Eloise Healy: Three Things This Editor Thinks About
1) The hardest thing about being an editor at Arktoi Books is saying “no” all the time. Howard Junker, founder of Zyzzyva magazine, told me, “Think about it—you say ‘yes’ once and ‘no’ a thousand times. Get used to it!”
I never get used to it. I am an author and have had manuscripts rejected. Because I am a lesbian author, I also know it is really harder to find a publisher. It is much harder to be published just by virtue of being a woman. There are numbers involved here. See the VIDA website for details about that.
If you are a lesbian writer, I believe there are two other “quotas” at work. I think there’s an assumption in publishing that lesbians don’t have anything to say that the larger society would be interested in. I think some people still have the idea that if you have published one or two lesbians, then you have done enough. There you have it. It’s the main reason I started Arktoi Books. There are a ton of wonderful manuscripts by lesbian writers out there that aren’t getting published.
For example, after reading 70 to 100 manuscripts, I end up with 4 or 5 that would make a perfect book for Arktoi. It’s heartening to see there are great manuscripts out there to publish, but it is hard to know I can choose just one. What wouldn’t I give to be able to publish all the final five? Or even three?
2) What the genders are doing, in fact, what “gender” IS, are questions that are pressing up against us in the way feminism entered cultural discussion in the 1970’s and pushed against firmly held beliefs about the place of women. There is a rearrangement going on, something tectonic even, in how we are redefining gender. One thing is for certain, when the plates of gender move even an inch, the whole world shakes. And why not?
Thus, I always have to think about what I mean by saying I publish lesbian authors. I self-identify as a lesbian, but I know that many younger women aren’t comfortable with that terminology. So, I pretty much leave it up to the woman who is submitting to say if she fits into the category of lesbian writer. I have had some interesting exchanges with people who don’t want to identify with the term or say they are “women,” and I have learned a lot from these discussions. Basically, my mind has gotten bigger.
But, sometimes I have to draw a line. Men frequently submit to Arktoi Books. Some get upset with me when I say I can’t publish them. One guy went so far as to say, “Can’t you make an exception this time?”
3) I think about working with my authors. Each of the writers I’ve chosen so far has surprised me in some major way. Liz Bradfield’s Interpretive Work knocked me out in how she paralleled her insights as a naturalist with her life as a queer woman. In fact, I really wish more work were chronicling what the experience of being gay brings to thinking about the environment.
Ching-In Chen’s first book, the novel-in-poems The Heart’s Traffic, is a “formal” banquet and amazing investigation of the immigrant experience, of racial stereotyping, and of love and loss in young person’s world. Cut Away, a novel by Cathy Kirkwood, handles very complicated issues of identity in beautiful language. It’s a dizzying display of plot and character management involving a transgender person, a missing teenager, a lesbian plastic surgeon, and a mother who has lost her child.
Rita May Reese has got to be the smartest smarty on the planet. Her book, The Alphabet Conspiracy, delves into the successes and failures of language as a vehicle of knowledge of self and others. At the root, it is a love affair with words from an incredible wordsmith.
I can hardly wait for Kelly Barth’s book, My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus to hit the shelves this fall. How she survived her trip through various evangelical religions in an attempt to escape her sexuality is mindboggling. But Kelly “unboggles” the whole story with her humor and goodwill.
There two more authors moving their work from manuscript to finished book. It’s been exciting to find Verónica Reyes, a lesbian poet from East LA, and to know there is a fully articulated world she’ll bring into being next year. She’s kind of like the Walt Whitman of her hometown. Amy Schutzer is a “first” for Arktoi—she’s not a first book author! Her novel, which will be out in 2014, is a haunting “day in the life” of a several kinds of family and friends.
These manuscripts were all stirring, challenging, and, ultimately just what I had been hoping for.
Eloise Klein Healy is the author of seven books of poetry and three spoken word recordings. She was the founding chair of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Antioch University Los Angeles where she is Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing Emerita. Healy directed the Women’s Studies Program at California State University Northridge and taught in the Feminist Studio Workshop at The Woman’s Building in Los Angeles. She is the founding editor of ARKTOI BOOKS, an imprint of Red Hen Press specializing in the work of lesbian authors. Healy’s A Wild Surmise: New & Selected Poems & Recordings will be published in 2013.