Contemporary Women’s Fiction Folio
Late last fall, we began accepting fiction for this issue. What I found was that I had many high quality and publishable pieces by women before me. Thus the formation of this folio exclusively devoted to contemporary women writers.
The creation of this folio was interestingly timed. About a month after my decision to form it, VIDA announced the gender disparities in publications in the United States and abroad. For many of us, the numbers weren’t surprising. But to have them evidenced in such a way was fairly overwhelming.
Drunken Boat, like so many other journals, is considering ways in which to better serve the literary community in the context of those numbers. I am pleased with the work we have gathered for this issue, for all the ways women’s writing and writing about women contributes to the engaged discussion that VIDA prompted last winter.
Our editorial team chose several women’s short shorts. Fan Dai’s “Face Value” succinctly and intelligently traces the background of Yangping’s two lives, from a life of great difficulty to one of relative ease—or at least relative quiet. J.R. Carpenter moves us across eight neighborhoods and associated configurations of sleep; we drift through “finding warm openings…breaking and entering into sleep.” Kara Levy’s protagonist builds a robot that helps negotiate her health issues, where the robot seems more than mere mechanical companion. G.L. Grey’s “Current” provides a fresh take on the difficulty of being a teenager, the split-second impulse that can be life-changing and the thin the line between this world and another. The ending of Kristen Kaschok’s “The Editor” will undoubtedly surprise you as much as it did our editors.
For short stories of traditional length, Sreedhevi Iyer’s “Green Grass” recounts Mohan’s return home to his village with his wife from Australia. The plural first person works beautifully to explore complicated questions of cultural identity. Lush detail, intelligent description and careful characterization profoundly evoke the legacy of colonialism. Zdravka Evtimova’s overweight protagonist remains interestingly unnamed throughout the narrative. While neglected and arguably abandoned, the ways in which “the fat girl” takes control of her life are unexpected and downright delightful. You’re not likely to forget the sex and post-coital scene anytime soon. Between a merwoman and a card reader, Dolores Alfieri creates high drama—drama as visceral and riveting as a lion bolting from circus’s ring. Arthur’s modern-day quest in Vanessa Blakeslee’s piece reflects on the importance of friendship and of living in the present, while illuminating constructions of masculinity. Jeannie Chung traces one of many of a businessman’s trysts with younger women and offers an astute psychological profile of men that desire younger women to negotiate the permanent loss of their own youthful vitality. The woman in Jennifer Duffield White’s “Of Kites and Tractors” has returned to the farmhouse of her childhood with her biracial son to care for her father who is ill. Balancing the pressures of being a good mother, long-distance wife and daughter, she faces various challenges, especially since her father’s racism and sexism surface frequently in the context of his dementia.
The following women writers offer formal risk and experimentation to the folio. Q. Lindsey Barrett weaves us through troubling questions of gender and power with graceful and gorgeous language. Through the use of lists and a compelling use of second person, J.S. Davis’ incarcerated woman is clearly intelligent enough to differentiate herself from other criminals. By the end we aren’t sure such differentiation is justified. Catherine Dent’s “Mouth” renders a young woman’s broken upbringing and subsequent loss so subtly, so beautifully that you can’t help but care for this wild creature, bird-like and biblically versed. Sharmishtha Mohanty’s excerpt from her long prose work is reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. Different voices speak but any notion of character is subsumed by a central, all-pervasive consciousness. With the traveller as unifying element, the rich, textured description engages the senses with a keen sense of place. There is a mystery throughout the excerpt from Elizabeth Frankie Rollins’ novel. Description is often inscribed in the body, and Rollins crafts tension between fragility and strength, memory and the present as well as landscape and outward manifestations of internal sicknesses (loneliness, violence and addiction). Jacqueline Vogtman’s piece meditates hauntingly on human desire. Ghosts are numb. And Goldie’s hopes of regaining feeling embody a very human struggle. Language slips along on its own grease, as one of our readers astutely observes, and the consistent use of assonance works well with the spirit of the piece.
Carolyn Heilbrun, in Writing a Woman’s Life writes:
Safety and closure, which have always been held out to women as the ideals of female destiny, are not places of adventure, or experience, or life. Safety and closure (and enclosure) are, rather, the mirror of the Lady of Shallott. They forbid life to be experienced directly. Lord Peter Wimsey once said that nine-tenths of the law of chivalry was a desire to have all the fun. The same might well be said of patriarchy.
Safety and closure are the last words I would use to describe the stories in this folio. The seventeen writers in this folio complicate, critique and develop both what it means to be a woman writing in this world and gender representations in fiction. The women these writers portray are active agents—not simply passive objects or victims. Here are adventures and experiences—lives experienced directly. Powerful writing resists enclosure. These stories, just as Vogtman’s Goldie does, hover and wait…“for the slow appearance in the sky of other worlds, other bodies that still shine” long after you’re done reading.
Deborah Marie Poe, fiction editor
30 June, 2011