Surrounded by the Love of the Literary: My First AWP Experience

By Jørn Otte

As the dust settles, the books are shelved, the business cards sorted through (who was that again?), and the jet lag lazily lingers, I sit and ponder over my first Association of Writers and Writing Publishers conference in Minneapolis, and what can be said of this unique literary experience.

Writers, readers, MFA programs, publishers, literary magazines, drag queens, booksellers, activists, panelists, recovering alcoholics, dog lovers, trendsetters, translation enthusiasts, poets, playwrights, prison writing publishers, Duendians, Goddardites, and thousands of other categories of people and uncategorizeable people attended this three-day-long event, and the positive energy in the rooms was palpable and contagious.

What did I learn? Plenty. Let’s start with my college and literary magazine.

Goddard College has a wider influence than I realized, and it was wonderful to meet alumni and former faculty who have gone on to great things – from people like Mark Doty, a Goddard alum and renowned poet and memoirist who won the National Book Award in 2008, to Doug Van Gundy, a Goddard alum and fellow West Virginia native who now at the low residency MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan, and was also a contestant on ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Alumni and former professors stopped by the Goddard table every day, recalling fond memories, sharing enthusiasm about our programs, and encouraging others to attend.

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the AWP experience was the fact that many contributors to Duende stopped by our table to thank us for publishing them and to share their love of all things literary. From Harrison Candelaria Fletcher to Bianca Spriggs to Seema Reza and so many others, meeting our contributors face to face and sharing in mutual love of the written word was truly a wonderful experience. It was also nice to build an even deeper camaraderie with my fellow Duendians Amy Sterne and Catherine Chambers, as we represented our school and magazine.

Meeting famous authors is always a treat, and it was distinct pleasure to be able to sit down and talk with people like Nick Flynn and Karen Russell, both of whom, like so many other attendees, were gracious with their time and thoroughly engaging.

Being courted by MFA programs does a little something to stroke the ego as well, and while I won’t call out any names, I can say with complete sincerity that the fact that half-a-dozen graduate writing programs expressed a genuine interest in both my writing and in me as a person made me feel that this whole experience was equally surreal and grounding.

Panels of noted authors and publishers were also an integral part of the AWP experience, and none was more engaging that the Writers Write No Matter What panel, conducted by four wonderful writers: Wendy Call, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Anastacia Tolbert and Sejal Shah.  This panel was actually workshop, and the productive writing that occurred in this space was unlike anything else I saw at AWP, and hearing from other attendees and panelists, I can confirm that this was a unique and engaging experience that ranked up there with the best panels AWP has ever had.

What more can be said? Being around 15,000 like-minded people – people who care about the written word, about publishing, education, poetry and prose – it is both an awe-inspiring and humbling experience. I am proud to be one of the managing co-editors of Duende, and I am honored to be a student of Goddard College. As a literary magazine and as an institution, we are setting a high standard of excellence, and it was evident at AWP in Minneapolis, just as it will be when I see all of you at AWP in Los Angeles in 2016!

This is Art; This is Hard

By Ilana Wilson

All art has one thing in common: it’s hard. Art comes from a place of inspiration, from an unexplained impulse to create, from a feeling that this is important. As a writer, my stories are
woven from threads of myself. Often they are beautiful, messy, and heartbreaking. And yet, despite all the emotional vulnerability and knowledge of craft that goes into creating my art, that is still not the hardest part.

When a friend recently congratulated me on the publication of my short story in a literary magazine Geek Force 5, I laughed and said, “It’s no big deal. I’ve made about three dollars.” Her response was, “Yeah. Get used to that.”

Most artists are poor, or struggling. Some may live out of shopping carts or sleep in subway
stations. Others may have a roof over their head, but still live in tears. The weeping and penniless artist is a stereotype, I know, but sometimes it feels all too real. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt the need to explain to strangers why I am getting a creative writing degree, why I may be working in restaurants until I am 50 years old to pay off these student loans. “Don’t worry,” I say to people. “I know I won’t make money writing novels. Maybe I’ll go into editing.”

I figured out something crucial to my life in the past few months. Editing is hard. I am a co-­fiction
editor for Duende, and it is up to me to give the art I am reading proper consideration, to find jewels among mountains of rock. But was my published story really a jewel? I know what it’s like
to be on the other side of this screen, uploading onto submittable.com, stomach twisting with
anxiety at the thought of yet another rejection. As an editor, I am always thinking about the fact
that no matter what I think of a story, to the person who wrote it, it is important. It is art. And I
have been given a huge responsibility.

Of course there are some editors out there who are not artists, or who are in it for the paycheck,
who edit purely scientific jargon or business postings, who simply have a love of diction and
punctuation. I think many, however, are like me. They love the art of words, and that means that in addition to working with someone else’s work, helping get it out there in the world, they create material of their own. The people who work on literary magazines are almost always writers themselves, and so are the people who read them. This is what we do. We read, we write, and we do our best to get our work and others’ out into the world.

