State of The Rumpus

By

Last January I wrote this piece about my first year at the helm of The Rumpus. Reading it now, it feels impossible only a year has passed and also like I wrote it just yesterday.

2018 was a harder year than the one before it. Though the midterm elections brought some relief, with Democrats regaining control of the House and these history-making women making it hard not to feel an inkling of hope, we are still waking up each day to the upside-down reality of a Donald Trump presidency. Our government is shut down as I write this, arguing for weeks now over whether to give the toddler (Trump) his toy (money to build a border wall). Brett Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court despite overwhelmingly convincing testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Children are dying at our borders, in our custody, under our watch.

The Rumpus remains in the black, though just barely. Our four subscription programs—Letters in the MailLetters for KidsThe Rumpus Book Club, and The Rumpus Poetry Book Club—along with sales of merchandise from our online store and at events, keep our lights on. Holiday sales of both merchandise and program subscriptions were again the most robust we’ve had in years, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for this. We are also deeply grateful to everyone who donates to The Rumpus, because, truly, ever dollar makes a difference around here.

While we’ve been earning enough to keep publishing, paying contributors who opt in a token payment, and offering all Rumpus content for free to our readers, I still haven’t been able to take a salary and am not certain when that might change; this is a choice I am privileged to keep making but it is also a daily struggle and source of anxiety. We still plan to become a 501(c)3 in the future but lack the money and time to convert right now. Working toward paying a flat rate to contributors, and moving that rate closer to industry standard, remains our primary goal but doesn’t feel closer than it did a year ago. And then, in September, The Rumpus’s founder published a piece that compelled me to finally share some personal truths about my experience working under him. Two weeks later, he filed suit against Moira Donegan, a truly outrageous and vicious action.

So it would still be accurate to say we are scraping by—emotionally and financially. But we are afloat, and hanging on tightly to our shoestrings.

And I don’t do any of this alone. Our Store Manager/Programs Administrator, Wendy Rutkowski, remains an indispensable member of the team. Our kickass volunteer editorial staff remains as dedicated as me to making The Rumpus 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.

In May I tweeted that “all I want to do with The Rumpus is burn down the patriarchy and promote poetry.” While I (probably) wouldn’t rewrite our mission statement as such, I would be remiss not to shout out Team Rumpus Poetry for the phenomenal work they did in 2018. From National Poetry Month to Rumpus Original Poetry to poetry book reviews and essays to our Poetry Book Club, our poetry editors are working tirelessly to shake up the still overwhelmingly white and male poetry landscape. We’ve just opened for our first-ever unsolicited reading period for poetry, and later this year we’ll move to publishing Rumpus Original Poetry features weekly.

When I look at the top twenty most-read Rumpus posts of 2018, at our editors’ picks for favorite pieces of the year, at a list of all the book reviews we published, and at this list of marvelous books to be published in the first half of this year, I am buoyed. I think about the stories women and non-binary writers have shared in our weekly column ENOUGH and am motivated to push on. I remain ferociously committed to the promise of writing, to the power of sharing stories, and to our ability to build bridges with language and knock down walls with words.

I hope it’s apparent that I also remain committed to transparency. As I wrote last year, 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 and the politics of participating in the literary community. If you’ll be at AWP this year, please join me on Thursday, March 28 for a panel called “Show Me the Money: Making Ends Meet in the Literary World”—it’s going to be an honest and frank conversation around these issues.

If you ever have a question or concern about what’s up at The Rumpus, please email me at [email protected]. Keep up with the latest Rumpus news by subscribing to our weekly newsletter, following us on Twitter, and liking us on Facebook.

We are here because of you. Rumpus readers and contributors aren’t just an audience, you’re a community—and we value, and remain deeply committed to, the community you’ve helped us create and sustain.

Love,
Marisa

***

Rumpus original art by Briana Finegan.

***

This piece first appeared in our weekly newsletter. Sign up here to receive personal letters from our EIC, Marisa Siegel, and to get all the latest Rumpus news.


Marisa Siegel lives, writes, and edits near NYC. She holds an MFA in Poetry from Mills College in Oakland, CA. Her poems have appeared in Handsome, Zaum, (T)here, and elsewhere. Her essay “Inherited Anger” appears in the anthology Burn It Down (Seal Press, 2019) and her debut poetry chapbook is forthcoming from Burrow Press in 2021. She is Editor-in-Chief and owner of The Rumpus. Find her on Twitter at @marisasaystweet. More from this author →