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  • Katie Cortese

IHLR's Open Issue available now!

Our open issue, 22.4, is now available for order in the shop. Here is our introduction to the issue:

Our editor-in-chief and founder, Leslie Jill Patterson, is spending this fall on sabbatical, writing in the mountains of Colorado and recovering from her father’s passing over the summer. I’ve been IHLR’s Fiction Editor since 2014, and am thrilled to serve as the Interim Editor for the Fall semester of 2020. It’s a pleasure to be here with you and to think deeply about the work in this powerful Open Issue.

Since returning to campus from lockdown, I’ve been thinking back to a simpler time. It was fall, a new semester underway, weather shifting from triple-degree days to autumn’s more temperate mid-seventies. We were finalizing the stories, poems, and essays for our Selfies Issue and undergoing our own rebirth with a new design and larger trim size. We planned to debut our new look at AWP in San Antonio—the first conference location our staff could drive to in more than ten years—and in that issue’s foreword, Jill highlighted our fresh face that both honored what the journal had been and looked forward with anticipation to all it might yet become, writing: “The future, we believe, is bright.” It was October in the year 2019.

We couldn’t have known that our campus would shut down five months later. That most of us would sit out AWP. That the Selfies Issue would sit in storage until August when we finally gained access to our offices. That the next time our staff would see each other would be over Zoom, or that now, as we prepare this Open Issue, we’d be looking over our shoulders at the past year with such longing for casual hugs and handshakes, concerts, travel, and a general, if illusory, belief in the power of human ingenuity to solve our most pressing problems.

We’ve lost too many lives in the last year, both to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and to unrelenting systemic inequality that preexisted and set the stage for George Floyd’s murder and so many others. It’s staggering to consider that in the same period of time everyone learned the word “coronavirus” and became internet experts on social distancing, viral load, fomite transmission, asymptomatic carriers, contactless delivery, ICU availability, ventilators, hydroxychloroquine, and vaccine prospects, our country’s police officers murdered Atatiana Jefferson, Michael Dean, John Neville, William Green, Jaquyn O’Neill Light, Lionel Morris, Ahmaud Arbery, Manuel Ellis, Barry Gedeus, Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, Steven Taylor, Cornelius Fredericks, Maurice Gordon, George Floyd, Dion Johnson, Tony McDade, Calvin Horton, Jr., James Scurlock, David McAtee, Jamel Floyd, Kamal Flowers, Robert Forbes, Priscilla Slater, Rayshard Brooks, Maurice Abisdid-Wagner, Julian Lewis, Anthony McClain, Damian Daniels, and Dijon Kizee.

We are a nation in mourning. A nation in shock. A nation bearing up under the immeasurable weight of ongoing trauma with no sure end in sight. Some of us have lost faith in government, in religious leaders, in the resilience of our own bodies, in the ability of our criminal justice system to fairly enforce our laws or mete out true and equal justice. Many of us have even lost faith in each other as debates about masks and hoaxes rage on. Our losses are incalculable, and they are still mounting.

When they submitted to this issue, our authors couldn’t know the whole picture of the developing crises of health, injustice, climate change, and conscience, but with a deadline in late February, they had no doubt learned the Australian government had declared a State of Emergency due to wildfires in New South Wales. They knew our sitting president had been both impeached and acquitted. They knew the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. They knew Kobe Bryant’s helicopter had fatally crashed, and our authors would have been grieving for at least six of the extinguished lives named above. Their submissions showed the weight of all that trauma, plus the individual battles we’re always taking part in behind our shiny social media facades. Carrie Chappell’s poem “Viola” speaks to the life and violent, early death of Civil Rights activist Viola Liuzzo. In “Fantasy Firearms,” Gage Saylor explores the terrible desensitization that can take hold in a nation where mass shootings become commonplace. And work by Kelle Groom, Gustavo Barahona-Lopez, and Jennifer Battisti wrestles with personal fears, gaps, and demons.

We’re a nation grieving, bleeding, muddling through uncertainty, evacuating from hurricanes and fires, and trying to overcome a novel virus; we are a nation in pain. But we are also forward-looking, whether to November, a vaccine, protests bringing change, or simply to 2021, which we hope will be kinder to us. We’re holding on to all that could be good about the future. In this spirit, Andrew Hemmert’s poem, “Light Theory,” sends readers through a haze of worrying smoke straight into “the solar system.” Jenny Patton’s essay, “Katsu,” follows a wayward child who unexpectedly finds his path.

We have to feel our fears in order to face them, and other contributors do just that. Two AWP Intro Award winners, Audry R. Hollis and Alexa Quezada, both twist dangerous power dynamics into hard-won reckonings. Other pieces center on having loved and lost, and what comes after, as in poems by Kimberly Glanzman, Adam Tavel, and Carla Panciera, and in Brent Taylor’s historical story, “Alton, Illinois,” about the short life of the tallest man who ever lived.

All of these pieces were written in a time before regular lockdowns, before the watershed moment of George Floyd’s murder, before California began burning on a historic scale, but they are not just about “before.” In the way that we trust and rely on literature to do, the disparate pieces in this Open Issue illuminate not just the world of their conception, but offer wisdom and solace for the troubled year those of us reading this issue have survived. To keep surviving, we’ll need reasons to trust each other again. We’ll need each other for gut checks and affirmation. We must document our trials so they help us become better people, a better species, on the other side.

The future was bright a year ago. The words in this issue give us hope that when the smoke clears, it will be again.

You can pick up a copy of the open issue here.


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