Monday, March 12, 2018

Jennifer S. Cheng, April Freely, Shamala Gallagher, Aisha Sabatini Sloan, and Addie Tsai: The Lyric Essay’s Ghosts and Shadows: A Conversation

What if—thinking about the lyric essay—we had the desire to start over? What if—in a gathering of woman essayists of color, many of us queer—we hated the lyric essay as much as we loved it, felt homeless in the very form that—by virtue of its openness, its evasiveness, its self-questioning—was the closest we’d found to a home?

I don’t mean to impute hatred to anyone, not even myself. What I do want to share is a rich conversation born in dissatisfaction, that beloved and productive hotbed.

This is the trouble: we write the lyric essay because of our marginal identities: because our presence—in schools, in grocery stores, in literature—is always a little strange and troubling, is always subversive—and always requires, in big and small ways, our interpretation, our essaying, in order to make our lives possible.
     However, the “lyric essay” as term is old enough to have a small canon, a set of founding texts, and this marginalized experience is missing from them. The lyric essay’s founders are committed to dissonance and diversity of idea, of form. But they are largely, uniformly, white: in all the lyric essay’s fragmentation, social identity remains unchallenged.

What if, then, we reconceptualized the lyric essay so that marginalized identity (or marginalized subject position, or even non-normative position) was integral to this conception? What if we saw the lyric essay—with its fractures, its unevenness, its silences—as belonging to those whose experience of personal being—and, therefore, of knowledge—was itself fractured, uneven, silenced?
     In that case, what would the lyric essay be? And which writers and artists—of color, queer—would we understand to be its new founders, or would it have founders at all?

This conversation first took place as we prepared a panel for the 2017 Thinking Its Presence Conference on Race, Creative Writing, and Art, held at the University of Arizona Poetry Center in Tucson, AZ. Thinking Its Presence is an intimate conference in its third year—and it’s my favorite conference, so rife and glittering with ideas and immediacy that it’s almost not a conference. I often find that the formal manifestation of a writing conference—systematic, professional, official—threatens to belie its purpose, which is (because it’s concerned with writing and thought) to narrow the alienating gap between experience and discourse. But at TIP, I feel at home. President of the Conference Board Prageeta Sharma says that TIP addresses the ways “creative work, scholarship, and practices hold conversations, ideas, attitudes, about how our imagination is part of experienced identity.” The conference, then, is about the ways that marginalized identity—traditionally conceived of as adjunct to or extraneous to artistic practice—is actually central to it.
     My co-panelists were Addie Tsai, Aisha Sabatini Sloan, April Freely, and Jennifer S. Cheng. In the fervent, wild discussion, shared with a warm and smart audience, we discovered, strangely, that four out of the five of us (not Addie) are Leos. And we also discovered that we weren’t done talking, so here we are again, talking with you.

Now I’ll let us, the rest of us, speak for ourselves, to ask and answer our own questions. —Shamala Gallagher


SG: Tell us a little bit about your background (as a writer/creator/thinker/person) and how it informs your interest in the lyric or experimental essay. 

Addie Tsai: I am an interdisciplinary artist and writer. I received my Master of Fine Arts in Poetry in 2005 from Warren Wilson College, and I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. My dissertation is intent on exploring the ways in which (straight) White men are depicted as bad or non dancers in American popular culture starting in the mid-1980s. I’ve collaborated extensively with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater—I was a co-creator on Victor Frankenstein and a narrative collaborator on Camille Claudel, among others. I also dabble some in photography (and have exhibited my work locally, where I live in Houston, Texas). I have a Young Adult novel, titled Dear Twin, that will be published with NineStar Press in June of this year. In terms of how my background informs my interest in the lyric or experimental essay, I’d say that my background as a writer, artist, and thinker interested in most forms of artistic expression means that I don’t really hold myself to one form or even genre. In other words, I am interested in the ways in which modes and forms fall apart. This, I think, has a lot to do with the way in which I identify—I am a queer, biracial artist, and what that means is that as a body that sees itself as fluid with regards to race, sexuality, gender, and so on, I am most interested in engaging in artistic practices that I think rely upon the intersection of forms, voices, influences, and etc. 

