What to Read When: Rumpus Staff Favorites 2017

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You know that moment when you are like, Oh my god what is this chocolate doing on the wall? And you scratch it off with your finger and then you lick your finger, just a little. Just to figure out what it is. That’s when the horror seizes your body. It’s not chocolate. It’s poop. Human fecal matter. How did your kids get poop on the wall and what has your life become? Can you move? Can you burn down your house? Will you save your kids, or just run away to a faraway land with the dog and the whiskey?

2017 was kind of like that.

The aching exhaustion we feel in our hearts and marrow as we wake up and check the news, day after day. Our forced respites from social media, the vacation that was supposed to refresh and renew, visits with friends… it’s all just another drink before another war.

We took the helm at The Rumpus in January of 2017, and we already knew some of what lay ahead. But we didn’t truly realize the ways the politics would wrap around our bodies until we couldn’t tell the difference between the pain of the world and the pain of our own lives. Our hope has been your words. Your stories. Your poems. Your essays. They show us good. They exorcise evil. They make us laugh. They create truth and beauty from the dregs. We’ve published too many beautiful, important, boundary-pushing works of art to count, and we are so proud of them all.

We’ve asked our editors, those unsung heroes who volunteer to help us keep this ship afloat, to share their favorite Rumpus pieces with you alongside us.

Just a note: If you aren’t named below, but you contributed this year, please know that your words mean so much to us. Mom and mom love you all equally.

Love,
Marisa and Lyz

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Marisa Siegel, Editor-in-Chief, aka Her Royal Matriarch

I read everything that goes up on the site. Really. I don’t read much else, or sleep enough, but it’s so worth it. Choosing favorites to share with you truly feels like choosing between my children (luckily I only have one actual kid, so I’ll never have to do this IRL). Here goes…

We launched ENOUGH in early November, and week after week, our readers are giving these stories attention, sharing them on social media, and taking the conversation off the page out into the real world. I have been an advocate for awareness around domestic violence and sexual assault for the entirety of my life (even if I didn’t always know to call it that). As a child, I spoke up loudly and frequently about the violence in my own home. As I got older, I only got louder. To be able to offer others a platform to share their experiences and to amplify the conversation around rape culture—and insist it continues—is the most meaningful experience I’ve had as an editor.

I’m also thrilled to finally introduce original poetry as a regularly occurring feature on The Rumpus. Twice a month, we run work from poets we love—from both established poets and emerging voices. We are only publishing solicited work for now, but stay tuned! We’ll be announcing reading periods for unsolicited poetry in 2018. We hope to give most of our poetry real estate to poets of color, women, and LGBTQ poets. The poetry landscape remains too white and too male and too heteronormative, and I want The Rumpus to push against that traditional landscape in poetry, just as we do with the rest of the site. I look forward to working with the poetry editorial team in 2018 to meet this goal.

This interview with SafeBAE, a nonprofit founded by three teenage survivors of sexual assault and cyberbullying, gave me hope. Conducted by Marissa Korbel, it is an inspiring read that challenges the idea that young people aren’t fighting for change and was a small respite from the bleakness of 2017.

“Slush Piles in White,” by Marcos Santiago Gonsalez, is a brilliant tearing down of the ways literary gatekeepers use the notion of subjectivity to defend against creating truly diverse publications. It’s both personal and political, much like everything this year, and speaks to the author’s own experiences submitting work as well as the larger problem of who is doing the selecting of the work that appears online. This is an essay that demands we shut up and listen, that we learn, and that we make real changes to existing hierarchies within the publishing world.

Finally, ”Multitudes: (Re) Writing Mother,” written by Christine No as a part of a series created through a partnership with VONA/Voices of Our Nations Arts (the only multi-genre summer workshop for writers of color in the US), challenges the essay form, refusing to be confined to one genre. Is it prose? Is it poetry? It is both, or neither—and this kind of hybrid-genre writing makes for my very favorite reading material.

 

Lyz Lenz, Managing Editor, Probably Should’ve Been Fired Five Times This Year (but Wasn’t!)

“Mothers of My Diaspora” by Angie Sijun Lou: This essay has possessed me from the moment I read it.  Angie tells the story of her mother and grandmother, of immigration, family, loss and love. It’s a story that feels familiar and is told with remarkable skill and inside a brilliant structure. I often find myself re-reading this.

In “Run for Her Life,” Britney Davis gives us a raw and vulnerable look at what it means to be a woman in possession of a body. It is haunting. It makes me angry, but it also gives me hope.

Brea Salim’s essay “Repel the Wind,” about faith, demons, and home is another essay that haunts me. Perhaps it’s because I too feel the pull of faith and the tangle of nostalgia. But more likely it’s Brea’s beautiful scene-setting that makes me understand the wind and living water she writes so eloquently about.

When Laura Lippman sent me her short story “Seasonal Work,” I almost cried with joy. I’m a very big fan of her novels and it turns out, her short story is just as funny, weird, poignant, and memorable as her long form writing.

