Happy seventy-fifth, yet again (cf. 75.1)! First time, tragedy; second time, farce.
This issue celebrates the seventy-fifth anniversary of The Georgia Review by focusing on diasporic writing from and/or about the southeastern United States. It started when a phrase harmonized with an interest. I’ve been continually amazed by the rich tapestry of diasporic communities I’ve been discovering since moving to Athens, especially since my deep interest in immigrant communities grew through the past twenty-odd years in Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Quickly, upon arrival, I wanted to do a special issue on diasporic communities of the “South” to demonstrate, on the one hand, that the vibrancy of current Southern culture cannot be fully appreciated without recognizing the critical contributions of the immigrant communities therein, and, on the other, that diasporic communities of the southeastern United States have essential qualities that differ significantly from their more recognized sibling communities in the coastal urban centers. Then the phrase “SoPoCo”—short for Southern Post-Colonial—came to mind, which started a perhaps Proustian chase of the phrase. “SoPoCo” became the brand, and after lively discussions with others in the office, the brand determined the parameters: writing from and/or about diasporic communities established in the southeastern United States after 1968, that landmark year of the Third World Liberation Front, among other radical movements.
This celebration of our seventy-fifth is something our founding father perhaps did not expect. In 1947, founding editor Dr. John D. Wade declared two, and only two, particular aims for this publication. His editorial statement declares: “But for the present this REVIEW will limit its bid for distinction to two items: one of trying to be specially honest and sensible, and the other of trying to make its contents of special concern to Georgians.” In terms of the surprise, I don’t mean that our regional focus is larger than the state, which to me doesn’t feel like a radical departure. And I want to leave “honesty” and “sensibility” to the side for now; I’ll have more to say about them later. What I mean arises when Wade lists the four things the Review will avoid: “We have plenty of prejudices and think well of them. It may be sufficient to say at the outset that the REVIEW will avoid the obscene and blasphemous, the trivial, the Tobacco Road sort of thing, and an undue emphasis upon race matters.” The final point of that list—of discrete topics or appositives? (both, I’d argue)—ends the paragraph with a thud, like the closing of a book, or a door.
I certainly don’t see our emphasis here as “undue” (in fact, I see it as long overdue), but chances are Wade would, if he were to read the issue, not simply for the variegated group of writers, but moreover for what the writing does. Right after the paragraph stopped by the phrase on race matters, Wade telescopes out to describe the driving vision for the publication:
There are several items that the Review would consistently like to stress, some of which are of supreme importance for the entire world.
One of these items is that the dignity and worth of country life must be affirmed for the people who practice it and for people who do not practice it.
With race matters off to the side, the “worth” here is not economic, as is the case with chattel on the auction block. Rather, “dignity and worth” are hallmark concepts for humanist well-being. Along with “honesty and sensibility,” we have cornerstones for a universal moralism that founds what is considered a truly respectable democracy. We should all at least have dignity and self-worth. We should all at least be honest and sensible.
But herein lies the implication that this liberal humanist understanding, at least as it’s advocated here, requires race matters chastened to an acceptable level and manner, which basically amounts to nil. By the Review’s third number, we see that what is implied in the above is intended. The third editorial note ends with a letter to the editor that exalts the journal in a way that confirms, amplifies, and unpacks the editorial vision in an exemplary way. A young man from North Carolina named William McGirt Jr. wrote an impassioned letter to “congratulat[e] the editors for this new evidence of cultural awakening in the South” and to “comment on the general aims and potential significance of the GEORGIA REVIEW.” Wade was so smitten with this letter that it effectively became the climax to the inaugural year’s ongoing editorial statement. Due only to the present purpose, McGirt’s paragraph on race warrants being quoted at length:
By the same token, your editors show wisdom in not emphasizing race matters. In a section that is to be the source of a creative project, it would be suicidal to launch locally controversial ideas through an essentially artistic medium, especially when people of that section might entirely misunderstand and resent being condescended to by persons pretending to represent them. Liberals, such as myself and also many Georgians, have plenty of means for expressing racial views without doing so through perhaps the one medium in which the particularly minded individuals of a section have to find and express themselves creatively. I think you show a wisdom that transcends what some might call ‘cowardice’ who don’t think art is more important than politics . . . or creativity more important than social questions. The races will not be helped by bringing their antagonisms into the one or two free-breathing fields left open to us. It might be true that none of us has a right to breathe freely until our injustices are done away with. But I agree with you, in the meantime, in giving a provincial, but creative, people a means of expression through which they can grow to higher levels of their true selves.
