The Masters Review Blog

Jul 2

The Masters Review Volume XI Shortlist

After much deliberation, our editorial team has selected the 30 entries to this year’s Anthology contest that will be sent to Rick Bass for final consideration. We were quite pleased with how difficult the decisions were this year! Thank you to all of our wonderful submitters. Be on the lookout for our finalists announcement later this month. We can’t wait to see which of these submissions are selected! Congratulations to all on the shortlist.

A Lot of Words For It, Jenna Abrams

The Quiet Ones, Marcie Alexander

Cicada Summer, Emma Choi

The Loss, Denise Emanuel Clemen

Open System, Brendan Egan

Tillie, Randi Ewing

Everyday Horror Show, Paola Ferrante

Pirating, Jack Foraker

Beauty, Leah Fretwell

Exchanges, Dara Kell

Look Don’t Touch, Thomas Keogh

Bratwurst Haven, Rachel King

The Monroe House, Charisse Kubr

The God in the Dark, Leeyee Lim

Proper Forage, Barbara Litkowski

Above Snowline, Rachel Markels Webber

The Analyst, Jennifer Marquardt

Mortal Champions, Stefani Nellen

13 Steps To Making Monsters, Dino Parenti

Witness to the Burn, Robin Patten

Whitney in the Real World, Stephanie Pushaw

Sex-O-Rama, 1993, Jenny Robertson

Trucker’s Notebook, Nicole Roché

Jesus Wants Them, Eric Rubeo

Clear Shot, Anji Samarasekera

East B.F., Ben Schwartz

More Than Bright, Grace Spulak

Be Ye Ready, Michelle Syba

Near Korengal, Linda Wastila

El Lugar de Los Sueños, Isaac Yuen

 

 

Jul 1

The 2020 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers!

Welcome to July! This is one of our favorite months of the year because it means our Summer Short Story Award for New Writers is now open for submissions! This year’s finalists will be selected by the fantastic Kali Fajardo-Anstine. The winning writer is awarded $3000, publication, and agency review from six literary agents. The full details are below and on our contest page!

Submissions open July 1st – August 30th!


submit

$3000 + Publication + Agency Review!

The Summer Short Story Award for New Writers runs from July 1st to August 30th. The winning story will be awarded $3000 and publication online. Second and third place stories will be awarded publication and $300 and $200 respectively. All winners and honorable mentions will receive agency review by: Nat Sobel from Sobel Weber, Victoria Cappello from The Bent Agency, Andrea Morrison from Writers House, Sarah Fuentes from Fletcher & Company, Heather Schroder from Compass Talent, and Siohban McBride from Carnicelli Literary Management. We want you to succeed, and we want your writing to be read. It’s been our mission to support emerging writers since day one.

Guidelines:

  • Winner receives $3000, publication, and agency review
  • Second and third place prizes ($300 / $200, publication, and agency review)
  • Stories under 6000 words
  • Previously unpublished stories only
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed
  • Emerging writers only (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a low circulation are welcome to submit.)
  • International English submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: August 30, 2020
  • Please, no identifying information on your story
  • All stories are considered for publication
  • If requesting an editorial letter, please indicate on your cover letter if the submissions is fiction or creative nonfiction
  • To view a list of our most commonly asked questions regarding submitting to The Masters Review, please see our FAQ page.

We don’t have any preferences topically or in terms of style. We’re simply looking for the best. We don’t define, nor are we interested in, stories identified by their genre. We do, however, consider ourselves a publication that focuses on literary fiction. Dazzle us, take chances, and be bold.

