Mona Susan Power is the contributing fiction editor for Volume 25. Below is an interview conducted with her via email exchange.
What are the types of stories you would like to see in Volume 25?
Authenticity is so important to me. When I used to teach writing I would encourage students to find the truth of their fiction. Sometimes we have great plans for our characters, we show up with agendas, specific thematic ground we want to cover. But then as we put our plans into action on the page, some events ring hollow and don’t quite work. To serve the fiction we have to set aside our own choices and allow characters to dictate what they’ll do, what they want to say. I’ve learned to grant my characters a kind of agency that exists beyond my original intentions. I’m most impressed with fiction that feels so true; the world around me falls away and I step into the pages with the utter conviction that what’s happening there is real, and couldn’t have happened any other way.
What is an ideal submission for you? What would set a submission apart from the others for you?
There has to be “juice,” urgent creative energy that comes from a compelling voice or image or situation. I don’t mean flashy—the energy can be quiet. I’m a writer who quickly puts down a book or story if it doesn’t demand my attention, or coax me with a gorgeous line or description. There’s so much to read in the world and so little time!
Who are some writers you admire? OR What are some individual poems/stories/essays that you admire?
Many of the voices that first made me admire the ability to tell an amazing story or to use language in a powerful way, were people from the Native community of Chicago who weren’t writers. They used captivating metaphors, dramatic tension, hilarious humor. But I was also a person of the book, coming from a family of voracious readers. I adored fairytales, and Alice in Wonderland. As an adult I admire so many writers: Louise Erdrich, LeAnne Howe, Ernestine Hayes, Kelli Jo Ford, Alice Munro, Sheila O’Connor, Maureen Aitken, Ire’ne Lara Silva. The list could fill a book!
Is there a form of literature that you find most rewarding to read?
Not really. My tastes are very eclectic in both literature and music. Probably my least favorite form is Experimental Literature, though there are pieces here and there I absolutely admire. Work that focuses purely on form tends to leave me cold because from the outset I see the magician’s hand at work, and can’t stop seeing it. Therefore I never believe.
Name three books that could be used to define you as an editor?
I honestly don’t know how to answer this question. While I clearly edit all the time when I’m writing, I don’t think in terms of “editing.” I’m an intuitive writer who is most effective when I surrender to the Flow and get out of my own way. I edit by reading the work aloud, and it’s my ear and heart, more than my head, that step in to smooth whatever jars, whatever feels false or incomplete. This is true for how I respond to other authors’ books as well – how I process what works or doesn’t work for me is more intuitive than cerebral. I operate on instinct.
What current journals or presses do you admire, and why?
I’m so grateful for the existence of Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art, and Thought, which discovers unpublished indigenous authors as well as showcasing the works of those who are already established.
What projects or pieces are you working on now?
I just finished writing a novel that came as a surprise. I was working on another novel, Harvard Indian Séance at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, which follows the adventures of five Native students at Harvard who are about to graduate. My creative writing was on pause since I’d broken a shoulder and was typing one-handed for a couple of months. As I worked to regain mobility I wrote flash fiction pieces (one winning a ghost story contest which paid a month’s rent!). Once I could type for longer periods of time I launched into a new novel inspired by the experiences of three generations of girls in my family. I felt compelled to cover this ground. Each day I wrote a few pages and in a handful of weeks I had a completed book. (This doesn’t happen to me, I usually take forever!) What was eerie is that a few days after finishing the novel which focuses in part on the horrific experience of Native children in the Indian Boarding School system, the news broke about the discovery of a mass grave of indigenous children at the Kamloops Residential School in Canada. Tragic discoveries of these graves at Indian Boarding Schools have continued since then, both in the U.S. and Canada. I now understand what made the subject matter of my fiction feel so imperative. This is the time for stories that have been swept under the rug or judged to be exaggerated fictions, to come forward.
Mona Susan Power is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and a native Chicagoan. She’s the author of three books of fiction, The Grass Dancer (awarded the PEN/Hemingway Prize), Roofwalker, and Sacred Wilderness. Her short stories and essays have been widely published in venues including: The Best American Short Stories, The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, and Granta. Her fellowships include an Iowa Arts Fellowship, James Michener Fellowship, Radcliffe Bunting Institute Fellowship, Princeton Hodder Fellowship, USA Artists Fellowship, McKnight Fellowship, and Native Arts and Cultures Fellowship. She lives in Saint Paul, MN.