For SoPoCo, provincial and creative, yes. But what we see here is the age-old line that separates art and politics making the virtues of creativity inhospitable to race matters. Moreover, woven into this paragraph is the blatant acknowledgment that the Review is pointedly written by and for those who are not American descendants of enslaved people. We can, in fact, say that the Review audience is constructed as such, witnessing the Jim Crow line instantiated on the level of genre and discourse. In his brilliant book Under Representation: The Racial Regime of Aesthetics (2018), David Lloyd demonstrates how the philosopher Immanuel Kant underwrites his formative theory of aesthetic judgment with a racial hierarchy. In short, Kant delineates his “man without qualities,” the subject position capable of assessing and experiencing the beauty and irrational truths that only the aesthetic communicates, with examples of female and markedly Black bodies as bearing too much earthly presence to access the universal truths of art. This consummate moment of the Southern Agrarian movement, of which Wade was one of the original twelve members (that veritable jury), is clearly, but unwittingly, a manifestation of this Kantian paradigm. This whites-only fount is the means by which people “can grow to higher levels of their true selves,” in the presumably universal terms of “honesty,” “sensibility,” “dignity,” and “worth.” This free field (!) of expression shall be roped off from undue matters of race. (In this way the only Black-focused piece that shows up in the journal’s first year is profoundly telling. As helpful as one might find it, “Higher Education for Negroes in Georgia” is not only an essay about racial uplift, but moreover nothing more than a compendium of facts communicated in clinical prose.) So even if the journal were to separate itself from the project of building a literary narrative of the South that brackets off matters of the transatlantic slave trade, the color line would still be there unless its founding aesthetic principles are radically changed.
Before pivoting to the current issue, I want to say that I don’t insist one shouldn’t read early Georgia Review content, if one is compelled to do so. As I’ve said before, and as I’m likely to continue to think about in the future, there’s something special about print and the aesthetic that enables a reader to think with and against whatever one reads in literature. I also want to caution against the teleological fallacy of progress, that these are obsolescent forms of the past out of which we’ve thankfully matured. On the one hand, it is easy to connect this Southern Agrarian stance with the nascent one motivating activists against what they call Critical Race Theory in schools. On the other, there was already a wealth of work in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that built narratives of the southeastern United States incommensurable to the one Wade and McGirt envision. For instance, there is the collective work of W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Crisis and, increasingly one of my favorites, William Wells Brown’s My Southern Home.
Obviously, this issue contributes in terms of what we generally try to capture with the buzz words “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “equity,” but I hope the issue can achieve more for the reader. While thinking about these key concepts, I have thought often about associate poetry editor Soham Patel’s contribution to our Lithub interview and about recent words from Angela Y. Davis. In an August 2020 Vanity Fair interview, Davis remarks, “Virtually every institution seized upon that term, ‘diversity.’ And I always ask, ‘Well, where is justice here?’ Are you simply going to ask those who have been marginalized or subjugated to come inside of the institution and participate in the same process that led precisely to their marginalization? Diversity and inclusion without substantive change, without radical change, accomplishes nothing” (emphasis in the original). And then, Patel’s response to Lithub’s question “How can literary journals promote inclusivity without indulging in tokenism?” Soham starts, “there is no quick fix, no magic number for equal representation since, even within marginalized communities, there are still infinite identities, styles, and possibilities for content focus,” ending with “diversity is a consequence of our reading practice, not some artificial endpoint.”
It is in this line of thought that I find not only “inclusion” the weakest of the three basic concepts, but also periodicals supremely capable in effecting the types of change in “diversity” and “equity” for which many in the literary industry call. If we in the literary world truly believe in systemic inequality, in the let’s say fact that hierarchical domination comes from and is maintained by systems of power that habituate their subjects—empowered and oppressed—into regular acceptance of its forms of discrimination and manners of repression, then truly just efforts at diversity and equity should at least destabilize the forms of domination, whether from within, from without, or across the threshold as one is let in or pushed out.