Kali Fajardo-Anstine is a National Book Award Finalist and the author of Sabrina & Corinaa finalist for the PEN/Bingham Prize and The Story Prize, and longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize. Fajardo-Anstine is the 2019 recipient of the Denver Mayor’s Award for Global Impact in the Arts. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The American Scholar, Boston Review, Bellevue Literary Review, The Idaho Review, Southwestern American Literature, and elsewhereKali has been awarded fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, and Hedgebrook. She has an MFA from the University of Wyoming and is from Denver, Colorado.


submit

Jun 29

New Voices: “Sorry About Your Bird” by Kathryn M. Barber

In Kathryn M. Barber’s “Sorry About Your Bird,” Libby and her wife Claire leave Claire’s grandmother’s funeral with an unexpected passenger: Captain, a parrot Claire’s grandmother had kept for years, whose favorite phrase is a string of obscenities. Dive into this wry new addition to our New Voices catalog below:

Avery hangs between us, notes in silence we can’t see or hear, can only feel. Sometimes when I look in my rearview mirror, I think I see the back of her car seat, her small feet kicking up the seat, her curls spilling. Avery is why she wanted to move out of the city. I couldn’t bear to leave the porch that sat over the crisscrossed streets, the windows that framed the Batman building, the way the lights of the buildings looked like glittered stars that were closer, almost touchable.

When Claire’s grandmother died last week, we dropped everything, spun our tires fast as they would go from Nashville up to Roanoke, Virginia, spent the last few days with floral arrangements, sinking a coffin into soft summer ground. The only time I feel lonelier than being with Claire these days is when we’re with her family—the way they pretend I’m just a friend, refuse to acknowledge the wedding bands on our fingers, like if they ignore it long enough, the years we’ve spent together will evaporate from beneath them, and us, too.

Claire’s granddaddy died before we even met, and since then, her grandmama kept this green and yellow parrot named Captain. He practically lived there on her shoulder, whether she was stirring a pot on the stove or planting daises in the front yard, that bird was there. She took it with her everywhere, and Claire joked that even the parrot knew what a sass mouth her grandmama had because the phrases it repeated most often were bullSHITthat’sbullSHIT and bless your heart —Claire’s grandmama had done a lot of bad-mouthing, as her mama put it. In her will, she left Claire the bird, said she wanted her only granddaughter to take care of the friend who’d kept her company since her husband died, and Claire’s mama had made the biggest fuss I’ve ever seen when she packed that damn bird in the backseat of our car, sent us back to Tennessee.

“She’ll get knocked off balance if she can tell you’re moving,” Claire’s mother explained, throwing a sheet over the cage. “You gotta cover her up, like this.”

And then she hugged Claire’s neck, whispered something in her ear I couldn’t quite hear, way she always does. She squeezed my hand, still wouldn’t hug me, not even after four years of me and Claire being married. Just: “Good to see you, as always, Libby.” She blames me; I know that—blames me for her daughter leaving home and moving to Nashville. For the two-year-old body we’d laid in the ground last November. This was the first funeral we’ve gone to since we buried our own baby. Burying a grandmother and a daughter in the same twelve months—well, I just can’t be mad at Claire if she’s mad at me right now.

We’ve barely spoken on the drive home from Roanoke. For ten long hours, asphalt and sky stretch in front of us, remind us of everything we’ve been running from. Every now and then, that bird in the backseat under that sheet squawks out bullSHITthat’sbullSHIT, bless your heart bless your heart. Claire shifts in her seat, tucks a loose lock behind her ear, and faces the window. I just drive, press my foot down harder and harder, anxious to put as many miles between us and her family as I can. Claire loves me, I know that. It’s not a phase, much as her mama would like to believe , even if I am the only woman Claire’s ever been with—she loves me. And the only times I ever doubt that, fear that one day I’ll wake up and she’ll just be gone, are the times I have to look in her mama’s face, know she wishes “better” for her daughter. Better than me.

bullSHITthat’sbullSHIT, Captain says. I change lanes at the interstate intersection. We’ve been quiet for almost three hours, not a word, and for a moment, just a second, I miss the buzz of her family because at least it isn’t this silence between us that creeps up now and then, stays a while. Bless your heart. I want to smack the bird for mocking me. I want to ask: Why in the hell would your grandmother leave us her bird, Claire? Of all the things she could’ve left us—bullSHIT, BULLshit.

To continue reading “Sorry About Your Bird” click here.

Jun 27

July Deadlines: 12 Writing Contests Ending This Month

Just like a dazzling firework, these wonderful contests will be gone before you know it! Take the time to check out our curated list, and find the perfect fit for your explosively brilliant writing!

