Last fall, the release of the sixth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was—or should have been—a wake-up call. This spring, we got a shocking, though not surprising, elaboration on that news: the United Nations released a report warning that we must limit global warming to 1.5 degrees now or lose the chance of holding to that limit. As we try to survive increasingly volatile fires, hurricanes, and floods, it feels more important than ever to keep our attention on this point. Here in North Carolina, though it’s long since out of the news, communities still suffer from the effects of Hurricane Florence in 2018. The storm closed Ecotone’s offices for a month, and we were lucky that our staff and UNC Wilmington creative-writing community came through relatively unscathed. Still, three years (and what feels like several lifetimes) later, it’s easy to recall the fear and chaos of that time.
Even as we respond to the more immediate-feeling violence of efforts to limit democracy and basic human rights, acting to shift the climate crisis is essential to the wellbeing of our bodies, the land, and the beings we share it with—and not at all unrelated to the former crises. It’s not easy. We each operate under our own constraints—of resources, of time, of systemic oppression and violence, of limited energy and attention. So I’m pleased that we’re featuring in this issue the second installment of our Climate Annotations series, in which writers, artists, and scientists help us to engage with climate science. In her annotation, Anne Haven McDonnell writes eloquently of the sounds pine trees make when compromised by the mountain pine beetle, and of the compound effects of the climate crisis.
Monica Rico’s aching but fierce poem “Get Out of My House” evokes family dynamics with heartbreaking precision—as do each of the three short stories in this issue.
Many of this issue’s contributors lend voice to the complex effects of systemic and local oppression, some with unflinching exactness, some tempered by visions of good relationships and of kindness, and some with wild syntax and rhythm. In a pair of poems, Ibe Liebenberg considers the violence done in the United States to human and wolf bodies. Gretchen VanWormer tells of finding queer community and connection to place after a move to Oklahoma, contemplating artworks by Albertus Seba, J. Jay McVicker, and Allan Houser along the way. Monica Rico’s aching but fierce poem “Get Out of My House” evokes family dynamics with heartbreaking precision—as do each of the three short stories in this issue, from Jerome Blanco, Chioma Urama, and Vanessa Chan, in strikingly different ways. Read on, too, for a rip-roaring comic from Rumi Hara, and exuberant paintings of Black cultural heroes and a childhood in Harlem, from our cover artist, Lisa Love Whittington. In her essay “The Apologetic Body,” Catherine Pierce writes of the freedom from shame that new motherhood provides. And, bringing us back to the planetary body that sustains us, Catherine Carter writes in her poem “Earth says,” “I am your mother as you are mother / to the mosquito that hovers / over your arm as you write. . . .”
Yes, it’s been a strange and terrible few years. But in them, just before and during the pandemic, it was our exceedingly good luck that Sophia Stid, our first postgraduate fellow, joined our editorial team. Among many accomplishments, she edited a great deal of work for the magazine, was instrumental in helping to bring our fifteenth-anniversary Ecotone almanac to life, and researched and helped to enact our ongoing process of land acknowledgment. She’s been a model for our MFA team of the editor-writer, winning awards for her own work—watch for her forthcoming chapbook from Host Publications!—even as she devotes incredible creative attention to this magazine, its staff and its contributors. With this issue, she departs for new adventures, though I’m pleased to write that she’ll continue to work with us as a contributing editor. Sophia’s steadfast wisdom, clarity, and inventiveness have been a gift to our team and to everything she works on. It’s an understatement to say that we’ll miss her.
Amid it all, these editors found more creative ways to attend to both work and self-care; and as for the work part, they threw heart and soul and intellect into the making of this magazine.
In this same span of time, several Ecotone editors and designers joined and have just now completed UNC Wilmington’s MFA program. I want to mark their achievement, and that of many among our recent student staff: their entire graduate study, save one semester and the early spring of 2020, happened during a time when leaving the house was a particular danger. The sense of community made possible by our in-person classes and meetings was still there, on Zoom, but harder to find. The AWP conference, a ritual for many, was an impossibility for most to attend at all, even during the years when it took place in person. We were tired, so tired. And yet: amid it all, these editors found more creative ways to attend to both work and self-care; and as for the work part, they threw heart and soul and intellect into the making of this magazine.
I begin the practicum courses our MFA-student staff and editors take by sharing a set of guiding principles for Ecotone editors (the first version of which I included in Issue 24). At the end of their time with the magazine, I ask our editors to write about their own editorial values, reflecting on what they have learned and what they care about most in their editorial practice. In recognition of their smarts and tenacity, I’ll share some of what our outgoing editors wrote here.
Nonfiction editor Steph Beckner writes of the synchronistic relationship between writing and editing:
One of the best things about being both an editor and a writer is having the opportunity to witness both sides of the process. As a nonfiction writer, I have a keen understanding of the courage and vulnerability that nonfiction writing sometimes requires of a writer. Responding to stories about intense or painful life experiences needs to be done respectfully, if not reverently. I understood how difficult getting those words on the page can be for a writer. And that respect is equally important if it isn’t content that I’m familiar with or have personally experienced.
Beginning on a similar note, co–fiction editor Kaylie Saidin writes:
The editorial values most important to me are maintaining the author’s vision of their work, diversity in perspectives and forms of writing, and fostering new conversations within literary traditions. It’s crucial to me, when editing a piece, that the author feels listened to and that their vision is being honored. I believe in in-depth communication between the editor and the author to achieve this balance. I’m invested in amplifying diverse voices in literary magazines, as many communities have been underrepresented in the literary canon of place-based writing. Finally, I’m interested in diversity in form: a wide variety of topics, themes, structures, and experimental styles breathe life into the literary world. Publishing work that is diverse, in all its meanings, creates new conversations and expands the literary tradition.
Comics editor Ryleigh Wann picks up the thread:
All too often, publishers function as gatekeepers, even if they don’t intend to. I admire literary magazines and publishers that are trying to further support BIPOC, queer, and emerging writers, and will keep that in mind in future endeavors.
As an editor, one must form a relationship with the writer and be mindful that sometimes suggested edits will not align with what that writer may be trying to accomplish, due to differences in our backgrounds, culture, voice, class, etc. Bias is sometimes impossible to avoid, since I have my own life experiences and some writers have experiences vastly different from mine. I think it’s important to recognize this in an editorial role. I support publishing work that aligns with my values as well, which strive to do no harm to a community, person, or place.
Co–fiction editor Emily Lowe considers writerly intent:
When I think of my editorial values, I think of supporting the intentions of the writer. It is important to me for the writer to feel heard and for their vision to be present first and foremost. Precision is another important editorial value; it’s one that I am still working on perfecting. I want my edits to be sharp and precise enough that the writer feels like they have a road map to achieve them. Lastly, I am interested in showing the writer care. Writing comes from a soft and intimate place, whether it is fiction, poetry, nonfiction, or hybrid work, and I always want the writer to feel supported. I want any writer who works with me to know that they and their work are valued.
And I’m inclined to give poetry editor Cass Lintz, from whom I’ve also borrowed the title of this essay, the last word:
I think patience and joy are important to the editorial process. I have been mindful in my own approach to sending out the inevitable rejections—I’ve been sure to let more authors know when we’ve appreciated their work. I think this gesture of hope and enjoyment is good for the greater literary scene. I envision it as watering the trees. We’ve had some interesting discussions on the longevity of these gestures (or “waterings”) within a single magazine, but also as editors at large. I hope that my time sifting, caring, and thinking with Ecotone’s submissions will leave the magazine stronger than it was before me, and onward