Taking the Torch: My New Role & Duende Updates

by M.A. Vizsolyi

It is with honor, excitement and a little trepidation that I take over the role as faculty advisor for Duende.  When I say “trepidation,” I speak only to the challenge of maintaining what is one of the best undergraduate, student-run journals available. It’s important to note, however, the huge support I received from the continuing editors this semester, particularly senior editor Amy Sterne and managing editor Catherine Chambers, as well as my colleague and former Duende advisor, Wendy Call, and program director, Janet Sylvester.  

Wendy Call helped begin the journal over a year ago, and, for those of us who’ve ever undertaken such a task will attest to, it was a tireless effort.  It was Wendy’s work ethic, meticulous attention to detail and generosity that brought the journal the success it has garnered thus far.  Wendy, I know that I speak for all of the past and current editors when I say, thank you.  You will be missed by all of us. 

This is another reason that stepping into this position has been so hard—I have brilliant shoes to fill.  I’ve realized that I could never do that, of course.  I need to act as advisor in my own way, while maintaining the organization of the journal. 

One of the first steps I took this semester was to reaffirm my role as advisor, not editor.  It is the students who edit this wonderful journal, and readers should be aware of the kind of work that they do each semester.  With a record-level of submissions and page-views last semester, that work can be a lot, all of which is unpaid.  So, thank you Quinten, Catherine, Amy, Tyler, Cara, Jay and Sérgio.  Your work is important. 

I want to briefly highlight a major change that is taking place for Duende, beginning this semester.  We are changing our production schedule to one issue per year, with our next full issue (Issue #4) coming out early in the fall of next year.  In the spring, we will release a special feature-issue of the journal.  Our first feature issue will be released this spring.  The reason for this change is simple. All of our editors are full-time students, and many of our editors also hold down full-time jobs.  As an editor, it can be tricky to find the balance between editorial work, creative work and other life circumstances.  The hope is that this change will support a healthy balance between each of those.  Plus, that means our editors can spend more quality time with your submissions!  We are currently reading submissions for Issue #4, and we will begin reading submissions for our next feature issue this spring.  

Most of what you’ve come to expect from Duende will remain the same, however—edgy writing from authors in a global community, great art, and monthly spotlights featuring our diverse community of writers.  

Duende remains true, too, to its mission statement. We stay “committed to having a majority of the writers and artists in our journal come from groups that are underrepresented in today’s U.S. literary ecosystem.”  

All of this is to say, that there’s much to be excited about over here at Duende.  

Thank you to our authors, readers and the Goddard College community for your support.

A Brief History of Prison Writing

by Tyler Woodsmall

I believe that there is a unique connection between incarceration and literature; classics from around the world have been written from prisons. Just a few of the numerous notable works are Fanny Hill (1748) by John Cleland, The Consolation of Philosophy (523) by Boethius, Civil Disobedience (1849) by Henry David Thoreau, The Enormous Room (1922) by E. E. Cummings, The 120 Days of Sodom (1785) by Marquis de Sade, and De Profundis (1897) by Oscar Wilde.

Out of the depths of prison, a plethora of literature both profound and controversial has emerged. Perhaps boredom causes prisoners to write, or maybe some inmates use literature as a tool to escape the walls that confine them. Whatever the reason, the literature that has emerged from prisons has had enormous literary impact—from raising pro-Christian philosophical questions to the creation of erotica and books that vividly recount disturbing depravity.

The history of prison writing seems to have begun with Boethius, a classical Neoplatonist philosopher who wrote The Consolation of Philosophy in 523 AD, during his imprisonment for treason. The Consolation of Philosophy is a written account of a conversation Boethius had with Lady Philosophy while he was in prison. It serves as a personification of his philosophical ideas, such as the denial of the flesh, intellectualism being the highest good earth can offer, evil’s lack of substance, and providence as the reason God created the universe. This thought-provoking material was written between bouts of torture.

But the cruelties of prison life were not a part of every inmate’s journey. English author John Cleland wrote the first piece of erotica from a debtors’ prison. A year after Fanny Hill was published, Cleland and the publishers were arrested for the book’s “pornographic” content. But Fanny Hill has since solidified its place in classic literature. It no longer lives in obscurity; you can purchase a copy in any major bookstore. Surely this book would be just as important if Cleland had written it in his own home or anywhere else. But the fact that Fanny Hill was written from prison validates the theory that prison writing has produced historically notable literature.