Money and art don’t necessarily go hand-­in-­hand. The odd part about this is just how expensive art can be. Getting a degree takes quite a lot of money, creating the art itself takes big bites out of paychecks, and publishing and promotion takes everything from volunteer labor, to fundraising, to grants, to straight up begging. And yet, aside from those few celebrity cases, it does not make money. In fact, it might not even get readers.

If something is a work of art, even if it is still the rock and not the polished jewel, how much money it makes does not equal its real value. I will repeat that in case you didn’t get it; I find
myself forgetting all the time. Profit does not equal value! My first royalties check was $1.56, and I framed it. Value is also not determined by Amazon ratings, Goodreads reviews, or the number of book clubs reading your work. No amount of anything determines the value of art. And that is why it is so hard. How do you sell something that doesn’t and can’t have a real numeric value, but costs so much to make?

Since the first American magazine containing literature was published in 1741, lit mags have
steadily grown in popularity. During this blossoming internet­-age, journals are springing to life
constantly, and all fighting to survive. There is a reason most of these magazines are solely digital. Because of the strains in financial resources, it is most difficult to maintain print magazines, and print books.

Duende has embraced the noisy world of the internet. Every issue is free to view on our beautiful website. We are all about giving. Look, we have this new, brilliant piece of work for you! Read it right here. We make nothing off of you clicking that link or reading those words. But, we are not the only ones giving. The writers gave us their art to publish. Giving away art is something anyone who creates it wants to do, even though it doesn’t pay the bills.

The hardest part of being an artist is finding the courage and means to share that art with the world, with the hopes that others will appreciate it, and that one day, through your art you’ll find stability. The hardest part about being being an editor is being responsible for what happens to other people’s art once it is in your hands, and being the person to send those rejection letters we all detest receiving. And guys, this is important. Duende is a magnificent compilation of stories, poems, and visual pieces that when put together is itself a work of art, and that means it is hard. It takes a chunk of all of our souls to complete each issue, and it is well worth it.

 

Duende Launches; The People Approve

By Kate Weiss


“I think it's the most impressive undergraduate journal right now.”

—Michael Vizsolyi, poet, Goddard College Faculty, and Starworks Fellow. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Margie, 6x6, Slice magazine, and Sixth Finch.

 

“Oh my gosh, it’s a beautiful design. Can’t wait to read these works and drool over the artwork.”

—Deborah Miranda, poet, Native Studies Scholar, author of several award-winning books, including Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir

 

“Wow, editors!  It just gets better and better.”

—Janet Sylvester, poet, Director of Goddard College’s BFA Program in Creative Writing

 

“The launch [of Duende] is a very special accomplishment…Once again my congratulations to all but we cannot let it stop there.” 

—Robert Kenny, Interim President of Goddard College


We did it. We launched Issue One. Over the past eighteen months there have been long days and late nights. The Duende staff has grown and changed. Editors have moved across the country or on to other adventures. Collaborating across time zones we have worked to assemble a sort of digital scaffolding to not only build issue one, but promote the continued growth of Duende. Sometimes together, meeting in a cottage in central Vermont and sometimes apart, in our own respective cities, we built this thing. And during its construction we have learned so much. The words we speak, write to each other in communication, and those we have chosen to publish come from deep reflection.

During this process, we have come to understand what it means to be literary gatekeepers. We will continue to consider the gifts and responsibilities we have in this position of empowerment. Duende is no longer just an idea or a mission about diversity and voice. It no longer exists solely as faces illuminated by the glow of laptops, lonely hours spent reading submissions, and fixing comma splices. Duende is now a thing in the world. Our mischievous, elusive Duende holds digital space.

The words we speak, write to each other in communication, and those we have chosen to publish come from deep reflection.

We have been able to publish work we are proud of and cannot thank each of our contributors enough—even those we did not publish—for sharing their work with us. For those writers, poets, and artists whom we did publish, we are honored to have built a home for your work. Because of your submissions we have been able to fulfill our mission to publish work from an array of voices ranging form Affrilachian poets to Cave Canem fellows to members of the LGBTQ community. There is so much richness in the tapestry of lit and art to discover. We have only just begun!  

On to Issue Two.

 

Creating the Unknowable Future: The Birth of Duende

by Amy Cain

This past summer I spent a lot of time playing Minecraft with a seven-year-old. For those unfamiliar, it’s a game that situates the player in a 3D world where virtually anything can be constructed out of large, textured cubes. In general, I loathe video games and do what I can to keep my nanny charge, Bruno, from playing them (despite the fact that it would make me a terrible nanny, I also think video games are just boring). But Minecraft is entirely different.

There are a variety of modes to the game; Bruno and I always choose the creative mode and set our world to "peaceful." This means that the only point of playing is to create. Naturally, as a person who spends most of my free time creating and/or cultivating, I am delighted by this. There is an excitement associated with building something out of nothing, with realizing ideas, and it's like nothing else.