Jennifer S. Cheng: I was drawn to the lyric essay from the moment it was introduced to me as an undergraduate because it seemed to me to be a language for the broken, the haunted, the liminal—a way to speak wholeness by speaking holeness, by acknowledging more explicitly the gaps, the silences, the slipperiness of the world. This sensibility of truth and meaning-making has always been intimate to me, even as a child, and at some point as an adult I realized it’s been at least in part informed by my experience as a marginalized person, sensing all along the dissonance in how prevailing bodies of knowledge are invariably incomplete and ephemeral, that our lives are in some part hidden or erased, that our bodies are inarticulable within our socialized vocabulary. Singularity and linearity of history and reality was never true for me, both as a marginalized person in society and as a child of immigrants. So it had to be a broken/haunted/liminal language with which to articulate myself into being. (Lyric essay, too: I am also, just by nature, a person who is slow to speak, who compulsively collects small things, who feels most comfortable in quiet spaces with lots of room to just pause and be.)

April Freely: My own feeling of kinship with the lyric essay has everything to do with my social location as a working class, queer, black woman. I was introduced to the lyric essay in college, and I continue to be interested in the potential of such essays to make space for new and transformative experience. I also write long-form poems that tend to be as gangly as the essays, though with a different emotional aim. Before I was introduced to lyric essays, I felt trapped by rhetorical styles and linear modes that did not reflect my life. Where was the polyvocal? Essays are a form where even silence can be a key player in an argument of the emotion. I wanted an essay that belonged to me, that could accommodate the non-linear and intersectional life I knew--especially the speed of thought and complexity of experiences prevalent among my communities. 

SG: As soon as I tried to write seriously, to show other people, I ran into a trouble with genre that has never resolved. I’d always written in journals, always wanted to be a writer, but when I got to college I thought I should try to write for real—to show other people that I could do it, and I felt patently—and sometimes proudly—unable to finish anything. It felt as if my being was always too excessive, too wild, too stubborn, and too scared to fit into any given form. Once I took a fiction workshop, and for a month I was unable to produce a piece. I tried to write every morning and afternoon in my boyfriend’s house, in a room that was unhelpfully painted blood-red and had only a bare mattress on the floor. Inside my panic, I tried so hard. Finally I turned in something made of little pieces of story, all interspersed with asterisks. This happened at Stanford in the mid-2000s, when the fiction workshops were resolutely realist and narrative.
     Like both of you, I link this embarrassed but defiant unruliness to my background. I always told people that it was about being mixed-race and queer, and it was, but it was also about an allegiance that was more wordless. After I graduated from college, I got my first job working in direct services with homeless families in the Tenderloin in San Francisco, and since then I’ve gone back and forth between being in academia and working in homeless services. That work, so practical and outward and so different from writing, but so involved with confronting irreconcilabilities—is, perhaps, what makes me most committed to the indefinable essay.

Aisha Sabatini Sloan: So many of these themes resonate for me too-- the holeness/wholeness idea, and also being attracted to forms that argue with linearity and feeling like being a queer, biracial person of color, informs that attraction or curiosity. I came to the lyric essay from, I think, an interest in conceptual art. I did an individualized study program before I studied writing and I took classes in new media, video art, and cultural studies. I was especially attracted to the work of conceptual artists like Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, and Isaac Julian, who use text and image in such concise ways and who use juxtaposition and gaps and humor as major tools. Also collage has always been an artform that feels like it accomplishes something, aesthetically, that I’ve always wanted to do with writing. My father is a photographer, a photojournalist, and I’ve sort of apprenticed with him for years, so I think the lyric essay or whatever we want to call it was a way of translating my ideas into words, which usually appear to me first as images, and often as juxtaposed images.

