Thank You, Thank You. Humbly, The Summer Intern

Dear The Southern Review & LSU Press,

Sometimes, falling asleep at the student desk logging acceptances and rejections in and out of the system or reading chapters 8.75 or 26.9 or 110,456.5 of The Chicago Manual of Style, I felt as though my last week would never arrive. I hate commas. I don’t want to send rejection letters; they make me so sad. I have six paper cuts from all the press releases I just stuffed into all these envelopes.

I was the ungrateful intern in those moments. The nervous rookie, still adjusting. Now, today, I am the melancholy intern, who wishes to rewind and replay the summer and relish those learning moments. But I cannot, so instead I offer my gratitude. Worth little, but genuine all the same.

Thank you, everyone, for visiting my little desk on that first day. You asked my name; you complimented my homemade lunch; you helped me navigate the submissions manager, e-mail, and piles of mail; you gave me your own parking pass so I wouldn’t get ticketed; you agreed with me that the copy machine was a complete piece of junk even though we both knew that was untrue and that I just did not know how to operate it correctly and was embarrassed and trying to save face.

Thank you for always ensuring productivity. I always felt useful, I always felt needed, I always felt like I had mentors who wanted to teach me, and, I promise you, I always want(ed) to learn.

Thank you to all my hardworking coworkers I only met once, or spoke with infrequently (like when I needed a set of keys or broke the copy machine for the seventh time that day)—thank you for your kindness. I understand how important you are and I hope to have coworkers as friendly and talented in the future.

Thank you, TSR and LSUP, for trusting me enough to contact poets and authors, many of whom are my heroes, my creative idols; thank you for not laughing at me when I geeked out that Charles Simic (!) had sent a piece of mail or Tom Sleigh (!) reached out via e-mail and I realized I had the distinct honor of responding. Thank you for trusting me with manuscripts, proposals, and editing projects. Even though my professional opinion is worth almost exactly two cents, thank you for allowing me to participate in acquisitions decisions.

Thank you for showing me that any person at any time (within the posted submission period!) can send in a poem, proposal, or nine hundred page manuscript and all submissions are read and considered equally. This gives me faith in the system and reminds me that literary meritocracy is alive in this beautiful corner of the world.

Thank you for showing me that I can be a woman and an editor of an internationally renowned literary journal, a woman and the publisher of a major academic press. Thank you for showing me that I can be a woman who works with other women without feeling threatened or the need to compete. Thank you for showing me that I can be a woman who works with men in a male- dominated field without compromising my ability or my intelligence to succeed or belong.

Thank you for confirming that the devil really is in the details. The size of the dash always matters! There are two different types of single quotation marks and they have dramatically different meanings! We must check and double-check the spelling of every noun, verb, and adjective we think we know how to spell because we cannot trust ourselves, and we certainly cannot trust writers!

Thank you for demonstrating the profound creative capacity and literary tradition of the South—I am filled with pride when I tell people that I work for The Southern Review and LSU Press. That is how Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks wanted us to feel, I think, from the coeditors all the way down to the summer intern. Your pride in your work, your endless dedication to craft, your tireless enthusiasm for language has impressed itself upon me, it invigorates me, and validates my desire to work in editing and publishing and to continue my own creative work.

Thank you for editing this letter before it appears on the website, because I am grammatically, syntactically imperfect and have not memorized the house style guide (yet).

Thank you, a thousand times thank you,
Matty Carville
Summer Intern, Enemy of Copy Machine 4106


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August 2016 Newsletter

Click to read our August 2016 newsletter.

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The Storm Isn’t in the Gulf: Jessica’s Blog for the Summer Issue

A lot has happened regarding devastating clashes between law enforcement and the general citizenry here in Baton Rouge and across the United States in the past week, and it continues. Many people have spoken their opinions in person, in writing, on social media, and so forth. I don’t have anything to add, no brilliant insight or proposed solution. I just see a lot of people in pain and that pain manifesting itself in various, individual ways: frustration, sadness, anger, compassion, lack of compassion, judgment, self-righteousness.

A few days ago I told our publisher I didn’t want to write this blog. I was dreading it. I didn’t know how my usual banter that leads into my talking about the new issue of the journal could work at such a sad time. All weekend I was thinking of how much pain and anger and frustration and sadness was around me, and even my daughter’s usual adorable antics—a common theme in my blog—couldn’t set it right. Two weeks ago, before any of the events of Baton Rouge, Saint Paul, or Dallas unfolded, I read a poem by Maggie Smith, a contributor to The Southern Review. Like a lot of you reading this blog, I wake up to a daily dose of beauty sent to my e-mail from the Poetry Foundation. Her poem “Good Bones,” is a seventeen-line powerhouse. In it she talks about protecting her children from the world which “is at least half terrible.” But she’s attempting to sell the world to her kids, like “any decent realtor” would, by trying to convince them, the reader, and herself that the world has “good bones” and that, with the right touch, “You could make this place beautiful.” I shared it two weeks ago on Facebook, and for the past week, especially, that’s what I’ve seen on Facebook and in the news: that the world continues to be at least half terrible. I told my good friend last night that I’m shutting off social media for now because I can’t take everyone’s feed. But before I do, I am going to give you something beautiful, not terrible, to read.

