political correctness,” “watered down,” and “distinct Confederate bias” struck me now as an adult as not just being weird, but as being racist. I didn’t know this place with massive Confederate flags on the front of the building existed, but does it matter? While these places are less abundant in the South of 2021, I still see Confederate flags waving in the air in parts of Georgia and certainly the ideology is widespread, which is really the point of some of these essays.

This is a book for everyone, and everyone should be reading it. In response to the protests of 2020, daily tragedies of Black Americans being killed by law enforcement, and the Black Lives Matter Movement, many corporations and businesses saw the need for dialogue and have created diversity groups who engage employees of different ethnicities to discuss their experiences. They also have readings and book discussions. Enjeti’s essays would be an excellent starting point for companies to launch conversations between these groups. For future and current activists wishing someone would impart wisdom or give voice to the experience of volunteering, protesting, and campaigning for equality and social change, Southbound is waiting for you. There’s a great essay called ““Armchair Activism” In the Real World” that addresses activism in the time of a pandemic for those saying I can’t. These essays are for teachers seeking diverse voices to educate and engage their students. For non-fiction writers, essayists, and memoirists contemplating structure and voice, Southbound acts as pseudo-guidebook in writing; it’s certainly a memoir on how Enjeti found her voice. For white readers wanting to understand otherness, racism, perspectives from people of color, these essays are a wonderful starting point. As a white person, you may find the essays to be an uncomfortable read. That’s okay. I can’t say I have all the same beliefs and political views as Enjeti, but that’s fine too. If you do feel discomfort, ask yourself why. It’s not a bad thing. You can still respect, value, and learn from Enjeti’s experiences.

I could go on and on about who would benefit from reading Southbound. Why not a few more? It’s for mothers, outsiders, immigrants, anyone who has been bullied, experienced chronic pain, has been discriminated against, or have felt a complete and utter sense of rage. “Anger Like Fire” is probably one of my favorite essays because no one has ever told me to be okay with my rage until now.

Southbound will upset you. It’ll enrage you. It’ll hurt. It also educates. It also speaks. If it doesn’t, please check for a pulse. It’s not necessary to read the essays in order, but if I hadn’t, it may not have been as clear to me how Enjeti’s early beginnings led to where she is now. Enjeti compellingly weaves personal accounts in with current events, statistics, research, and history. For me, it wasn’t the type of book I could read in one setting, or even two, three, or four settings. I decided on reading one essay in the morning and one in the evening to avoid imploding. That’s not to say I couldn’t stomach what Enejti was telling me, but I could only process the emotional rollercoaster Enjeti took me on in spells. With Southbound, Enjeti has seemingly left no stone unturned, no topic is off the table; her personal essays are powerhouses with a purpose.

Southbound is available for preorder: Southbound: Essays – Anjali Enjeti

More about Anjali Enjeti: Anjali Enjeti is a former attorney, organizer, and award-winning journalist based near Atlanta. She is the author of the essay collection Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change, and the novel, The Parted Earth. Her writing about politics, social justice, and books has appeared in Harper’s BAZAAR, ZORA, Courier Newsroom, Mic, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, The Nation, and elsewhere. She teaches in the MFA program at Reinhardt University and is the co-founder of They See Blue Georgia, an organization for South Asian Democrats.

Interested in learning more about Southern Author, William Gay? Join me next week for the Lost Southern Voices Festival on March 26th.

Join me on March 26th from 1 p.m. to 2.15 p.m. ET for the Lost Southern Voices Festival. I’m presenting last in this panel: Condensed Careers: Poetry, Scandal, and Southern Gothic. Two William Gay books are up for raffle for local residents. Registration information is below. This event is entirely online, but you do need to register.

To specifically register for my panel (but consider signing up for more): Revival:Lost Southern Voices 2021: Session 2 Tickets, Fri, Mar 26, 2021 at 1:00 PM | Eventbrite

About the festival: The festival is for readers and celebrates lost or underappreciated Southern writers’ work. Every year, invited authors and scholars discuss writers whose literary voices no longer receive the attention and reading they deserve. The public, scholars, students, writers, and readers are welcome to join us as we revive these lost voices.

This year, the festival is back with a full virtual festival next week, from Wednesday, March 24, 2021, to Saturday, March 27, 2021! Former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey is the keynote speaker, and five additional sessions, complete with Q&As and virtual door prizes, are planned. More information on the raffles is below, but know you must provide your address during registration to be entered, and you must be a resident of DeKalb, Fulton, or Gwinnett. The keynote, which is sponsored by Perimeter College’s Department of English, Honors College, and Student Affairs, and is in conjunction with Revival: Lost Southern Voices, does not include a raffle.

Scroll on for the full festival schedule. You can visit the Facebook event here for the registration links, and you’ll find them all below. You must register for each event separately. For the keynote, you will register through Georgia State University’s website. For the rest of the sessions, you will register on Eventbrite. Again, all the links are available here and below. Once you’ve registered for a session, you’ll receive an email with the link to view that presentation.

Join to hear presentations about William Gay, Ella Gertrude, Clanton Thomas, Alice Walker, Padgett Powell, and so many more. On Saturday, March 27th, the entire session devoted to James Baldwin’s work, and while he may not be “lost” in the traditional sense, this panel will explore the many important ways his work is being rediscovered and taught in modern times. You won’t want to miss it.

Full schedule:

Wednesday, March 24, 2021
Keynote
1 p.m. ET, WebEx
Natasha Trethewey, former U.S. Poet Laureate
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir
Register here.

Thursday, March 25, 2021
1 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Art Vs. Artist: Works of Merit and the Controversial Authors Who Wrote Them
Moderator: Gina Flowers
Chip Bell: Augustus Longstreet, lawyer and writer
Janet Williams: Sidney Lanier
Melissa Swindell: Harry Stillwell Edwards, novelist and journalist
Register here.

Friday, March 26, 2021
1 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Condensed Careers: Poetry, Scandal, and Southern Gothic
Moderator: Joe Davich
Eli Arnold: Ernest Hartsock, poet
Matt Dischinger: Brad Vice, fiction writer
Dawn Major: William Gay, fiction writer
Register here.

4 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Unruly Women in Southern History
Moderator: Kari Miller
Brenda Bynum: Helen Matthews Lewis, sociologist and historian
Caleb Johnson: Kathryn Tucker Windham, folklorist and journalist
Carolyn Curry: Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, political figure
Register here.

Saturday, March 27, 2021
1 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Reading Baldwin in the Twenty-first Century
Moderator: Laura McCarty
Tareva Johnson: The Fire Next Time
Jamil Zainaldin: “Stranger in the Village”
Stephane Dunn: Cinematic Adaptations
Register here.

4 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Reckoning with the South throughout the Twentieth Century
Moderator: Jessica Handler
James Stamant: Elizabeth Madox Roberts, novelist
Valerie Boyd: Alice Walker, novelist and short story writer
Christopher Merkner: Padgett Powell, novelist and short story writer
Register here.

About the Raffles: Books will be raffled at the end of sessions 1-5. Trethewey’s Keynote is excluded from raffles. One raffle for a gift card to Revival (a restaurant in Downtown Decatur), at the end of the festival, will include all festival attendees. Books will be raffled off at the end of each session as well, for attendees of that session. There is no cost for entry. Entrants must be 18 years old or older, and provide a home address for receipt of prizes. Due to the pandemic, prizes will be delivered contact-free to the home address provided, or pick-up may be arranged. Entrants must be residents of Georgia, USA, and must reside in DeKalb, Fulton, or Gwinnett counties. Residents of other metro Atlanta counties will be considered on a case by case basis. One entry is permitted per person, per household, each session.

Follow the festival on Facebook at @RevivalLostSouthernVoices for more updates! You may also follow the festival on Twitter (@RevivalLost) and Instagram (revivallsv).

See you there!

As you know, your Zoom panel takes place Friday, March 26, 2021, at 1 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. ET. If you’d like to advertise the link to your specific panel, you can direct people to register on its Eventbrite page, here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/revivallost-southern-voices-2021-session-2-tickets-144080036267?aff=ebdsoporgprofile&fbclid=IwAR32gkAWb_jBjvZrwjkDv4rWWje4n_IU1U2m-clBOJ5cQ63BQTCMkRKzyIw.

Looking to Publish Your Next Horror Piece?

Springer Mountain Press is seeking ghosts, witches, final girls (and boys), monsters, zombies, clowns, creepy dolls, demons and any pieces guaranteed to cause dread, terrify and haunt our dreams for the Springer Mountain Press’s First Edition of the Summer Slasher Horror Anthology. The deadline for submitting is March 15th and they are looking for your best poetry, flash fiction piece, short story, novel excerpt, or novella with a maximum word count of 10,000 words in any horror genre.

Does that mean psychological horror? Yes. What about slasher horror? Yes! And monster horror? Duh, yes. How about supernatural horror? Of course! Erotica Horror? Nah, let’s get to know you first. Excessive Gore Horror? Ow!! Not so much.

Formatting Your Manuscript: All manuscripts should be in 12-point type, with at least one-inch margins, and sequentially numbered pages. Fiction should be double-spaced. Poetry should be single-spaced. The author’s name, address, telephone number, and email address should be typed at the top of the first page. Your manuscript must be in one of the following file forms: .doc, .docx, .rtf. Contributors are asked to include a brief biographical note with their submissions. 

Email your submissions to Springer Mountain Press at: editor@springermountainpress.com.