To Our Readers

1 February 2024

By the time this issue leaves the printer, the writer Alexander Chee will have come to give the Betty Jean Craige lecture, hosted by the comparative literature department at UGA. I am very excited about the visit, in no small part due to an ephemeral text I stumbled upon last spring. At the Asian American Literary Review (AALR), the literary journal Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis and I started years ago, we did a little thing called the A Lettre Mentorship Program. We paired up emerging writers, chosen through a nominating process involving the community, with elders to match-make a correspondence by letter, which we would publish in AALR. As an avid letter correspondent myself, I love this scheme—as the Brits call it—which we dreamed up, especially as it further materialized a vision that conceptualizes literary journals as sites of engagement, rather than mere compendia of published material. (If this sounds hypocritical to what I mentioned in last issue’s TOR, I will circle back to that in a bit.)

I had forgotten that Alex generously participated in one of these exchanges, with author Grace Jahng Lee, until I stumbled upon a stray copy of the fall/winter 2017 issue of AALR last spring in the piles of paper populating the desk- and floor-space all around my office. The second I read the first exchange, I fell into the correspondence rapturously. I felt the youthful fire of ambition and promise rekindled by this absolutely inspiring piece. I assigned it in my class the very next day. I have returned to it for the inspiration that only sortilege can provide.

One of my favorite sections is the portion where Alex lists seventeen points that range from the practical (put Google calendar alerts twenty and ten days ahead of deadlines) to the profound (passing forward Marilynne Robinson’s advice to “pretend your family is dead when you write and then remember they are alive when you finish”), from the craft of writing (“Trust a process more than the pursuit of any particular goal. A solid writing and editing process is more luck than anything a writer can dream of.”) to the life of a literary citizen (“the greatest gift we can give to other writers of color is to really see them and respect what they’ve done”). The list (the correspondence, in general, really) is a mine with a staggering embarrassment of riches, but bounty upon bounty is the way Chee eases into the list. He starts the missive by stating: “The Asian American Literary Festival in DC [2017] was so incredible it was hard to overstate . . . I keep being reminded of how beautiful it is to be with other writers, having fun.” (The way that gerund phrase works is brilliant—it has supercharged my excitement for AWP Kansas City!) He then admits that he had had a difficult time giving advice to writers that year in part due to his own personal struggles with completing his essay collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: “I realized at a certain point I was writing from a place of fear, a place I’d let myself be lead [sic] into by various forces in the industry since the internet came on the scene,” namely 1) the fear of not “earning out,” and 2) what Alex calls “the Internet Edit,” “where you edit something to see if people will yell at you on the internet about it.” But it was a salutary experience for Alex:

And what I realized in the editing process with the essays was that this was never how I wanted to react to readers. That my love of books came first from reading them and feeling like I had found the person who had made something just for me without somehow knowing I existed. It was like a direct line into the world, to read these things. I was reading, I was alone, and yet I feel seen. And when I started writing I wrote that way too. I wanted to make something for the kids like I once was.

Writing is a social act. It is also, I think, an act of love. A very impersonal one—you write for someone you may never meet—but it is also personal, because you are telling them you care that they are alive. I won’t say it’s sacred—that word has come to disgust me. But it is a way of loving other people that also loves yourself.

Somewhere in Alex’s list is the measured statement “Community matters so much to writers, almost as much as writing,” which has helped me sharpen the point I made in last issue’s TOR. I do believe that reading literature itself is enough for one to learn the craft of literary writing. This is not to say that creative writing programs are useless. Many of us—myself included—have benefited tremendously from the guidance and structure that comes from being a student in a writing program. But there are also numerous examples of expert writers who have never had a formal apprenticeship of any kind in literary writing. Engaging the text itself is sufficient for learning how to write, but community is necessary to learn how to make room in one’s life for literary writing, to have reading and writing literary works essential to your every day.

In this issue, Bruce Snider shares a poem that plots out three points in the speaker’s life imbued by the grace and heartbreak of country music star Hank Williams. Munachim Amah offers a propulsive story about a Nigerian boy’s upbringing outside of the metropole in a house of divided faith. Cailyn Capra-Thomas has a ruminative essay about place, which pairs well with Sarah Shermyen’s review of Charlie Hailey’s The Porch: Meditations on the Edge of Nature. Check out the conversation between the two of them, which is on GR2.

Also included is Esther Kondo Heller’s review, which inaugurates our partnership with the Ledbury Poetry Critics Program, an initiative out of the United Kingdom since 2017 that aims to increase the visibility of poets and critics of color. Founded by Sandeep Parmar and Sarah Howe, the program publishes annual reports on poetry book reviews and fosters mentorship for emerging critics of color. We will publish four book reviews by Ledbury critics this publication year. On 15 March Parmar and fellow Ledbury organizer Vidyan Ravinthiran will visit campus to participate in a day-long symposium on translation, writ large, which is organized with the English Department.

From around the office:

• The Loraine Williams Poetry Prize will be open until 15 May. This year it is judged by Cole Swensen. The winner wins $1,500 and publication in The Georgia Review. Three other finalists will win $200 and publication in GR. All submissions will be considered for publication as well.

• Thank you (in advance) to all those who stopped by the booth and our off-site event at AWP. I especially want to thank Charlotte Street in Kansas City for being such a wonderful host and collaborator for our reading. They are truly a rad organization that gives so much to the local creative community.

• For those in our area, don’t forget to join us for a reading with Hanif Abdurraqib and Xinyue Huang at the legendary 40 Watt club! The reading is 29 April at 7pm.

• Finally, we have two more titles in the GR Books series! Brenda Iijima’s ecocreative novel Presence dropped in January. Siwar Masannat’s bracing multi-media, intertextual masterpiece, cue, hits stores 1 March.



Gerald Maa is a writer, translator, and editor based in Athens, GA.  His poetry and translations have appeared in places such as Poetry, American Poetry Review, and Push Open the Window: Contemporary Poetry from China (Copper Canyon, 2011).  His essays have appeared in places such as Criticism, Studies in Romanticism, A Sense of Regard: Essays on Poetry and Race (University of Georgia, 2015), and The Little Magazine in Contemporary America (University of Chicago, 2015).  Work from his practice of activated writing have been performed and mounted in Los Angeles, New York, and Sweden.  In 2010, he founded The Asian American Literary Review with Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, where he served as editor-in-chief until starting his job at The Georgia Review in August 2019.