And here’s where I remind you that we have a new issue out, and it’s gorgeous from cover to cover. Internationally celebrated artist and recipient of the U. S. Department of State’s Medal of Arts award Kehinde Wiley provides images of his vibrant paintings for our summer issue. His aesthetic simultaneously prompts an emotional and intellectual response by using the traditions of portrait painting to show young black men and women in positions of power. You can view Wiley’s paintings and read about him here. You can read his statement about his work in the issue.

In addition to Wiley’s lush, provocative paintings, the new issue includes much wonderful writing, of course. The issue opens with “Letter to Summer, from the Other Side,” from Louisiana Poet Laureate Peter Cooley, a poem he says is inspired by his favorite poet, Emily Dickinson, and that he reads in our audio gallery, which includes a dozen contributors this season. I’m happy to share poems on the more unexpected topics of gastronomic challenges from Mary Jo Firth Gillett (“Strange Appetites”) and Christine Rhein (“‘Woman Fries and Eats Pet Goldfish After Fight With Husband’”) and professional wrestling from Carrie Shipers (“Poem Ending When My Match Is Cut Because the Show Is Running Over”). And, as always, I love David St. John’s verse. His “Emanations” is a sprawling, vivid journey along the California coast and around the area known as Jeffers Country, named after the poet Robinson Jeffers who lived there. At one point, about two-thirds of the way through the poem, the speaker says, “Today we walked down to Henry Miller’s library to steal Wi-Fi / & sit with an espresso // —as news of the world came a hawk overhead dipped one wing // So I turned off my phone & opened The Air-Conditioned Nightmare // & that’s all the irony anyone should share.” I like that irony and the notion of shutting off the news of the world to steep oneself in literature.

I’m posting this blog on the Internet and on Facebook, and then I’m shutting it down, for a while at least. When I get back home to New Orleans, I’m going to take the summer issue of the journal to the pool with my daughter, Saoirse (whose name means “freedom,” for another dose of irony), and sink myself into the pages of the new issue, rereading Richard V. McGehee’s translation of Eduardo Sacheri’s charming story about flirtation and soccer, “A Smile Exactly like That,” and Josip Novakovich’s “Vignettes”—humorous short essays about a love of wine and drinking. Maybe it’s an escape from the reality of the day, but it is still a reality that is worthy. One way to help make the world a beautiful place is to offer it beautiful things.

The summer issue is now available for purchase online or from your favorite bookstore.

 

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A Writer’s Insight: An Interview with Peter LaSalle

lasallePeter LaSalle’s essay, “Driving in São Paulo at Night with a Good Friend Who Has Died,” appears in the spring 2016 issue of The Southern Review. Interview conducted and condensed by The Southern Review/LSU Press marketing intern Megan Feifer.

Megan Feifer: How would you describe your style of travel writing? What did “Driving in São Paulo at Night with a Good Friend Who Has Died” allow you to do differently from your new essay collection The City at Three P.M.: Writing, Reading, and Traveling?

Peter LaSalle: To be honest, I’m not really sure that any of my essays like this are what you would call actual travel writing. But I’ve somehow been lucky enough to have had a couple of these pieces picked up from magazines for reprinting in the annual Best American Travel Writing anthology, so I guess that at least gives me sort of a de facto membership card as a travel writer, right?

Basically, the aim of all my writing in this vein is almost always an attempt to document, as honestly as possible, a quest for discovery that involves not only a place I go to, but also a writer from that place whose work I immerse myself in while there. In The Southern Review essay, it did involve some thinking about Mário de Andrade, a truly amazing Brazilian modernist poet and, famously, an organizer of Brazil’s Modern Art Week in 1922. I was in São Paulo to give some lectures on American literature at the invitation of the literature scholar Ivan Prado Teixeira, who most unexpectedly and very sadly died the following year. He was 62.

MF: In reproducing your conversation with Ivan Prado Teixeira and “the scenes of our night in São Paulo,” you pay close attention to the architecture, the landscape, the “maze of old streets,” and the “street commotion.” Why are all of these physical characteristics so essential to the essay and the recollection of the conversation itself?

