This week associate editor Michelle Donahue and I took a break from talking about submissions and went in search of lunch. We landed at Salt Works, the venerable breakfast-and-lunch place across from Wilmington’s arboretum. We sat at a picnic table under a live oak tree, in a little breeze, where we ate the best grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve had in ages.
Salt Works is co-owned by Bob and Megan Hubbard. When I mentioned this to Michelle, she was surprised—Megan also owns a restaurant? Because Megan (pronounced, people should know, with a hard e) has another role during the day, as department administrator for creative writing at UNC Wilmington and office manager for Ecotone. For eighteen years of the magazine’s life—since just after our first issue—she has coordinated the internal processes that make budgeting, grant administration, travel, and countless other things possible. More recently, she’s helped to train our new administrative associate, Siobahn Daugherty. The processes she handles can be labyrinthine, and they frequently change, often to become even more labyrinthine, much to my own consternation. Megan is unflappable in the face of these things, can plumb the nuances of all of them, is ready to help make a complex event or a one-off freelance assignment a reality, and has unmatchable style and presence. In short, her work is the kind without which small and large institutions falter and crumble, the kind that should be sung of more and paid even more. In shorter, we would be lost without her.
Megan and I share an appreciation of flowers. And we both love peonies, which is a hard love to have here on the nearly subtropical coast of what’s now called North Carolina. As Michael Martone wrote in these pages some years back, in his “Postcards from Below the Bug Line,”
One can discover in the South the homes of displaced Midwesterners like me who miss the chance, in the land of rhododendron and azalea, to grow peonies below the bug line. It is not that it gets too hot in the summer growing season to stifle the peony, but that it does not get cold enough, as the crown of the plant needs to freeze over the winter in order to thrive. I like to tour through town, looking for the telltale mounds of ice in a lawn, in a border, or for a Midwesterner mulching a bed with ice, attempting to start a stand of peonies.
I don’t quite have Michael’s devotion—have never iced a plant—but each spring I drive past the one flower farm down here that grows peonies. They put in new plants every year, and, being realists, I guess, plow them under before the summer. I always mean to stop and buy some for Megan and me, but their time is so short that I nearly always miss them—which I’m in danger now of doing yet again. So I have enlisted the help of illustrator and Ecotone comics contributor Martha Park.
Megan, after this note there are some peonies for you. There aren’t nearly enough of them to convey our thanks, but they should last through the summer.
It’s fitting to have Martha back in the magazine, as this issue includes a special feature I’ve been scheming about for a while. Comics editor Summer Wrobel has curated a selection of three comics—from Mita Mahato, Angie Kang, and S. J. Ghaus—and asked the artists to share brief statements about their work. Their graphic narratives move from how we name ourselves to deep-sea ecology to desire paths, suggesting a little of the breadth and range of contemporary comic-making. David Gessner’s Out of Place for this issue gets in the spirit too, and includes tributes to early Ecotone contributors Reg Saner, Mark Spitzer, and Brad Watson. There’s a salute as well to novelist and essayist Philip Gerard, whose untimely death last fall left a gap in our community. Also a contributor to the magazine near its beginnings, Philip was a wise and supportive colleague, a brave, perceptive writer, and coeditor, with Jill Gerard, of Chautauqua magazine. To Ecotone’s and to our students’ benefit, he was a champion of teaching the craft of editing and publishing alongside writing. I’m thankful to see his face in these pages.
Wang considers the seasons and The Tale of Genji, and explores what it takes to be a person who truly notices the world.
This issue’s Poem in a Landscape, “Person of Heart,” from Lei Wang, stands in poignant conversation with David’s eulogies for beloved writers: Wang considers the seasons and The Tale of Genji, and explores what it takes to be a person who truly notices the world. We’ve also got new fiction and essays from writers including Bryn Chancellor, Analía Villagra, Doug Watson, and Julie Marie Wade. And, of course, a plethora of new poems, ranging from Shannon Pulusan’s exploration of a mother’s gardening practices, to Olivia Fantini’s dumplings at a hoped-for wedding, to Molly Tenenbaum’s trades made in exchange for banjo lessons.
Before signing off, I want to celebrate four departing staff members: managing editor Ryan Bloom, fiction editor Becca Hannigan, comics editor Summer Wrobel, and designer Ollie Loorz. Watch our blog for excerpts from the editorial values statements they shared during their last weeks with the magazine. And please help me cheer them as they move on to new adventures!
Now all that’s left is the peonies—which are especially for Megan, but also, yes, for everybody. Thank you, Megan. Thanks, peonies. Thanks, everybody. And happy summer to all