For the last few weeks, the Blue Mesa Review team has been working tirelessly on Issue 32. We have spent late nights copyediting and scrolling through art for paintings or drawings that would pair well with the words we’ve already selected. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time contemplating my introduction to this issue. For the past couple of weeks, most of my thoughts regarding the literary world have revolved around Claire Vaye Watkins’ fascinating essay “On Pandering” at Tin House. I so appreciate Watkins’ honesty about what type of audience she is pandering to: the white male. Watkins confesses that when writing she is looking for the approval of a white male audience like Lee K. Abbott or Jonathan Franzen. She has written with only men on her mind. Then, however, she delivers a call to action for all writers and readers to create their own canons—ones that include whatever it is we love to read. I have continued and will continue to ponder the big questions this essay has raised for me. What does it mean to pander? Whose approval am I looking for when I write? Does this even matter? As a woman of color, I may not have been Watkins’ intended audience for Battleborn, but I loved that book. It changed the way I think and write about landscape.
Many people have been discussing “On Pandering” since its publication. My favorite response to Watkins’ essay is Nichole Perkins’ piece in which she confronts the painful reality that many writers of color face: pandering as a writer of color means your race or ethnicity might be “heightened” to seem more “authentic.” Regarding her own work, Perkins states, “I often wonder if it will be ‘black enough’ or ‘too black’ for literary agents.” I worry about this often. Is my work too Latina? Not Latina enough?
Pandering is a complicated word but it provokes important questions about audience and intent. It’s impossible to think about audience and not think about my duties as Editor-in-Chief of Blue Mesa Review. As an editor, my main audience is the dedicated readership of this magazine; readers who I believe have come to expect a diversity of voices in both poetry and prose. Finding diverse and interesting voices is what we here at BMR pride ourselves on.
It is a diversity of voices that is needed to bring about change in our society, and we need those voices and that change, now more than ever. As proud as I am of this issue, I’m also distracted, as many Americans likely are this week. Last Friday, a shooter killed two civilians and one police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This past Wednesday, 14 people were killed and 21 injured in the mass shooting in San Bernardino. The constant violence in this country, in this world, causes me to turn to literature. Let me be clear: I do not turn to literature itself as a distraction. I do not think it is acceptable to turn away from the world, in the face of yet another tragedy, distancing myself from action by hiding in the words of others. The time for inaction has passed. I believe, as many of you do, that literature serves a variety of purposes and those varied purposes become quite clear in times like these. Consider Jamal May’s stunning “The Gun Joke,” originally published by The Indiana Review. To me this poem is a call to action. It’s a way to recognize that so many of us are angry and want the systems we live within to change. What purpose does literature serve for you? Does that change in times of darkness?
Whatever it is you’re looking for, I hope there is something for you in Issue 32 of Blue Mesa Review. I can’t promise you comfort or healing, but this beautiful collection of sometimes dark work reflects the world we now live in. These pieces are meant to be read and felt now. Read the startling and sometimes frightening “What We Are Doesn’t Have a Name Yet,” by Ellen Scheuermann, which won first place in our summer fiction writing contest. Laugh at the antics of Tom Pyun’s mother in “Mothers Always Know.” Then watch as your laughter subsides as Pyun explores the painful struggle of familial acceptance. Get lost in the energy of Carrie Chappell’s “Girl of Issaux.” Read our two interviews with inspiring writers.
I hope in the days and weeks to come we will not simply be expressing our sadness and prayers over violent incidents but working to make change because of them. In the meantime, it is our struggle as humans, as writers and readers, to balance so many concerns at once—to ponder what it means to pander while we mourn lives. To continue to live and read and work. I hope you find something in these pages that makes living a little more profound, a little more interesting… if only for a short time.