PL: The answer on this one is simple—I hope that with my conjuring up the place the best I can, the reader is right there with me, in this case, alongside Ivan and me as we drive around and talk in São Paulo that fine autumn night. I’m principally a writer of short stories and novels, and much of my fiction is set in foreign spots where I’ve spent time, like India and Africa and pretty much all over Europe and Latin America. So if nothing else, I guess that has given me plenty of practice in working to establish solid setting, which can become a significant ingredient in narrative essays, too.

MF: In the midst of grieving the death of your friend, your relationship to literature shifts from Teixeira’s proverbial question of “what would we have if we didn’t have literature” to the very doubt that “words and literature could do anything.” Where do you currently fall on this spectrum?

PL: Well, by the end of the essay, after the moments of severe doubt that the loss of a good friend can evoke, I think I do somewhat reassert my belief in the power of literature and its transcendence. Which means how it can nobly challenge, though maybe not exactly triumph over, death itself. Such transcendence is there in the definitely timeless work of Mário de Andrade. It’s also in the work of unquestionably the most important nineteenth-century South American novelist, Machado de Assis, a Brazilian, whom I mention because Ivan had been his country’s leading contemporary Machado de Assis scholar.

A gifted teacher, Ivan loved and believed in literature with an enthusiasm probably more admirable than that of just about anyone I’ve ever known. I like to think that he, in a way, often escaped chronological time during his life through that excitement about books, perhaps beat time, too, in his instilling that spirit in a couple of continuing generations of his many appreciative students at the University of São Paulo. Some younger scholars in Brazil still write me today about what a great influence he was on them.

MF: In the essay, you critically address what you describe as “the often lamentable state of the study of literature in American universities today” and recall your own literary education. Could you juxtapose the differences between the study of literature when you were a student, in Brazil, and in current classrooms within U.S. higher education?

PL: You know, it would be tough to launch into such a complicated triangulation with the space we have here, and I wonder if anybody would want to suffer through my thoughts on it anyway. But I guess what I meant by saying “lamentable” is that I wish there were more scholars and teachers like Ivan in American universities today, people who understand and are vocally passionate about the uncanny magic of words on the page and how literature can get at the stuff deep in all our hearts by way of that unique and very mysterious element.

I know that the number of undergrad English majors in universities like mine at Texas is steadily dropping, which is surely lamentable and a stark indication that lately something isn’t working. No doubt, and understandably, this has to do with students’ practical considerations, their worry about jobs after graduation in an unsafe economy. But it also might stem from the fact that when the excitement surrounding exploration of the magic of literature is replaced—sometimes almost to the exclusion of all else—by rather directly logical political or sociological analysis, as seems the current trend, students possibly decide that if they want to study that kind of thing, as certainly important as it is, they might as well get it straight up, in a political science or sociology department, let’s say.

MF: How has your relationship with Brazil developed between the release of the Portuguese translation of your story collection Tell Borges If You See Him and the publication of “Driving in São Paulo at Night with a Good Friend Who Has Died”? Where is this relationship with Brazil currently taking you?

PL: I don’t know if there’s been any change. But I can say that for me Brazil is always an amazing country, electric in its wonderful cultural diversity and its people’s sheer enthusiasm for life. And that’s despite the big problems at the moment, like the Zika virus and a precipitous economic downturn, both of which I know Brazilians will face and survive with typical spirit. Figuratively, I’m not sure where my relationship with the country is taking me in the distant future. However, literally, in the next few weeks, it is taking me to Portugal to look into the literary scene there, one largely connected to that in Brazil, where, as you point out, my 2007 story collection Tell Borges If You See Him came out this past spring as a Portuguese-language e-book.

And am I ever up for that trip, too. In preparation, I’ve been reading or rereading the works of the whole gamut of modern Portuguese writers, from the iconic and deeply haunting Fernando Pessoa to the two recent masters of the novel there, José Saramago and António Lobo Antunes. Plus, I’m really looking forward to maybe enjoying some more of that great feijoada stew I had in São Paulo and of which I’m assured there will be no shortage in Lisbon either.

Peter LaSalle is the author of several books of fiction, most recently What I Found Out About Her. Additionally, he has published a book of essays on literary travel, The City at Three P.M. His story collection Tell Borges If You See Him has been translated into Portuguese (Edições Mombak), and a new collection, Sleeping Mask, is forthcoming from Bellevue Literary Press in 2017. He is a resident faculty member at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

Megan Feifer is a doctoral candidate in English with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies at Louisiana State University. She received her MA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in English (Modern Studies). She is the cofounder and president of the Edwidge Danticat Society.

 

 

 

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A Writer’s Insight: An Interview with James Scott

James Scott’s story, “With Your Own Heart upon Your Bed,” appears in the spring 2016 issue of The Southern Review. Interview conducted and condensed by The Southern Review/LSU Press marketing intern Megan Feifer.

