In Praise of Marisa Siegel

By

There is so much invisible labor that goes into running a literary magazine, and The Rumpus is no exception. As we transition into this period of new ownership, I asked some of our editors to share a story about Marisa and what she’s brought to the magazine as well as to our lives, either professionally or personally. Personally, because it is impossible to run a volunteer magazine without personal connections, and what Marisa has built and entrusted me with is, frankly, astonishing in its consideration and scope. We are and remain, so grateful.

***

I’ve been with The Rumpus since it launched, so I’m qualified to say this: Without Marisa, The Rumpus literally wouldn’t exist anymore. We were not far from shuttering forever when Marisa bought the site. She was already the Managing Editor, but the owner was limiting her ability to shape the site and so we were kind of adrift, shedding readers and editors and writers and frankly, money, which had never been in great supply. And then Marisa took a chance, bet on herself and us and bought the site, and most importantly, put her vision into action.

 

…If The Rumpus has meant anything to you over these last few years, thank Marisa, because without her, The Rumpus would be just another one of the many online magazines that’s vanished into the ether.

 

Working with Marisa has made me a better writer, editor, and literary citizen. My time with her has also shown me what it means to be compassionate, to provide support, and how to truly be a mentor. I am a better person because of working with her—it was a dream come true.

We had been working on The Rumpus for almost two years together before meeting in real life. The Rumpus had a table at the Brooklyn Book Festival. After just an afternoon there together, I felt as though we were old friends.

Marisa gave me two huge breaks in my career—one in 2018 when she published a short story of mine, and again in 2021 when she asked me to be Interviews Editor. Coming to writing as I did, as a stay-at-home mom with no credentials, I have benefitted enormously from the generosity of spirit of people like Marisa, who give themselves fully to boosting others, and to celebrating art. Marisa is an absolute angel with an enormous heart, and I hope to pay forward all the blessings she’s brought into my life.

 

I would trust Marisa’s judgment on pretty much anything.

 

Marisa took a chance on me by promoting me to assistant editor. I’d watched Marisa build The Rumpus editorial team with such care over the years, and to be seen and trusted by her to be part of this team is a whole gift.

When I talk about The Rumpus, people always ask me about Marisa. Contributors, writers, readers … everyone. Marisa has a personable way to relate to everyone, across the board. She makes us feel valued, and she cares as much about Rumpus readers as she does about the contributors. In our writing community, there are academics, artists, social justice warriors, and people who just love to read. Marisa is the glue that held us together, and for that, we love her.

I met Marisa at Tin House, where she was the coolest person in a room of very cool people. Before and since then, she has been a beacon of integrity and kindness in the literary community, and I feel very lucky to know her.

Marisa invited me to be on the editor’s panel at Barrelhouse’s Conversations & Connections last year, and I felt like I’d “made it.” I owe it to her this feeling of belonging to a literary community.

Marisa turned The Rumpus into a matriarchy, which gave a million angels their wings. She kept the site alive (and its editors and writers) when so many others shuttered, and because of her, untold essays, comics, interviews, reviews, jokes, and more (a lot more) made it online and to readers.

 

Marisa is literally a literary heroine.

 

Marisa was my guardian angel when I had COVID in March of 2020. I’ll always be grateful to her for the editorial opportunities and encouragement she gave me, but her kindness and indispensable advice in that scary moment gives her a special place in my heart.

Marisa and I met at AWP Los Angeles when we both had two-year-olds at home. Her bright pink bob and her exquisite editorial perspective won me over completely. Two years later, I pitched my column, The Thread, to her, and she not only became its most enthusiastic publisher, but a dear friend. I am so deeply grateful that we became colleagues and collaborators. Now we’ve supported each other through distance-learning our seven-year-olds while running a literary magazine and surviving a pandemic, and I can’t wait to see the amazing books she will undoubtedly bring us as an acquisitions editor.

What Marisa has given to The Rumpus and to me as an editor is, if I’m honest, incalculable and unquantifiable. Because how do you count and put value on all the ways someone has not only shaped a publication for the better, but has fundamentally changed your creative life? You can’t. It would take pages upon pages for me to express the sheer impact of her influence. So let me just say, I am so grateful to have worked with Marisa, to know her, to call her a friend, to call her a mentor, and to have witnessed her fearlessness, her drive, and her tireless commitment to making The Rumpus one of the best places on the internet—not only for writers and readers, but for all us editors, too.

 

For me, her collaborative spirit has been such a bolster; she has taught me so much about being the best version of my editor self, and also just how to be a better human being in general, and I’m so proud of and feel so fortunate for all the work we got to do together in this space.

 

Working with Marisa has made me a better writer, editor, and literary citizen. My time with her has also shown me what it means to be compassionate, to provide support, and how to truly be a mentor. I am a better person because of working with her—it was a dream come true.


Alysia Li Ying Sawchyn is the Editor-in-Chief of The Rumpus and currently lives in the DC area. Her debut essay collection, A Fish Growing Lungs, was published by Burrow Press in June 2020 and was a finalist for the Believer Award. You can find her on Twitter @happiestwerther. More from this author →