Over It: One Editor's Brush With Ignorance

by Catherine Chambers

“That's what is always fascinating about racism - how it is allowed, if not encouraged, to flourish freely in public spaces, the way racism and bigotry are so often unquestioned.” – Roxane Gay

Like any self-respecting literary type, I do a great deal of my work in coffee shops. It gets me out of the house, shakes up my scenery, and I can stay steadily caffeinated until whatever I’m working on is finished. On a recent trip home to Texas, I was working in one such establishment when an elderly man asked me what I was working on, typing away like that.

I love this part of conversations. I love telling people about Duende’s mission, about the act of handing a literary microphone to those who may not normally get one, about the hard work of the volunteer editing staff to diversify the literary landscape. If you saw me or any other Duende staff member at AWP, you can attest to how excited we are about the work we are doing. It never occurred to me that someone might not be excited about the prospect of diversity.

When I explained Duende’s mission to this man, an older white man whom we will call Bob, he frowned at me. “So you wouldn’t publish my writing,” he said curtly.

“Not necessarily,” I said, still feeling good-natured. In the past, Duende has published some amazing work from cisgendered straight white males.  “We publish quality work, always, but we are working towards diversifying indie lit. There are lots of other places you could have your work published. For some people, like incarcerated writers or undergraduates, it might be much harder."

It was as if Bob didn't hear me. “So if I was a dyke,” he barreled on, now having exited my good graces, “And I sent in a shit poem, you’d publish it.”

I took a deep breath. “That’s not what I said.”

“You’re discriminating me,” he said, louder now, pointing a finger at me from the armchair where he sat.

“Excuse me?” I asked, my heart rate picking up. I have self-diagnosed white knight syndrome combined with a temper, but I was trying to maintain my calm. Maybe he just didn’t understand. Hadn’t he seen the VIDA count?! Did he really think that he, as a white male, was being harmed by my publication choosing to address the work of underrepresented writers?

“Sweetheart, you’re very pretty, but you’re a bigot and a racist,” Bob informed me.

I realized this man couldn’t be reasoned with, so I simply shut my laptop and packed up my bag without another word to him. I stormed out to choruses of, Oh sweetheart, don’t be like that, and I was only kidding. I made it to my car before I burst into tears. 

I am a bi-racial female with skin privilege, so people sometimes raise an eyebrow when I tell them how important diversifying the literary world is to me. I am also a woman of small stature with big eyes and long hair. Men, especially older men, will write off my opinions, especially if they are strong. I am constantly called sweetheart, beautiful, darlin’, by men I don’t know.

You know what? I am over it. Like the people we are trying to give a voice with Duende, I am often unheard even though I am smart and I work hard. The world has cut me breaks, and it has not cut me breaks. So, Bob, you will not be getting one from me. What I will be doing is spreading our message no matter what you think, and continuing to work hard alongside a talented staff of editors to make Issue 3 a megaphone for writers from all over the world, writers of color, LGBTQ writers, student writers, incarcerated writers, and anyone else who gets as angry as I do that the world cuts men like Bob a break. 