Richard J. Margolis Award

Inspired by journalist and essayist Richard J. Margolis, this prize has provided financial and other support to a promising journalist whose work combines warmth, humor, and wisdom with social justice since 1992. This prize recognizes one writer with $5000, and a one-month residency at the Blue Mountain Center in Blue Mountain Lake, NY. Applicants need to provide a cover letter, biographical note, a project description, and two writing samples. Guidelines here.

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: July 1

2020 LAR Literary Awards

Here is a great chance for writers of all stripes, as the Los Angeles Review’s contest rewards authors in creative nonfiction, short fiction, flash fiction, and poetry! Aimee Liu judges creative nonfiction, Kristen Millares Young judges short fiction, Ellen Meeropol judges flash fiction, and Francisco Aragón judges poetry. The winner in each category receives $1000 and publication – Make sure you submit to the correct category! Submission guidelines here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: July 14

Bellevue Literary Review Prizes

All three of the Bellevue Literary Review’s contests are ending soon, so enter now if you want to receive one of the three $1000 and publication first-place prizes! All entries should be related to themes of health, healing, illness, the mind, and the body. Dan Chaon is judging fiction, Jen Bervin is judging poetry, and Kay Redfield Jamison is judging nonfiction. Honorable mention winners also earn $250 and publication! Submit here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: July 15

The Francine Ringold Awards for New Writers

These awards, presented by Nimrod International Journal through the University of Tulsa, honor the work of writers at the beginning of their careers in either fiction or poetry. Contestants can enter up to five pages of poetry, and up to 5000 words of prose. The winner of each category will receive $500 and their manuscript will be published in the spring issue of Nimrod! Details here.

Entry Fee: $12 Deadline: July 15

Rattle Poetry Prize

Rattle is looking for an outstanding piece of poetry, and they are definitely willing to bribe you for it! This annual competition awards $15,000 for a single poem to be published in the winter issue of their magazine. Ten finalists also receive $500 and publication, and are eligible for the $5000 Reader’s Choice Award. Four poems are allowed per entry, and there is no line limit. What are you waiting for? Enter here!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: July 15

Robert and Adele Schiff Awards

The Cincinnati Review is currently accepting submissions for their annual contest, but all good things will eventually come to an end. The winning poem, fiction piece, and literary nonfiction piece will be judged by Rebecca Lindenberg, Michael Griffith, and Kristen Iversen, respectively. The winning entries will be published in 2021 and receive $1000 each, so don’t lose your chance! Learn more here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: July 15

Spring 2020 Travel Writing Contest

The award-winning literary travel magazine Nowhere is looking for writers who know how to convey time and place with ease and grace! Submissions may be fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or essay, and can range from 800 to 5000 words. The winner receives $1000 and publication, and up to 10 finalists will be published as well. Check it out!

Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: July 15

The Story Prize

This competition is a daunting gauntlet for any first-time author to run, but the reward at the end is well worth the effort! A $20,000 book prize is awarded to the author of a collection of short stories that was published this year, and entries may be submitted by agents, authors, or publishers. Currently they’re accepting submissions of books that were published from January through June. Are you eligible? Do it!

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: July 15

Bard Fiction Prize

This amazing prize is offered to a promising emerging writer through Bard College, and the winners receive a stipend of $30,000, an appointment as writer-in-residence on campus for one semester, and the opportunity to give a public lecture. Be aware, though, they’re looking for writers who are 39 years old or younger. You’ll need to have published a book in order to apply, but this is the chance of a lifetime! More information here.

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: July 30

Narrative Spring Story Contest

This contest is open to all fiction and nonfiction writers, writing anything from short stories and memoirs, to essays and literary nonfiction! The entries need to be less than 15,000 words and previously unpublished, while containing a strong narrative drive and intense insights. First prize is $2500, second is $1000, and third is $500. Guidelines here.

Entry Fee: $27 Deadline: July 31

Red Hen Press Novella Award

This is the third year for Red Hen Press’ contest, whose prize is for any writer with a previously unpublished, original work of fiction! Acceptable submissions are between 15,000 and 30,000 words. The winner, selected by judge Donna Hemans, receives $1000 and publication by Red Hen Press. Learn more here!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: July 31

Virginia Quarterly Review READING SESSION

This is the month to send in your work to the Virginia Quarterly Review, because it’s the only time of year that they accept unsolicited submissions! They’re looking for fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, and they’re willing to pay over $1000 for accepted content. Don’t miss your chance! Details here.

