Literary MagNet: Sean Enfield

Dana Isokawa
From the January/February 2024 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

In 2015, Sean Enfield was recently out of college and teaching English at a predominantly Muslim middle school in North Texas. His experiences during the year that followed—including witnessing Donald Trump’s first presidential campaign and the Black Lives Matter protests in Dallas—are the subject of Enfield’s debut essay collection, Holy American Burnout! (Split/Lip Press, December 2023). In the book, Enfield locates his teaching, his family, and his own artistic passions within the broader context of America’s racial politics and notions of success. With humor, fury, and compassion, Enfield asks how we might connect beyond social media and a polarized political culture. “Holy American Burnout! is a book that I think my younger self could have used as he reluctantly became an educator for the first time,” says Enfield. “I think it offers some meaningful commiseration while keeping its eyes forward, chin tilted upward.”

Sean Enfield, author of the essay collection Holy American Burnout!  

In finding homes for his work, Enfield says he seeks journals that “publish thoughtful, engaged, inventive pieces that speak to our moment, don’t just publish a token or two writers of color per issue but are actively and meaningfully seeking diverse voices, and [have] editorial teams that are engaged beyond the sphere of just accepting and rejecting from the slush pile.” He found that with Counterclock, which published his essay “Where Were You When Frank Ocean Returned?” After a bad experience workshopping the piece, Enfield says Counterclock’s editors’ considerate communication and mission felt like a “safe haven.” He praises the journal, which comes out three times a year online, for its vibrant and thoughtful curation of poetry, prose, and art. The editors launched Counterclock in 2017, hoping to “heal, destigmatize, and empower through the arts” and showcase the possibilities of cross-disciplinary work. Submissions in all genres are open until January 13.

Enfield’s passion for music—Frank Ocean, punk, hip-hop—threads throughout Holy American Burnout!. His essay “God Is a Moshpit,” about punk music, Christianity, and learning to live in “this haphazard body of mine,” appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, a print biannual edited by MFA students at Arizona State University. After admiring the review for years, Enfield submitted to it in 2020 because the editors began waiving entry fees for Black writers; he felt a print journal would “preserve the frenetic energy of the back-and-forth structure of the piece,” which consists of blocks of text that shift across the page. He adds, “Hayden’s Ferry seemed like it would be a good fit for both the risky form of the essay and for its politically charged content.” The review, which features art and original and translated poetry and prose, has published writers such as Haruki Murakami and Naomi Shihab Nye. Submissions in translation and art are open year-round; the general poetry and prose categories will open in June.

In 2018, Enfield submitted “Paper Shackles” for the Diana Woods Memorial Award, a nonfiction prize given by Lunch Ticket. The online biannual went on to publish the essay, which chronicles Enfield’s experience as a seventh grader being asked to reenact the Middle Passage in class. Students and alumni of Antioch University’s MFA program edit Lunch Ticket, which gathers poetry, prose, translations, art, and interviews. The journal also posts pieces to its website weekly, including a series on obsessions called Midnight Snack and a series of pieces in all genres by teenagers, School Lunch. Submissions in all genres open via Submittable in February.

On a rainy day in June 2020, Enfield was weeding in a community garden in Alaska when he learned he had won the annual Steinberg Memorial Essay Prize from Fourth Genre. He says the $1,000 award changed his life; it financially enabled him to move and affirmed that his writing could reach readers. His winning essay, “The Revolution Will Be Revised,” about the 2016 Black Lives Matter protests in Dallas, during which five police officers were killed, considers how “thin the line between witness and agent truly is.” Fourth Genre is devoted to all styles of literary nonfiction, including the personal essay, reportage, lyric essays, and visual essays. The journal appears twice a year in print and electronic formats; general submissions are currently closed. Submissions for the Steinberg essay prize will open on January 1.

After Elizabeth Dodd, the nonfiction editor of, accepted his essay “Campsite on Troubled Land,” Enfield was delighted that she invited him to a Zoom call to discuss edits. That editorial relationship resulted in a tighter, more lyrical essay and Enfield’s eventual decision to join the magazine as an associate nonfiction editor. regularly publishes poetry, creative prose, articles, community case studies, and editorials that focus on place, climate, and justice. The online journal’s mix of registers—Deborah Fries’s case study of Philadelphia’s stormwater management, for example, appears alongside an essay by Ross Gay about “pocket parks” and a poem by Julia Alvarez—offers a deep engagement with our changing environment. Enfield says the publication helped him see the role of place in writing: “We must help each other notice the big and the small of the world around us.” Submissions in all genres are currently open; all contributors receive $50.


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