The hedges were still misting over with green when we met for the first time, looking at our screens split into small windows. We are the five editors of this special issue of The Fiddlehead’s BIPOC Solidarities — Saleema Nawaz and Shannon Webb- Campbell (fiction), Rebecca Salazar and Phoebe Wang (poetry), and Rowan McCandless (creative non-fiction). Invited by Editor Sue Sinclair, this issue is a part of The Fiddlehead’s greater efforts and actions around equity. We set ourselves the task of creating a call for submissions that would address what it means to be a writer of colour in 2021. “What conversations would you have in a room filled with fellow BIPOC writers?” We asked you, while we ourselves were in that room with each other. You answered with singularity, with all your grandmothers behind you, with distinct palates, and with shared stories of struggle and audacity. As the leaves now crumple to earth, the cycle continues and we keep asking each other questions. Our introduction to this issue is a compilation, a stitching together, a coming apart, a larger effort.
Saleema Nawaz to Rebecca Salazar and Phoebe Wang: How did you find the experience of putting together this issue?
These poems are full of furious spirits and talkback, holding the reader accountable to stereotypical images and revisionist histories of Black, Indigenous, Asian, and Brown lives. We felt held accountable to their pain and resistance, but also to their joy and celebration. These poems challenged us to dream beyond the limits of our own experience, and called out for a kinship that celebrates cultural specificity and cross-movement solidarity.
How did the pieces you selected provoke or surprise you?
We were grieved to find that writers of the younger generations still experience the same violences that we and generations of our poetic ancestors wrote of and against. We recognized in many poems the same types of poems we ourselves have written, at various times in our lives, and jokingly, we wondered if there was a list of every poem a writer of colour must write at least once. A poem about the untranslatable emotions of our mother tongues. A poem grieving borders, geographical or otherwise. A recipe poem for the foods we miss, the ones that feel like home. Poems as rites of passage, as the tiny steel needles we forge when we begin to puncture the stifling blanket of white supremacy. It was disappointing, if unsurprising, to recognize that the newest generations of writers still share these experiences, but it is also a reminder of our responsibility to continue creating a more liberatory future, in poetry and beyond.
Did you notice any common themes emerging across your section?
If there are common themes in these poems, they include the intimacies of intergenerational bonds, the power of rethinking our histories in mythic time, and the bristling possibilities of language broken over social media and rapidly evolving communication technologies. Every submission launched us out of a plane in a parachute, and as we read we were floating down through varied emotional weather systems. Sometimes there were thematic landmarks we could recognize, and other times we felt dropped into novel horizons.
Preeti Dhaliwal revealed how “in this new country, the sky bleeds regularly/ and no one says anything at all.” Khashayar Mohammadi located the absence of an Arabic verb for “to be,” but created space to contemplate the act of being when “time dilates in the thoughtspan of a poem.” Karen Lee’s danceably musical poems embody the way “fevered hips riddim heal Atlantic chasms.” We laughed out loud with Jessie Loyer’s cheeky “semiotics of NDN flirting,” found ourselves “even in the wrong aisle” of the grocery store with T. Liem, and together, survived the rage of confronting daily microaggressions thanks to Izza Hassan’s “careful rituals.” Phoebe recognized the “dignity and life” of her own Cantonese elders in Christine Wu’s poem. Rebecca felt an echo of her own ancestors’ rituals in Rachel Lachmansingh’s incantation: “I want you to live differently.”
Shannon Webb-Campbell to Rebecca Salazar and Phoebe Wang: How does poetry transform the spirit of the BIPOC issue of The Fiddlehead, and as a result offer accountability? What do the poetics elicit?
This issue presents an unflinching and varied BIPOC poetics that refuses the erasure or commodification of our struggles and our pleasures. Every voice in this issue sings distinctly — loud, quiet, angry, sexy, meditative, funny, earnest, sly, and more — but there is harmony in what they share. If there is a sense of solidarity, it’s in their determination to pull in the light.
Rowan McCandless to Saleema Nawaz and Shannon Webb-Campbell: Did you find common themes between the fiction selections?
There were shared elements of tradition and storytelling, tokenism, microaggressions, and the attendant fears and anxieties around needing to comply within a power structure. Anger, doubt, humour, and personal striving.
Thematically, the majority of the stories submitted were at the crossroads of a moment of change — a departure and an arrival. It was all very powerful
and provocative work.
What was the process like in selecting the pieces that went into the BIPOC issue?
A collaboration between two editors, it was an emotional process in some ways. It was exciting to see the volume of responses, and it was truly joyful to read, for the first time, the pieces that made it to the shortlist for the issue — more than we could fit within these pages. Making those decisions wasn’t easy, and it was difficult to process the rejections. There is no way around those choices, and rejection is an inevitable part of the writing life, but we wish there was a way to take out the sting, since rejections are more a badge of experience than anything else. If you’re getting rejected, it means you are writing and submitting, which is the name of the game.
Do you have any advice for emerging BIPOC writers hoping to be published in literary magazines?
Submit submit submit. Read and write a lot. Try not to take rejection personally. Write from a place of truth. The work and reward are in the actual writing. Re-submit and keeping trying. Publication will come.
Rebecca Salazar to Rowan McCandless: How do the pieces you chose for this issue sit in relation to one another? What new conversations emerge between them?
Phoebe Wang to Rowan McCandless: How did you as a reader and editor absorb the emotion in the work you read? How did you read about cultural experiences that were outside of your own? What did these pieces teach you?
As a reader and editor, I felt that it was important to sit with the work, to absorb the words and emotional resonances of each piece. There were times when microaggressions struck deep in my chest and took my breath away. There were moments of beauty that brought up deep feelings of joy. Taking those moments of silent reflection and sitting with the writers as they shared their stories was a profound experience. For those creative nonfiction essays that came from cultural experiences not my own, I still found deep meaningful connections. The question of “What are you?” is one that many of the essays explored in one fashion or another. These pieces taught me that while our cultural experiences may be different, that still, we share similarities. Conversations arose between the pieces. Where do I belong? How do I define myself? How do I deal with feelings of disconnect and not belonging? How do I connect with my ancestors? What these essays taught me is about our shared humanity, the quest for self in a world that would deny or question our membership and our right to exist.
Rowan McCandless, Saleema Nawaz, Rebecca Salazar, Phoebe Wang, Shannon Webb-Campbell
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