For issue 8, each editor selected their pieces based off of particular, meaningful themes. We’ve decided to publish these works as a folio in their specific genre so readers can feel how they interact and create a dialogue with each other. Get ready to read dangerously.
Guest Editor: Ryka Aoki
This character is pronounced “bei.” It signifies “rice.”
However, the Japanese also use this character as a nickname for the United States. Considering how the Japanese depend upon rice, to call the USA by the same character shows how they view us.
米国 “Beigoku.” Literally, the “Country of Rice.” The Land of Plenty.
Of course, this view is not exclusive to the Japanese. I chose the theme of “Abundance” because it is still valued by so many communities I know. To them, to us, America is still a place of abundance. Not perfect, but abundant.
Does America offer abundance or austerity? They seem like a sweeping, wide concepts. And yet choosing one or the other changes so much of how we regard our world. Is the immigrant making a prosperous new life for herself? Or is she taking resources away from someone else?
Does the American way brim with vitality? Or does it depend upon predation for sustenance? Not an easy question, but to so many voices I value, America and the lives within it, are still products of abundance.
So often, this same basic argument permeates our arts and letters. Some conversations call literary fictions “tired” and “predictable.” Others say that LGBT people, people of color, women, are getting the acclaim that they are not because they are good, but because they are different, and have an unfair advantage.
They whisper that such stories are taking slots away from the truly deserving writers—whomever they might be.
“If I had just been a lesbian writer of color, I could get published, I just know it.”
It is emptiness and an implied austerity that produces these narratives. That one’s share of stories is limited by one’s birth and upbringing. That literary success is by nature, limited. And that others who succeed do so at the expense of others.
However, these views are far from universal. There are writers now, who see writing not as a zero-sum game, but as an opportunity to express abundance in all its improbable forms. Of course there is want and desire. Of course there are problems. Of course there is a lot that is screwed up.
But maybe these problems are not walls. What if they are doors? Each piece I selected, in its own way, opens such a door. Each piece, finds its own plenty, and tells a story not merely about, but infused with, abundance, in all its complexities. Each writer shares a distinctive, compelling voice that lingers long after I’ve put my computer to sleep.
Read Mya Adrienne Byrne’s “Chain of Rocks,” and find neither a strident nor a self-deprecating account of injustice and economic poverty. Instead, witness Byrne evoking a rich, almost musical narrative that finds an improbable abundance within itself—in its own fiber, its own need and emerging fertility.
The narrator in Idrissa Simmonds’s “On the Other Side” speaks with a voice that knows itself, but also what it is not. And the precision with which Simmonds employs a child’s voice to explore so many contrasts, yet with such rock-solid and honest sense of belonging is breathtaking.
At first glance, “Simone” by Thomas Kearns threatens to become a tired “dude on a quest for something meaningful” story. But what Kearns offers instead is neither postured nor self-congratulatory. It is difficult, improbable, sometimes confrontational, but it brims with insight and honesty.
Finally, Stephanie Barbe Hammer’s playful “That You Were Meant for Great Things” reads as easily as Sunday morning through LA. One might coast on through without realizing the stories within, but Hammer’s prose is far too compelling to let that happen. What results is a glittering whirlwind that hits you right in the heart.
For this issue of the JFR, I meant to challenge what is proper for a journal. I meant to trust my own aesthetic, as well as my own want to see—with all my biases intact—the stories I selected in print. I meant to assert, as a trans woman of color, that my view was adequate, on its own, to enrich the issue.
There were so many very good stories to read. I read each one. It humbled me to see such talent—and that experience has compelled me as a writer, to continue challenging my limits and improve my craft. Thank you so much to all who submitted. Really. Thank you.
But in the end, I realized that even if others disagreed with me, that it was ok. That my call for abundance, applied to myself, meant to edit as these selections are written. With a steady hand, confident, maybe a little quirky, but always in the spirit of giving.
I love the stories you are about to read. I think you will, too.
Harvest time. Enjoy the rice.