“I love finding stories that undo my understanding of good writing, and I think that’s one of NER’s goals too.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do when you’re not reading for NER?
I’m from Gurgaon, India. I’m currently on a gap year, and I’ll return to Princeton as a junior this fall. At Princeton, I study English and Creative Writing. I also work for the Nassau Literary Review, Princeton’s oldest undergraduate literary magazine. When I’m not reading, I enjoy working out, making brownies and following YouTube drama (Jake Paul exposed? Again?).
What made you decide to be a reader for NER?
New England Review was one of the first literary magazines I ever read. I remember vividly a winter morning started with an NER story (Amy Stuber’s Tell Me How to Do This, from NER 42.1). I wanted to read for NER because the magazine receives submissions from some of the best writers working today. NER is at the forefront of contemporary writing, and this allows me to see the range of work being submitted to literary magazines. The most valuable part of the experience has been seeing the fiction editor’s comments on submissions I flag. It’s instructive to see what Emily Mitchell notices in a story versus what I noted in my reader comments.
Have you ever read a submission that later got selected for publication?
Not yet! I did upvote a submission which reached a later stage of discussion. That was a learning experience too because I got to read both Emily’s and Carolyn Kuebler’s perspective on the piece. It gave me a finer understanding of what NER is looking for.
What is your reading process like? What do you look for in a submission?
I start by checking if a submission holds my attention. Anything that’s boring, too wordy or awkwardly written is set aside. NER gets few of these, but it’s a useful first test. After that, I’m looking for fiction that moves me. Does this story make me feel something? I also think about whether the submission falls short anywhere, in terms of pacing, plot resolution, characterisation etc. Lastly, I’m a sucker for beautiful imagery. I keep in mind the fact that NER looks for good writing in any style or form, but a submission that uses language that delights me moves slightly closer to yes.
How has reading for NER influenced your own writing/creative pursuits?
Reading submissions provides practice in identifying why a story isn’t working, a skill I can then apply to my own work. For instance, some well written stories fall flat because they lack plot, and seeing that play out in someone else’s work shows me why the ‘mood’ and ‘emotion-driven’ stories I’ve been writing need higher stakes. Seeing editors’ comments on pieces is also great insight into what literary magazine editors look for in submissions.
What do you read for pleasure? Is there something you’re reading now that you would recommend?
I mostly read contemporary short stories and novels. Besides NER, some of my favourite literary magazines are the Sewanee Review, Shenandoah and Granta. I’m currently reading Shirley Hazzard’s Collected Stories, which has been a revelation in terms of what good writing can be. I started writing in the shadow of ‘show, don’t tell’ and the Hemingwayesque diktat to never name an emotion. Hazzard’s stories are essentially long passages ‘telling’ us the characters’ feelings, and figuring out what makes them so successful has been a fruitful exercise. I love finding stories that undo my understanding of good writing, and I think that’s one of NER’s goals too.
NER‘s staff readers, all volunteers, play an essential role in our editorial process and in our mission to discover new voices in contemporary literature. A full list of staff readers is available on our masthead.