That means, then, going beyond what is read to how we read, and there is no better way to force the issue on habits of reading than through the ephemeral medium of the periodical, as Benedict Anderson famously demonstrated in Imagined Communities (1983), which describes the forceful pedagogic power of periodical reading at the heart of nation-making. People are habituated into a community, mostly through acculturation by way of “print capitalism,” and practice and regularity are the basic elements for habit. Yes, one can build a literary reading practice strictly out of books, but that would be self-directed practice. Periodical reading is not only directed, but also collective. From one number to the next, you are oriented in a direction with others. We should emphasize that periodical reading is not inherently a just practice, as we’re defining it. In fact, a quick look at history would suggest the exact opposite. Pamphlets, newspapers, news media have always been key to cultural hegemony. (The Southern Agrarians knew this full well, as members of the original twelve founded not only The Georgia Review, but also The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, and the twentieth-century iteration of The Sewanee Review.) My hope is that The Georgia Review can enable just contributions to the literary world, courtesy of our readers (a class in which I include the writers), by—according to the present vision statement—“challeng[ing] us to reconsider any line, distinction, or thought in danger of becoming too rigid or neat, so that our readers can continue the conversations in their own lives.”
What exactly does this mean? Here we have a case study. Essentially, the Southern Agrarian project is a fight to define a dominant narrative of the “South” at a critical juncture in American history. One can say such is also the case with SoPoCo, as the national news cycle around November 2020 suggests. But to “challenge us to reconsider any line, distinction, or thought in danger of becoming too rigid or neat” means treating the South less like a “legend,” as Wade has it, than a “question,” as Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi proposes in her contribution to this issue. Wade states in the inaugural editorial statement that “there ought to be something [in the issue] about the Georgia legend in general,” even though it “would not necessarily bear very heavily upon past or present fact [for] it is bound to relate to the facts to come and it is consequently important, as any legend is important.” This statement need not stand at odds with the type of anticolonial stance for which I advocate. But with the help of the Italian leftist writer Antonio Gramsci, Gandhi shows us the sort of impasse a revolutionary endeavor built on a rigid classification of a place encounters, especially in a crowded and particularly unstable world.
The radical Asian Americanist from the American Vietnamese diaspora starts by pointing to the situation of her personal life to demonstrate the “frictions . . . invok[ed] by multiple iterations of the South.” On the one hand, the “South” in the “Global South” operates in academic post-colonial studies synonymous with revolutionary politics. On the other hand, the “South” in the general American lexicon is immanently conservative. When the definitions become too overbearing, one can get mired in a fruitlessly contradictory position, as prominently revealed to Gandhi when she saw the South Vietnamese flag flown at the January 6 insurrection. To subscribe to a world of legends often puts one in sticky situations like this.
For a different orientation, one more capable of justice (but not necessarily so), Gandhi turns to what Gramsci calls “the Southern question.” In 1926, Gramsci was attempting to consider not only the political geography, but also the political potential, of his home country’s national politics during a time of tremendous transition, “highlight[ing],” in Gandhi’s words, “the importance of the southern peasantry for any meaningful revolutionary change in Italy.” The southern peasantry’s illegibility is the key. At face value, it did not “conform to the legible scripts,” per Gandhi’s phrase, of either a radical politics defined all too rigidly by the class consciousness of northern Italy or a southern politics defined by its bourgeois landowners. According to Gramsci, stopping short of conflating the southern peasantry with the surrounding bourgeois politics, on the one hand, and a class consciousness too rooted in the north, would lead to “unexpected and therefore powerful class alliances with the northern proletariat.” “In sum,” Gandhi intones, “counterintuitive solidarities were possible, if one took seriously emergent forms of ‘southern politics’ and imagined new geopolitical formations.”
