A Conversation with Libby Flores—WSR Contributing Fiction Editor

What do you hope to achieve while working as the Fiction Contributing Editor with Water~Stone Review (WSR) for v. 26? 

My hope is to discover new voices and communities and to encounter writing that surprises me. I remember what it was like to open my first acceptance for a story, and I look forward to delivering that to a writer. I know what it means to work for years on a story. I hope to take great care and respect with each piece. 

What do you enjoy exploring with your own fiction writing? 

Generally it starts with the sentence. Mining a sentence, following it to see where it takes me. Seeing only half of a scene and wondering what happens after or even before that moment. I am currently working on a collection of all male voices. Through those characters, I wish to be removed from what I know to try and inhabit someone else’s experience. 

If you could pull a compelling fictional story apart, what is it made of? How do the parts work together? 

The ones that come to mind command your attention, hold a point of view, harness a confidence, and a need that becomes the thread that runs through the piece. The reader leans in; desire or yearning is clear. I have long believed the propulsion in any story is the sum of all the elements humming together. 

Then there is the power of the sentence. I favor this quote when I teach flash fiction from The Review of The Review: “Distilling experience into a few pages or, in some cases a few paragraphs, forces writers to pay close attention to every loaded conversation, every cruel action, every tender gesture, and every last syllable in every single word.” Every line at its best works towards a resonance the story seeks to achieve. 

If you could explore the life of any fictional character on one particular day, which character would it be, which day, and why? 

Funny, I’ve never envied the journeys of my most favorite characters in literature because they suffer tough fates and great hardships. 

Who inspires your work? Which journals, books, writers, or artists create that fizzy, exhilarating feel? 

Venita Blackburn’s work, Jamel Brinkley’s work, writing to the composer Emile Mosseri, and the collection by Maile Meloy Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It recently renewed my crush and awe of the short story, The Will to Change by bell hooks was just that—an exhilarating read. Her words on masculinity are incisive and prescient now more than ever. Maria, Maria: & Other Stories by Marytza K. Rubio, another great collection that breaks tradition in wonderful ways. As far as visual art, the recent exhibition of Wangechi Mutu work at Storm King Art Center was halting and resonant. 

How do you think your work as Associate Publisher at BOMB Magazine will shape your work with Water~Stone Review?  

Working at BOMB, the mission is really to honor the artist’s voice. This is something I believe. Celebrating art or admiring art is different than honoring it. That act allows for the work to find a home, for it to truly be its best self. A writer takes a small notion, a wild idea and transforms it. You see this in Water-Stone’s namesake, the alchemist’s tool, this idea of transformation feels embedded in its pages. One hopes after reading an issue a person is altered, changed just a bit in their view of the world. I love WSR’s Folio section where one can discover photographers. The images themselves are always striking and glorious. BOMB of course, is a multidisciplinary space. In many ways, these two publications are in conversation with each other.

LIBBY FLORES’S work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Gagosian Quarterly, American Short Fiction, Ploughshares, Post Road Magazine, Mc Sweeney’s, Tin House / The Open Bar, The Guardian, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. In 2008 she was a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. Libby holds an MFA in creative writing from Bennington College and is the Associate Publisher at BOMB magazine. She is represented by Sarah Bowlin at Aevitas Creative Management. She lives in Brooklyn, but will always be a Texan.

A Conversation with Juliet Patterson—WSR Contributing Creative Nonfiction Editor

Water~Stone Review is a collaborative project of students, faculty, and staff at Hamline University Creative Writing Programs. In addition to working with our faculty, and to fulfill a larger initiative of providing a place for new/emerging and underrepresented voices at Water~Stone Review, we now have rotating contributing editor positions. 

This is a wonderful opportunity for our graduate student assistant editors to collaborate with renown writers in order to expand our reach and  further innovation. Past Contributing Editors include Sun Yung Shin, Keith Lesmeister, Sean Hill, Carolyn Holbrook, Mona Power, Kao Kalia Yang, and Ed Bok Lee. 

