Dear SmokeLong Friends,
Normally, I write only about the current issue in this missive, but this once, I’d like to take a little time to reflect. I’ll try not to wax too nostalgic, but it’s been such an amazing ride so far, I may not be able to control myself.
Let’s start with a little background that leads up to a splendid birthday present we received. When I graduated from Northwestern University in 1990 (Jesus, Dave, are we really going to go back that far? Why, yes. Yes, we are.), I moved to Seattle with seven classmates to start a theater company. For our first production, our artistic director, David Hollander, adapted a short story entitled “Blight” to the stage. I was enthralled with the piece and sought out the collection in which it appeared, Stuart Dybek’s “The Coast of Chicago.” I was blown away and quickly followed that purchase with his earlier “Childhood and Other Neighborhoods.” We were fortunate enough to get to meet (and drink with) Stuart when he came to town to do a reading at Elliot Bay Bookstore. I still have my copy of “The Coast of Chicago” in which he wrote, “Dave, Keep digging beauty!”
Fast forward thirteen years. Ever since 1990, I’ve searched the shelves in vain for new works by Stuart. He has been mysteriously quiet. And now I’ve started a literary magazine. So I google him. And email him. We exchange a few emails. And he’s still the same terrific guy I met at Elliot Bay. He has a new book come out, the incredible “I Sailed With Magellan.” SLQ approaches an anniversary and I ask Stuart if he has anything he’d consider sharing with us. And here’s the amazing birthday present—within a week, I have a manila envelope with Stuart’s return address in my mailbox. It contains six stories. I was like a kid in a candy shop. After much deliberation, the staff here decided to bring you “Brisket.” We hope you like this birthday gift as much as we do.
In a similar vein, about a year ago, our guest editor, Ellen Meister told us that she had an email correspondence with a writer named Steve Almond. Would we like her to solicit something from him? Of course! As with Stuart in 1990, I was introduced to a writer I’d never known who just blew me away. Steve had “Candyfreak” hitting stores about the time we published his “Evening of the Dock.” I devoured that (sorry, yes, the pun is intended) and similarly engulfed “My Life in Heavy Metal.”
We asked Steve if he’d send us something for our anniversary as well. He offered “Pornography,” which, if you’ve read “Heavy Metal,” you already love. If you haven’t already read it, something tells me you’ll soon be on your way to the bookstore to pick up the volume. Grab “Candyfreak” and “The Evil B.B. Chow” while you’re there.
I lead in mentioning Stuart and Steve because of their very generous contributions to this volume—their names are already well established, having appeared in places like Playboy, Ploughshares, and The New Yorker. Having said that, though, all of the works we’ve published over the last two years have been tremendous gifts from their writers. And I don’t think it’s going to be very long at all before several of their names will be as instantly recognizable as Stuart’s and Steve’s. I’m already salivating at the prospect of reading the novels of Paul Toth, Stephen Ausherman, Grant Bailie, Maryanne Stahl, and Brian Howell, for example. I’m also eagerly awaiting the release of Ellen Meister’s first novel, due out next year. And those are just the novels of which I’m aware.
And then there’s the incredible online world of literature. Just as I pore over bookshelves to see if the latest Murakami is out, so too do I now have a long, long list of writers whom I google fairly frequently—Bob Arter, Daphne Buter, Myfanwy Collins… if I list everyone I google, this letter will be much too long. Suffice it to say that I’m addicted to a large number of writers whom we’ve published here. And with every issue we publish, that list grows.
As for this specific issue… I feel as if there’s still so much to say. One thing about the issue, I think, is illustrative, though, about how editing SLQ has changed the way I read. Several writers we’ve published here are on the editorial staff at Night Train Magazine, one of my absolute favorite print magazines anywhere. In the first issue I received was a story by Steven Gullion, “Stray Dogs.” It was one of the best short stories I’ve ever read anywhere. And to my utter joy, Steven was a member of Zoetrope, the online studio where all the members of our staff regularly workshop their own writing. I asked him if he ever wrote flash. The result of that conversation was “Galveston,” which appeared in issue five. Not long after that, Steven was very active in a flash-a-thon, a writing intensive event hosted by the incredible Nance Knauer (whom we first published way back in issue one, and who later joined us on staff for several issues). His incredible insight and, even more importantly, kindness were inspiring. We asked him if he’d consider guest editing. And now you get to see the result. What a blessing Steven has been. And we’re especially blessed that he’s agreed to stay on board as our new solicitations editor.
I think you’ll love the issue that Steven and the staff have put together. It’s an intriguing mix of familiar faces with new. Kay Sexton returns after last having appeared here in issue two. Cami Park must be trying to set the record for most pieces by one writer in SmokeLong, and we’re loving it. Max Ruback and Stephen Ausherman may be my two new favorite writers I’d never known before. And alas, I fear that I’m singling out a select few at the expense of others, when all of the pieces here are among the best we’ve ever published. Please, I urge you to read them all.
I know I’ve been much more long-winded than usual here, and for that I apologize. I hope, though, that you’ve gotten some sense of the magical ride this has been since the very beginning. I am deeply thankful to everyone who has ever been a part of SmokeLong Quarterly, from Almond to Zimmerman. Thanks especially to the amazing group currently on staff. Kath, Randall, Marty, Steven, and Tommy—all of you deserve thank you notes from me on a daily basis.
Here’s to the next two years. And well beyond.
Keep digging beauty,
Founding Editor, SmokeLong Quarterly
June 15, 2005
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