“Counterintuitive solidarities” is a beautiful phrase that gets at what I want, as they are products of alliances built first and foremost across differences. One can, and should, say that all coalitions are essentially built across differences, but a “counterintuitive” one requires the immensely imaginative work of figurative language to find affinities not readily available to reason. I would go a step further and suggest that these solidarities are most powerful in their potential when kept counterintuitive, which is to say when that illegibility is preserved in maintaining difference as the basic element for the collective, which, in turn, makes “inclusion” a particularly complicated term for the type of just reading I’m considering here. I think back to the Du Boisian Frenzy that I wrote about in the Summer 2021 issue. Thus, I want to suggest that this means we shouldn’t value the stories here merely from a pluralist standpoint, that is, with the sense that each person has his/her/their story, and each its own truth. Yes, it is important to hear “new” voices, as we say. But if we treat each work as an autonomous world within a universe of similarly autonomous worlds—we say we “enter” the author’s world—then we are operating within and between siloed worlds meant, ultimately, by “us” and for “us,” however defined, which is fine aesthetically and politically, up to a point. But we have reached the point where the impasse of radical tolerance—that the liberal citizen’s politics is founded on tolerance, except, of course, for the intolerant—is currently front and center in public debates, especially in our starkly polarized time. “To each their own” is ultimately isolationist. From this standpoint, “counterintuitive solidarities” seems like an otherworldly concept on first utterance.
So I encourage you to read in clusters and eclectically to find counterintuitive solidarities between works. The discerning reader will see that even the parameters we set for ourselves are challenged. Our SoPoCo Emerging Writer contest winners are represented here. Congratulations to Aria Curtis, Sadia Hassan, and Tanya Rey, who will be having their residencies at the Bowers House, in Canon, Georgia, later in 2023.
This is a big volume, but it’s a crowded world. And we wanted to err on the side of maximalism rather than on giving anyone short shrift, given the groundbreaking nature of this volume. Moreover, it speaks to the diasporic hustle that draws me to these types of community time and again. With the logo on the back cover, a product of designer Scott LaClaire’s genius touch, we wanted a cipher—and a fabulous one, at that—that could capture the ambition, counter-appropriation, idolatry, capitalist ambition, flair, self-abasement, and/or hubris that makes diasporic life thrum, in short, that wonderfully contradictory mélange of style defining the everyday workings and dreams of folks working out from under the colonial empire. We made it, we want to say.
From around the office:
• I’m thrilled to announce that we have won a National Magazine Award for Fiction and are a finalist in the running for General Excellence (Literature, Science, Politics). The winning submission comprises Eloghosa Osunde’s “After God, Fear Women” (Spring 2021), Nishanth Injam’s “Come with Me” (Summer 2021), and Aryn Kyle’s “Copper Queen” (Fall 2021).
• We have several events upcoming this spring:
Misplacement: A Symposium (1–2 April): Our collaboration with UGA’s art school is around the corner and includes readings by Alejandro Varela and Courtney Faye Taylor, talks by artists Lisa Tan and Jill Magid, and papers by art critics Martin Harries and Nicole Fleetwood.
Loraine Williams Poetry Prize Reading (12 April): Join us for this double-header, which features the 2020 and 2021 LWPP judges and winners, with readings by Ilya Kaminsky, Hannah Perrin King, Arthur Sze, and Mathew Weitman.
Celebration + Reading, with Ralph Eubanks and Rosalie Moffett (5 May): We will be hosting an evening of food, drinks, poetry, and essays to celebrate our seventy-fifth anniversary and our success with the National Magazine Awards.
• The spring titles for our Georgia Review Books are available for purchase! Please visit our shop to check out José Watanabe’s Natural History, translated by Michelle Har Kim, and Marylyn Tan’s GAZE BACK. You can sidestep the technoligarchs by purchasing them directly from our website; you get free shipping too.
• We will be at AWP in Philadelphia. Hope we saw you there!
We end with sad news. Valerie Boyd passed away 12 February 2022. The founder of UGA’s MFA program in Narrative Media Writing, she was a writer, editor, and teacher who—as I felt immediately upon arrival at the Review—is a pillar of the literary community at UGA, and Georgia, more broadly. I want to end with words from KaToya Ellis Fleming, a student and friend of Valerie’s as well as editor of Valerie’s now final book, Bigger than Bravery: Black Resilience and Reclamation in a Time of Pandemic, forthcoming September 2022:
Valerie was a beautifully intricate symphony of a person, and for the UGA MFA narrative nonfiction community, she was our North Star. She always will be. Though we are collectively devasted by the loss of our mentor and friend, now that she has joined the ancestors, the warmth of her love, the strength of her belief, the light of her bravery will never stop guiding us home.