After six decades as a prominent print journal, Washington and Lee's acclaimed literary journal Shenandoah is available at shenandoahliterary.org. The digital version - Volume 62, Number 2, is now online. The homepage also includes a Poem of the Week, an Archive Feature of the Month, audio files of contributors reading their work, an essay on featured artist, William Dunlap; brief and extended reviews and a rotating series of 100 arresting quotations. Those seeking information about submissions, prizes and the publication's history - from Tom Wolfe through Flannery O'Connor and W. H. Auden up to Rita Dove and Charles Wright- will find a wealth of information on the site. Further links reveal a description of the WLU English Department's Internship in Literary Editing program, along with comments by both the winter 2013 interns and recent graduates. All aspects of the journal are interactive and invite reader comment. Finally, Shenandoah's blog "Snopes" will introduce provocative topics and encourage readers to engage in discussion. Bloggers will include staff members, interns and special guests.
For over half a century Shenandoah has been publishing splendid poems, stories, essays and reviews which display passionate understanding, formal accomplishment and serious mischief.
Founded in 1950 by a group of Washington and Lee University faculty and students, Shenandoah has achieved a wide reputation as one of the country's premier literary magazines. Work from the magazine's pages has appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best American Poems, Best American Essays, Best American Spiritual Writing, The O'Henry Prize, New Stories from the South and The Pushcart Prize, as well as numerous other anthologies and quite literally thousands of collections by the original authors. Recent issues have featured Pulitzer winners Natasha Trethewey, Claudia Emerson and Ted Kooser, as well as fiction by James Lee Burke, George Singleton, Alyson Hagy, Chris Offutt, Bret Anthony Johnston and Pam Durban.
â€œOmissions are not accidents.â€ Â Â -Marianne Moore
For a class on modern professional communications, I have been assigned the topic â€œthe future of the book.â€ So, through research and my own personal opinions, I have to determine where the book is going. And while I have noticed a lull in the print book vs. e-book debate (I, myself, am sick of it), I think itâ€™s safe to say that we need not assume that â€œdigitalâ€ and â€œfutureâ€ are synonymous. At least not when it comes to reading. The future of the book comes down to two words: flash fiction.
Next semester at Washington and Lee, the standard Creative Writing: Fiction class will receive an exciting facelift. Instead of surveying some of the various genres of fiction, this course will study exclusively the short-short story through reading and writing the like. This course is anticipating a major shift in the literary trend toward shorter stories, backed by a not-so-recent, but still relevant study that sites studentsâ€™ diminishing attention spans. As a result of the digital ageâ€”where our access to information no longer requires combing library shelves across multiple floors but instead means a quick Google searchâ€”the average Americanâ€™s attention span has decreased from 12 minutes to 5 minutes in the past 10 years. Wow. Iâ€™ll try to make this briefâ€¦
This is, of course, not a new genreâ€”its roots go back to Aesopâ€™s fables in 600 BCE. But it appears to be emerging in new ways. There are dozens of flash fiction anthologies on the market right now, and Iâ€™m sure plenty of older authors of the genre come to mindâ€”Hemingway, Kafka, Chekhov to name a few. Brevity, an online magazine focused solely on extremely short storiesâ€”750 words or fewerâ€”has been around for over a decade. But should we expect even more anthologies, collections, or genre-specific journals in the near future?
Because of the digital shift in publishing, writers, more than ever, must anticipate and write what the public wants (see â€œHighbrow Horror and American Literatureâ€ among the posts below). And if the general public is experiencing a decrease in attention span on the whole, then it seems that the short-short is what we neâ€¦
First, I would like to mention the forum in which I am publishing this â€œpostâ€ â€“ a blog. That is, I am publishing this opinion-driven, critical analysis of blogs onto a web blog itself.
I would consider myself a connoisseur of blogs. It all began with my Pinterest obsession. I seeded, watered and nurtured my boards until they each grew into a well-categorized garden of pins. Pinterest only whet my appetite. It became too soft for me; it no long satiated my interests for random and creative pictures. I started to move onto the harder stuff â€“ blogs. Rather than surfing Pinterest for unfamiliar people with likeable pinboards, I uncovered a world of domains. These domains were owned by anyone from a mother catering to her sonâ€™s peanut, gluten, soy, dairy, fructose, and air allergies to a young girl posting Lilly Pulitzer picture after sorority craft after cakeball. What made this unchartered territory â€“ unlike Pinterest â€“ was the tab sitting on the floating menu above the posts, labeled â€œAbout Me.â€ I could now peek into the lives of the blogging elite.
A few niche boards
There is a blog for everyone. As my family and I sit around the TV at night, we spend our time searching the internet for personal interest blogs. My dad surfs for running gear review blogs, my mom visits her favorite design bloggerâ€™s sites, my sister sifts through young fashionistaâ€™s blogs, and I take a moment to appreciate the quiet and then redirect my attention to my own mixture of recipe, fashion, and review blogs. Lee Odden, author of Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing, argues that, â€œA blog is only as interesting as the interest shown in others.â€
One thing that I love about blogs is the forum that it provides for the writer. He or she is able to express himself or herself, or not. â€œBlogs are whatever we make them. Defining â€˜Blogâ€™ is a foolâ€™s errandâ€ according to blogger, Michael Conniff. The blogger has the opportunity to get emotional, and no one can criticize them to their face â€“ the blogger can even remove the â€œCommentâ€ section if he or she so chooses. This makes me question, who is this blog for? Is the blogger censoring the readerâ€™s freedom of speech by disabling this function? And, what is the point of hiding from othersâ€™ opinions? It makes it seem as though the blogger is hiding behind a computer screen.
