Brevity is about to launch our second special issue, this one focused on experiences of gender. The first, Ceiling or Sky: Female Nonfictions After the VIDA Count, focused on the important contributions of female writers to the creative nonfiction movement. Brevity’s Founding Editor, Dinty W Moore, who was proud of our VIDA count (which is always excellent), conceived of the first special issue as a one-time thing, something to help raise awareness of the fact that women are still under-represented in literary publishing. Published in 2012, the issue sparked a number of productive conversations about women in publishing and brought strong, important new works to our readers. Because of the positive response to this issue, we decided to explore the possibility of doing other special issues, both to encourage conversation about important issues and to ensure we are working to increase the presence of authors from under-represented communities.
The gender issue of Brevity was conceived in that vein, and we hope it will be a starting point for many readers. The conversation about gender has been shifting dramatically within the queer community, and in academia, for years—decades, even—but it has rarely moved into the mainstream. When it has, people have struggled to find their place in it. It’s not always easy to join in, regardless of where your identity falls on the gender spectrum. We want to give our readers road maps—not just one, but several—for how to enter this complicated, ever-changing, incredibly important conversation.
Essays are uniquely suited for this purpose. They aren’t meant to help the writer convince or persuade the reader; they are meant to help the writer interrogate their own thinking—their own experiences, their own prejudices and beliefs—and to come out on the other side having been changed by the act of writing it. The end point of a personal essay isn’t an answer—it’s a better, more nuanced, more informed, more complicated question than what sparked the writer’s interest in the first place. We are looking for essays that approach gender from this standpoint: essays that push and interrogate, explore and expand our definitions and understandings of gender.
Because the special issues are outside our normal way of operating, there are challenges. We have to do special outreach projects to communities of writers who traditionally do not often submit to Brevity. We recruit guest editors who write from those communities, in order to be certain that we’re representing the voices of those communities in an inclusive, sensitive way. And, unlike our other issues, we have an anchor author for each special issue—someone whose work we admire and feel represents the best writing about the subject of our inquiry. Kate Bornstein is writing the keystone piece for our special gender issue and Claudia Rankine is giving us new work for our 2016 issue on race, racism, and racialization. This is all very exciting for us, but it’s a little beyond our usual operating budget.
To be able to accomplish these goals, we’ve launched the first-ever large scale fundraiser to support the work of Brevity. For the last 18 years, the journal has largely been funded out of Dinty’s pocket, and it was a little scary to reach beyond that. We know that Brevity is important to many different parts of the reader/writer community. Writing teachers often let us know that it’s a central text in their classrooms. Readers write to tell us how much specific essays, or the journal in general, mean to them. Writers tell us that the pieces they publish in Brevity are the ones that get the most attention and the largest readership. Still, we weren’t sure if this would translate into a willingness to help us raise the money to do these special issues.
We’re relieved to say it looks like our readers/writers are willing to help us do this new kind of issue, and excited by the response so far. Many of our authors have generously donated signed books, essay critiques, and even a four-week workshop as rewards for backers. Many others have become backers themselves. Some incredibly generous folk have done both. We’re deeply moved by the response. That said, we are also still several thousand dollars away from our goal, and we hope you’ll help us out, too, by contributing to our We think these special issues are important, and that they help grow the literary conversation and the people involved in it, that has been central to Brevity’s mission for the last 18 years.
Sarah Einstein, former Managing Editor of Brevity, is the author of MOT: A MEMOIR (University of Georgia Press 2015), REMNANTS OF PASSION (Shebooks 2014), and numerous essays and short stories. Her work has been awarded a Pushcart Prize, a Best of the Net, and the AWP Prize in Creative Nonfiction.
Silas Hansen's essays have appeared in Slate, Colorado Review, The Normal School, Hayden's Ferry Review, and elsewhere, and have earned an AWP Intro Journals Project Award and a notable mention in the 2014 Best American Essays. He is an assistant professor of creative writing at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.