Literary MagNet: Kendra Allen

Dana Isokawa
From the July/August 2019 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

In her debut essay collection, When You Learn the Alphabet (University of Iowa Press, April), Kendra Allen blends personal anecdote and cultural commentary in poems and short essays that address race, gender, and family. “I just really want readers to leave this book seeing Black women of all intersections as human,” says Allen, “and to feel equal parts harm and healing.” Kiese Laymon, who selected the book as winner of the 2018 Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction, praises it as “a roaring meditation on what Black daughters in our nation do with what and how they’ve been taught.” Allen has also published work in Brevity, the Rumpus, december, and the five journals below.

Kendra Allen (Credit: Carla Lee)

The first essay Allen placed in a journal was “Father Can You Hear Me,” a meditation on absent fathers and different kinds of love; it appeared in the print biannual Harpur Palate. Edited by students in the English department at Binghamton University in New York, Harpur Palate features poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. “Our editors seek to find the best-quality work and acknowledge that oftentimes the best work falls under categories most literary journals won’t consider, such as genre fiction and longer verse poems,” says departing editor in chief Heather Humphrey, who will be succeeded by current fiction editor Kelly Neal. The editors are currently working on increasing the journal’s web and social media presence; submissions in all genres will open in September. 

“I like the way it brings together an anthology of fiction and blends it with splashes of photography, poetry, and essays to make its theme come to life,” says Allen about Hair Trigger, an online quarterly edited at Columbia College Chicago, where Allen was enrolled in the undergraduate creative writing program and graduated in 2017. Dedicated to publishing work that is “reflective of the diversity of contemporary fiction,” the journal also publishes some poetry and nonfiction, including “Full Service,” Allen’s essay about her experience flying to Chicago and being questioned at airport security. (“I am exhausted entirely by the subject of my skin causing people of my flesh to deal with unnecessary roughness,” she writes.) The quarterly primarily publishes work by Columbia students, but the editors devote one issue each year to work by nonstudents; submissions in all genres open in July via Submittable.

Throughout her book, Allen considers what people—friends, parents, classmates, strangers—are often unwilling or unable to acknowledge. In “The Cheapest Casket,” she writes of her relationship with her mother: “We can talk about her dying or me dying but we cannot talk about the lives we are living.” Allen placed the essay in Habitat, an annual journal of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, in 2016. “Habitat is a place that really cares about artists’ integrity and pushing rising voices,” says Allen, who also contributed to the magazine’s blog for two years. Established in 2015 by poet Josh Corson, the online publication is currently on hiatus; back issues can be read on the website.

“We love the hell out of the cross-genre scientists, the visual inventors, plucky linguists, non-narrative narrators, and especially the experimental weird babies,” write the editors of the quarterly journal Five:2:One. Allen clearly falls within that group, because after she had received multiple rejections of her poem “Mama Said on Motherhood” from other magazines, Five:2:One published it in 2017. It was her first poetry publication. She discovered the journal, which is dedicated to “the transgressive, the progressive, and the experimental,” only after she started doing “proper research,” skimming magazines and paying attention to their aesthetic and goals. “Whenever I submit somewhere, I ask myself if my work is for their particular audience, and are they the type of publication that would be willing to take a risk if it’s not,” she says. “Now that I understand those politics a little bit better, I try to pitch and submit to places that pay and decide what work I’m willing to sacrifice for no pay at all.”

One journal that does pay is Frontier Poetry, in which Allen placed her poem “Your Name Was Supposed to Be Africa.” The online publication features new poems every week and pays $50 per poem (up to $150 for three poems) by poets who have not published more than one full-length collection of poetry. The editors also seek to promote work by marginalized writers. “We take our role as gatekeeper between poet and world extremely seriously and wish to use our platform as fairly and justly as we can,” they write on the journal website. Recent contributors include Isabel Acevedo, Leila Chatti, and Carlina Duan. Submissions are open year-round.  


Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.