I have four poems from my current manuscript in the Fall 2012 Virginia Quarterly Review, themed "The Female Conscience." It took a minute, amidst all the travels, for me to get to sit down and read this gorgeous issue. But now I have, and I'm so impressed (honored) to be included. Highlights, a.k.a. an annotated TOC:
-"Is There Such a Thing as the Female Conscience?" an essay by Jean Bethke Elshtain...At the magazine where I worked for several years, Elshtain was my first "get," a prestigious scholar I convinced to contribute a small item and later, a significant book review. I am so glad the issue leads by taking on the substantial question of the theme's title and, ultimately, questioning its validity for beyond academic (if useful) provocation.
-"Dreaming of El Dorado," an essay by Marie Arana...Arana is both a confident editor and a superb reporter. This piece pulls me into the world of gold mining in La Rinconada, Peru, with ferocious energy. I care. I wish I didn't, because the options facing these people are bleak. Incredible and merciless and necessary photoessay, too.
-"The Sweet Spot in Time," an essay by Sylvia A. Earle..."I took pleasure in turning questions such as 'Did you wear lipstick? Did you use a hairdryer?' into a discourse on the importance of the ocean as our primary source of oxygen, the value of coral reefs, mangroves, and marshes as vital buffers against storms, and the delightful nature of fish, shrimp, lobsters, and crabs alive, swimming in the ocean—not just on plates swimming with lemon slices and butter." I want to be this woman when I grow up.
-"Of Flight and Life," an essay by Reeve Lindbergh...A priceless glimpse into the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who served as spouse to one of Americas greatest adventurers while creating a formidable identity as an author and correspondent. Particularly poignant is the daughter's recognition of her mother's change over the years; too often we try and fail to understand our parents as homogenous, ageless archetypes.
-"Bad Feminist," by Roxane Gay...I have read most of Gay's essays and articles published in the last two years, yet this was unique access into the quirks and vulnerabilities of her mindset. So much resonates. Is it the fate of our generation of 30-somethings to feel like Bad Feminists, rather than be No Feminists at all?
-Page 93...when I came up for air and realized, hell, I'm reading this cover to cover.
-"Labor," a short story by Maggie Shipstead...It says something that while my sympathy, based on real-life experience, should have been with the three friends--the fierce, fun, independent ones, stubbornly child-free--I found myself feeling for the protagonist. The gift that is both we-love-you and now-go-away: I've been there.
-Three poems by Victoria Chang...If this is what she is up to, I want to read the book. Smart, funny poems that rely on repetition & linked phrasing (mimicking transitive properties of logic) and are set firmly, refreshingly in the non-academic workplace.
-"One to Watch, And One to Pray," a poem by Camille Dungy....No words. This poem just touched me--deeply entrenched in the moment of a family's deathbed vigil, and also irritated and enervated by the presence of a needy newborn.
-"My Fight," an excerpt from the memoir by Deirdre Gogarty...the book is called My Call to the Ring (Glasnevin, 2012), and tells the story of how Gogarty got on the path to becoming a world champion in boxing, a field owned by men. There is probably some tough, headstrong, unholy little girl in your life who needs to read it.
-"My Life as a Girl," a memoir by Stephen Burt...This dovetails beautifully with the recent profile of Burt published in The New York Times Magazine. I love Burt's refusal to defuse the ambiguities, e.g. the opening line, "Maybe I just want to be pretty."
It is interesting that the back page is a facsimile includes a note from the agent of the (then young, pre-Nobel-Prize-winning) author Nadine Gordimer, offering these markedly modest snippets for potential inclusion in an author bio:
"Publishers in both South Africa and in America want to see a novel from me, but I don't know if I can write the novel I want to write....
Except for a very short spell when I worked for the local newspaper in the small town in which I lived (how I wish I could use all the wonderful material I picked up from knowing everybody's business for that five months--but South Africa has a small white population and a long memory), and another short spell when I went to University in Johannesburg, I have always written for myself.
I now live in Johannesburg, am married, and have a baby daughter."
I am not sure it was an intentional commentary by the VQR editors, but I am intrigued by the notion of what Gordimer could have written, versus what she has written. What does this tell us not just about the female consciousness, but the female conscience?
Those in the DC area have an opportunity to join us in a celebration of this issue on Wednesday, November 14, at the Arts Club of Washington (2017 I Street NW).
Beginning at 5:30 PM we will have a reception, leading into a 6 PM reading by guest editor Marie Arana (Writer at Large for the Washington Post and author of several books including the forthcoming Bolivar: American Liberator); Judith Warner (writer for the New York Times Magazine and Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress); Mary Emma Koles (winner of the 2009 Gerald Stern Poetry Prize and the 2012 Mississippi Review Poetry Prize); and....me.
Copies of the magazine will be available for purchase, and the festivities will continue with post-reading refreshments. This event is free and open to the public.
Seriously, now. I'd venture to say that it you make it to one reading in November (as a friend of mine), make it to this one. It's an awesome glance to be part of the new forward momentum of VQR, which is of late making a lot of great hires. Onwards~