Friday, August 27, 2021

Review: Morgan Silver's All the Beautiful Horses by Su Zi

The self-published memoir is rarely expected to be a literary reading experience; however, valuable reading experiences can occur from unexpected books. The memoir, by its nature, seeks to add to our collective wisdom, and that impulse is no more altruistic than in small press and self-published work. Indeed, due to technological mechanization, uniform trade volumes are within the realm of consideration for writers, are easy to shelve in bookstores, and can be interesting curiosities to educated readers. Readers comfortable with online book buying will see a publisher’s imprint as a single detail, and many shopping options will post the most humble publication and the most marketed titles on the same view.

Perhaps in niche topic perusal do curious volumes occur. Morgan Silver’s All the Beautiful Horses (2017) is, at first glance, a memoir about a woman who spent her life with horses, and might be too easily dismissed as a summer read for horse-crazy children only; however, Silver’s memoir goes a bit past stories about horses she has known to stories about who she, herself found herself to be:

      "By age 13, I was at my heaviest, almost 200 pounds, and it was not easy to find clothes in my size. The only used hunt boots I could find that were anywhere close to fitting my calves were men’s size ten with my feet size 8. Even then, I had to have the calves cut open and sew a piece of material into the boots”(28)

Stigma is a familiar topic in memoirs—often overlooked in third person biographies, but often also a distinctive event in an individual’s life. Silver additionally experienced academic problems:

      "School was always hell. I was always the fat kid in my grade […]I remember fearing the walk home from elementary school […] the cruelty of the other kids continued […] Back in those days, learning disabilities were not recognized in an otherwise functional child”(28-29).

Silver makes occasional mention of her weight and her unhappiness at school as a motivation for her life with horses, where she found herself beginning to “win every pony pleasure class we entered”(29). As the memoir continues, we discover a learning disabled woman making a successful career for herself as a professional equestrian.

The Art of Equestrianism is a topic that Silver discusses in each chapter, which is also about a specific equine character. From how to correctly drive a horse trailer, to how to report starvation and abuse, Silver’s memoir covers a lifetime of learning. While horse people are notorious for having their own way of doing things, Silver’s memoir discusses topics uncommon to general horsekeeping and horseshowing; of note is the discussion of side-saddle riding, which was the only way women were allowed to ride a horse in western culture until recent times, but which is now a speciality endeavor. “[…] I slid all over the saddle. I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t sit this horse”(49). Silver goes on to take lessons and attend a summer camp run by Helen Crabtree, who Silver calls “the grand dame of Saddle Seat Equitation”(50). The memoir details study with a number of professional horse people, as well as employment at notable facilities. In traditional equestrian education, this apprenticeship system was the only route to knowledge, and Silver traveled the country to do so.

The reader ought not to be lulled into thinking that this memoir filters out the realities of the horse world. Silver begins with the harsh realities that every horse must collectively fear, and details incompetence at every turn. Yet, if ever a reader seeks to go beyond romanticized notions of the horsey life, or seeks further evidence about the positive effect horses have on stigmatized children, Silver’s memoir is worthy evidence indeed.

Biography:  Su Zi is a poet/writer and artist/printmaker and edits, designs and constructs the eco-feminist poetry chapbook series Red Mare.
Publications include poetry, essays, stories and reviews that date back to pre-cyber publishing, including when Exquisite Corpse was a vertical print publication, and a few editions of New American Writing. More recent publications include Red Fez, Alien Buddha, and Thrice. A resident of the Ocala National Forest, with a dedicated commitment to providing a safe feeding respite for wild birds, and for a haphazard gardening practice that serves as a life model for all aspects of her work.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Diversity Lip Service by F.I. Goldhaber

The literary community has always catered to white, abled, neurotypical, cis, straight, (mostly) male voices. The entire establishment is structured to privilege those who have money, which usually doesn't include Black, Indigenous, Latino/a, neurodivergent, trans, disabled, and/or Queer writers.

Achieving success in the literary world requires access to funds for submission and contest entry fees; money to pay for rent, food, and transportation while serving unpaid internships; resources to cover large tuition payments plus travel, living expenses, and forfeiture of any day job paycheck to attend weeks-long workshops or Master's of Fine Arts programs; etc.

Of late, there has been much discussion in literary circles about the need for diversity in what voices are published. But the entire conversation around submissions from disabled, neurodivergent, LGBTQI+, Black, Indigenous, etc. writers is meaningless when publications continue charging fees, or giving weight to expensive pedigrees, that make it cost-prohibitive for all of those marginalized writers to actually submit.

Declaring a desire for diversity, while charging reading and entry fees, is oxymoronic and hypocritical.

I write poetry and essays from the perspective of a queer, xgender, disabled former newspaper reporter published on three continents. For more than four decades publishers of every ilk have paid me to write articles, editorials, reviews, advertising copy, marketing materials, signs, poetry, fiction, personal essays, etc. I often submit my work on spec. I sometimes submit (especially poetry) to non-paying markets. But, I never pay for the privilege of having my work considered for publication.