SG: When you come to your own essay these days, which writers and artists guide you, or give you permission for your work? I'm especially interested in hearing about the writers and artists who give you permission to be transgressive, or bold, or simply to assert your own being as an essayist from a marginalized background.

AT: Oh, there are so many! Off the top of my head and at the present moment, I would say that I’m spurred on by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Kara Walker, Karen Russell, Sufjan Stevens, Alexander Chee, Lynda Barry, Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer, James Baldwin, Tyehimba Jess, Hilton Als, Pina Bausch, Sally Mann, Angie Thomas, Celeste Ng, Basquiat, Adrian Piper, Joanna Newsom, Joni Mitchell, Donald Glover, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Maggie Nelson, Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters and Jesse Reklaw’s LOVF: An Illustrated History of a Man Losing His Mind, Bianca Stone, Mimi Cave, Michel Gondry, Jordan Peele, Rachel Bloom, Pamela Adlon, Gina Rodriguez, and so many others! 

JSC: I am being repetitive, but: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, who gave me permission to treat image and text both as meaning-making fragments; Anne Carson; Fanny Howe, who affirmed for me bewilderment; Audre Lorde, who gave legitimacy to the ineffable inside us; Roland Barthes; James Baldwin; the artist Leslie Hewitt, who overlays photographs on documents; the artist Christine Sun Kim, who, over and over, refracts ‘silence’ into ‘sound.’
     Theresa Hak Kyung Cha is important to so many writers I know. A couple years ago I sat in a dark closet at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, watching some of her films, which I wrote about at Jacket2. In many of these, she overlays and interjects, visually and sonically, various lexicons in multiple languages and images of objects like envelopes, windows, stones in water, the ocean, large bright sheets, shadows. One hears or sees words: she could have been leaving, her shadow, cut out, permanent residence, birthplace, re name, buried, forgotten, absent name, between name, without name, a no name, wounds, exil/e/e. How is this not an essay on exile and displacement, the experience of it? Something about language through the body, something about disjuncture, about ghosts/echoes/traces.

AT: Ooh, Anne Carson! Audre Lorde and Barthes are also on my list!

AF: The four writers above helped me recognize what essayistic methods most easily belonged to me: Cha, Carson, Lorde, Barthes, yes. I also think about poets such as Myung Mi Kim, C.S. Giscombe, Thylias Moss, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, CD Wright, Fanny Howe, Mark Nowak, M NourbeSe Phillip, for how they manage complex material often based in nonfiction research of some kind. Texts that dip into critical spaces like Edouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation, Barthes' Lover’s Discourse (again), Deleuze and Guattari’s The Fold, have been important to me in thinking about the many locations from which one can speak, simultaneously, in an essay.. Anthologies like Every Shut Eye Ain’t Asleep by Harper and Walton helped me trace my own “experimentalism” to specific and long rhetorical traditions in black culture. Cane, forever. Jamaica Kincaid and Lucille Clifton’s prose and hybrid work has been a great help, as I think about the multivalent powers of syntax I might have at my disposal. Also: the oral histories of the quilters of Gee’s Bend. I’m interested in theatre, since I’m always searching for essays that unfold in time like events: key players for me are Thalia Field, Beckett, Zora Neale Hurston. Under the Dome by Jean Daive is a stunner of a journey. Lydia Davis’ work, when viewed from an essayistic/theatrical lens, and even Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Are You My Mother?, have offered different kinds of permissive spaces.

