Literary MagNet: Matthew Salesses

Dana Isokawa
From the January/February 2021 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

In his new book, Craft in the Real World (Catapult, January 2021), Matthew Salesses collects more than a decade of thinking on craft, audience, and writing. Salesses, a novelist and essayist, combines exacting analysis of common craft axioms—“show, don’t tell,” for example—with broader commentary on what it means to write with purpose and an awareness of one’s intended audience. He offers practical guidance, including a syllabus and a list of models, for workshop structures that do not impose a restrictive standard for good writing, but provide students with a sense of what is possible. “With luck [the book] will spark writers to find a place for themselves,” says Salesses. The journals included here have either published versions of essays from Craft in the Real World or worked with Salesses as an editor.

Matthew Salesses (Credit: Grace Salesses)

Having published multiple books of fiction and nonfiction, Salesses offers this advice for writers looking to start submitting their work: “You value your work by valuing your growth—both as a writer and as a person. Each submission is a chance for revision; each publication is a potential friendship. Also: Figure out what you want from publishing—a byline or community or enough money for groceries—and don’t feel like you have to follow someone else’s values.” For Salesses, publishing is about relationships and submitting work to editors he trusts will treat their writers well. One such journal is Pleiades, the print biannual edited at the University of Central Missouri that publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. After getting a warm rejection letter from the editors, Salesses made a point of thanking them at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference. He ended up meeting then-editor Phong Nguyen, who later invited Salesses to run the Pleiades website for a time; Salesses took the opportunity to publish posts on creative writing pedagogy, which helped him explore the ideas that would inform Craft in the Real World. Poets Jenny Molberg and Erin Adair-Hodges now edit the magazine, which recently featured a folio of poetry by Korean American women selected by E. J. Koh and another of poetry celebrating the periodic table chosen by Rosebud Ben-Oni. Submissions in all genres close January 1. 

Pleiades is not the only magazine that has invited Salesses to be a guest editor—Steve Himmer, the editor of Necessary Fiction, asked Salesses to curate the online publication, which regularly posts fiction, book reviews, interviews, and essays, for a month. Salesses accepted and during July 2012 assembled a portfolio of pieces about revision from writers such as Shane McCrae and Jimmy Lo. “Steve gives a lot to the literary world, and I wanted to give what I could too while also providing a resource I wanted for myself,” Salesses says. Fiction submissions are open year-round via Submittable; the editors say they prefer the “absurd, the off-kilter, and the darkly comic to the straightforward and sentimental.” Writers can pitch submissions for all other genres via e-mail.

Salesses’s first stint at a literary journal was with Redivider, while he was an MFA student at Emerson College. “It was a great way to make community, as I often reached out to editors at other journals for advice, or for ad swaps, or just to exchange issues,” he says. Established in 1986, the online biannual features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and graphic narrative. Submissions are open via Submittable year-round; the editors write that they are interested in “poetry with teeth”; fiction with “sharply drawn characters, alien but fully realized settings, and concentrated efforts to transgress the trappings of what has come to be known as ‘literary fiction’”; and nonfiction that features “authentic voices speaking to cultural concerns.”

While a PhD student at the University of Houston, Salesses served as the online fiction editor for Gulf Coast, which publishes work online and in a print biannual he calls “one of the most beautiful journals in the country.” During his time at Gulf Coast, Salesses published a series of essays on race in the MFA by writers such as Joy Castro and Bill Cheng. “I wanted to use the little power I had to publish some responses from writers I knew were doing the work,” says Salesses. Gulf Coast, which publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art, is open for submissions to its print edition until March 1; submissions to Gulf Coast online open in late January.

“When I think about homes for craft or pedagogy essays, Electric Literature is one of the first places that come to mind,” says Salesses, who published an essay on plot and prejudice with the outlet in September 2015 that he adapted for Craft in the Real World. Electric Literature publishes essays, interviews, reviews, reading lists, and more daily; the editors are committed to writing that is “intelligent and unpretentious” and intersects with social justice issues and current events. Submissions are currently closed.  


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