In this post we introduce Vol. 26 Contributing Creative Nonfiction Editor, Juliet Patterson.

What will you be looking for as you review creative nonfiction submissions for Water~Stone, Volume 26? 

I’ll be looking for essays that take risks emotionally and formally. I’m especially interested in personal narratives that are scaffolded by research, digressions and journalistic techniques. I love to be inside another writer’s obsessive mind or quiet interiority. Show me what you’re thinking about this moment in American life. Where are we in the wake of COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd, in the dissolution of Roe vs. Wade, and the impending climate disaster? 

What do you hope the collection of creative nonfiction for V. 26 achieves as a whole? 

A diversity of voices expressed through form, style, content and authorial identities. 

How does your experience cross genre (poetry and creative nonfiction) shape you as an editor? 

I’d like to think that my own experience transitioning from poetry to prose makes me a more fluid and receptive editor. As a writer driven by fragment and image, I’m generally drawn to the lyric, but as a writer whose shift to prose was hard won, I have a keen sympathy for how difficult it is to wield narrative. Which is maybe another way of saying that my experience of writing across genres has loosened me up: my readerly expectations are not as fixed as they used to be. As an editor, I might describe myself as generous and curious. I’m reading to discover the writer.

What is it that you love about the genre of creative nonfiction? 

I love the flexibility of form and the latitude of tone and register the genre affords; the expansive possibilities of the essay; the way each essay can differ from the next. 

If you could be any book, which book would you be? (If you like, you can choose more than one!)  

This is an interesting, but impossible question. I think I can only answer this question as one of the present moment. And at present, I’m reading and studying the work of Édouard Louis. Louis is a practitioner of auto fiction (fiction based on autobiography) and his “novels” are often organized in short chapters and have the feel of essays. He’s an impassioned writer, who uses the force of memoir to glide between first and second person. I love in particular his Who Killed My Father, a book that is in essence a political document addressing homophobia, poverty and class. I’m not sure I’d want to “be” this book, but perhaps I want to “be” like its primary gesture: to pose a question without a question mark. 

Congratulations on your book launch of Sinkhole: A Legacy of Suicide. What does it feel like to be at the end of a book length project and what do you hope to do next?  

Sinkhole took more than ten years to complete. It was an emotionally complex project, but also a challenge at the level of craft. I feel a sense of relief and accomplishment now that the book is published and off my desk. I don’t have another big project in mind yet, but I’m interested in learning to master the 1200 word essay. 

JULIET PATTERSON is the author of Sinkhole: A Legacy of Suicide (Milkweed Editions, September 2022) and two full-length poetry collections, Threnody, (Nightboat Books 2016), a finalist for the 2017 Audre Lorde Poetry Award, and The Truant Lover, (Nightboat Books, 2006), winner of the Nightboat Poetry Prize and a finalist for the 2006 Lambda Literary Award. A recipient of a 2011 Arts & Letters Susan Atefat Prize in non-fiction, and a 2010 Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize, she has also been awarded fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the Minneapolis-based Creative Community Leadership Institute (formerly the Institute for Community and Creative Development). She teaches creative writing and literature at St. Olaf College and is also a faculty member of the college’s Environmental Conversations program. She lives in Minneapolis on the west bank of the Mississippi near the Great River Road with her partner, the writer Rachel Moritz, and their son.


A Conversation with January Gill O’Neil—WSR Contributing Poetry Editor

Water~Stone Review is a collaborative project of students, faculty, and staff at Hamline University Creative Writing Programs. In addition to working with our faculty, and to fulfill a larger initiative of providing a place for new/emerging and underrepresented voices at Water~Stone Review, we now have rotating contributing editor positions. 

This is a wonderful opportunity for our graduate student assistant editors to collaborate with renown writers in order to expand our reach and  further innovation. Past Contributing Editors include Sun Yung Shin, Keith Lesmeister, Sean Hill, Carolyn Holbrook, Mona Power, Kao Kalia Yang, and Ed Bok Lee. 