SG: I feel deeply what you both have said, and where I don’t yet feel it, I’m taking notes. Three who are crucial to me: Jean Toomer in Cane, James Agee in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and Zora Neale Hurston, all of whom I read for the first time soon after moving to northeast Georgia, where I live right now. All three of them write—differently—about encountering the immense racial and class violences that define this Southern land, and all three of them come to their task with immense awareness of themselves as outsiders, or partial outsiders. Agee knows that he will never understand what it’s like to be a poor sharecropper, and the awareness of his own privilege turns him so awkward and lyrical, so self-aware--I find it hilarious and embarrassing and also feel moved by it and deeply akin to it; I respect his seriousness. Toomer, too, returns/travels for the first time to his ancestral South because he finds his own white-passing body unbearably lonely--or this is how I tell it in my head, maybe imposing my own white-passing body. Toomer, like Agee, turns to lyric prose because of what he finds unbearable. And Hurston! She comes back to her own Eatonville as an outsider, carrying “the spy-glass of anthropology” and a white patron’s money--and out of the weirdness of this situation makes her own living trickster text, pieced together and yet so loudly joyful, so readable and so irreducible.

AS: This is hilarious, our lists are so similar. I’ll just repeat, too: Jean Toomer, James Agee, Anne Carson, Roland Barthes, Fanny Howe, Hilton Als, Maggie Nelson, Tisa Bryant, Renee Gladman, Gabrielle Civil, Wendy S. Walters, Samiya Bashir, Beth Alvarado, Pina Bausch, Michelle Cliff, Fred Moten, Eunsong Kim. But also, I have this very poppy side—I loved listening to David Sedaris in college and sort of forgot how much he influenced me before I knew I was interested in essays. Comedians in general have taught me so much about the necessity of making a shift, making surprising moves before a subject gets stale—Maria Bamford, Tig Notaro, Richard Pryor. Mysteries, too! I love the mystery novels of Donna Leon.

AT: Fred Moten, YES! Also, since we’re speaking of comedians, I’d add The Lonely Island, Bo Burnham, Issa Rae, and Aziz Ansari’s work with Master of None.

AT: I know that many of us are inspired by visual artists (as well as writers). For those of us who do not work in visual arts as a medium, what would you say it is about the visual art practice that informs your writing in the lyric/experimental essay? For those of us who do, how does your work in those two disciplines intersect and inform your work in both? 

JSC: I was lucky that my introduction to lyric essay included image-text work; sometimes in my writing I find that words are insufficient and that image has the ability to evoke the textures, tones, atmospheres I am attempting to express. It feels natural to me to think of the visual and the textual as modes that can influence one another together in the same space toward meaning—there’s a fertile built-in tension there. Sometimes, in the same way that reading can bring me into writing, so too can visual artifacts, not even as prompts but as guiding textures or a kind of haunting while one writes. It all originates in something bodily, toward emerging a kind of private language. Also, I love the idea of seeing almost anything as an essay, though perhaps this is only because of my personal way of navigating the world. As if I am constantly filtering things through this stance: a process-oriented accumulating and arranging of pieces and fragments in search of bigger meaning, bigger something: rock collection as essay, textile weaving as essay, iterative photographs as essay.

SG: I think I’ve only written one piece that includes my doodles in addition to my writing. Black Warrior Review let me include them, and it felt so deliciously irreverent—and more embarrassing than usual, and for me, being embarrassed is a good sign that something might reach someone. Addie, you mentioned Lynda Barry earlier, and I think about her a lot: her work really emphasizes invention, playfulness, coming up with things. I think she thinks about making before she thinks about what something is supposed to be like. I think the moment a little image appears next to text, a boundary is broken, and everything grows confusing. There isn’t any longer a prescribed way things should look—or if there is, I don’t know what it is. Images in text, then, make the text more childlike and also, maybe, more queer: the reader, who is no longer just a reader, needs to let go of understanding and just see what happens.