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: July 31

by Kimberly Guerin

Jun 26

New Writing on the Net: June 2020

This month, we offer our readers a satisfying sample of words, sounds, and images—all focused on the fine art of online storytelling.

“The Accident” by Jacob Hilton | The Pinch, May 29

The inside of the grain bin, drained now of its contents, is all shadows, even in the sunlight. You can barely see to the bottom, where the long arm of the unloading auger rests.

“In Nature” by Cameron Quincy Todd | American Short Fiction, May 30

On the phone everything is already decided. He has packed and closed the door on his life at the ranch. The girl will go back to her aunt’s; she’ll have the baby there. Just like that, the newlyweds will split and be absorbed into the old families, the way the snowy woods make animals appear and then swallow them up again.

“Sun, Moon, and Wretched Star” by Ashley Deng | Fireside Quarterly, June 2

It’s Mid-Autumn Festival, and they hang their homemade lanterns on the tree branches that crisscross their yard in a celebration that was, as far as she knew, unknown to the world around her. At night, Willow watches the warm lights swinging in the cold Canadian wind and waits for the last of the candle fire to go out before heading to sleep.

“Literature Is an Essential Service” by Gracie Bialecki | Ep;phany, June 4

At the start of confinement, reading was an escape. My bibliophilic panic as the bookstores closed was assuaged by an old Brooklyn Library card which gave me access to their digital collection via an even older Kindle Fire. I read Jenny Offill’s Dept of Speculation in frenzied chunks—62% in one sitting, the rest the next day, her form begging the tapping of pages, text slipping by.

“Calvin Diaz, 71, Delivers the Mail During Covid” by Alison Barnwell | AGNI, June 16

If you’re going to put a note on the clock saying we’re essential, then I think you should be responsible enough to make sure we’re secure.

“Diary of a Scottish Bookseller” by Shaun Bythell | Literary Hub, June 22

It then emerged that she has a tea room in Rockcliffe (about 35 miles away), so we moaned about customers, and particularly about running a business on your own, and one that people expect to be open when it suits them rather than when it suits you. We have a shared loathing of the tyranny of social obligation in rural communities.

Curated by Courtney Harler

Jun 25

New Voices Revisited: “Double Exposure” by Megan Giddings

In this month’s New Voices Revisited, we’re turning the calendar back to 2015, returning to Megan Giddings’s excellent “Double Exposure.” In the world of “Double Exposure,” landlords are required by law to disclose the presence of ghosts on the property. But strapped for cash, what are two recent college grads to do?

Anna shuffled off to bed, but I stayed up late looking up ways to ward off evil ghosts. Most took me to crackpot-style websites filled with bad grammar about using witch hazel and crucifixes and tulip bulbs hanging from windows. There were news sites about how we could hire an exorcist to walk through our home waving palms and chanting and smearing the doorway with holy water. And a few were for old men volunteering their time.

We were young and poor and the apartment was six hundred and fifty-five dollars a month with heat included. Yeah, the refrigerator and oven were small and outdated. But there was a large window made for growing plants and looking out into the park across the street when feeling wistful. I could already see myself holding a cup of hot chocolate and watching gray sky and snowfall on a January afternoon. I would have deep thoughts about light and color and be inspired.

“I do have to disclose the following as per state regulation 970,” our potential landlady said.

Anna and I exchanged a glance, wondering if the other knew what state regulation 970 was. I lifted a shoulder, made a huh face. She smirked.

“About ten years ago we had an old woman die on the grounds. She slipped on the ice and fell. It happens.” She spoke with her hands as if she were a magician trying to distract us from the true mechanics of the trick happening around us. “No one’s seen her or anything. There’s a ghost cat or two wandering the hallways. I also have to disclose the apartment below you is occupied by at least two ghosts. But they’re great tenants. And they might even offer to split internet with you.”

The landlady’s eyes were on the park. I turned. A pack of young men were throwing around a yellow Frisbee and trying to tackle the person holding it. One leapt over a black bench in an attempt to get the Frisbee. He fell and the landlady and I laughed.

