Literary MagNet: Jennifer Maritza McCauley

Dana Isokawa
From the March/April 2023 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

In Jennifer Maritza McCauley’s story collection, When Trying to Return Home (Counterpoint Press, February 2023), characters search for belonging in people as well as places. Set in locations across Puerto Rico and the U.S., the stories present home as an elusive sense of kinship, love, and peace. In one tale a woman leaves the convent where she was a nun and reconnects with an old crush, prompting her to reconsider what and who will guide her life. In another, a woman weighs staying in Nashville for the woman she loves or protecting her independence by moving elsewhere. McCauley’s characters, who overlap across the collection, question right and wrong, trying to turn to themselves, not others, to find their way. “I had my own spirit, not the blue-eyed man in church paintings,” says one character. “My brain was mine.”

Jennifer Maritza McCauley, author of When Trying to Return Home (Credit: Jesse Biehn)

As an editor, poet, and fiction writer, McCauley sees publication as the chance to connect with a wider audience. “There’s a sacred bond between the reader and the writer, this amazing synergy that is created when someone ingests this world that’s largely in your head, that you transferred to the page,” she says. Her admiration for Jabberwock Review led her to submit “Bagmen” to the semiannual journal; the story follows a young Black boy attending a recently desegregated school in St. Louis. “Their stories are so full, rich, and lively, they stir the soul,” says McCauley of the journal. Edited by students and faculty at Mississippi State University, Jabberwock Review features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art. A recent issue included Tom Laichas’s vivid, sensory poem imagining the tornado in The Wizard of Oz, “Dorothy’s Twister Didn’t Stop in Munchkinland,” and Malka Daskal’s trenchant story about a preteen girl and her mother who marries into wealth, “Swim Lessons.” Submissions in all genres are open via Submittable until March 15.

Like “Bagmen,” McCauley’s story “Torsion” depicts complex family relationships tested by tough circumstances; in the latter, a mother and daughter attempt to kidnap the mother’s son from foster care. When seeking to publish the story, McCauley looked for journals “amenable to a piece that takes risks and doesn’t fit squarely into a box.” She found such a place in the Vassar Review, an annual magazine of art and writing edited at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Released both in print and online, the Vassar Review is an elegantly designed publication with striking, colorful art. Each year the editors select a theme; the 2023 issue will focus on “Interiors and Intimacies.” The editors consider all genres as well as “forms that often prove difficult to present, such as new media art, spoken-word poetry and performances, hypertext fiction, and others.” Submissions are currently closed.

McCauley has served as an editor with multiple publications, first as a reader for her high school journal, Tapestry, and then as a reader and interviewer for Gulf Stream Magazine. Published in Miami by Florida International University since 1989, the magazine publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, interviews, book reviews, and art twice a year online. During her time on the editorial team, McCauley says her colleagues would “edit pieces incredibly closely and have dialogues with writers as the pieces began to find their footing.” Submissions for a special zine on anti-racism are open until March 31.

While pursuing her PhD at the University of Missouri, McCauley worked on the editorial team of the Missouri Review as a reader, contest editor, and poetry editor. Edited by Speer Morgan, the quarterly showcases poetry, fiction, and nonfiction both in print and online. McCauley praises the editorial team’s collaborative nature and support of emerging writers. “I’ve watched Dr. Morgan reject stories by famous writers and in the same day accept stories by a young writer without any publications,” she says. “He also values the opinions of his staff; he’ll find a story he loves, but he won’t often make the final decision until the other staff members agree.” As for the journal’s editorial focus, she notes: “Speer Morgan says that at the end of the piece, we should be able to articulate, clearly, what it is about. He was also looking for a certain transcendence, that a piece should be technically well executed but also speak to our complicated human experience.” Submissions in all genres are open year-round via the review’s online submission manager.

After publishing “La Espera”—a story, told from multiple characters’ points of view, about family roles and romantic expectations—with Pleiades, McCauley eventually became the review’s fiction editor, a post she has held for the past three years. “I’m particularly drawn to works that have well-developed characters, memorable language, provocatively wrought subject matter, and immersive settings,” she says. Pleiades publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in a biannual print volume and online; the journal also publishes online book reviews. Submissions in all genres will open via the review’s online submission manager during the month of June.


Dana Isokawa is the editor in chief of the Margins and a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine