A Year in the Rumpus Matriarchy


I thought it would be easy to do: take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re headed, make a few comments about the year we’ve had here at The Rumpus and as a country, share a clever anecdote or two highlighting my adventures as a new business owner, thank my staff profusely, and hit “schedule.”

How silly of me to think that. Nothing about 2017 has been easy, and putting that into words now seems a herculean task that this lapsed writer is just not up for.

When I made the decision to purchase The Rumpus, I was furious. Donald Trump had just won the election. Anger is a kind of fuel—or I’ve learned to use it as such—and my furiousness swept me through the first few months of our new political reality. The Rumpus would be my platform, our platform, and we would use to fight. To keep fighting.

Twelve months later I am still furious, but also exhausted—literally, emotionally, existentially wiped out. Waking up each morning and remembering Donald Trump is President of the United States, and going to sleep each night knowing that Donald Trump is President of the United States, has left me feeling glass-half-empty.

And yet.

This year, we published a lot of wonderful, important writing. We began important new series like TORCH and ENOUGH. We introduced our first theme issue in July, and followed it up with a second theme issue in October. We’ve brought on new editors who have in turn breathed new life into their sections and the whole of The Rumpus. We continue to have difficult but important conversations about what it means to be genuinely inclusive and diverse, and to push The Rumpus to be both.

As Editor-in-Chief, I am acutely aware of my role as a gatekeeper within the literary community, and try to make every editorial and business decision with the knowledge that I am a white, heterosexual woman in a position of power front of mind. I can only hope that this effort has brought, and will continue to bring, changes to The Rumpus at every level.

I don’t do any of this alone, of course. I have a wonderful volunteer editorial staff, led by our irreplaceable and unstoppable Managing Editor Lyz Lenz, who remain as dedicated as me to making a platform for marginalized voices, to promoting work that stretches boundaries of genre and tradition, and to championing powerful writing that challenges assumptions and uses the craft of story to bring us closer to our humanity. We have an advisory board of writers, editors, and literary champions who help us realize our goals in many and varied ways.

There is much to be proud of, and thankful for.

When I bought The Rumpus, the site was in debt. Whether we could right the ship at all was unclear.

Math terrifies me, and I could not have jumped into my role as business owner without the help of our Store Manager/Programs Administrator, Wendy Rutkowski. Wendy has been working with The Rumpus for years and is an indispensable member of the team. Together, we strategized to bring up subscription numbers for the four programs that keep us running: Letters in the Mail, Letters for Kids, The Rumpus Book Club, and The Rumpus Poetry Book Club.

As ad revenue becomes an increasingly unreliable business model, these subscription programs truly do allow The Rumpus to exist. We had our first profitable month in June, and another in October. Our holiday store sales, of both merchandise and program subscriptions, were the most robust we’ve had in years, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for this.

I did not draw a salary during our first year, a personal struggle but also a choice, though I hope to do so by the end of 2018. We also hope to become a 501(c)3 in 2018, and to launch new fundraising initiatives. And we continue to work toward paying a flat rate to our contributors, and moving that rate closer to industry standard. Finally, we very much hope that the midterm elections will shake up the GOP majority in Washington, because that new tax bill really sucks for small businesses (and for, you know, everyone who isn’t a billionaire).

It would still be accurate to say that some months, we are scraping by—emotionally and financially. But we are afloat, and hanging on tightly to our shoestrings.

Why am I telling you this? Because I believe in transparency, now more than ever. With a government that actively promotes false information and denigrates the institutions that rely on and protect our first amendment rights, and with a mainstream media that often plays into the government’s hands, I believe that we must elevate facts alongside story. I believe that language has power, as it always has, and it is the job of editors and writers to use language carefully, thoughtfully, and truthfully.

This includes being transparent about the business of running The Rumpus, about our own history and past mistakes, and about our hopes for the future of the site.

This year we have seen a groundswell of support for victims of sexual assault and harassment, and an outpouring of truths about the perpetrators of these crimes, some of whom have even been held accountable for their actions. We’ve seen the conversation around rape culture grow into a cultural moment—a moment that I hope will outlast its fifteen minutes, and stretch across the next year, and into the years ahead. As an organization, The Rumpus will continue to amplify the voices in this conversation. We will continue to call out abuses of power when we see them, even from within, and to refuse to work in any capacity with those who we know to be perpetrators of abuse.

I am tired. You are tired, too. 2017 was a hard year, maybe my own hardest year ever. I don’t think that 2018 will be easy. But I look at the top fifteen Rumpus posts by traffic last year, at our editors’ picks for favorite pieces, and at this list of marvelous books to be published in the first half of this year, and I am heartened. I feel ready to double down on the promise of writing, on the power of sharing stories, and on our ability to build bridges with language and knock down walls with words.

I feel like the glass is half-full or half-empty and both mean the same thing: the glass exists, and it is my job to keep it upright and with some water inside of it, and I plan to.

Long live the Rumpus matriarchy!


Rumpus original art by Briana Finegan.

Marisa Siegel holds an MFA from Mills College in Oakland, CA. Her essay "Inherited Anger" appears in the anthology Burn It Down and her poetry chapbook Fixed Stars is out now from Burrow Press. She is senior acquiring editor for trade at Northwestern University Press, and editor-at-large for The Rumpus. Find her online at marisasiegel.com. More from this author →