Hi Justin! I'm so excited that we're having this conversation today. I love New Delta Review and the curation that you and your team do from your stunning online presence to your annually-printed chapbooks. Can you talk a bit about your aesthetic? I know that because NDR is run by graduate students at Louisiana State University, you've got a rotating staff every year. What's been your driving aesthetic as Editor-in-Chief?
Despite having a rotating staff, NDR has some core aesthetic principles that remain consistent. We’re known for being a journal that’s more “experimental,” which I think is kind of nonsense term because it tacitly reifies the “traditional” as a stylistic baseline. We love works that collapse genre delineations. Like, what is a story? Does it have to have a plot? Does a poem have to look a certain way on the page? Personally, I think normative ideas of genre and form are super confining, so works that mess with them are really exciting to me.
In terms of thematic cohesion, I’m more in the camp of letting things fall into their own unique alignments rather than trying to bring out a specific idea of resonance. In 8.1, our most recent issue, a lot of the pieces have a fairytale-gone-wrong feel that I really love. A lot of them don’t and I love them, too. I love how they inform each other, perform what Victor Shklovsky calls ostranenie, or the elucidative interplay of the strange and the familiar. In short, I think NDR is invested in work that engages the reader on its own terms, that dares to be ugly and eerie and, most significantly, inimitable.
Building off my first question, one of the things that I love so much about NDR is its commitment to underrepresented voices. And I know you've got your (unofficial?) motto, "We're here, we're queer," which by the way, is genius. Can you talk a bit more about this?
So that’s technically not an NDR motto (it’s one of my go-to phrases that I adapted for a Facebook post advertising our AWP presence), but it can be! Anyway, one of my biggest goals this year as EIC has been making NDR more financially accessible. Despite being affiliated with a university, NDR doesn’t receive much financial support. Because of this, we have to charge a $3 submission fee, in addition to much higher contest entry fees, which I really, really hate. In conjunction with our commitment to bolstering underrepresented voices, I want to take a more intersectional approach to accessibility, knowing that class crosses with other axes of difference. To accomplish this, I applied for the Whiting Foundation’s Literary Magazine Prize and have been opening up additional free submissions periods. We recently decided who the next EIC is and I’m eager to discuss how to develop a sustainable financial model from here on out to eventually get us fee-free.
Since the white, cishet, able-bodied man is an overwhelmingly centralized figure, it’s imperative that, as publishers, we do our best to dismantle that centrality and make space for those with marginalized identities. To me, this means ensuring that we not only feature the works by writers and artists who have identities that fall outside that particular constellation, but ensure they constitute a majority of our issues (also, eventually, compensation!!). Certainly, we have a good bit of work to do, but it is something I try to be especially cognizant of. A resource that has been especially helpful is Apogee’s article on the politics of blind submissions: for editorial staffers who haven’t read it, I really encourage you to.
What's one of your favorite pieces from the latest issue? Why?
I have to pick two: Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint’s short story “The Incubation of Liam Jin Tao” and Candice Wuehle’s two “poltergeist” poems. They’re both completely bizarre, but own their oddities in a way that doesn’t just rest on the spectacle. For “Incubation,” we have a boy with a ruby growing in his palm, which is definitely strange. But the real strangeness comes in the story’s flatness, how characters, besides Tao, to a chorus of girls or the boy who stabs another boy. It’s seems like such a simple move, but is really masterfully executed and makes all the difference. Everything feels insidious, a sort of fairytale noir. Also, how images refrain and expand in completely unexpected ways: the stabbed boy is surrounded by a circle of girls in the beginning, and then it’s Liam in the center of this circle later on. It feels simultaneously inevitable and unexpected.