“Ghosts are fresh. Very right now,” Anna said. She had the smile of someone who was considering whether her bedroom would look better with swimming pool blue or pistachio ice cream green walls.

“Are they? The ghosts. Are they?” I paused trying to think of a way to make the question reasonable, but not rude.

“Have they ever hurt anybody?” Anna blurted out. She wasn’t embarrassed by the question like I was.

“Well, honestly I don’t know. I mean the most we’ve ever heard them doing is making the cable go out or making objects float.” The landlady’s wrinkles reminded me of a colander full of spaghetti. “But I have to admit we don’t watch the news much anymore. Too depressing.”

If she had watched or read the news, the landlady would’ve known ghosts can cause someone serious harm by materializing in a person’s vital organs. She would’ve learned about how some are repulsed by the living and have moved to Antarctica to create a new ghost country. That’s why so few were actually around. And she would’ve known some ghosts are attracted to the essences of young people. The smell of fresh organs is like a perfume to them. They feel more alive than ever after contact with the young. She would’ve known scientists are still studying who gets to return and who remains dead forever.

To continue reading “Double Exposure” click here.

Jun 24

Kali Fajardo-Anstine Will Judge The 2020 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers!

That’s right, folks! Our guest judge for this season’s Short Story Award for New Writers is none other than Kali Fajardo-Anstine, author of Sabrina & Corina, a National Book Award finalist and finalist for the 2019 PEN/Bingham Prize and the 2019/20 Story Prize. The contest, which awards $3000, publication and agency review to the winner, opens for submissions NEXT WEEK, July 1st, and will close on Sunday, August 30th. Full details can be found here, and the guidelines are listed below.

Kali Fajardo-Anstine is this year’s Summer Short Story Award for New Writer Guest Judge!

The Summer Short Story Award for New Writers runs from July 1st to August 30th. The winning story will be awarded $3000 and publication online. Second and third place stories will be awarded publication and $300 and $200 respectively. All winners and honorable mentions will receive agency review by: Nat Sobel from Sobel Weber, Victoria Cappello from The Bent Agency, Andrea Morrison from Writers House, Sarah Fuentes from Fletcher & Company, Heather Schroder from Compass Talent, and Siohban McBride from Carnicelli Literary Management. We want you to succeed, and we want your writing to be read. It’s been our mission to support emerging writers since day one.

Kali Fajardo-Anstine is a National Book Award Finalist and the author of Sabrina & Corinaa finalist for the PEN/Bingham Prize and The Story Prize, and longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize. Fajardo-Anstine is the 2019 recipient of the Denver Mayor’s Award for Global Impact in the Arts. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The American Scholar, Boston Review, Bellevue Literary Review, The Idaho Review, Southwestern American Literature, and elsewhereKali has been awarded fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, and Hedgebrook. She has an MFA from the University of Wyoming and is from Denver, Colorado.

Guidelines:

  • Winner receives $3000, publication, and agency review
  • Second and third place prizes ($300 / $200, publication, and agency review)
  • Stories under 6000 words
  • Previously unpublished stories only
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed
  • Emerging writers only (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a low circulation are welcome to submit.)
  • International English submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: August 30, 2020
  • Please, no identifying information on your story
  • All stories are considered for publication
  • If requesting an editorial letter, please indicate on your cover letter if the submissions is fiction or creative nonfiction
  • To view a list of our most commonly asked questions regarding submitting to The Masters Review, please see our FAQ page.

We don’t have any preferences topically or in terms of style. We’re simply looking for the best. We don’t define, nor are we interested in, stories identified by their genre. We do, however, consider ourselves a publication that focuses on literary fiction. Dazzle us, take chances, and be bold.

