“From a little spark may burst a flame.” –Dante Alighieri, Paradiso

All my life, I was waiting for the flame to catch. Waiting for the match head to erupt and blaze a path for me, to take the pen and write the stories that only swirled around in my head. I filled notebook after notebook and placed them in the bottom drawer of my pink and white desk, hidden from everyone but me. That was until a lesson with my 10th grade students where we were discussing dreams and goals and how to never stop striving for them. During that lesson, I realized that if I didn’t pursue my own dreams, I’d be giving hypocritical advice. So I dusted off the pages of poetry and elaborate journal entries and finally applied to graduate school during my third year as a high-school English teacher.

My journey at Wilkes started timidly. Imposter syndrome was at its peak, and the flame that brightened my writing landscape dimmed. I didn’t feel qualified to label myself a poet or a memoirist. My stories had only ever graced the wooden nooks and crannies of my desk; how could I possibly bare them to objective eyes? While doubt stormed inside me, nothing could stop me from diving into the unknown now that the match had finally sparked.

My writing has taken me on an unexpected journey. For my MA, I studied poetry and wrote a lyrical memoir that unravels memory to confront trauma through prose and verse with the lasting image of smoke. Second-Hand Smoke: Lessons in Empathy takes the reader through my memory to raise urgent questions about generational trauma, the sensory experiences of death and grief, and the nature of home and family. I knew I wanted to explore the hybridity of genres, and I was fascinated by incorporating the white space of the page to invoke a lasting imprint of cigarette smoke, specifically how it clings to us. I am currently preparing to send this manuscript to small presses with the hope of one day allowing a broader audience into my art.

While writing this first manuscript, I made two important decisions: 1) to continue on for my MFA, this time in fiction, and 2) to expand my repertoire and become a reader for River & South Review.

Pursuing my MFA has been a bucket list item, and I decided to dive into an entirely new genre for it rather than continuing to study poetry. This past semester, I’ve been studying voice–narrative and character–with the hopes of reimagining Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment in a modern world with teenage protagonists. I am also preparing for a teaching practicum in the fall, where I will cultivate my craft as an educator by teaching at a higher academic level.

However, as I reflect on my writing journey, I realize that the most pivotal choice for me as a writer was deciding to join River & South Review as a reader during my second semester at Wilkes. My timid nature may have kept me quiet during genre discussions at first, but I was seeing writing through a new lens. I learned that the writer’s intended interpretation may differ from how a reader consumes their work, and I found myself then trying to be as intentional as possible in my own writing. As I listened to each reader’s critique, I understood the strength and humility that each writer possesses when they submit work they hold dear.

When I shifted into the role of poetry co-editor, I experienced the volume of submissions previous editors were reading and uncovered my own critical eye. I learned how to narrow my reading to filter through 300 submissions and, with the help of our entire team, choose pieces that spoke to the group and conveyed a nuance of style. This confirmed for me the very fluid nature of poetry–some strict in form, some creating their own forms–and this made me think that maybe I could call myself a poet after all.

But the most fruitful experience has been serving as the managing editor for the Summer 2024 Issue. I not only learned how to navigate a publication behind-the-scenes, but I learned how to manage a team of truly wonderful and skilled readers, editors, and contributors. Each member of this team has helped me adapt and learn skills I never thought I’d have the opportunity to grow, such as communicating with contributors about their work and designing social media content that aims to further the journal’s reach. They’ve all been responsible for making my flame shine a bit brighter.

From the rawness of Kayla Jessop’s “Hangman’s Noose” to the gravity of Morgan Blair’s “The Devil’s Music” to the slicing nature of Hollie Dugas’s “i want a love like a silver bullet,” I am reminded of the strength and humility that comes with sharing your work with the world and trusting others to care, shape, and judge that work. I am also reminded of that spark, the flicker of light that catches when writers feel the courage to pen their stories. I hope those flames continue to burn bright, because each piece in this issue has fueled my own writing flame.

And this stop on my journey would not have been possible without Dawn Leas, our editorial advisor. She has helped me navigate a new role once again, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Our gifted genre editors read every single piece in their genre and facilitated discussions that led to the incredible poetry and prose pieces in this issue. Thank you to H.T. Reynolds and Tasha Saint-Louis, poetry co-editors; Sarah Lyons, fiction editor; and Hillary Jarvis, creative nonfiction editor. Thank you Cynthia Kolanowski for your patience and attention to detail as our production editor; thank you to Cass Heid for being a diligent proofreader; and thank you to Jess Van Orden for using your artistic flair to design amazing social media content.

Our group of readers–Kathleen Bednarek, Judy Castleberry, Greg Dutcher, Terrence Dwyer, Cathy Earnest, Travis Harman, Maddie Hoy, Hess Love, Melanie McGehee, Jonathon Montemayor, Angela Neil, and Alicia Williamson–thank you for the time you put into reading each piece, the quality of commentary you provided during our discussions, and for balancing this role on top of your MA and MFA coursework and other life responsibilities.

And finally, I would like to thank the director of the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University, Dr. David Hicks, as well as Patti Naumann, the program’s administrative assistant, for all of the support they give to the team and the journal.

It has been a privilege to work for River & South Review, and I hope you each kindle the spark, approach your work with strength and humility, and let the flame grow. Hopefully, you see that spark in this Summer 2024 Issue.

Alexandra Thomas
Managing Editor
River & South Review