**Note about Summer Orders: Our office closes for summer break, so we will be unable to fulfill single issue and chapbook orders during this time. Although it is possible that we will send some orders out late May or early July, orders placed over the summer will most likely go out in mid-August. Thank you for your patronage and your patience!
Our editor-in-chief and founder, Leslie Jill Patterson, is on sabbatical this semester, writing in the moun- tains of Colorado and recovering from her father passing away over the summer. I’ve been IHLR’s Fiction Editor since 2014 and am thrilled to serve as Interim Editor for the fall. It’s a pleasure to be here and to think deeply about the work in this powerful Open Issue.
Since returning to campus from lockdown, I’ve been thinking back to another fall, a simpler one. A new semester was underway as the weather slowly shifted from triple-degree days to autumn’s more temperate mid-seventies. We were finalizing the stories, poems, and essays for our Selfies Issue and undergoing our own rebirth with a new design and larger trim size. We planned to debut our new look at AWP in San Antonio—the first conference location our staff could drive to in more than ten years—and in that issue’s foreword, Jill highlighted our fresh face that both honored what the journal had been and looked forward with anticipation to all it might yet become, writing: “The future, we believe, is bright.” It was October in the year 2019.
We couldn’t have known that our campus would shut down five months later. That most of us would sit out AWP. That the Selfies Issue would sit in storage until August when we finally regained ac- cess to our offices. That the next time our staff would see each other would be over Zoom, or that now, as we present this Open Issue, we’d be looking over our shoulders at the past year with such longing for casual hugs and handshakes, concerts, travel, and a general, if illusory, belief in the power of human ingenuity to solve our most pressing problems.
We’ve lost too many lives in the last year, both to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and to unrelenting systemic inequality that preexisted and set the stage for George Floyd’s murder and for so many other needless deaths. It’s staggering to consider that in the same period of time we were all learning the word coronavirus and becoming internet experts on social distancing, viral load, fomite transmission, asymptomatic carriers, contactless delivery, ICU availability, ventilators, hydroxychloroquine, and vaccine prospects, our country’s police officers killed Atatiana Jefferson, Michael Dean, John Neville, William Green, Jaquyn O’Neill Light, Lionel Morris, Ahmaud Ar- bery, Manuel Ellis, Barry Gedeus, Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, Steven Taylor, Cornelius Fredericks, Maurice Gordon, George Floyd, Dion Johnson, Tony McDade, Calvin Horton, Jr., James Scurlock, David McAtee, Jamel Floyd, Kamal Flowers, Robert Forbes, Rayshard Brooks, Maurice Abisdid-Wagner, Julian Lewis, Anthony McClain, Damian Daniels, and Dijon Kizee.
We are a nation in mourning. A nation in shock. A nation bearing up under the immeasurable weight of ongoing trauma with no sure end in sight. Some of us have lost faith in government, in religious leaders, in the resilience of our own bodies, in the ability of our justice system to fairly enforce our laws or mete out true and equal justice. Many of us have even lost faith in each other as debates about masks and hoaxes rage on. Our losses are incalculable, and they are still mounting.
When they submitted to this issue, our authors couldn’t know the whole picture of the developing crises of health, injustice, climate change, and conscience, but with a deadline in late February, they had no doubt learned the Australian government had declared a State of Emergency due to wildfires in New South Wales. They knew our sitting president had been both impeached and acquitted. They knew the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of Inter- national Concern. They knew Kobe Bryant’s helicopter had fatally crashed, and they would have been grieving for at least six of the extinguished lives named above. Their submissions showed the weight of all that trauma, plus the individual battles we’re always taking part in behind our social media facades. Carrie Chappell’s poem “Viola” speaks to the life and violent, early death of civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo. In “Fantasy Firearms,” Gage Saylor explores the desensitization that takes hold in a nation where mass shootings become commonplace. And work by Kelle Groom, Gustavo Barahona-López, and Jennifer Battisti wrestles with personal fears, gaps, and demons.
We’re a nation grieving, muddling through uncertainty, evacuating from hurricanes and fires, and trying to overcome a novel virus; we are a nation in pain. But we are also forward-looking, whether to November, a vaccine, protests bringing change, or simply to 2021, which we hope will be kinder to us. We’re holding on to all that could be good about the future. In this spirit, Andrew Hemmert’s poem, “Light Theory,” sends readers through a haze of worrying smoke straight into “the solar system.” Jenny Patton’s essay, “Katsu,” follows a wayward child who unexpectedly finds his path.
We have to feel our fears in order to face them, and other contributors do just that. Two AWP Intro Award winners, Audrey R. Hollis and Alexa Quezada, twist dangerous power dynamics into hard-won reckonings. Other pieces center on having loved and lost, as in poems by Kimberly Glanzman, Adam Tavel, and Carla Panciera, and in Brent Taylor’s story about the short life of the tallest man who ever lived.
All of these pieces were written before lockdowns, before the watershed moment of George Floyd’s murder, and before California began burning on a historic scale, but they are not just about “before.” The disparate pieces in this Open Issue illuminate not just the world of their conception, but offer wisdom and solace for a troubled year. To keep surviving, we’ll need reasons to trust each other again. We must document our trials so they help us become better people, a better species, on the other side.
The future was bright a year ago. The words in this issue give us hope that when the smoke clears, it will be again.
Buy your copy of our Open Issue here for $5. Due to Covid-19 budget cuts, international readers will receive an electronic copy only.
Fiction by: George Bilgere | Audrey R. Hollis | Gage Saylor | Brent Taylor
Nonfiction by: Jennifer Battisti | Kelle Groom | Jenny Patton
Poetry by: Gustavo Barahona-López | Carrie Chappell | Caroline Chavatel | Kimberly Glanzman | Andrew Hemmert | Christos Kalli | Carla Panciera | Alexa Quezada | Adam Tavel
In the Saddle: Krys Malcolm Belc