 

Jun 23

June Book Review: Instances of Head-Switching by Teresa Milbrodt

In our third and final book review of June, we are proud to share Kathryn Ordiway’s review of Teresa Milbrodt’s magical new collection, Instances of Head-Switching, out today from Shade Mountain Press. As Ordiway introduces the collection, “The fantastical marries with the familiar, the magical with the mundane.” Read on:

In Teresa Milbrodt’s Instances of Head-Switching, the fantastical marries with the familiar, the magical with the mundane. The Greek gods roam the streets seeking new PR campaigns, taking stances on whaling, and of course playing the field. Snow White settles into domesticity after she and her Prince (turned king, turned commoner) lose their throne. A pack of unicorns is sought out for a soap commercial; a sphinx acts as one part guard dog, one part therapy animal. There are heads for switching and marbles to eat and fathers trying to float away.

Disability and disenfranchisement are regular themes in this collection. Often, these protagonists are met with the too common trial of choosing how they can sacrifice themselves for a livelihood and how much sacrifice they can take.

Read more.

Jun 22

New Voices: “The Road Takes the Shape of the Earth Beneath It” by Jeremy Packert Burke

In “The Road Takes the Shape of the Earth Beneath It” by Jeremy Packert Burke, our newest addition to our New Voices catalog, we’re given three views of a car crash. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of moment, but one Packert Burke manages to spiral around to give the reader a clear image into this strange and unpredictable world that’s pulsing in the background.

Maggie did not wait for a response. She sailor-dived off the railing. He barely kept from crying out as he watched her fall headlong toward the river. He was certain she would vanish, leaving only a bloom of blood on the water.

But she slowed, slowed, stopped. She hung perfectly in mid-air—heels over head, a foot and a half above the water.

Three Views of a Car Crash

I.

The car screams down the undivided highway, a blur of chrome and white as it crosses the half-broken yellow line and passes Alice on her left. “Jesus fuck,” she says. The move is legal, there is no oncoming traffic, and the white car makes it back to its proper lane untouched. Even so, Alice tenses and leans long on her horn as the white car pulls ahead. She looks to the bulbous paper bag on the passenger seat. “Even you wouldn’t drive that badly,” Alice says, “and you’re bread.” She prods at it gently to make sure the loaf within is not going stale in the car’s moist summer heat.

The road undulates, mapped to the shape of hills that have stood for centuries. A sinusoid waveform of some ancient sound. As Alice crests one, a long, sloping view opens before her: glimmering windshields and shadeless tar; brown grass and stunted trees. An entire world beyond the red hood of her car. It’s hard at this remove, she thinks, to remember that there are people in the other cars. That the glimmering forms are more than something to be overcome or feared. They have destinations, wants.

Some distance ahead, the rushing white car is stuck behind an eighteen-wheeler, riding close enough to kiss it. Passage blocked by the double yellow line.

“It would be so simple to dip into the other lane,” Alice tells the bread. “It’s only paint. Flat stripes and the power of suggestion. You can’t even pick them up.” She wonders where the white car is headed in such a hurry. All she can think is that it, too, is going to visit some dying friend. “Except if it were actually that simple, we’d ignore them far more.”

The bag is crumpled sadly around the loaf. Adrian will not accept sympathy and so Alice must bring something else: a gift, bought at a discount from the bakery where she works. Adrian’s legs have been turning to stone, a dark and mottled gray. When she Skyped him last Tuesday, it reached from his toes to just below his knees. Heat poured off the ragged seam between flesh and not and hazed the air. She remembers when it was only a blotch, an innocent island of slate in the middle of his heel.

“So what stops us? What keeps us from crossing over?” The bread has no answer.  “Natural impulses, I guess. A reflex against suicide.” As if breaking a spell, the white car zips into the left lane, twenty miles at least above the limit, and slots ahead of the eighteen-wheeler. It disappears as they mount another hill. Alice says, “We think we’ve conquered so much.”

To continue reading “The Road Takes the Shape of the Earth Beneath It” click here.

Jun 19

Litmag Roadmap: Delaware

In this month’s Litmag Roadmap, we’re staying in New England, heading over to the Diamond State: Delaware. Check out a few of the literary markets our first state has to offer below!

