“The stuff of the world is knit—out of chaos in the first place”
—Cleveland Wall, “Tiny Letters”
Here it is, the week before Thanksgiving in the year 2020, a year that will likely be remembered in history books as a turning point for the entire world. I am sitting in a bedroom-turned home office, reading over the fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry pieces that we have accepted for the Winter 2021 issue of River & South Review. Outside, a clear, blue sky stretches out to the horizon, and I watch through the window as the last few leaves fall, red and dry, from the maple tree in my front yard.
I knew accepting the position of managing editor for this issue would be a challenge. I wondered what sort of pieces we would receive amidst a pandemic, as a historic presidential election loomed overhead. Was anyone still writing, or were they frozen in time, as the world seemed to be? I worried about our staff and if we would all have the time and energy to bring this issue to fruition. Luckily, the submissions still came in, perhaps not as readily as past issues, but they arrived. We were all as excited to read them as ever. Our discussions were just as heated.
We don’t ask for submissions with a theme or question in mind, yet sometimes a theme or commonality does surface as we put an issue together. It’s not surprising considering the changes we have faced in the past year, but many of the submissions we received were focused on the past. COVID-19 has changed the way we live our lives. The way we act. The way we think. Things we did every day a year ago are now dangerous or, at the very least, frowned upon. It’s easy to think of what we’ve lost when we’re quarantined for countless days and our only human contact outside of our immediate family comes through email or Zoom. The essence of our combined isolation was at the core of many of the submissions we received. A sort of quiet reflection stood at the foundation of these pieces; a sad contemplation of our pre-COVID way of life. I know, as Darrell Perry wrote in his poem, “Tabled,” that I spent many days “glaring at the room—And the world—around me—hating it for being too small.”
As the submissions came in, I realized I was not alone in these thoughts, these feelings of entrapment and monotony. It seemed our contributors were experiencing the same thing. Yet, among all the anxiety arose something precious. Embedded in the deepest recesses of the work, disguised among the nostalgia, were moments of pure, unadulterated beauty. They flitted forth, brilliant images of wonderous moments, but, like the bird in Paula Lesso’s poem, “Kindred Spirit,” in the blink of an eye they were gone. Still, images of beauty, like brilliant memories, remain long after they are gone, and moments of such beauty have the power to brighten even the darkest night. I realized the theme of this issue, the Winter 2021 issue of River & South Review, involves nostalgia, but really, it is about holding together, each of us part of the great whole of humanity, and searching for those moments of happiness, of beauty, and of love. Like the narrator in Rae Haight’s creative nonfiction story, “Horse Drawn Buggies and Flying Cars,” we’re all simply lying with family on an old blanket as the sun sets and the grass tickles our ankles, waiting for the stars to come.
The stars will always be there, twinkling in the darkness. I only hope that we can focus on their light in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. As you read through these pieces, look for the images that resonate within you and bring you joy, even if only for a moment.
I would like to thank the entire team of River & South Review for the many hours of work required to put this issue together. I want to thank our genre editors, whose love for their genres fueled passionate discussions of each submission. Heather Jenkins, fiction editor; Jennifer Tarr, nonfiction editor; and Wayne Benson, poetry editor used their expertise in each genre to make this issue really shine.
I thank Jason Miller, production/design/social media editor, who brought the beauty of this issue to our readers, fans, and followers. It was great to work with him for the first time this semester. I thank Toni-Lyn Sorger, proofreader, who performed the integral duty of weeding through our issue with pick and comb in search of errors.
I would also like to thank our readers, Michael Hardin, Carolyn Haduk, Jonathan Lawrence, Juton Meyers, Diosanny Rivera-Placedo, Sean Sullivan, and Roni Teson. Reading through all the submissions is hard work, and our readers did so with delight and brought their unique perspectives to our discussions. I was overjoyed to hear their reactions, emotions, and thoughts.
I would like to thank Dawn Leas, editorial advisor, perhaps most of all. If the magazine were a ship on the open ocean, Dawn would be the wind, driving us all toward our destination. Without her, we’d be adrift at sea.
Last, but certainly not least, thank you to Dr. David Hicks, the new director of the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing, and Patti Naumann, the program’s new administrative assistant. Without their support, this issue wouldn’t be possible.
I am truly honored to be part of such an amazing team and such an incredible graduate program.
Thank you all.
River & South Review