Recently I learned of a non-fiction contest and, after reading over the guidelines, I realized that a piece I had just completed was a perfect essay for this particular contest. I didn't enter it, however, because this contest required a submission fee.

As is often stated on guidelines pages, the entity claimed to want submissions from writers of color, writers with disabilities, writers who are LGBTQIA, and writers who belong to other marginalized groups.

But, it still charges fees which make the cost of submitting prohibitive, especially for those specific writers.

This particular entity offered a work around. Black and Indigenous writers could enter for free if they chose to self-identify. And a limited number of free entries were offered to low-income writers (which would include many disabled, neurodivergent, Queer, trans, etc. writers) if they were willing to beg for the favor of participating and identify themselves as "low-income".

Rather demeaning.

The publication obviously was aware that its fees present a barrier to many. But it apparently still didn't recognize that the options offered to avoid fees were also problematic.

Normally I just ignore calls for submission of this nature. This publication is hardly alone in charging entry fees while claiming to encourage submissions from marginalized writers, a point you will often find discussed in writers' groups, on Twitter, in forums for people with disabilities, etc. This has become more common since publications started using paid services to manage their submissions. But, this trend ensures the continued centering and advancement of cis, straight, abled, white voices, no matter how much lip service is paid to promoting diversity.

But by providing work arounds, the publication acknowledged that their fees were problematic. That moved me to reach out and send an email to the editors. I wrote on behalf of all writers who, as a result of our society's marginalization, can't afford reading fees and do not choose to beg for the favor of an exception. I also voiced my protest about literary publications monetizing the writers who offer the content that makes their publications possible. And I wrote that email with full expectation of burning this particular bridge.

You cannot imagine my stunned surprise when four days later I received a response from one of the editors that included a list of action points on how they intend to address my concerns.

It's taken me two weeks to recover from the shock enough to write about it.

Granted, this is a publication edited by queer, neurodivergent, activist multi-ethnic creatives. But, they listened. And they are discussing ways to make changes.

I have long advocated against writers submitting to publications that charge reading/entry fees. In 2020, I prepared 150 poetry, 21 non-fiction, and 34 fiction submissions. Each required a fair bit of time and effort: reading the guidelines, making sure each submission adhered to those requirements, formatting to the publisher's/editor's preferences, creating an entry that included whatever information the editor/publisher required. And this was always after reading samples of the publication and to determine whether any and which of my pieces might be appropriate to submit.

This is all a normal part of working as a professional writer. But, if I also had to pay fees for those 150 submissions, even if they only averaged $5 each, I would be out more than $1,000. In one year. And, there is very little correlation between the fees charged, rate of acceptance, and payments made (if any) for work published. For writers, unless they just want to pay to see their work in print, it's a lose/lose game.

So, I have two requests of my fellow writers. First, do not pay reading fees, particularly if you are among those privileged enough for it not to be a problem. Second, write and tell the publications why, especially if it's one that's featured your work in the past. If it's a publication that claims a desire to boost marginalized voices, point out the hypocrisy. If the editors make claims about the diversity of writing they offer or the voices that they uplift, call them out. Let them know that such assertions are specious because they don't know how many writers have never submitted work for consideration to avoid paying their fees.


Biography:  F.I. Goldhaber's words capture people, places, and politics with a photographer's eye and a poet's soul. As a reporter, editor, business writer, and marketing communications consultant, they produced news stories, feature articles, editorial columns, and reviews for newspapers, corporations, governments, and non-profits in five states. Now paper, electronic, and audio magazines, books, newspapers, calendars, and street signs display their poetry, fiction, and essays.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

EmpowerHer*Voice Creative Writing Competition

1. I'm not affiliated with this contest or organization in any way.
2. This competition is for anyone who isn't a cis man. 
3. Looking through their website, they seem to publish mostly people who use she/her pronouns, but the organizer swears they are inclusive and wants to diversify. She says they have changes coming.
4. The organization will be starting a literary magazine soon that doesn't seem to have the gender connotations that the site and writing contest do.
5. They ask for your date of birth... it's for demographic purposes. The organizer said you don't have to include this if uncomfortable.

There is no fee to submit.
Open worldwide.
The deadline is August 30th.
People of marginalized genders only. 
A beige, black, white, and yellow poster announcing the contest. The top has a black rectangle announcing the prize with a white rectangle announcing the theme, the length of work, the prizes, and how long the contest is going on for inside small squares. Underneath all of that, are bullet points and additional information.

The EmpowerHer*Voice Creative Writing Competition wants poetry, fiction, and nonfiction on the theme "Stereotypes and Perceptions". Top prizes will be given out in the categories of poetry and prose. Winners will receive a donation of £250 to an organization of their choice, a Creative Writing Masterclass from a member of Princeton University, a gift package containing books and themed gifts from independent (marginalized gender) creatives, and publication to their new literary magazine. Runners up will receive the gift package/merchandise and up to 20 "laureates" will also be selected to have their submissions published in the literary magazine in October. All participants will receive a certificate (probably electronic).

 Submit up to three pieces via a Google form.