Delaware is a state you don’t want to underestimate. From a distance, the Delaware literary scene gives off an oddly chill and supportive vibe: no one is trying too hard or doing too much but it’s clear they love each other’s writing and keep their lit mags coming. At just under 100 miles long, could this be a place that—gasp—knows its limits, accepts them, and works with them? Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we could all learn a thing or two about how artists can make the best out of limited space and resources. Let the Delaware writers show you how:

Delmarva Review

The first word you need to learn about the Delaware writing community is the term “Delmarva,” which refers to the Delmarva Peninsula—a coastal delta shared by Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia—and often an adjective of endearment paired with the region’s people, i.e. “Delmarva writers.” Delmarva Review is dedicated to celebrating this special area, but open to writers near and far. They publish one dense issue a year, with a (free!) submission window open in the spring.

Broadkill Review

Broadkill Review’s claim to fame is being one of the first PDF literary journals in America, but they’re better known in the community for being a tight-knit group of hardworking, passionate volunteers who love making sure good work gets shared with others. Submissions are currently open for their 18th (!) Annual Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, but they’re still looking for short fiction, flash fiction, book reviews, and ten-minute and one-act plays for their journal.

The Cicada’s Cry

Not exactly a “lit mag” in the traditional sense per say but made the list because of being so dang cool. This haiku poetry micro-zine (yes, you read that right) mails hard copies to subscribers four times a year with cool stamps, stickers, and envelopes—the old school stuff that hits a soft spot with many of us writers and/or snail mail fanatics—and publishes a digital Halloween version annually, as well. They’re seeking submissions for a special COVID-19 edition through the end of June, so submit to “Delaware’s Smallest Magazine” today!

Dreamstreets

Did you know there’s a “Delaware Diaspora”? I did not until I learned about Dreamstreets, a lit mag welcoming submissions from anyone who’s lived in Delaware as well as current Delawareans. If that demographic is you, they’re currently open to poetry and fiction through June 30, 2020 for their fall issue—they publish both a Spring and Autumn edition each year. Bonus: their Web 1.0 website plus their 40-years-and-going commitment to “not publish anything fascist, racist, or sexist” put this little gem ahead of the curve on social change.

Jun 18

Reading Through the Awards: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

In a continuation of our series of micro-reviews, assistant editor Brandon Williams brought together a group of ardent readers to give their quick-hit impressions of recent novels which have won major awards from the literary world. Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, recently awarded the Pulitzer Prize, is our next selection.

 

Quick Book Summary (from the official blurb): “When Elwood Curtis, a Black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood’s only salvation is his friendship with fellow “delinquent” Turner, which deepens despite Turner’s conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.”


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead tells the story of Elwood, a young Black man who, in spite of doing everything right, is ordered to spend time at Nickel Academy due to a combination of bad luck and America’s racist justice system. Although The Nickel Boys mostly takes place during the 60s civil rights movement, it is relatable to current times, and serves as an important reminder that the justice system is a biased system, and places like Nickel Academy really did (and still could) exist.

Whitehead’s work is an ideal example of how to effectively characterize both major and minor characters. With over fifty characters introduced, Whitehead either gives the reader entire portions of their background, like Clayton Smith, a legendary Nickel student who escaped from the premises, or just enough detail to assume character traits, like the widow who happily watches Clayton Smith steal clothes off her clothesline. The idea of that many characters and characterizations sounds overbearing, and the argument could be made they’re not all necessarily needed, but Whitehead does it with ease and allows the reader to get to know every character who moves the story forward one way or another.

Starting in Part 3, the book uses the trendy format of switching between the main character’s past and present. The technique, though it slows down the storyline at first, ends up working well because Whitehead carefully releases plot details with a combination of recalled and withheld information. When the two timelines finally come together it leaves the reader shocked. Elwood is still a character the reader hopes succeeds, but after everything they’ve read about Elwood’s journey, he isn’t who they thought he was.

Melanie Spicer


To say Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys is prescient would not do credit to the realities lived and known by Black Americans. Based on the horrific cruelties of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Florida, the book follows two boys, Elwood and Jack, both sent to the eponymous Nickel Academy, a school ripe with racist abuse. Whitehead uses beautiful, frank language to describe the horrific abuses these boys face. The beatings and torture leveled against Elwood and Jack are difficult enough to read for their content and bluntness, but more horrific still is the way it changes these young boys’ psyches.

