Photo courtesy Leonardo Aguiar.
This issue of Guernica focuses on the impossibly large theme of “Race in America.” You’ll find personal narrative, political and literary discussion, fiction, visual art, and poetry that are themed to the topic. If you’re looking for subjects and voices missing from the conversation, you will find plenty. We present this collection as a work in progress, a beginning.
In the era of the VIDA count, where gender and race disparities in major American literary publications are plainly visible, today’s issue is also a call for self-examination, discussion, and an expansion of our group of writers and editors. We feel this is an important step to take in a time in which journalism’s scope is still limited by its barriers to entry—namely unpaid work and internships, and related race- and class-based hurdles. We have our own barriers. Guernica has been free for readers for nearly a decade, and has aimed to be an accessible resource for reportage, criticism, and ideas. As a non-profit, volunteer-run magazine, however, we can’t always move as nimbly as our for-profit peers.
Our editorial voice is informed by who we are: an internationally focused, New York City-based magazine that publishes on the intersections of literature, art, and politics. Who we are also means this: of the nearly fifty editors and staff currently on our masthead, about 75 percent are white. We recognize our place in an industry whose insider politics and labor practices prop up an editorial voice that is too often overwhelmingly wealthy and white. So, while this issue was conceived within the scope of a topical editorial project, we are using it as a platform to build relationships with editors and writers of color from communities that have been under-represented in Guernica. Magazines, organizations, writers, and individuals whose daily work centers on racial justice issues inspire us. We believe firmly that any reasonable American publisher—concerned as we are with politics, education, criminal justice, the environment, publishing, and art—must stop looking at these issues from the perspective of the “other” and start making real strides towards considering the American voice and identity as one that includes all these voices as “ours.”
We read a great deal of stellar work in response to our call for submissions for this issue. Anything appearing today could have been published in any of our “non-themed” issues, had it appeared in our inbox unsolicited. Which is partly the point—as a magazine, we haven’t done a satisfactory job in the past of reaching out to communities beyond our own to write not just about race, but about drone warfare, the sequester, human rights violations in Belarus, or any of the myriad topics that interest Guernica and its readers.
This material has been, of course, collected with our own biases and we want to know what you think: which positions you relate to, what you’d like to challenge, what we should be publishing more of. While we put forward a greater diversity of work and expand our reach, we want to be part of the conversation that supports these efforts amongst our peers and addresses these problems head on. We look forward to your thoughts and your words, and hope you enjoy reading.
In this issue, Kiese Laymon’s second person struggles with his black editor over the living definition of a “real black writer”—a person who writes, revises, reads, reckons, and works—versus someone else’s industry vision: “In 2012, real black writers make the racial, class, gender, and sexual politics of their work implicit. Very implicit. The age of the ‘race narrative’ is over, bro…” Aisha Sloan revisits schoolyard and neighborhood memories, art history, pools swum in by Rodney King and Sammy Lee, death, violence, race, and (non-)belonging in Los Angeles.
Jamaica Kincaid speaks with author Lauren K. Alleyne about writing as a transformative act, the blurred and often useless separations between fact and fiction, and the misconceived limited scope of critical reception for writers of color. “The people who invented race,” Kincaid says, “who grouped us together as ‘black,’ were inventing and categorizing their ability to do something vicious and wrong. I don’t see why I have to give them validity, or why I have to approach that label with any kind of seriousness.” Colorlines reporter Julianne Hing speaks with academic and activist Juanita Diaz-Cotto about women of color in the United States’ “prison industrial military complex,” specifically Latinas, who are part of the fast-growing number of people incarcerated. And Judy Juanita recalls her involvement with the Black Panthers, and why she still believes militancy is important.
In fiction, Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés’s “Law of Progress” is narrated by a Cuban-American woman in love with her Haitian boyfriend, who describes his ill-fated introduction to her extended family, who is obsessed with “get[ting] the black out.” In Kirstin Valdez Quade’s “Jubilee,” a Mexican college student gatecrashes a party held by the owners of a vast berry farm, who employ her father as a farm worker.
Published in art is a discussion on the complexities of race, portraiture, and the expectations faced by artists of color between painters Tim Okamura, Taha Clayton, Joseph Adolphe, and Jerome Lagarrigue, and a graphic art rendering of the disparities in criminal justice by Sabrina Jones and Marc Mauer. Poet Don Mee Choi’s “Hydrangea Agenda” is “based on a photograph my father took on August 15, 1948, the first day of the First Republic of Korea,” and Rae Paris responds to the death of Trayvon Martin with “The Forgetting Tree.”
In Guernica Daily, Zahir Janmohamed, shares the experience of being writer of color trying to find a place in workshops and publishing where he could be treated as someone working on the craft of writing, rather than articulating a minority voice, and Ocean Vuong remembers, in poetic detail, growing up as a Vietnamese immigrant in the U.S.