A Note on the Winter Issue

Compared to print, an online jour­nal moves at break­neck speed. The staff of a print mag­a­zine might select the con­tents of the win­ter issue in the sum­mer, but the pieces for our win­ter issue were select­ed in the win­ter, in the last month of an old year and the first month of a new one. It’s a time of tran­si­tion, I guess; that’s what it should be, the chang­ing of the years, but what real­ly changes I couldn’t tell you.

When I began work­ing on this issue, I was think­ing a lot about the busi­ness of writ­ing. Maybe I can blame the short days or the ice on the inside of my bath­room win­dow, but my thoughts were kind of dark: some­times writ­ing seems much too busi­ness-like indeed. As writ­ers, we wor­ry over our pub­li­ca­tions and our CVs, our bios and our careers. If we’re lucky enough to fin­ish a new poem or sto­ry, we won­der if it’s any good, if any­one will ever give it a sec­ond look. Maybe this isn’t true for you: I shouldn’t try to speak for every­one. I’ll speak for myself and say that I often wor­ry about these things. Most of the time, I won­der what I’m doing.

But when I think about it now, I real­ize that some­thing did change for me between December 1st and today; some­how, as I sat immo­bi­lized beside the space heater, read­ing and read­ing, select­ing pieces for this issue, I remem­bered some­thing I can’t believe I man­aged to for­get: the busi­ness of writ­ing is the busi­ness of read­ing. And reading’s what got us all here, I sus­pect. For me, it’s one thing that can always stop my mind from wish­ing for anoth­er sea­son. It nev­er makes me worry.

For writ­ers, read­ing is the main event, the read­er the one nec­es­sary ele­ment we can’t con­jure up on our own. In his essay, “The Writer’s Workshop,” Frank Conroy writes, “The lan­guage state­ment ‘yel­low pen­cil’ can car­ry no actu­al col­or. The read­er must add the col­or with the mind’s eye for the full image to emerge. Likewise, the reader’s ener­gy is need­ed to hear the tones of voice in dia­logue, to infer infor­ma­tion that the text only implies, to make full pic­tures from the text’s sug­ges­tive sketch­es of the phys­i­cal world…the read­er is to some extent the cocre­ator of the nar­ra­tive.” This is what I return to as I read and read and even after I am fin­ished read­ing, when I try to remem­ber where I was when I saw a moth in a dish of oil. Soon enough I real­ize I didn’t see it any­where, only read it. The effect is ulti­mate­ly the same.

That’s one of the best parts about read­ing for New World Writing. I am for­ev­er remem­ber­ing peo­ple and events, images and rhythms so real they feel like part of my own life. They are part of my life. There are count­less arti­cles and stud­ies, argu­ing about the point of lit­er­a­ture, the worth read­ing poems and sto­ries. That’s fine. For me, as a read­er, I am res­cued from mean­ing­less wor­ry over busi­ness, from hat­ing win­ter, from the most lim­it­ed parts of myself. My expe­ri­ence expands.

So, read­ers, these are for you. Here are the pieces I’ve enjoyed read­ing most of all, the ones I am most grate­ful for. I hope you’ll enjoy them also, that you’ll enjoy your col­lab­o­ra­tion with these fine writ­ers, and the win­ter we have left.

–Elizabeth Wagner