American poet E. E. Cummings was imprisoned in 1917 in France on suspicion of espionage for his anti-war sentiments. While there he wrote an autobiographical novel called The Enormous Room. Cummings' novel is important because it can properly exemplify the importance of unpopular speech. Ultimately prison writing can ask questions we could never think of speaking. What do they have to lose? They’re already in prison, so the only thing that would be “free” inside of a jail cell is thought.  

The Marquis de Sade, a French author, wrote prolifically during the thirty years he spent in prison and an insane asylum. His work reflects his own life of sickening depravity, perversity, and blasphemy. His name is the origin of the word sadismDid prison make Sade a writer? Probably not, but it did seem to have a profound effect on his writing. Richard Seaver, a translator of Sade’s work, said, “There is no question that de Sade would have never been a writer of any stature if he wasn’t sent to prison.” (This quote can be found in the documentary “Pornographer or Prophet?”) Sade’s themes of torture, loneliness, violence, and sexuality reflect the author’s madness, a condition that prison drove him to.

The idea of incarcerated people having a voice outside of prison is frightening or upsetting to many people. However, historical literature and other creative materials often come from vexatious places. “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality,” wrote Edgar Allan Poe. I personally agree with Poe’s statement; I believe that the “horror of their reality” contributes to why profound writing can come from prisoners.

I just completed my first semester at Goddard, and therefore this has been my first semester working with Duende. I have only had the pleasure of seeing a few prison writing submissions, and I give a great deal of credit to my fellow Duendians Jorn Otte, Amy Sterne, and Wendy Call for championing Duende's prison writing project. The history of prison writing leads me to believe that more notable literature will come from behind bars. I’m not saying that Duende will publish the next famous incarcerated writer, but it’s great to be a part of something that feels so important.


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!

Confessions of a Star-Struck Memoirist

By Catherine Chambers

As the 2015 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference draws near, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences since I attended the 2014 conference in Seattle. In the past year, I found, applied to, and was accepted by Goddard College's BFA in Creative Writing program after a two-year break from school to work for a circus troupe in Dallas, Texas. I had my first piece of writing (incidentally, based on an encounter I had during the conference) published in a literary journal, moved to a new state, and chose the career of “writer” for myself.

Previously, writing had been a hobby for me, one that I enjoyed but didn’t feel that I was especially good at. I began to write memoir pieces about my experience in the circus, an abusive relationship, and my childhood, but I didn’t feel “legit” writing about these things. Everyone had these problems, I thought. Nothing made me any more special than the next memoirist who loved her mom and made some bad choices in the love department.

At this point, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Nicole Hardy, author of Confessions of a Latter-day Virgin: A Memoir. She, along with with Suzanne Morrison and Claire Dederer, presented a panel on humor in memoirs by women. It was the first panel I attended at #AWP14, and I was completely taken with all three women, Nicole Hardy especially.  After the panel, I was walking around with my two best friends (Hi Janice! Hi Jenna!) and we stopped at a booth about ten feet from Nicole. My friends urged me to go talk to her, but I was having a hard time with my words. I couldn't believe I could just walk up to her?!

I did eventually get up the courage, and Nicole gave me a hug. I asked her if I could ask for writing advice, and she said that I could ask her anything. My questions were: “What if my story is average compared to someone else’s? What if my experiences aren’t extraordinary?”

Her answer: “It doesn’t matter. All your experiences can be extraordinary. It’s not the quantity of stories you tell; it’s the quality of your storytelling.” From that moment, my perspective of my own writing shifted. I started taking steps to better myself as a storyteller, rather than worrying that my life wasn’t interesting enough to merit the title of “memoirist.” Following that illuminating experience, I found Goddard, I found confidence in my craft, and eventually, I found beauty in everyday experiences.   

I will be live-tweeting my #AWP15 experience as I represent Duende with Managing Editor Amy Sterne, Non-Fiction Editor Jørn Otte, and Faculty Advisor/Editor-in-Chief Wendy Call. Come by the Duende booth and take a selfie with us, talk writing with us, or come by just for a hug. Let's #MeetandTweet

We would especially love a photo-op with any of our contributors! See you in Minneapolis!

Follow @DuendeLiterary for updates from the journal, and @CatChamberz on Twitter and Instagram for Catherine’s live-tweets of #AWP15! #SharetheDuende