I am thrilled to have this opportunity to serve as the BIPOC Editorial Fellow for this issue of Shenandoah.
I applied to the fellowship shortly after the shocking early death of Cambodian American writer Anthony Veasna So. I had been reading So’s powerful short stories online and interacting with So on Twitter. I was looking forward to his debut collection, Afterparties, which was set to come out in August 2021. My students will love his stories, I thought. I was hoping to invite him to visit one of my creative writing classes after the book launched, so that I could have my class read his collection and then talk to him about it. However, when So died tragically a few months before Afterparties was to be published, I was overwhelmed by a sense of loss and a missed opportunity to engage with this talented new writer. Why hadn’t I just immediately reached out and invited him to visit a class? Why wait to engage according to the traditional publishing industry’s calendar, which privileges the pub date of a book?
When I saw the call for applications for Shenandoah’s new BIPOC Editorial Fellowship, I immediately applied. Why wait for traditional publishers to discover new and exciting voices? Why shouldn’t I step forward and look for those voices myself?
With this in mind, I created the call for entries on the theme of Border Crossing Narratives. I’ve been teaching creative writing workshops on this theme. I wanted to explore works that crossed all kinds of borders: not just the lines on a map drawn by colonialism and war, but also genre borders and borders imposed by societal hierarchies like race and gender, class, and immigration status.
I was excited that the call for entries resulted in nearly four hundred submissions. I pored over them multiple times. So much great writing! There were too many excellent submissions for one issue, but I am thrilled to present these five stories, which represent varied, smart, and very different interpretations of the theme.
Newcomer E. Gonzalez’s short story “The Long Part” features the border that the U.S. media most frequently mention when addressing the issue of “crossing,” that is, the border between the U.S. and Mexico. However, her story reveals multiple borders that the young protagonist and her family cross: not just geographical, but also internal, the way their shared language changes and is shaped by the various borders that separate them.
Eduardo Rolman’s story “That You May Listen” addresses directly the balance sheet of losses and gains within one immigrant family, separated by time and geography but also by values and conflicting priorities. When tragedy strikes, Rolman’s story suggest the limits of realism in depicting loss, as his story crosses the border into surrealism as it bears witness to this family’s struggles.
Mandana Chaffa’s flash hybrid series “Identification” intrigued me with each piece’s compactness, the attention to precise details, lyrical language, and a poet’s sensibilities to tell the story of an Iranian immigrant woman’s journeys. Chaffa proves a story need not be long to have a big emotional impact.
Ryan Matthew Jones’s story “Defining Feature” blends the border between traditional literary fiction and science fiction. Jones poses many intriguing questions about how technology can reinforce various prejudices and biases. What would happen if in the future there’s an app for identity, one that allows you to choose the traits that society values? What would success look like? And how would his young protagonist decide which of his features to change?
Finally Lillian Giles’s novel excerpt “Pearl Becoming” tells the story of a protagonist caught between the borders of socially constructed gender and race. It’s a story that asks who has your back and who doesn’t, and why. In the Jim Crow–era South, Giles’s protagonist dares to cross one border, and finds the meaning of true kinship.
I am excited to present these five extraordinary works to Shenandoah’s readers.