In this post we introduce Vol. 26 Contributing Poetry Editor, January Gill O’Neil.

What do you hope to achieve through your work as a contributing editor in Volume 26?

Put simply, I want to create a solid collection of poems to complement the solid collection of poems that Water~Stone creates with each issue. I’m looking forward to seeing the range of subjects that bubble up. What are we concerned with as a society? What are our obsessions? 

What makes a poem exceptional? 

Poems that make me feel like after I read them, I wish I wrote them. Poetry can be improvisational in a way, so I’m looking to see how poets navigate their universes. I’m interested in the constellations they create from one moment to the next. What does that look like on the page? That’s a tough question to answer, but I know it when I see it.

I’m also excited to work with Water~Stone’s exceptional staff!

Are there particular poetic themes or forms that particularly interest you?

No. I’d rather see what themes emerge. I think poems are indicators of where we are as a society, so I’m curious about the passions and preoccupations of poets at this current moment. How do they make the ordinary extraordinary?  

What do you envision for the poetry contributions as a whole?

I want this issue to be inclusive and wide-ranging. I’m hoping the collection will tell some larger truth. The possibilities are endless.    

How do you handle rejection and acceptance with your own work?

I roll with it. I grumble to a few close poetry friends and move on. That’s the value of having a community rooting for you. And if you’ve been rejected enough times, you know it’s part of the publication process.  I don’t take it personally.

What are some presses and/or journals you admire, and why? 

Besides Water-Stone Review, I’ve long been an admirer of The American Poetry Review (APR), Ploughshares, Ecotone, and 32 Poems—too many to count, really. I like them because they publish a broad spectrum of poets with each issue. There is wonder in the pages of these mags. I learn something new about myself and the world in each issue.  

What projects are you currently working on?  

I’m working on new poetry that leans toward the environment, as well as a new collection, Glitter Road, coming out in February ’22. I continue to work on projects related to the legacy of Emmett Till, Which is featured in Glitter Road. But I also leave a lot of space for curiosity and wonder. I like to say I am writing toward what I don’t know.

JANUARY GILL O’NEIL is an associate professor at Salem State University, and the author of Rewilding (2018), Misery Islands (2014), and Underlife (2009), all published by CavanKerry Press. From 2012-2018, she served as the executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, and currently serves on the boards of AWP and Montserrat College of Art. Her poems and articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day series, American Poetry Review, Green Mountains Review, Poetry, and Sierra magazine, among others. Her poem, “At the Rededication of the Emmett Till Memorial,” was a co-winner of the 2022 Allen Ginsberg Poetry award from the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College. The recipient of fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Cave Canem, and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, O’Neil was the 2019-2020 John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi, Oxford. O’Neil is one of five judges for the 2022 National Book Award in poetry. She lives with her two children in Beverly, MA. 


In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Melissa Crowe

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Melissa Crowe

Your poem “Lessons” in Volume 24, lists a series of shocking events that a young person witnessed from extended family members. How has your childhood shaped your poetry? 

This is a big question! I want to start by addressing that word, shocking because, believe it or not, nothing in the poem seems shocking to me. I was a guest in an undergraduate poetry workshop recently, and one of the students asked, rather pointedly, “Why do you write about these awful, painful things?” I said, “Well–these are the stories I have.” 

It’s a little like looking in the refrigerator, hungry, and finding what seems like meager ingredients. Hopefully you manage a meal that satisfies, and on occasion you wind up with something surprisingly delicious. I’m working with what’s at hand, and by the time I’ve written a poem–spent weeks or months or, in some cases, years–crafting the thing, it doesn’t hurt anymore, or certainly not as much. In fact, that transformation–from experience to art–is joyful for me. It feels like triumph. 