AF: The John Hay Library at Brown University had a great collection of artists’ books. We could see early iterations of Leaves of Grass, for instance—and Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror actually included a mirror and fantastic etchings and prints by artists like Kitaj and Katz. In the collection, there were also works by artists like Johanna Drucker and Jean-Pierre Hébert. These pieces were important in my thinking about what a book can be, how it might unfold, what a book, as an object, might accommodate. Some of my essays and poems incorporate visual cues and cuts, as I explore the tension between the image, silence, and the grotesque—I’m happy to say, I learned from some of the same teachers as JSC toward this end.
     I’ve done a little art writing, and I see a lot of correlation with our conversations here about what is “traditional,” what is “experimental” (whatever that might be) and who gets to “own” the language around these modes and methods. Much like there is an newly assumed ownership of the lyric (if the current canon and cannonizers have the last say), there are traditions of looking at art that further marginalizes and often misinterprets the work of contemporary artists from subaltern communities. Complex formal qualities and innovations are most easily seen as relating to traditions like conceptual art, or abstraction in post-WWII paintings, where the artists we are taught to think of first are almost exclusively not artists from the margins—at least in my experience.
     The artists that have meant the most to me as I think about how to build the kind of arguments of the emotion that I need are: Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, Kara Walker, Kerry James Marshall, Nicole Eisenman, Angela Dufresne. Though he is a complicated figure, Romare Bearden’s work has been important to me, as I consider the collage as a form. Among younger artists, Eric N. Mack, Abigail DeVille, and Jennifer Packer help me think about personhood, materiality, ownership of space, complex and forgotten histories, and the particular consequence and power of folks from the margins.
     I love to read what artists are thinking about their own practices, especially when their work touches on modes of perception—which is where I feel the most kinship with visual arts—for example, Amy Sillman is super smart and we should all read her writings.

AT: From the time I was a small child, I’ve always longed to be a painter/sculptor as well as a dancer. As I became more involved in my writing practice, my love for dance turned into something different, and I began to really own my position as an informed spectator—this was even clearer to me after collaborating with someone who’s become a close friend, Dominic Walsh, when we first began working together on a dance theater production addressing Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein and all of the real life “behind-the-scenes” dynamics that were going on at the time in Shelley’s life that seemed to inform her timeless text. As a child I watched my father rehearse for and produce epic and contemporary dramas in Mandarin. My father had made a choice early on not to teach me and my siblings Mandarin (a choice he made believing it would confuse us but now regrets). Due to the fact that I was surrounded by so much Mandarin that I could not understand, I began to hone my skills as a watcher in order to try to make sense of the world unfolding before me. While my father rehearsed and performed, I also began to watch each production come together in order to make a cohesive whole—lighting, sound, costume, staging, props, etc. My extensive role as a watcher (rather than as a participant, even though there was one dance production my father had my twin and I perform in because the director wanted to take advantage of our likeness as a theatrical element on stage) is probably one of the reasons I never was able to grow into a practice in the plastic arts. And even in the visual arts discipline I work in most concertedly, photography, I never truly feel inside that medium, either. I make a LOT of mistakes. But I really love working in a form that can go wrong on a technical level, and I never know what it is the machine of the camera will produce out of my decisions. It’s a game I find incredibly useful for my struggles with perfectionism and failure as I can never really know what will happen inside the camera—this is the case for my work in digital, but especially true for my work with film. I purposefully do not seek out too much technical knowledge with photography so I stay continually surprised by the end result. It is this sense of freedom and openness and lack of control I try to take with me into my more experimental forms of writing. In general, however, I am always looking for ways images and text intersect both in texts I consume as well as those that I make myself with my own photographic images, and how differently they can express similar ideas. The artworks I am most interested in does a lot of work in terms of how they intersect with the text framing it—in particular I am thinking of Louise Bourgeois’s and Kara Walker’s ideas, and how what they say about their work can inform how we as spectators receive and interpret that work. But, I think what visual art does for me the most is simply open me up, in terms of how one can make work, what informs one’s work, and the ways in which we can innovate structure and form in limitless ways. I would love to collaborate more deeply with a visual artist—I just haven’t found the exact situation and opportunity and relationship for that to happen as of yet.

AS: I think studying visual art gave me so much reverence for craft that I psyched myself out and I am sort of waiting for permission to include visual work in my writing.

