A Space for Women of the World
We are excited to bring to you our inaugural issue of As/Us: A Literary Space for Women of the World. The seed for As/Us was planted in Boulder, Co while three Indigenous women writers were discussing writing, the challenges of publishing, and the lack of diversity within the literary world. We came up with the idea of starting our own journal, specifically for Indigenous women. We became excited about the possibility of publishing established writers, like Joy Harjo who are taught in classrooms alongside emerging writers, some of whom have published, but have not yet received much recognition. By bringing writers in different stages of their careers together we were interested in the conversations that would arise between subject matter, craft and aesthetics. We envisioned a space where readers could find fiction, poetry, spoken word, and art in dialogue with scholarly works, along with interviews from some of our contributors. We hope to continue the journal for many years to come and want to seek out more international voices and youth features as well.
While Casandra and Tanaya were curating this issue their vision for As/Us expanded to include writers from other underrepresented communities. Just as we were able to see the intersections between the themes and subject matter of all of our contributors’ voices and experiences it is our hope that our readers will contemplate those connections as well. Tanaya and Casandra purposely selected pieces with diverse styles and intentions. In our first issue we have twenty-two contributors, two interviews, and two (forthcoming) reviews. Our Indigenous contributors represent different tribal nations within the U.S. and Canada. We also feature Latina, African-American, and Asian-American writers. Tanaya, Casandra, and Christine believe that showing a pipeline of possibilities for underrepresented writers is not only needed for our own communities, but for the larger society as well.
With so many stories, words, and visions represented, it felt natural to begin the journal with a creative work that resembled a prayer. Osborn writes “this is how all stories begin,” in her poem about emergence and the importance of story. In the pieces to follow women write about different subjects such as about finding the beauty in your surroundings. Johnston’s spokenword piece “Dawn,” expresses this sentiment well, “show me something unbeautiful,’ she says, / ‘and I will show you the veil over your eyes and take it away. / And you will see hozho all around you, inside of you.”
Just as the landscape is integral to “Dawn,” we have included other pieces that are firmly grounded in specific geographies. In Kao’s creative non-fiction essay “Roots and Leaves” personal history is interlinked with culture and place. She writes, “I am unearthing a foreign culture with my own language, digging up characters that lived through the characters they wrote.” A similar sense of familial history occurs in “Winter Garden” where we are presented with a complex sense of family, one that is struggling with loss, but also thriving by cultivating the family they have by preparing to bring in a new life. In these two pieces we see how landscapes express the changes of not only seasons, but also relationships.
“Movie Time,” an excerpt from Mantz memoir, subtly renders tension as if watching a film, with moments in scene slowing unfolding to reveal family dysfunction. Unlike Mantz, Givhan’s short story directly tackles relationships by focusing on the unhealthy aspects of romantic partnership and the complexity of desire. This type of addictive love is also seen in the poem, “Woman the Usual Way,” which explores abuse through observation.
We were interested in our contributors’ use of observation as a tool to expound upon stereotypes and roles women are sometimes forced into. Broyles’ “Summer Camp 1978” contrasts the innocence of first gaining awareness of the body to the harsh reality where women’s bodies can also be threatened. Wurth’s poems continue with these themes of the female body as it is understood in relation to the male body, “I came to understand what those hands wanted of me.” Ideas between body and identity intersect. This connection was demonstrated well in “A Day At The Races,” a poem told in seven voices, which utilizes hair as a motif to discuss race, self-perception, and outsider perceptions among other topics from different vantage points. Just as Lythcott-Haims shows the pressure placed on women in terms of expectations and appearances, Simpson addresses a consciousness about how white people perceive Indigenous people. Simpson’s poem incorporates speech acts such as “wear a skirt that covers your knees and spice nylon stockings,” using directives to tell the speaker how to act.
Because the the female body is often politicized these works take on political connotation. In Long Soldier’s poem we see the body, its strength, power, the ability to harm, but also lament and question all of its capabilities. In “Doll Making” the body is rendered political as we are shown children in the Philippines laboring in industrial schools. Andrews writes about the harsh conditions of child labor, “Our first initiation our fingers bled / red rosebud drops. Sucking thumbs.” Other voices write about political subjects, identity, and history. A powerful example is “Sons of Carlisle.” In it Atsitty examines the aftermath of boarding schools, “new marks: Abraham, Albert, Edward, George, / Joseph, Isaac. And these are they who were / once taught to look, to pray with eyes / open. Boys – shed our childhood names…” Ancestral connection is passed along through story, giving the speaker a specific sense of identity. In “The Tipping Point” Najmi writes, “my stories are served to me on small plates / my stories are only half of yours.”
Artists and writers have responsibilities to address historical issues, but also contemporary issues, which we see in Belleau’s poetry written in response the Idle No More movement and First Nations rights. Others pieces tackle ongoing subjects like poverty facing Indigenous peoples. In “walmart,” northSun writes, “she smiles at me and / says ‘ welcome to walmart’ / minimum wage is / better than nothing.”
All of these stories share common threads, demonstrating not only what it means to be a woman, but also human in this world. The voices weave together the individual and collective experience, serving their words to us on plates to feed each other.
Casandra and Tanaya