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We’ve all heard writing referred to as a solitary art. While I certainly understand the concept—having spent a good portion of my life sitting in front of the screen, fingers hovering above the keyboard—I’ve never cared for the description. It strikes me as redundant. To create their work, artists must express themselves—and that impulse necessarily springs from somewhere deep inside where, when you get right down to it, each and every one of us is alone. (It reminds me of an anecdote about Wallace Stevens I once read: The great poet’s daughter recalled coming upon her father sitting in the dark in silence, a habit that unnerved her; she cautiously approached his chair, touched his knee, and asked him what he was doing. “Thinking,” he answered.)
But the whole notion of being a writer, or an author anyway, is predicated on the likelihood that someone else will read your work. And whether we like it or not, that requires some sort of participation—usually in the form of publication—on the part of us solitary writers. In this issue’s special section (page 66) we celebrate the literary magazines and small presses that allow that to happen. From Cursor’s Richard Nash and Lookout Books’ Ben George to Bellingham Review’s Brenda Miller and Slice’s Maria Gagliano, the editors of this country’s best journals and presses are helping to nurture countless overlapping literary communities—and harnessing the power of those communities to publish some of the most exciting and important work in contemporary literature.
I’m proud to share with you all the articles and profiles in this issue—not only because I think you’ll find them incredibly useful as you hone your craft and try to understand the vagaries of the publishing industry, but also because each one of them reminds us that writing is a deeply human enterprise. Our centerpiece is the moving story of the woman on the cover, written by our Pulitzer Prize–winning contributing editor, Kevin Nance, but the message runs throughout these pages—from the latest installment of Why We Write (41) to David Malki !’s quest to unravel his complicated feelings about bookstores (97). “These are all just people,” he concludes about the account reps, booksellers, and other, often faceless, individuals who form the end of the chain connecting us to our readers. “They are all human beings.” I’d like to add, lest we forget: We’re all in this together.