But of course the reader is encountering this old pain for the first time. I’m fascinated by that dissonance, actually, and I was thinking about it when I wrote “Lessons.” The poem is intended to say something like “These events gave me a particular understanding of human social life, and I carry that understanding forward, but to have been loved so well–gently, abidingly, sweetly–has changed how I see myself, my past, and the world.” It’s a love poem! 

But to answer your question directly, I’ll say this: my childhood shaped my poetry completely, irrevocably, because it shaped me. It taught me that we’re vulnerable to one another’s whims and inheritors of one another’s suffering. It taught me that we live closer to the bone than we might like to recognize and that our survival depends on our willingness to rely upon one another, to care for each other. It taught me the dangers and pleasures of being an animal in the world, and it convinced me of the urgency of seeing and saying the truth. I think–I hope–these lessons are at work in my poems.

I appreciate the turn that happens at the end of “Lessons” as it flips to an ode of sorts for a person whose presence allows the speaker to rise above a difficult childhood with “a carton of Five Alive & a fistful of daisies.” What (or who) was the original inspiration for the poem? 

We have a running joke in my marriage–we continuously evoke “the speaker’s husband.” Mark–to whom this poem is dedicated–is a pretty ferocious protector of my creative freedom, and he often reminds me that poems aren’t nonfiction. Actually, whereas the writer of an essay agrees to tell the truth and a fiction writer claims the story is made up, poetry occupies a liminal space when it comes to the real. Poets aren’t promising facts or refusing them. In my case, I’m using them as raw material and giving myself permission to remember, imagine, invent, all in pursuit of the made thing. My husband isn’t in this poem; the lovely young man with the juice and flowers is the speaker’s husband.

Just between us, though, I’ll say this: I was sixteen when I met Mark, and it was like spotting dry land after a long, hard time at sea. I’m grateful every single day for the good sense I managed back then. Kid-me set me up good! 

I noticed that you wrote a few chapbooks before your first full length collection Dear Terror, Dear Splendor came out in 2019. How did those earlier works prepare you for that full length collection? What has your writing journey been like so far?  

I love chapbooks. They play a vital role in the poetry ecosystem. They allow emerging writers to create a smaller collection before they take the bigger leap, invite folks already publishing books to engage with side projects, and make it possible for small presses to champion work that’s riskier because it is experimental or otherwise outside what the market deems viable. 

My first chapbook collects prose poems I wrote in a flurry when I started teaching and was the mother of a small child. It was hard to find time for creative work, and I started a blog with the aim of writing and posting a poem a day, quickly and without much revision. What came out, not surprisingly, was very different from the poems that arise from my usual practice. My second chapbook, Girl, Giant, is more of a precursor, a place where I incubated my first collection, and many of those poems appear also in Dear Terror, Dear Splendor. 

My practice has always depended a great deal on my circumstances–I had a baby at the tail end of my MFA and was raising a small child during my PhD, so the book I started writing at twenty-three was published two decades later. I thought that meant I was a very slow writer. I am a pretty devoted and meticulous reviser. I live with a poem for a long time before I find myself wanting to publish it, and it’s not unusual for the published version to be drafted thirty-five or forty-seven times. But right around the time Dear Terror, Dear Splendor came out, my kid went off to college, and then I wrote the second book in four years instead of twenty. 

What do I want to say, then, about the journey? I always wanted, since I was maybe fourteen, to live a life in poetry, and I’ve pursued it persistently though not always in ways that look ambitious, and I think that’s because I’ve also chosen to be present in the other parts of my life. I have a full life, and I’m at peace with the ways that poetry moves in and out of the center, sharing space with friendship, activism, teaching, marriage, motherhood. As long as I can feel the poem within reach, I’m happy. 

Congratulations on winning the Iowa Poetry Prize award for your second poetry book Lo, coming out in spring of 2023! What was the process like in creating this poetry book and submitting it for the prize? Did you submit to other contests or presses? What would you recommend to others who are working to get a poetry collection published? 

