Letter from the Editor: Monica Lewis
For my entire life, since my first moment of self-conscious awareness, I have been trying to reimagine myself. I was born with some identity privileges, but also striking unprivileged ones: I have a clear physical disability; I am a POC who grew up in a steady state of almost or certain poverty; I won’t go into lots of other shit, but you get the idea. My life as a kid was difficult and I spent much energy devoted to thoughts of something different. So what did this dreamy brain/heart do? I slipped into fantasy in all my free time. I was obsessed with Disney princesses. Barbie with her long blonde hair (which I sometimes chopped off out of spite) and big blue-green eyes was a constant companion. But I also read insatiably. And after a certain age, Sweet Valley High and The Baby-Sitters Club were replaced with narratives that challenged fantasy. Novels like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye left me sobbing, but woke me to something new. I became angry at the deep self-loathing I’d grown used to. I started fantasizing about, not changing myself, but changing the way I felt about how the world felt about me. Fantasy turned into a reimagining of my own view of the outside world and I began working hard to turn this new vision into my lived reality. Books saved my damn life, again and again, and the dreams they gave me have now been coming into fruition for years. Still, there has been depression, family terminal illness; still I am learning daily to navigate a life with a disability I know I will never escape, and so, I wake to each morning working to renegotiate the day into something I’m not only going to survive through, but something into which I can plant my seeds of hope.
Reimagination, but reimagination that equates to vision that moves into action is, not only what drives me as an artist, but legit keeps me alive as a human.
When the unimaginable violence on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida at Pulse night club took place, I formulated the call for this special issue of the JFR and reached out to artists with these questions:
What is our responsibility as artists to reinvent or reimagine our world, our selves, our work in order to dismantle current systems and conventions and tastes that are at best, dated and stifling, and at worst a threat to real, lived lives? What role does re-imagination play in freedom? What responsibility, if any, do artists have in not only reflecting and recreating the world we live in, but in re-imagining it into a “better” one?
A year ago, The James Franco Review published its first special issue, an emergency issue on art and engagement that featured micro essays from writers, editors, and artists that examined art’s relationship to safety and its role in political engagement. That issue was birthed after a year of horrific police brutality and violence on Black lives. Just over a year later, we, as a nation, find ourselves in an even darker state. What many people from privileged backgrounds will never fully understand is the constant negotiation people whose backgrounds put them in the underprivileged “category” (not-white, not-straight, not-able-bodied, not binary) have to go through on a daily basis between deciding when to expend enormous energy fighting for change and when to unapologetically choose self-care that often means “peacing-out” in order to keep sane and keep safe. And so, I am deeply grateful for the artists who answered my call with a willing and generous spirit, who bravely faced the page to share their stories, their thoughts and their hearts on this ever difficult topic.
I am honored to share the works published in this issue; I am mad proud to put them out into the world, but selfishly, I am grateful because they have been life-saving in ways I didn’t even know I needed. These pieces will make a mess of your insides, they burn, but in that good way, that fire-cleansing way. They light a flame to the bullshit and transform it, heal it, into something new. This kind of work is why I read; why I write; why I edit. This is why I am so thrilled and excited to reimagine The James Franco Review alongside my partner-in-literary-crimes, Nicole McCarthy. Over the past year and a half, this project has been one of my most beloveds, but it is time for a shift, a rebirth, a turning toward the idea that, now, as founding editor, Corinne Manning, so beautifully shared last week, “the name that knocks down the door is [our] own.”
More to come soon on how we will remain wildly resistant and punk and continue to queer up the world of literary publishing. Until then, cheers to the open heart/brains that took on this call and cheers to you who are willing to step into new, still wild and dangerous places along with us. Let’s all continue to keep one fist gripped, pen to the page, and the other shamelessly pumped up in the air!
Starting next Tuesday, November 1st through December 15th, featuring art by the powerhouse visual artist, Natasha Marin, don’t miss work by Luther Hughes, Sara Novíc, Dawnie Walton, Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, Karrie Higgins, Joanna Valente, David Ishaya Osu, Ryka Aoki, Kamden Hilliard, Devin Kelly, Laura Jean Moore, Zinzi Clemmons, Quenton Baker, Jeremy O. Harris, and Vanessa Martír.
My very best,