Recently, I read an essay by Javier Marías called “Seven Reasons Not to Write Novels and Only One Reason to Write Them.” Use your imagination and you can probably guess at some of his reasons not to write novels—but Marías's only reason in support of writing gave me the shivers because it gets at the very excitement I’m talking about. He writes, “[Fiction] offers us a possible future reality. And although it has nothing to do with personal immortality, it means that for every novelist there is the possibility—infinitesimal, but still a possibility—that what he is writing is both shaping and might even become the future he will never see.”

It is, perhaps, a stretch to extend this idea to the playing of Minecraft, but it’s certainly not a stretch to apply it to the creation of Duende. Over the past year, BFA students at Goddard College have been working tirelessly on Duende; together, we imagined this journal into existence. Together, we voted on potential names, design choices, and literary allegiances. Together, we decided it was vital that this journal be a true representation of the U.S. literary ecosystem, and we committed to intentionally reaching-out to underrepresented groups in the hopes of creating the literary future we want to see.

There are thousands of fledgling literary journals in the world. Harkening back, for a moment, to Marías's observations about novel-writing, he says, “There are too many of them. … It is, then, a commonplace activity, one that is, in theory, within the grasp of anyone who learned to write at school.” The same thing can be said about literary journals. Making them is not hard, and with the internet as a tool (long live net neutrality!), just about anybody with access to a computer, a working knowledge of Wordpress and a little extra time can do it.

But as we, the Duende editors, made choices about which writers and artists to include in our inaugural issue (and we had SO many wonderful submissions that it was difficult to choose), we understood that the poems, stories, visual art pieces, and collaborations were going to reflect not only our mission, but the unknowable future. We are incredibly pleased with the writers and artists who appear in this first issue. They deserve to be here, and we feel honored to have been even the smallest stepping stone in their journey through the literary landscape; their pride is our pride.

In the end, playing Minecraft probably won’t change the shape of the world around me, but an attitude of possibility will. That’s why, in deciding which voices must be heard, which ideas are important, we are, right now, taking part in a discussion that is both happening and hasn’t happened yet. This is the magic inherent to creation. We make something. We put it into the world. And we have no idea at all what will develop next.

Springtime in Plainfield

By Cameron Price

In Plainfield, Vermont, the sun is shining (sometimes), the fields are muddy, and the grass is brown. This must mean Spring Residency at Goddard College! Though the pastoral New England landscape was still waking up from a long winter’s nap while we were on campus two weeks ago, the Duende team was in full bloom and hard at work.

First of all, let me set the context for you: our eight-day academic residencies occur twice a year, which means they are the only opportunities we have to meet face-to-face. It goes without saying, then, that our time together is precious and limited. Even so, we managed to accomplish much over the course of the residency.

Our first order of business was to welcome new members to our team: Denise, Lauren, Jørn, Ah-Keisha, Jan, and Jeric (their bios can be found on The Editors section of our website, right under the Who We Are tab). Since the online publication is 100% volunteer and student run, it is quite exciting to witness the interaction between the amorphous nature of our team and the developing identity of the journal. As new Goddard students come to lend their skills to Duende, they bring along fresh talent and insight, thus expanding the concept of what Duende is and what it can be.

The strength of our new group dynamic emerged during our second meeting, when a key issue came up regarding the diversity of the narratives represented by Duende. As mentioned in our previous blog post, one of our newest team members, Jeric Smith, made the observation that journals often subconsciously adopt a homogenous set of narratives. For example, let’s say that the editors of a hypothetical literary journal shared a common socioeconomic, cultural, and educational background. Without meaning to, the editors might gravitate toward selecting submissions with which they felt a sense of familiarity. A lack of awareness of this proclivity can result in a journal that only tells one story. Furthermore, many readers (and potential submitters) might view the content of the journal and decide, based on what they see, that “there isn’t a space for me," thus self-selecting out of sharing art and literature which would advance needed conversations about equality, diversity, privilege, inclusion, and the future of the literary journal in general!

I was grateful for and inspired by the frank, candid, intelligent, and compassionate round-table discussion had by the Duende team around these important questions. During the course of our meeting, we brainstormed ways to ensure that Duende stays committed to being an inclusive, multi-narrative platform where quality art and literature can be accessed.

Though we accomplished a lot of work during residency, there was also fun to be had. On Wednesday night, the bi-annual, student-led reading occurred in the Manor Oak Room. Twinkling lights had been strung along the mantle of the fireplace, creating a gauzy halo around the readers, many of which were our own Duende team members. It was one of those seamless readings that could not have been planned. Serious pieces were balanced with funny ones; there were essays and short stories, sonnets and slam poems, hip-hop songs and radio recordings. It was a meaningful way to reconvene after Duende's intense round-table discussion earlier in the day.

I have high hopes for what the Duende team will accomplish this semester. Now it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves, boot up our computers, and spend the rest of the semester writing posts, video-conferencing, researching, and reading submissions. Despite the space between us, I know we will continue (like last semester) to be a cohesive group, dedicated to the production of a gorgeous and top-of-the-line inaugural issue of Duende.

Stay tuned!