 

Elissa Bassist, Funny Women Editor and Also, Our Funniest Editor

“Funny Women #156: Fall Activities Adjusted for Global Warming” by Jane Garfinkel
When it seems as if nothing is funny, everything becomes fodder for humor. I was happy to take a break from gut-punching news alerts and read about fun activities we can do as our time on earth comes to a bittersweet close.

“Funny Women #155: Feminine and Masculine Words” by Sonya Redi
Sometimes you love a piece so much that there are no words to describe why. This is that for me.

“Funny Women #151: Creative Writing Tips” by Anita Gill
This one is so good I wish I’d written it myself. I think that’s among the highest praise out there.

 

Abigail Bereola, Books Editor and Arbiter of Good Taste, Literary and Otherwise

“Mothers and Marginalization: Cherise Wolas’s The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Chelsea Leu
I love how nuanced this review is, both in its praise and in its criticism.

“Naming Our Phantoms: Tim Taranto’s Ars Botanica by Caro Macon
This review is lyrical and beautiful, just like the book it discusses.

“Not Your Typical Hero: Hostage by Guy Delisle” by Laura Thorne
This review came in about a book I wouldn’t normally read and did exactly what a book review should, which is make me interested in the book.

What I love about all three of the above reviews is that, whether by virtue of the book or by virtue of the reviewer’s writing (or both), they don’t solely engage with the book within its world, but also consider what the book means in ours.

 

Karissa Chen, Fiction Editor, Amazing Writer, and Amazing Human

I love Lizz Huerta’s “Hooter’s Chicken.” Such an interesting, honest account of being a young woman who feels the need to perform the part of an object, and how to claw your way out of that need to perform. I feel like we are often guilty of dismissing the women behind these kinds of uniforms as bimbos, and I love that this essay breaks that down for us, to remind us of the woman behind that t-shirt, trying to figure out who she is.

I also love Stacie Evans’s “Not Your Auntie.” An important piece giving us necessary history on the ways black women have historically been diminished in seemingly “polite” ways, and a smart take on the power of labels and names.

 

Julie Grecius, Senior Features Editor aka We Couldn’t Function without Her

“The Peep King’s Legacy: A Family Portrait,” Rachel Inberg’s first published essay ever, absolutely blew me away. It reflects her strength and horror in mining her own family’s past in the porn industry, but also her subtle sense of humor, and her incredible resilience now, as an adult, that allows her to look back and tell the truth. Her bio is also one of my favorite things about this piece.

 

Elon Green, Interviews Editor and Internet Troll Extraordinaire

In response to the call for best pieces of the year, Elon simply replied with one sentence: “The review of Jared Yates Sexton’s book.” When pressed for explanation, he noted that none was required.

 

Eileen G’Sell, Features Editor and Pop Culture Guru

Argun Ulgen, “There Is Simply No Time for This: Whose Streets? and Civil Rights Cinema”: The past two years have witnessed a spate of compelling narrative and documentary films unpacking the struggles Black Americans face. Challenging traditional concept of “patriotism,” Ulgen connects the recent Ferguson documentary Whose Streets? to the broader history of cinema as a form of dissent.

Katherine Sinback, “The Butt Song”: Authored by “a woman who liked punk rock but felt marginalized by a lot of the macho bullshit,” this essay serves as both homage to 90s feminism and playful rejoinder to the self-righteousness so often plaguing its ethos. Bonus: a detailed list on the pros/cons of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s lyrics.

Katharine Coldiron, “The Girl on the Bike”: In this lush lyric essay merging cinematic reverie with existential dread, the Von Trapp Family meets Friedrich Nietzsche. “Now that we have faced the cave wall with open eyes,” writes Coldiron. “Now that the Wizard is out from behind the curtain…” Featuring dreamy artwork by Araceli Colato.

 

Brandon Hicks, Amazing Comics Editor Who Doesn’t Get the Praise He Is Due

It would have to be Arwen Donahue’s fantastic seven-part comic series Homebodies. Deeply personal and beautifully illustrated, she was able to take stories about cutting peppers or walking in the woods and create some of the most inventive and visually exciting comics published anywhere this year. Although its run was fairly brief, I’m incredibly grateful that she chose to grace us with the series.

 

Christine Hyung-Oak Lee, Features Editor, So Talented It’s Terrifying

“The Cost of Intimacy” by Jera Brown: This is a stunning essay about the vulnerability it takes to connect with another person. The desire for intimacy, and the fear that sets one back. Structuring the essay by paralleling the physical (erotic massage) and psychic (psychotherapy), Brown reveals the ways in which one informs the other.

“Hooter’s Chicken” by Lizz Huerta: Full disclosure: I solicited and edited this piece. When Lizz [Huerta] once told me about her days as a Hooters waitress, my first reaction was to ask her to please, please, please write an essay on the experience. I’m so grateful she did. What she wrote is layered and complicated—it is about, of course, the male gaze and costumes. It is also about growth and identity, and becoming the woman you want to become, and incorporating every lesson learned in the process into the outcome. I was able to watch this essay bloom, and I am grateful for that experience.