JSC: I want to put these questions side by side: How do you contend with the whiteness / whitewashing of the genre? How does being a writer from a marginalized background inform your essaying (in terms of aesthetics / craft / process / content / location / approach / etc.)? 

SG: This is such an important question, and this is what I wonder: if the lyric essay is coded as “white” because it is “difficult.” I think something similar might happen with “experimental poetry.” Maybe both of these genres were defined inside academia, which is a predominantly white space. But not only a white space: many of us emerged inside it. And, as Fred Moten and Stephano Harvey point out, academia isn’t a monolith: it has its undercommons too. And they were defined there; they didn’t emerge there. 
     I’ve had a couple conversations with people of color who said: we thought at first you were white, but now we can tell from the way you talk, or the way you dance, that you aren’t. My mother is from India, and Indian cultures are collective. Though I’m a bad Indian daughter in so many ways, I think I can activate in the way that people of color often do when they come together: that we believe in our shared warmth. Perhaps I’m not even sure what I’m saying, but maybe when lyric essayists of color come together the form can activate in the same way.

AT: This is a complicated question! Perhaps because I didn’t study the craft of lyric essay in a more formalized setting—I got my MFA in Poetry and all other forms of writing I’ve pretty much studied on my own (I did have one class on Personal Essay as an undergrad)—I don’t really experience it through that lens. Regardless, I feel a writer of color especially must contend with the whiteness / whitewashing of any genre, really. I suppose I contend with it first and foremost by making very concerted efforts to read the works of writers of color. Secondarily, and I suppose this attempts to get at both questions, I contend with both the whitewashing of the genre and with my marginalized identity by placing that within the form and content itself. In other words, I am not only always already informing the body of the lyric essay via a hybrid form, a form I feel that I embody myself as a biracial queer twin, but I am also seeking to interrogate issues of fragmentation and multiplicity in order to particularly contend with all these warring selves that live in my own body. I can’t see myself ever working again in a more cohesive (and less hybridized) form because I myself do not relate to that kind of experience, that kind of embodiment. So I aim to make the body of what I make reflect the body I experience and with which I move through this incredibly difficult world. I also try to use the form of what I make as fragmented, as hybridized, as incomplete to literally intervene upon the ways in which the illusion of whiteness implies a formal cohesion.

AS: When I was in college I became very fascinated by the ways that Nella Larsen, Jean Toomer, Michelle Cliff and Zoe Wicomb played with form as an expression of a marginalized and ephemeral, socially invisible identities, and this led me to read a lot of post-colonial theory. In fact, I had this beautiful anthology, the Post Colonial Studies Reader, which introduced me to writing about language and form and identity by folks like Kamau Brathwaite. And in graduate school I focused a lot on Adrian Piper’s conceptual and performance art work, and found this really powerful piece called “In Praise of Creoleness” by Patrick Chamoiseau, Jean Barnabe and Raphael Confiant, which talks about how if the official historical record has been written without the screams, basically, of your ancestors, you have to use art to fill in those gaps, articulate those voices, which is an inherently genre-fluid project. So when I encountered the lyric essay during my MFA program and noticed how many of the folks taking credit for this supposedly recent formal innovation were all white, it was just blatantly ridiculous to me. Tisa Bryant has a beautiful essay in this new anthology out from Kore Press, Letters to the Future: Black Women/ RADICAL Writing, about her discomfort with the term “experimental” in trying to describe the radical writing of black women who have influenced her, which has always been formally complicated by necessity.

AF: I’d love to second this mention of Tisa Bryant’s work! There have always been writers from the margins who have been publishing analyses that helped me understand my own writerly inclinations, and how they fit neatly within my own cultural traditions—thank goodness for that labor! I have had to search out such writers, who critical works have served as a kind of armor for me, in academic spaces—Gloria Anzaldua & Gertrude Stein, suddenly come to mind. I have to admit, I get angry when I think of how many writers of color have been overlooked, how many queer writers have been overlooked—-when we have always been here. Of course there is a wealth of foundational “lyric” work written by folks from the margins out of a kind of necessity. There is too much information out there already—decades worth of research—for this to be confusing or new to anyone who purports to be a scholar of the essay form.