All of this raises the question, with bloggers hiding behind their computer screens, and readers doing the same, are we resigning ourselves to a socially averse world? Do these people fear face-to-face, tangible relationships? I begin to wonder whether these people would be able to sustain conversation with others without taking time to cultivate, edit and contemplate their message before pressing â€œPost.â€ Also, consider, many times the blogger enables the moderation function. This means that the blogger is able to look at the comment and decide whether it is worthy of sharing with his or her readers â€“ is this not censorship?
The blogging world has recently taken a very strong foothold within society. As blogger Luke Langford says, â€œThe term â€˜Professional Bloggerâ€™ is no longer an oxymoron.â€ I anticipate seeing where it leads and how people take advantage of the new forum. It can make for a light, thoughtless afternoon or a contemplative, epiphany invoking one. Make of it what you will.
While perusing my late uncleâ€™s poetry collection Anniversary Songs, I read the words that comforted him during his final years, words that he wrote, no less. While many of James Wronoskiâ€™s poems are written for his wife in an attempt to eternalize his love for her, the poet directly addresses his cancer in others. Sometimes, he even addresses them both.
Iâ€™ve recognized this in other works, that the words Iâ€™m reading are a way of coping with some sort of ailment, be it physical or emotional. Iâ€™ve found it in poetry, memoir, and even fiction. The writersâ€™ words heal. Thereâ€™s an intimacy in allowing othersâ€”strangersâ€”to read these emotionally charged words, and it moves me every time.
Catharsis: â€œThe purification of emotions by vicarious experience, esp. through drama.â€ Aristotle originally used this word in his work on dramatic theory titled Poetics. He used catharsis as a metaphor for how tragedy affects the spectator. Works by certain authors, poets, and playwrights succeed in evoking sympathy in the reader or viewer. Perhaps this explains why booksâ€”be it fiction or nonâ€”poems, plays, and arguably most often movies, can bring tears to audience membersâ€™ eyes. By inducing fear, sorrow, and pain, the readers or viewers can purge these excessive emotionsand are cleansed.
But what about the writer? What readers possess is the work in its finished stage. They donâ€™t see it from proposal to publication like the writer does. They donâ€™t have access to the drafts, rewrites, edits, and scraps. But that process is as important to the writer as the final product.
Mimesis: â€œImitation; spec. the representation or imitation of the real world in (a work of) art, literature, etc.â€ Writers often recreate their past experiences through words. They donâ€™t simply purge their emotions, but rather, they acknowledge them. Bringing these events back to life allows some writers to cope.
In the late 1800s, psychoanalyst Josef Breuer developed a psychological treatment for individuals who suffer from hysteria. Breuerâ€™s patients, while under hypnosis, recalled traumatic experiences to evoke emotions that may have been suppressed or forgotten after the trauma. By doing so, their hysteric symptoms dissipated. And Iâ€™m under the impression that authors accomplish this completely consciously, intentionally, successfully, and throughout each and every stage of the writing process.
While Aristotle considers how tragedy affects the spectator, he does not address how, or if, tragedy affects the performer. I have found, while reading certain memoirs, poetry collections, and even novels, that writers often write for both themselves and their reader, and it is worth considering this relationship, especially when the writer invites the reader into a private and personal experience.
Reading Autobiography, a guide written by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, references â€œscriptotherapy,â€ a term coined by Suzette Henke in her book Shattered Subjects. Smith and Watson define this word as a response â€œto signify the process of speaking or writing about trauma in order to find words to give voice to previously repressed memories.â€ They identify it as an important method to consider when interpreting autobiographical texts, explicitly or not.
Last spring for Shenandoah I recommended Natalie Diazâ€™s When My Brother Was an Aztec. In the post, I discuss how Diazâ€™s poetry is admittedly autobiographical, and the reader can infer from her jarring, if not graphic, entries that writing this collection provided a means of coping for Diaz. This is not to say her writing cured her of her post-colonial traumatic stress, but it at least remedied some wounds.
Likewise, I believe my uncleâ€™s poetry accomplished a similar goal. He wrote in the late stages of cancer and his poems allowed him to confront his disease head-on. One of his poems in particular addresses his cancer directly.
By acknowledging their respective ailmentsâ€”one physical, one emotionalâ€”both poets are able to use the power of writing for good.
But this mechanism is not exclusive to poets. Memoirists also find comfort in exploiting their troubled pasts. Mary Karrâ€™s The Liarsâ€™ Club retells her dysfunctional childhood with an alcoholic, and sometimes pyromaniac, mother and an occasionally absent father.
It even applies to fiction. Marilynne Robinsonâ€™s epistolary novel Gilead features a dying narrator, Reverend John Ames, who writes letters to his young son. Rev. Ames laments that his son will grow up fatherless, and he attempts to quell this regret through these letters. He writes with the intention of creating a legacy for his sonâ€”an all-inclusive genealogy and stories about his own fatherâ€”but ends up providing himself with closure.
Wronoski, Diaz, Karr, and Robinsonâ€™s works were each part of a long and intensive process that no doubt featured countless edits, rewrites, and scraps that each offered another kind of satisfaction. Discovering the perfect details, no matter the form, can itself be cathartic, perhaps even more then the purgative nature of spilling emotions onto a first draft.
These examples demonstrate why writers write, and even why readers read, why painters paint or musicians compose. The list is unexhausted on both accounts; the medium does not change or dictate the cathartic or mimetic nature of art. Artists can findâ€”via an accumulation of words, of paint, or notesâ€”the perfect confines for their unique experiences.
*Catharsis and Mimesis as defined by OED.