Editor's Notes, Volume 13 Number 2

By Joe Mackall

January 23, 2012

Editor's Notes, Volume 13 Number 2

In the third or fourth year of River Teeth’s existence, a former undergraduate English professor of mine submitted an essay to us. As I tore open the envelope, I fantasized about how many nasty ways I could reject this guy. I generally loved my undergraduate experience in English, mainly because of the books I read, but also the professors who seemed to love literature and language as much as I did. They lived and breathed it. This one guy, however, did not; at least I never saw evidence of it. He was a pompous ass who favored a few people in class, people who agreed with his narrow New Criticism and, more importantly, with him.

Before I read a word of the essay, however, I began to worry: What if I love the essay? What if, like so many writers, his writerly ethos surpassed his personal one? I knew what I had to do. If I loved it, I’d have to publish the piece. That’s as basic as it gets around here. If we love a piece of nonfiction, we publish it, whether it’s written by an ass from the past or a friend sitting next to us. I soon rationalized that I’d claim victory whether we published the essay or not. By accepting his essay I was finally able to pass judgment on my old prof and graciously grant him access to our esteemed publication. By rejecting him, well that might feel pretty good too. But we read to love and publish, not to reject.

That’s how we do things around the offices of River Teeth. We’re readers and writers first, and then we’re editors. We’re really all about falling in love. Falling in love with a piece means we have to have it. That’s it.

All of this is leading up to an explanation of this issue. Not that anybody else will notice, but in this issue we’ve published friends, colleagues, staff, former contributors—even writers we just published in the last two issues!—and we don’t give a damn and we don’t apologize. While listening to readings at Ashland University’s MFA reading, for example, in which Dan and I teach, I listened to unpublished pieces by our faculty. After the readings, with my heart beating with the fresh, dizzy love of a word-flushed reader, I approached these writers and asked if we could publish their work. I know it’s not cool to publish the work of friends and colleagues, but what’s a reader to do? I simply could not sit idly by and watch these wondrous little works of art find homes in other journals. I had to have them. (I’m like a nine-year-old that way.) We could hate your guts and publish your memoir. We’re that simple. Or at least I am.

We’re also publishing the work of two former students in this issue. In our defense, we at least waited until a single second after soldier and doctor, Jon Kerstetter, graduated from our low-residency MFA program. The work of Sarah Wells, a former undergraduate student of ours, who’s now the managing editor of River Teeth and the administrator of our MFA program, is also in these pages. As she and I have done many times in the past, she wrote an essay and asked if I’d have time to read it and talk it over with her. As always, I said yes. We agreed to meet the following Wednesday afternoon. And then I read it. And then I read it again. Immediately I wanted to call Dan. That’s the bar we’ve set for ourselves. We desire those pieces that make us wish to pick up the phone and call each other in the middle of the night, (or at least as late as 9:59 p.m., because we’d both like to keep our wives happy). That’s how I felt when I read Sarah’s essay. I called Dan. He read and called me. We had to have it. I cancelled my appointment with Sarah and begged her to let us publish the piece in River Teeth.

Growing up in a lower working-class home where it often looked as if knowing people in the wider world guaranteed some an easy leg up, I grew up distrusting and hating anything smacking of nepotism. But please, what’s a reader to do. How much of a reader’s falling in love is rational? Guided by rules? Governed by commandments? We cannot operate that way.

Having said all of this, the same goes for friends and colleagues and family and staff. No matter how much we admire you, no matter how many times you’ve done us favors, had dinners over our house, helped push our cars out of the endless snows of an Ohio winter, if we don’t love the piece you submitted to us, we won’t publish your work.

And, just for the record, my former professor’s writing was equal to his teaching, so we rejected him.

Thank you to those who pre-ordered this issue of River Teeth to support the Wounded Warrior Project.  (Note: You can pre-order through March 1)  The response was huge, and we are glad to have had the opportunity to partner with Jon Kerstetter on this initiative.

We’d like to congratulate the 2011 winner of the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Book Prize, Mark Liebenow, for his manuscript, Mountains of Light: Seasons of Reflection in Yosemite available from the University of Nebraska Press March 2012. An announcement about this year's book contest will be made soon.

We’d also like to announce the first ever River Teeth Nonfiction Conference to be held on Ashland University’s campus May 18-20. We’ll feature Robert Atwan, Hope Edelman, Bob Cowser, Ana Maria Spagna, Michelle Herman, Dinty Moore and others, including Dan and myself.

Thanks for reading.

— J.M.

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