Striving Towards Empathy: Why Diversity in Lit Matters

By Amy Sterne

A few weeks ago I finished reading The Empathy Exams, a recently released collection of essays by Leslie Jamison.  Like most great books, certain portions of it kept popping into my head long after I had sadly soaked up the last sentence.  In the opening essay that bears the same name as the collection, Jamison recalls her experiences working as a medical actor.  In her position, she acts as a patient and evaluates the level of empathy of the medical students while they pretend to treat her.  While this is simply the premise for Jamison’s deeper exploration into physical and emotional pain and the ways that we share that pain with others, I couldn’t help thinking, would I pass an empathy exam?
Scientific studies show that many of the same areas in our brain that are active when we are in pain are also active when someone we care about is in pain. Being empathetic towards those that we love comes naturally to us. We see a close friend or family member emotionally wrecked, or physically suffering, or over-the-moon joyful and we share those feelings.  However, when we witness the suffering of someone that we don’t already love, that we don’t know, that perhaps we feel we don’t even understand, empathy becomes more difficult.  I think as imperfect people, it is normal for us to err on the side of apathy rather than empathy. Apathy is the easier of the two actions, but certainly not the most helpful.
I started thinking about how we can fight those apathetic tendencies and engender empathy in ourselves and others, particularly when it is the most difficult. How can we use empathy to grow? I think one of the answers lies in diversity.  When we expose ourselves to unique and interesting voices, we hear people who on the surface seem completely different from us. Sometimes these stories challenge and overcome our prejudices. Sometimes these stories give us a context for someone’s actions that give us a deeper understanding of a whole situation. The more we listen to these stories, the more we understand the individual pain and our shared humanity. Stories connect us, and those connections become the building blocks for empathy. Roslyn Bresnick-Perry, the author of Leaving for America, said, “It’s hard to hate someone whose story you know.”  Sharing stories, telling ours and listening to others, not only creates empathy but also diminishes hate.
I like to think that while Duende’s mission statement is to give a voice to underrepresented groups in today’s literary scene, what we are really doing is helping to spread empathy around to those that need it most. This is not to say that certain people deserve more empathy than others, but that the stories that come from groups that are underrepresented in the literary community simply are not seen. Their voices are valuable, they have the ability to bring depth and breadth and texture to our ever-expanding understanding of what it means to be human. Without a platform those voices can only reach so far.
I think the other way that we can create empathy is by pushing ourselves in the direction of it. Jamison says it more eloquently than I could near the end of The Empathy Exams, "Empathy [is] a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It's made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse . . .The act of choosing simply means we've committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations. . .

This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones."
Let’s make it our intention to self-evaluate and strive in the direction of empathy instead of apathy. Let’s be grateful for the diverse stories in the world today, learn as much as we can from them, and allow them to move us to celebrate our similarities rather than our differences.

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.


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! 

Growing Our Vision

By Ah-Keisha McCants


“Diversity ensures that the next generation moves beyond the stereotypes, the assumptions, and superficial perceptions that students coming from less heterogeneous communities harbor, consciously or not, about people who do not look like them.”

- Justice Sandra Sotomayor


On Tuesday, April 22, 2014, the Supreme Court upheld the state of Michigan’s ban on Affirmative Action in college admissions. The 6-2 ruling struck a chord with those concerned about the state of race and the shaping of opportunity in the United States. Justice Sandra Sotomayor, in an unprecedented display of dismay over the social implications of such a ruling, released a 58-page response. In it, Sotomayor echoed group discussions we've been having lately at Duende: “The way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race…with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”

As we approach the launch of Duende's inaugural issue (due out in October 2014), we’ve had to ask ourselves complicated questions about our vision. It was just one week ago that we began the spring semester at Goddard College, welcoming students new and old to the Plainfield, Vermont, campus for their required eight-day residency. During that time, Duende welcomed new editors, readers, and contributors to the family. One of our newest team members, Jeric Smith, shared a heartfelt statement about the importance of diversity in Duende’s future. As a group, we addressed issues of race, ethnicity, sexuality, and class in an effort to define our purpose as a vehicle for social change and acceptance.

It has become evident that to live our mission of embodying “authenticity and soulfulness,” we must broaden our view beyond the superficial. We must be specific, inviting not only a diverse range of art, but of artists to populate our pages.

We had to ask ourselves what it means to be a literary magazine that goes against the mainstream hegemony of literary magazines. For example, the VIDA count, in an effort to expose the disparities between women and men published in “prestigious literary venues,” has begun, after four years of reporting, to show a decrease in gender bias in some literary publications. But as a recent Salon Magazine article noted, “We need a VIDA count for race as well as gender.”

What will it look like to be inclusive of nontraditional narratives, or better yet, to challenge our own implicit biases? What better way to answer those questions than to revise our focus?

Duende seeks to create a space that welcomes eclectic voices, moving beyond the cursory and concealed mechanisms of publishing that keep so many writers of color, women, queer writers, and other underrepresented groups from being heard. It is essential that we create a space that opposes discriminatory traditions in publishing.

At Duende, we intend to continue the dialogue about how we can better support diversity in our journal, as well as at Goddard College. We welcome our contributors and readers to lend their voices to the conversation.

We are committed to publishing a majority of work by those marginalized in the literary world: LGBTQ, people of color, youth and elders, differently abled, and immigrants. These stories deserve a wider view. To paraphrase Langston Hughes: we, too, are America.

We cannot wish away inequality, but at Duende we will work to create a literary journal built on a vision of equality, one issue at a time.