Whitehead’s style is calm, matter-of-fact, and beautiful, even as—especially as—he relates the frank realities of being Black in America. That prose never falters, although there are times when the novel feels disinterested in itself, lulling for a short while until it reaches a point of fascination. And, when those points are reached, the writing is more than engrossing. The twists in this novel’s plot feel naturally born from the connection between Elwood and Jack, another, deeper dive into their growth together, and the ripples of their time at the academy, and that, too, is a testament to Whitehead’s ability to craft stories around characters who reflect and embody humanity. The Nickel Boys is a testament to the lasting effects of abuse and racism on Black people, and the lip service paid to Black suffering by America at large. More than that, it is a layered, loving exploration of Elwood and Jack’s truths, the way they affect and grow with each other, and the indelible marks each leaves on the other’s life.

Dan Mazzacane


Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys follows Elwood and Turner, two Black boys interred at the Nickel Academy, an institution based on the real-life Dozier School for Boys claiming to turn “bad boys” into “good boys.” The staff members at Nickel are racist and abusive, regularly beating and sexually assaulting the students. The Nickel Boys follows the different ways Elwood and Turner endure Nickel and how they reconcile this part of their lives.

The most engaging beats are where an individual’s optimism is reinforced by moments of unity or dismantled by the absence thereof. Elwood is optimistic and believes the world can become a better place if he fights for what’s right. Turner is cynical and believes the world will never change. The narrative is strongest when the boys adopt parts of each other’s philosophies. When Elwood is abused, then isolated from his grandmother due to her illness, he conforms to the Nickel standards in order to survive. In contrast, Turner comes to admire Elwood’s optimism and strives to be more like him.

The omniscient narration creates a smooth transition from one character’s interiority to another, building on the tension within the boys as they struggle with their respective philosophies. The novel’s structure begins with an older Elwood, then flashes back to his time in Nickel for the bulk of the novel before returning back to the present. This emphasizes the development of the boys’ ideologies in a thoroughly enjoyable way. Whitehead puts these two philosophies at war with each other in the prologue and reconciles them by the epilogue.

The Nickel Boys was published in July 2019 and has only become more relevant since.

Leah Dawdy


Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys relates the twofold struggle of Elwood Curtis. He must first endure Nickel Academy, an extension of and a metaphor for all the oppression and torment that the white race has visited upon the Black race. Then, in his life after, he must find a way to continue after being broken. Whitehead’s prose is matter-of-fact, and he puts distance between his characters and the violence they see and suffer. When Elwood is forced by his trauma to revisit his memories of Nickel, he is exploring a wound, reluctant and pained. The Nickel Boys is a familiar story of pain and loss, of deep injustice, of noble actions that do little, in the end, to change history’s course. It is a tragedy in which the “hero” is just a boy, his “flaw” just pigment.

It is not a new message. While reading, I was struck over and over not by revelation, but by familiarity. After all, as I write, protestors are marching in memory of yet another unarmed and restrained Black man killed by a white cop in no danger. Why shouldn’t Elwood’s story be familiar? The Black struggle for freedom—from slavery, segregation, oppression, injustice, undeserved violence—is a full lifetime older than the United States itself. The book features maybe a dozen or two named characters, but it’s really about millions of people, and centuries. The stories are myriad, and The Nickel Boys is only the latest one. This story has been told. But it clearly still needs to be heard.

Taylor Seyfert

Jun 16

June Book Review: Trust Me by Richard Z. Santos

In our second book review of June, Ben McCormick dives into Richard Z. Santos’ s debut novel, Trust Me, published at the end of March from Arte Público Press. “The line between political corruption and rational action,” McCormick writes, “is a lot thinner than we like to think, and Richard Z. Santos’s Trust Me whiplashes through it.” Dive into the review below:

Speak to someone who works political campaigns, and it isn’t long before they start sounding like a roadie listing their tours: Doug Jones, Alabama senate, 2018; John Edwards for President, 2008; Karen Bass, California congress, 2013. They hardly ever sign year-long leases, and seldom own what can’t be moved in a car. It’s hard for us laypeople to fathom just how much of electoral politics are built on the campaign version of an adrenaline junkie. The line between political corruption and rational action is a lot thinner than we like to think, and Richard Z. Santos’s Trust Me whiplashes through it.

Read on.