Thank you! As I said, I wrote this book much more quickly than my first one, largely because I was no longer parenting in the same active, daily way I had been. I was working in an independent creative writing department. Everybody in the building was writing a book! It felt like I better be, too! 

After about three years of writing new poems post-Dear Terror, Dear Splendor, I spent a summer taking stock of how much finished work I actually had. Did it add up to something cohesive? Cut to the bonkers, murder-investigation-style manuscript wall, and then passing the results on to a single, trusted reader, and suddenly, in time for the fall reading periods, it looked like I had a book to submit. 

My plan was to send that version of the manuscript to about a dozen presses, and if it didn’t get picked up, I’d revise and try again. I’d arrived near the end of the cycle–had a few lovely near misses–and was making a revision plan when I got that thrilling call from the University of Iowa Press.

In terms of advice, maybe the main thing I can offer is encouragement to take your time making the poems and building the book, and once you believe it’s strong, identify presses putting out work you love and admire, making books you find physically beautiful and with reputations for treating their authors with respect. 

From there, the hardest part is pursuing publication in the face of rejection, maintaining the confidence necessary to ride it out. For me, this is all made easier by remembering past experiences–so often when I’ve begun to believe a thing is impossible, I learn otherwise. But the bottom line is this: if I’m pursuing a thing I believe in, a thing I have chosen mindfully and with all my heart, I don’t have to keep second guessing myself. I don’t get to make others’ choices–whether or not to publish the thing–but I have made mine, have done my work, and I can feel good about that, no matter the outcome.

Will there be events leading up your publication of Lo that we can look forward to? What is next on the horizon for you as a writer?    

On the run-up to the publication of Lo, I’m doing all the things a poet does to help get the book out: trading notes with the copyeditor, looking at proofs, helping to select cover art, gathering blurbs, and that takes up a lot of headspace and dayspace. Surprisingly, though, I find I’m also writing new poems toward something that already feels like it might be a third book, this time about desire for things we don’t choose. I’m thinking a lot about the word unconsummated. I identify as a bit of a hedonist, so this is new territory. We’ll see! 

MELISSA CROWE is the author of Dear Terror, Dear Splendor (University of Wisconsin Press, 2019) and Lo, winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize and forthcoming from University of Iowa Press in the spring of 2023. Her work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in Image, New England Review, Poetry, and Poetry Northwest, among other journals, and she was the 2021 winner of the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. She coordinates the MFA program at UNCW, where she teaches poetry and publishing. 


In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Zibiquah Denny

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Zibiquah Denny

I really enjoyed your creative nonfiction piece “The Buckskin Dress” in Volume 24 which tells the history of your family through the usage and the making of a dress sewn by your grandmother. Why did you choose to tell this story through the history of the dress? How does the artifact impact the storytelling?     

Originally I was going to write a story on dancing–my mom was a highly respected pow-wow dancer and I inherited her love of dance. Then I read my brother Jack’s college essay on my mom meeting one of his heroes, Ira Hayes. I never knew that story and I knew I had to use it while talking about dance and ceremony. As I thought more and more about the dance and the dress and all the layers it represented, the dress became an important and appropriate vehicle to talk about our family history, culture, love and loss. 

As the story developed, I wanted to include the hunt of the deer, the prayers and ceremonies around the gifts we are blessed with, and the animals who give their lives for our well-being. It all came together after talking with my cousin Alfred. Praying with seyma (tobacco), giving thanks and ceremony are important aspects of our culture. I wanted to show that with this essay.

Your story also references the history of your people, the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk. What research did you do in writing this piece? How did you decide what to include and what to leave out? 

I read historical books on the Potawatomi and the Ho-Chunk to understand when and where the removals and other major historical events took place. I also read smaller publications from the Wisconsin Historical Society and other tribal publications. I interviewed family members and wrote down some of my own recollections as a child. 