“Falling into Fear” by Michael Croley: This essay articulates the fears we carry into parenthood, and the ways we try to protect our children (but ultimately cannot) from racism, from violence, from fascism, and all the ways in which the world harms us. It’s touching, intimate, and relevant to the context of the era in which we live.

 

Robbie Maakestad, Assistant Features Editor and Submittable Wizard

Christa Spillson’s “Lower Orbits: Remembering Gherman Titov”: This semester I taught a Historical Creative Nonfiction course which included this essay since it sets out to examine a little-known historical figure, to find meaning in the story of a person who has been all-but-forgotten. At the end of the semester, my students selected it as one of their favorite readings, and I wholeheartedly agree.

Matt Brogan’s “Donald Thinks”:These flash essays reminds me of Michael Martone’s Pensees: The Thoughts of Dan Quayle or Sean Lovelace and Mark Neely’s Nice Things by James Franco, in that the writer inhabits the perspective of a famous person. Bitingly funny and wickedly sharp.

 

Ian MacAllen, Blogger-Turned-Interviews Editor-Turned-Deputy Editor and Rumpus Champion

The Rumpus Interview with Roxane Gay by Abigail Bereola
Roxane Gay always has something interesting to say. She sat down with our now-Books Editor Abigail Bereola to talk about diversity, working too much, imposter syndrome, and the limits of categorizing books as African-American literature.

The Rumpus Interview with Joe Okonkwo by Hannah Baxter
It isn’t every day you get to travel back to the Harlem Renaissance or to Paris during the same period, and Joe Okonkwo’s Jazz Moon does both. This interview focuses on Okonkwo’s writing process, something especially challenging for a work of historical fiction.

The Rumpus Mini-Interview Project #111: Alexandra Kleeman by Alexandra Serio
Alexandra Kleeman offers insights into her cutting satire while critiquing global capitalism here, and shows why we should all be listening more closely to her public discourse, and everyone should read the often-odd but always meaningful stories in her collection Intimations.

 

Ben Pfieffer, Indispensable Assistant Features Editor

“The Peep King’s Legacy: A Family Portrait” by Rachel Inberg
“Goldhawk” by Katherine Magyarody
“Cowboy or Terrorist? Harney County and the Trump Presidency” by Nora Brooks

 

Brian Spears, Senior Poetry Editor and Rumpus OG

“David Biespiel’s Poetry Wire: 21 Poems That Shaped America (Pt. 13): Letter to Simic from Boulder” by David Biespiel
I’d never even heard of this poem prior to reading David’s piece, and to discover it, alongside the story behind it—that one poet had dropped bombs on another while a pilot in WWII and they then met years later—was just astonishing.

The Rumpus Inaugural Poems: Lena Khalaf Tuffaha was a stand-out for me from the truly wonderful group of poets that contributed to this special project.

“TORCH: Lessons from My Grandma on Language and Silence” by Elena Zhang
I’ve been teaching a class with several people who fall into the same situation as both the writer and her grandmother. This powerful essay is great reminder of the challenge that trying to bridge a language gap can cause.

And lastly, if I’m allowed to toot my own horn, I was prouder of this piece than perhaps anything I’ve written in the last few years.

 

Molly Spencer, Poetry Editor and Beautiful Genius

The Inaugural Poems Project: Because at a time when so many of us felt speechless with horror and despair at the direction our country had just taken, these poets gave us words as poets have done since the beginning of human history.

“What to Do with My Body in the Event That I Die in Mass Shooting”: Tom McAllister’s piece after the Las Vegas shooting gave voice to what I feel is an appropriate level of outrage to the amount of gun violence we accept as normal in this country. For the record, I want the same thing done with my body if I die this way.

“Endless Preparations: Apples and Women’s Work” by Lyz Lenz: I started to write why I love this piece, and I swear to god it was becoming a mini-essay all by itself. But I think it comes down to this: The expectations our culture puts upon women around taking care of their families are exhausting and impossible to meet, and yet our society could not function without the unpaid labor of women trying to meet these expectations. And because I am exhausted by trying to meet them. And also because I want that feeling at the end of the essay: the joy of shared labor.

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Feature image by Liam Golden.

Additional image credits: ENOUGH logo art by Luna Adler. “Run for Her Life” art by Aubrey Nolan. Funny Women art by Kaili Doud. “Hooters Chicken” art by Briana Finegan. “The Peep King’s Legacy” art by Anna McGlynn. “The Girl on the Bike” art by Araceli Colato. “Falling into Fear” art by Kara Y. Frame. “Donald Thinks” art by Liam Golden. “Cowboy or Terrorist? Harney County and the Trump Presidency” art by Becca Shaw Glaser. TORCH original logo art by Jyotsna Warikoo Designs. “Endless Preparations: Apples and Women’s Work” art by Rachael Schafer.