JSC: That consideration of necessity has always interested me, both as a writer and reader. The fragmentary form of the lyric essay feels like the only possibility for voicing for me; I always think it’s sort of funny that before encountering the lyric essay form, I was trying to write linear narratives (because that was my only model), and they were terrible. I am a terrible storyteller. My brain/body does not know how to work that way. Maybe because of this, I’ve never been able to fully grasp where the boundary lies between “traditional” and “experimental.” And perhaps because it feels so intuitive and personal and truer-to-life to me, I have a hard time understanding readers who find fragmented essays “difficult”—it hurts a little. I’m reminded of a quote from M. NourbeSe Philip: “The purpose of avant-garde writing for writers of color is to prove you are human.”
     At the same time, I have wrestled with what it means to be a writer of color who, even from within a “non-normative” genre, still read a lot of white writers and looked up to white models because that was what was given to me. So many of my heroes are white women: Anne Carson, Marilynne Robinson, Fanny Howe, Susan Howe. In certain spheres like academia, I have had difficulty giving myself permission to define legitimacy for myself—I tended to look to someone else, someone with “more authority,” to grant it to me. Adulthood for me has been a revelatory freedom in searching out and loving beyond, on my own terms. I still love those white women writers, but I also recognize that I am and have been writing toward filling what I see as missing from their work.


Jennifer S. Cheng’s work includes poetry, lyric essay, and image-text forms. Her debut book, HOUSE A, was selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the 2015 Omnidawn Poetry Book Prize, and her forthcoming hybrid collection, MOON: Letters, Maps, Poems, was selected by Bhanu Kapil as winner of the 2017 Tarpaulin Sky Book Award. She is also the author of Invocation: an Essay, an image-text chapbook published by New Michigan Press, and her writing appears in Tin House, Conjunctions, AGNI, The Literary Hub, Black Warrior Review, DIAGRAM, The Normal School, Guernica, Hong Kong 20/20 (an anthology edited by PEN Hong Kong), and elsewhere. She was a Fulbright Scholar and received fellowships and awards from Brown University, the University of Iowa, San Francisco State University, Bread Loaf, Kundiman, and the Academy of American Poets. Having grown up in Texas, Connecticut, and Hong Kong, she lives in San Francisco.

April Freely is a poet and essayist living in Provincetown, MA. She received her BA from Brown University and MFA in Nonfiction from the University of Iowa. Her writing has appeared in Forklift, OH, Ninth Letter, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships and awards from the Ohio Arts Council, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, the Fine Arts Work Center, and the George Kaiser Family Foundation.

Shamala Gallagher is a poet and essayist based in Athens, GA. Her recent work appears in Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Copper Nickel, The Offing, Black Warrior Review, The Rumpus, Bettering American Poetry Vol. 2, and elsewhere. She is the author of a poetry chapbook, I Learned the Language of Barbs and Sparks No One Spoke, and she has received fellowships from Kundiman, Vermont Studio Center, and Virginia Center from the Creative Arts. She holds an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Georgia.

Aisha Sabatini Sloan is the author of the essay collections The Fluency of Light and Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit.

Addie Tsai teaches courses in literature, creative writing, and humanities at Houston Community College. She collaborated with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater on Victor Frankenstein and Camille Claudel, among others. Addie received her MFA from Warren Wilson College, and she is currently a doctoral candidate in Dance at Texas Woman’s University. Her queer Asian young adult novel, Dear Twin, will be published by NineStar Press in 2018. Her writing has been published in Banango Street, The Offing, The Collagist, The Feminist Wire, and elsewhere. She is the Nonfiction Editor at The Grief Diaries, and Senior Associate Editor in Poetry at The Flexible Persona.

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