ast year at this time we released our first issue dedicated to emerging writers, and now with 42.4 we’ve done it again. While this issue offers up the range of voices, genres, and styles New England Review promises every quarter, this time that mission is accomplished by writers who won’t be recognizable to most readers, that is, they’ve not yet published a book or full-length collection. Some of these writers have received recognition in other ways—awards and earlier magazine publications—and many have surely completed a book-length manuscript or two that they’ve not yet published, as it’s no myth that many “debut” book publications are not the writer’s first attempt. “Emerging” is a fluid term, as the act of emerging for a writer can take a lot of tries and a lot of time, and in some ways may be an ongoing condition. Even so, we’ve reserved this space and time for those writers whose work captured our attention and whose accomplishments do not include the publication of a book.
Why do we do it? I asked our genre editors to answer that question in a few words, and here’s some of what they had to say: “It’s difficult for new writers to get their start in publishing, perhaps even more now than it was before the digital era,” says fiction editor Emily Mitchell. “Setting aside a full issue for writers who are just starting out is a way to counteract that, and to me it seems like an extension of the basic mission and purpose of nonprofit literary journals, which is to be a door through which great writing can enter the culture regardless of commercial concerns.” Ernest McLeod says, “Though the stories from these writers would be at home in any of our issues, I see the ‘emerging writers’ tag as specifically honoring the dedication and persistence it can take to get your voice out into the world in the earlier stages of an artistic career.” The new voices assembled here are those that “opened our minds, voices we hope to hear more from.”
“Reading and editing submissions for NER’s emerging writers’ issue has become one of my favorite tasks of the year,” says J. M. Tyree in nonfiction. “The sense of discovery and futurity that comes from reading writers who are working on their first books refreshes my sense of purpose and mission as an editor.” It also “expands our imagination of what our bookshelves might contain.” Elizabeth Kadetsky concurs: “It’s exhilarating to find a writer who strikes it just right, whether they’re new to the craft or have been laboring for years and years without yet breaking through. It’s as if I’m a collaborator in something kinetic and alive when I discover an emerging writer piece and see it published in the journal.”
Poetry editor Jennifer Chang put it this way: “This issue reminds me that poems keep getting reinvented, made new, and that journals, too, participate in this reinvention. To know that my job was simply to open a door to this one old-ish room for a few new writers feels very special. It sounds easy, but it’s not and, honestly, requires we read a little more openly. Some of these poems felt very weird at first, so I had to trust the part of me that wanted to linger and learn how to acclimate to the weirdness.”
In a way that’s what every issue is about: persisting with the unfamiliar and shining light on work you won’t find elsewhere. A couple of multi-book authors did find their way into this issue in the categories of Translation and Rediscoveries. But while Liliana Ponce’s work has been widely published and recognized in Argentina, the poetry here has been rendered into English for the first time by Michael Martin Shea, an emerging translator. And the brief essay presented here by Kenneth Grahame is from his first book, when he was just beginning to find his way as a writer and before he went on to publish the classic The Wind in the Willows.
For all the writers assembled here there are many more who have done the good work without publication. In my correspondence with Leath Tonino, a writer from our previous issue, about all our own unpublished writing, he compared this toiling, this “taking care where to place a comma or how to turn a phrase,” as something like the work of a nun praying somewhere in silence. “Good energy coming from those people,” he said, “regardless of whether the words are ever seen by others.” And while I used to think too many people were writing, which meant not enough people were reading, I tend to agree with Leath. Writing is a way of being in the world that contributes positively, a check in the column for free thinking, for thoughtfulness and imagination, whether or not this contribution is measurable or monetizable. Not unlike prayer or meditation. Not a waste of time. The hope too is that the act of writing makes for better readers, readers who are open to the unfamiliar and trusting in each other enough to listen.
This issue is dedicated to all the writers past, present, and future who show up in our submissions queue, and to the staff readers—volunteers and writers in their own right—who are the first to turn their attention to that new work. And with many thanks to Middlebury College and President Laurie Patton, the National Endowment for the Arts, and all of the subscribers and donors who allow us to give these writers a chance. And finally to every reader who turns the page and offers the gift of their attention.