Two great writers, who I feel lucky to know, Joy Castro and Ira Sukrungruang, worked together to guest edit the issue.
In this conversation, they reflected on what they hoped for the issue, and what surprised them about the process.
I hope you find it interesting, and that you read the issue.
Joy Castro: Time to write is a privilege. Time to give reading and writing a prioritized space in your life, to give them any time at all, is in itself a privilege. Having the time and resources to acquire enough of a literary education so that the work you produce is socially and historically aware enough, aesthetically interesting enough, and polished enough for editors to look at twice: that’s a privilege.
The length of our texts can be a direct reflection of the material conditions of our lives. As readers and critics, we need to recognize the class bias in our assumptions that heft equals greatness. And since generally in our culture race, ethnicity, and class remain intertwined, we need to think hard about measuring writers by the quantity of their output.
I prefer compression. I like the way compression and short forms are more possible, more available, for writers in straitened circumstances. If you’re doing manual labor all day, or taking care of a child or elderly person, your mind can be turning over sentences and paragraphs; you can revise and revise and revise. But you can’t hold long texts in your head—at least, most of us can’t. Then, when you have five or ten minutes at the end of the day, you can write down what you’ve been composing in your head. You can produce small gemlike pieces far more readily than long texts, which require—at least in my experience—more time, more solitude, more peace than poor people are usually afforded.
Not to say that all people of color in our country are poor, or that all writers of color come from backgrounds of poverty. But many are, and many do. It’s something worth exploring.
Ira, I was wondering: reading all the submissions we received, what most surprised you about what writers in the U.S. are thinking about race and racialization right now?
Ira Sukrungruang: That we are frustrated. That they want to be heard. But to be heard in a different way. That they are angry. That they carry within them a lot of hurt, and that hurt they shoulder is not an individual hurt, but a cultural hurt.
But also, a sense of change. A hope of change.
I am incredibly honored to have been part of this project. It has been one of my greatest pleasures as a writer and teacher.
How about you, Joy? Any surprises? Anything confirmed or disproven?
Joy Castro: To be honest, I was surprised that so many white writers submitted work—non-Hispanic white writers, I mean.
An analogy: as a largely straight person who has benefited from systems of heteronormative privilege my whole life, I would hesitate to submit to a special issue on queerness. I would feel that I wouldn’t want to take up space or insert my voice, and I’d see myself as a listener and learner only, vis-à-vis that text.
But tons of white people submitted work for this special issue, and it initially made me wonder about entitlement, the feeling of always having the right to voice one’s views, to take up space, to have a place at the table.
However, in ethnic studies courses, we frequently talk about the damage racism does to dominant people: the way it deforms and blinds and hurts them, too, when they become witting or unwitting participants in a system of oppression. Seen in that light, then, the many submissions from white writers bear this out in a concrete way. So many white writers have been deeply shaken, deeply marred, by their moments of induction into a racialized social structure, and they’ve subsequently become deeply thoughtful, even remorseful, to have unknowingly contributed to injustice, and even to have benefited from it, to continue to benefit from it.
Many, that is. Not all. Some of the contributions we received from white writers were a bit defensive, or even nostalgic about lost innocence and privilege. Needless to say, those pieces didn’t make the cut. We’ve heard plenty of that before—and can hear it anywhere, even now. Given the racially hostile, xenophobic political discourse that surrounds us at the moment, I was moved and heartened, reading these essays, by how many white writers see racism as their problem.