IT SEEMS TO ME THAT RALPH ELLISON'S MUSING ON "AN IMPOSSIBLE DREAM" IS QUITE RELEVANT RIGHT NOW. TELL US A BIT ABOUT HOW YOU ACQUIRED THE ELLISON STORY — AND WHY IT MADE SENSE FOR INCLUSION IN THE JOURNAL. ALSO, WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THE VARIED AND OCCASIONALLY FRAGMENTARY SENTENCE CONSTRUCTIONS IN "A STORM OF BLIZZARD PROPORTIONS" — DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS ON THE STORY'S STYLISTIC CHOICES? I think part of Ellison's literary gift is that he will remain contemporary and relevant. I was absolutely honored to be able to print this story for the first time. Scott Wolven, my partner in crime and a TNG editor, put me in communication with John Callahan (Ellison's literary executor). Scott had interviewed John in the past for Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, and we worked together to produce this sort of casebook on Ellison. John enjoyed the TNG 2010 I sent him, and compared it to Noble Savage, a magazine co-edited by Saul Bellow in the 1960s. We were thrilled that John gave us the opportunity to publish the story — and thrilled to have the interview with him.
"A Storm of Blizzard Proportions" was written eight years before "Invisible Man," when Ralph Ellison was a younger man of 30, living in Swansea, Wales, in wartime. The sentence structure ranges from short, punchy, staccato sentences to long, winding sentences; long meditative silences interspersed with polyrhythms. This choice mimics the very sound and experience of war. There is even a bit where he writes a half-poem with off-rhymes. He switches point of view, as well, and the story exists on an allegorical plane, where dialogue is more proclaimed than said, and gestures hold symbolic meaning. In this way the story is rather grand. It's experimental and traditional at once, which is the aim of our journal: to juxtapose experiment with tradition. I don't think Ellison could have been more explicit in these choices, especially since the end of the story is a nod to James Joyce's "The Dead." As far as I know, this is the only story Ellison wrote that was overtly experimental. It's very, very special.
WHAT MAKES A STORY WONDERFUL? A POEM? A wonderful poem or story is clear, confident, and gives the reader a fresh take on things; a unique way of understanding the world. I think of the beginning of Sylvia Plath's poem "Morning Song," the line: "Love set you going like a fat gold watch." You know you're in good hands from the jump. A wonderful story or poem sets you going.
TELL ME ABOUT THE NITTY-GRITTY OF YOUR CONTESTS. We are part of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) because we take ethics in contests very seriously. The process is roughly the same for our two contests. As the work rolls in by mail and online, the [fiction contest] readers and I look at the manuscripts and talk about them. In the end we vote. Together we come to a list of finalists and semi-finalists. In the poetry process, I decide the both finalists and semi-finalists. The final chosen manuscripts advance to our judge, with the names removed so that the work may be read blind. Past judges are former US Poet Laureates Donald Hall and Charles Simic, and Debra Spark and David Plante. In our coming 2012 contests, our judges are Rick Bass in fiction and Jeanne Marie Beaumont in poetry.
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