This essay is one story in the memoir I am working on. I wrote an essay on my Naming Ceremony which goes more in-depth into the Potawatomi removal from Wisconsin. I used a broader history for that story because of the intrusion on our religious practices and ceremonies which was a major part of that story. 

The Buckskin Dress did not require much historical context because the dress was worn by family members for various reasons within two generations. I focused on the dress, the making of it, the person who made it and the people who wore it because it made for a more layered and engaging story. I did not want to weigh it down with unnecessary historical facts.

Often when telling family stories, there are contradictions depending on peoples’ different points of view. How did you collect the family stories that are present in the piece? Were there any bumps in the road, or shining moments you’d like to share with us in the gathering of family lore? 

Fortunately most of this story comes from my own recollections as a child and youth. I used to go with my mom to these gigs since I was three years old–at first it was a requirement because I was the youngest and not in school yet. Later as I got to be a teen I chose to go with my mom because I really loved seeing her dance–I developed a love of my own for the dance so it was very helpful for me to watch her move.

I started to dance when I was a young teen. My cousin Alfred was happy to share his stories with me–I appreciated his willingness to not only share his experiences but his good humor. He was nothing but encouraging. I had to include humor in the story because humor is a very important cultural trait and I wanted that to show–I hope everyone understood it. Sometimes we humans take ourselves much too seriously.

You were a former editor of The Circle newspaper, guest editor at Yellow Medicine Review, and currently a contributing editor at Solstice. Do you find editing to be complementary to your writing life? If so, in what ways? 

I do, but not because it is easy. Editing is a very meticulous task but a necessary one to write cohesively. I first write out the story without editing myself because that slows down the flow and can be extremely time consuming. I wait to edit until the story is finished and then go back several times to take out repetitions or unnecessary pieces in the story–details that do not add anything to the main theme. 

Deciding what to leave in or out also requires some thought. So I ask myself what I want to leave with the reader. What do I want them to learn? It is important not to take for granted that the readers will understand everything, especially if you are writing about specific cultural, racial and historical events. That is where a mixed race reading group comes in handy. I have participated in several groups and they have been very helpful. However that is not always possible.

I assume most people do not know certain historical details, so I include them to not  confuse or lose the reader. It is better to be thorough in your telling of any story with a historical or cultural nature.

Do you have any tips for other writers on how to maintain a writing life?  

Stay focused and do not get discouraged. Take the time you need to write whenever you get the chance because it is not always possible, especially if you have a job or children. I do not have a set time that I write. Remember everyone writes differently. Figure out the best time of the day for you to write, but if you cannot get to writing then read. Read everything and not just the genre you are writing in. The more you read the better writer you will become.

What are some books, journals, or writers that you’ve enjoyed reading recently?  

The best book I read on writing is called On Writing by Stephen King. It’s funny and easy to read–he gives great tips for all kinds of writing, I highly recommend it. Isabel Allende is also a favorite writer of mine, her latest book Violeta is a good read; Heavy by Kiese Laymon; Night by Elie Wiesel; Whereas by Layli Long Soldier; The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. 

Skunk Hill is a small book published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press and was an important book for me because the writer interviews many of my family members. They were descendants of the Skunk Hill group of Potawatomies who escaped the reservation in Kansas to practice their religion freely in their homelands of Wisconsin. 

That’s a short list, I try to read a book a week.

What are some projects that you are working on now?

I have been working on more poetry but still mainly working on my memoir. I will have a poem called War Torn History published in the November issue of Solstice magazine.

ZIBIQUAH DENNY is Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk originally from the Great Lakes and woodlands of Wisconsin. She is a storyteller, telling stories that educate by writing from an indigenous cultural and historical perspective with a contemporary voice. Formerly a journalist, she is currently writing creative nonfiction and poetry. She is a recent recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board grant in which she organized and read for the Custer Had It Coming event in Minneapolis. She guest edited the Spring 2020 issue of Yellow Medicine Review and co-edited the local Voices Rising Journal in 2021 and is now working on a memoir.

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