Beneath the rule of men entirely great
The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanters wand!— itself a nothing!—
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyse the Cæsars—and to strike
The loud earth breathless!—Take away the sword—
States can be saved without it!”
— Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy
It was January 6, 2021—exactly two years ago.
Mentally, I was worlds away from Washington, D.C. I hauled myself out of an indoor swimming pool in rural West Virginia, where I’d been blissfully swimming laps and brainstorming plot. Only a week before, I’d resigned my position in the United States Congress, where I’d toiled for the better part of two decades, most recently as chief of staff to a member of the Democratic leadership. Already soaked and shivering, I would be struck with icy dread the instant I withdrew my phone from my locker.
“Are you on the Floor? Are you okay? Is your boss safe?” read a typical missive on a group text bursting with safety inquiries and pleas for help.
Then came notification we were locking down, followed by images of a horde attacking Capitol Police with flagpoles and fire extinguishers. Members of Congress I’d known for years donned gas masks, ducked under seats in the House chamber, or trampled off the House floor like spooked cattle. The Capitol was under siege.
Emotionally, I boomeranged. My gut instinct was relief. Worn and weary with the ways of Washington, I found solace in the fact I no longer worked in an arena whose fabric—coarsened by toxicity and tribalism—ripped apart at the seams. Hours later, after hearing from friends who had barricaded themselves in offices or led others through tunnels to safety, came the survivor’s guilt. I felt remorse at being absent; but I also wondered if abandoning public service to write a novel was selfish. After all, democracy hung in the balance.
There was no need to worry. It was a false dilemma.
In these tumultuous times, writing is public service. It can be a means to both serve our nation and challenge it to be better. For proof, look no further than the latest edition of the River & South Review: among many others, a farmer driven off his ranch by regulatory overreach (Thomas Philbrick’s short story “The Bridge”); a teacher dissociating during an active shooter drill (Nora Webb’s essay “Don’t Look Down”); an enslaved person realizing nearby canines are treated more humanely than she (Ellen June Wright’s poem “Upon Arrival at Fort Comfort II”). This issue is chock full of authors and poets who hold a mirror to past injustices or sound the alarm at what our nation has or could become.
It has been both an honor and an education to lead the journal as its managing editor—my first foray at being on this side of the editorial desk. This September, we received a record number of submissions for the tenth issue since our relaunch. I’ve had an enviable view from this catbird seat, and it was a joy to watch the issue come together. It would not exist without the hard work, dedication, and knowledge of so many.
I am indebted to our brilliant genre editors: Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar (fiction); Michelle Polizzi (creative nonfiction); and Amanda Rabaduex (poetry). They are dazzling in their intellect and steadfast in their commitment to this craft.
I’m grateful to our heroic team of readers, who volunteered to add one more spinning plate to their burgeoning commitments in life, work, and graduate school: John Al; Hillary Campos; Laura Haden; Travis Harman; Ashlee Harry; Cassidy Jade Heid; Maddie Hoy; Jonathon Montemayor; and Nicole Negron-Simmons.
I salute production editor Cynthia Kolanowski, whose electronic redesign has given us vibrant new skin in which to exist. I’m grateful to Ashlee Harry, our social media manager, for ensuring River & South was a good literary citizen in digital spaces. And I thank our proofreader, Lynn Mitchell, for minding our p’s and q’s.
I am most indebted to—and in awe of—Dawn Leas, our editorial advisor who, in every way, is this journal’s North Star. Dawn, thank you for giving me the latitude to try new things, the freedom to make mistakes, and the candor to help me recognize the difference. I know I speak for Dawn when we thank Dr. David Hicks, the Director of the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University, and Patti Naumann for their unwavering commitment to help our journal grow and prosper.
I hope you enjoy this edition of the River & South Review. Our future is waiting to be written. May our pens be mightier than the swords.
River & South Review