Megan Feifer: What inspired you to write “With Your Own Heart upon Your Bed”?

James Scott: I think the first thing was the realization that the generation that had been through Vietnam could have grandchildren who were in the armed forces. The Vietnam War has loomed so large in our culture that to have it so far in the past was a shock to me.

The second thing was an article (a very small article that I have never been able to find again) about the taking of a palace by U.S. forces. The thought of those exhausted soldiers in that opulent surrounding stayed with me.

Writing this story was a way of processing that information, the oddness of those things, and others, of course, but those were the initial sparks.

MF: The title is interesting in relationship to the theme of in-betweenness present in the story. Can you discuss the relationship between the title and the deferred state of being the main character experiences?

JS: The title comes from Psalm 4:4: “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.” It’s aspirational, though, to be able to do so, whether in prayer or meditation or even at the end of a long day.

In the story, it’s always out of reach, partially because the concept of “your bed” is a complicated one for the main character, as it is for a lot of people. “Home” is a relative term, and none of the places the main character has been really satisfy what one would think of as a space of comfort and safety, the kind of place where such stillness would be possible. He’s in between, always, reliving his grandfather’s war, whether he wants to or not; experiencing his parents’ failing career, but not being present for it; fighting in a war where he’s apart from the others; and coming back home to a place that has changed. Nothing is his. He doesn’t know who he is, and so he’s following in the footsteps of someone that doesn’t want to be followed.

The awkwardness of the phrase struck me and made sense for this world. I’ve spent a lot of time really breaking it down, and the more you do, the stranger it becomes.

MF: Was the continuous shift between historical and contemporary settings essential for the story? What were some of your initial thoughts about this temporal shifting when writing the first few drafts, and how did the timeline finally coalesce?

JS: I hope so! I think it follows the dislocation of the character. The timeline is one of the things that fell into place right away. I always knew I wanted to flip back and forth, and the timing of it came naturally (one of the only things that did, honestly, in a story where I felt unsure of my footing for a long time), though some of the pieces changed. I like the idea that this is how his brain works; if asked to relate the events of this story, this might be how he would go about it.

MF: Would you situate this story within the genre of veterans’ literature? Is there controversy around whether or not nonveterans can write this type of conflict narrative?

JS: I’m not a veteran, so no. In terms of putting a story, any story, anywhere, it’s not really my place. Those kind of overarching questions are too overwhelming in the process of writing and editing, especially when you’re dealing with things that people experienced and experienced so recently that the emotions are raw and the psychology is so tangled.

I will say I tried everything I could to get things right, and I had a couple of veterans look over the story, and I took their comments as gospel. At no point did I say, “Well, right or wrong, it’s good enough for me.” The details I used were somewhat sparse because it was the feeling I was chasing. I hope I came close to the heart of it.

I think that there is some controversy about conflict narrative, though I haven’t followed it. I read Kevin Powers’s The Yellow Birds and Phil Klay’s Redeployment, though not until I’d completed many drafts of this story, and thought they were both incredible books. I understand both sides of it. It’s impossible to argue with, “I was there,” but I also believe that there shouldn’t be a line drawn in the sand in terms of what people can and can’t write about. Although one has to earn the ability to do so. I hope I did.

MF: Tell us about your podcast “TK with James Scott.” Why do you think it’s so important to host conversations that focus on the intimate reading and writing practices of fellow authors?

JS: Whether it’s the story or the podcast, we all want to know we’re not alone. As a writer, especially as a newer writer, I often didn’t know where to look for information and I didn’t know who to model myself after. In a lot of ways, I’m talking to that earlier version of me. The conversation is an attempt to make a connection between writers and readers that hopefully provides reassurance that there are lots of us out there and everyone approaches the craft and the career in different ways.

However, for the majority of writers, there’s a flash of interest in your work when you have a book out (hopefully), but once that noise fades, the world can be awfully quiet, and the muscles that you’ve newly acquired doing readings and talking about the book atrophy. I want to talk to people in those quieter moments, in the in-between phases.

I’m a few episodes in, and I hope people enjoy the conversations whether they know (or like) the writer or not, and whether they’ve read the book or not. I try not to spoil anything, as I’m not really interested in relaying the plot of the book, but it’s the deeper truth of the thing that I’m after.

James Scott is the author of the novel The Kept. His short fiction can be found in One Story, Ploughshares, and American Short Fiction, while his nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times Book Review and Boston Magazine. He lives in Massachusetts.

Megan Feifer is a doctoral candidate in English with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies at Louisiana State University. She received her MA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in English (Modern Studies). She is the cofounder and president of the Edwidge Danticat Society.

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