In “poltergeist iii,” the poem ends with a direct address to Vince, who figures in many of the poems in the larger collection: “i'm going to be your cult leader. you're going to believe in me so hard.” This can easy come off as flippant or just downright unbelievable, but the atmosphere created in these poems has me trembling every time. For instance, in “poltergeist i,” “i mean, i hate a body in a white bag but i love the idea of a body in a bag.” Fashion becomes mortuary becomes evanescent and also entirely engulfing. Just as a sense of threat starts to stabilize, it gets punctured by the simplest of interjections: “vince, you see through this, right?” Then, it’s all the more threatening.
Now let's discuss your own work. What's a project that you're currently working on?
The main project I’m working on is a novel-in-prose-poems that takes place in a children’s museum. It’s run by a cult of “juvenile atmospherists” who are invested in creating the perfect atmosphere for children to learn, so they operate a day care/museum hybrid space with some pretty bizarre exhibits. Then there’s Laurel, a schoolgirl who, in going through the museum, eventually finds her way in the backrooms and the staff’s personal collection, where she learns what’s really going down. I won’t say much more, but it’s kind of like the demon spawn of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba and No Future by Lee Edelman.
I’ve also started a side project tentatively called schema/tics. It’s a mess of poems that reconfigures my body through various auditory technologies to explore my experience with Tourette’s syndrome. I get to play with musical scores and circuit diagrams, which has been totally out of my comfort zone but really, really generative. And there’ll be some queer things in there, because there have to be queer things for it to be mine.
And how does your critical work and studies influence your creative writing and vice versa? What about your work as an editor?
At Wesleyan, where I did my undergrad, I was a double major in English and anthropology. With the support of my faculty advisors, working on my undergraduate thesis — an ethnography-in-stories exploring masculinities in Irish/British metal music subcultures — showed me that the dichotomy posed between “critical” and “creative” inquiry is pretty nonsensical. My work with theory is totally bound up in all of my writing. Learning about ethnographic methodologies and their implicit power dynamics has made me more conscientious of how these dynamics play out in textual narratives, even in the more fantastical worlds I create. In particular, affect theory has been integral in my main project; the museum staff’s atmospheric pedagogy heavily draws upon the works of Sara Ahmed, Teresa Brennan, Kathryn Bond Stockton, Brian Massumi and Deleuze and Guattari, along with Lee Edelman’s takedown of reproductive futurity.
Working as NDR’s editor has been super helpful in my writing practice. I’ve become a much more thorough reader and self-editor, but it’s also just galvanizing to see many of the great things other writers are doing. When I come across a submission I’m eager to publish, there’s that spark of excitement, the magic, but also a personal growth that happens upon further engagement, in dissecting its magic and working to bring it out further. I’m surrounded by magic and, as I work on my own projects, can see my own further developing.
So speaking of “magic,” let’s do a really fun question now: name five of your current obsessions (they don’t have to be writing or literature-related). I love talking about obsession because I believe that obsession fuels good writing.
I totally agree!
Chelsea Wolfe — I actually just wrote a poem using one of her songs as a template, a la Hanif Abdurraqib’s poem in Underbelly using Radiohead’s “Idioteque.” Her most recent album, Hiss Spun, came out in September and I still listen to it almost every day.
Dragula — Rupaul’s Drag Race is great and all (though Rupaul’s comments about transness and the show’s problems concerning race are very not great), but Dragula is where it’s at. Its motto is “horror, filth, glamour” (which is sort of what I go for in my writing, come to think of it?) and the looks are on a whole different level than Drag Race.
Novellas — Seriously, the novella is the most underrated literary form ever. It has the tightness of the short story with some of the complexities afforded by the space of the novel, aka it’s perfect. Two of my all-time favorites are Andrés Barba’s Such Small Hands and Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World.
My cat, Korra — She killed my roommate’s girlfriend’s hamster today but, when she saw me getting mad, she left the carcass to curl up on my lap and snuggle.
Pokémon — I can probably name every Pokémon ever because I’m a Very Cool Person. If you’re on Showdown, I’m nightsledding. Get at me.
7. And to close our interview on lucky number 7, can you name your top five favorite writers right now? And what about your top five favorite lit mags right now?