The Latest in Simon Jacobs' Exclusive Series: MASTERWORKS

Simon Jacobs had an idea for a recurring series: flash fiction pieces in which the characters reenact famous works of art. Being a home for art and lit to meet and clash and mix, Paper Darts couldn't say no.

Welcome to MASTERWORKS. This serialized content is delivered exclusively to Paper Darts e-news subscribers each month. If you don't want to miss out on the next one, sign up for the Paper Darts e-news.

Part 1Part 2. Part 3.

Reading time: 5 minutes Recommended for: Teenage anarchists

Reading time: 5 minutes

Recommended for: Teenage anarchists

The last time I remember you in the house, after your first year of college, I passed through a room that you were occupying and found its furniture splayed with others, helpless in summer glow. When I asked for introductions, you gestured lazily to your friends en masse and said, “These are my fellow outcasts”—like this was a life I’d once expelled you from, a dead thing you only returned to for spoils—and I was reminded that your record of history was not to be trusted. It was hardly the first time you’d tried to mask me over, and I coped with the moment, the word as I had with many others, by imagining its physical bounds: I imagined the facsimile of another son ghosted in wax, slurried and then fired in a kiln and filled with hot metal, which once cooled I’d hammer away, leaving the full figure behind, literally “cast out”—yes, this was what he’d meant, correct, exactly as I had fostered him, filed down sprues and all, no sign of the mold left on him.
And it was inevitable, fated. Phaeton careened through the sky, not knowing the way. The horses ran wild. He veered too close to the earth and set it aflame, he cast his smoke-stung eyes frantically to the western horizon he knew he would never reach; in his panic, he dropped the reins. High above, knowing the earth would be destroyed if he didn’t intervene, Zeus, king of all gods, struck Phaeton dead with one of his famous thunderbolts. He fell. The story ends with poplar trees on a riverbank, metamorphosis of grief.

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Reading time: 6 minutes Recommended for: The Whig Party

Reading time: 6 minutes

Recommended for: The Whig Party

The timeline does not work in my favor any way you slice it, no matter when I finally put the pieces together: You were pregnant and I ran for the hills.
When I did find you again, fully six months after I’d busted, it was at the mouth of a cave a mile outside of town. Peter had led me there. I’d found him prowling through the ruins of our old building like a Lazarus back from heaven, and when he fled from me, I followed. You were buried beneath a strata of six blankets with a book open on the ground by your feet, resembling nothing so much as an obdurate boulder in a river, the scrubland parting around you, the baby imminent, and the hour upon us. We had never been more than five miles apart. You greeted Peter first, but by the name of one of the elder gods. You had no words for me, and I didn’t deserve them.
We high-tailed it back to the city. The rickety shopping cart was your chariot, and I was the traitorous beast who pulled it.

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Reading time: 4 minutes Recommended for: Not Catholics

Reading time: 4 minutes

Recommended for: Not Catholics

I am poking around the very fringes of the ruined city long past smoldering, far from you, when the first wave of nausea hits. I think to myself, “Oh, it’s just morning sickness,” almost automatically, before I have this terrible sudden realization that it is Actually Morning Sickness, like the mother-incumbent kind, and I plant my hands on my thighs like a runningback braced for impact and just sort of teeter there, rocking back and forth, but nothing comes. My insides swarm and then settle, as if after a tidal wave that forced the evacuation of a small coastal fishing village but, disappointingly, never made landfall.
The sun cracks over the rocky horizon. I have grown accustomed to my witchy existence out here since your departure and the literal crumbling of our home of years: My days are spent in quiet communion with the land, in study (Starhawk, spellbooks I dragged out in a busted shopping cart), finding harmonic patterns in light cast through the projections of spirey old buildings and the interplay of shadow and scraggly tree branch. I’m probably one grim hand puppet away from sermonizing to the birds. There’s a makeshift rubble cave that I snuggle into at night, not because I have to.

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Reading time: 4 minutes Recommended for: Alchemists

Reading time: 4 minutes

Recommended for: Alchemists

Over time it had become increasingly difficult to qualify our desires outside of the paintings. Thus, scarcely after we’d mentioned the child, there came the Father.

On that auspicious day, I’d masked my hair with an avocado, olive oil, and lemon juice mixture I read about on the internet to give it that extra shine, after letting it grow out for months. You appeared in the mirror behind me, leaning against the bathroom doorway and peeling cheap latex monster gloves off your fingers, fresh from the Halloween store. You stretched one of the rubbery red fingernails out and let it snap back. “I feel like a trick-or-treater.”

“Pieter van Laer invented the concept of the monster glove before anyone else had even fathomed the technology,” I said. “He was a revolutionary.”

“More like a Rosemary.” You took in the sight of me luxuriously dragging a comb through my wavy locks, smooth as butter, while simultaneously contorting my face into grimaces of terror. “Your head smells like a bowl of guacamole.”

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You have time, people.

Wait. Taxes aren't due on the 15th? Well, that changes everything.


The Paper Darts Short Fiction Contest is extended until April 25th.  

You now have seven days to figure your shit out. 


Here is your to-do list:

1. Pay your taxes. 

2. Pretend your Twitter feed is a shine to Goddess Roxane Gay.  
Bow down and pray for good favor.

3. Finish your story. 

4. Send that puppy in. 

Five Roxane Gay quotes we just might tattoo on our biceps

We were totally floored when Roxane Gay agreed to judge this year's Paper Darts Short Fiction Award. Over the last decade, her writing and editing of PANK inspired countless literary ambitions. There is not a more perfect judge in all the land of literature. 

But she's also one of our favorite feminist icons. Her book Bad Feminist opened the gates to a world where it's possible to be both feminist and human—because we're all still learning, the conversation is still evolving, and being perfect is hard.

In the next few weeks, we'll bow down to the Word of Gay in a series of blog posts that highlight pieces of her brilliance. The first up to bat: our favorite Bad Feminist quotes that we might just one day get tattooed on our bodies. (But we'll save room for the inevitable zingers in her upcoming memoir, Hunger, too.)

[click here to submit to our contest, have your story judged by Roxane Gay, and potentially win $500]

1. “When you can’t find someone to follow, you have to find a way to lead by example.”

From the introduction to Bad Feminist, a reminder of just one way to keep your feminism inclusive: "We don't all have to believe in the same feminism. Feminism can be pluralistic so long as we respect the different feminisms we carry with us, so long as we give enough of a damn to try to minimize the fractures among us." 

2. "At some point, you have to surrender to the kinds of privilege you hold because everyone has something someone else doesn’t."

From her essay "Peculiar Benefits": "You don't necessarily have to do anything once you acknowledge your privilege. You don't have to apologize for it. You need to understand the extent of your privilege, the consequences of your privilege, and remain aware that people who are different from you move through and experience the world in ways you might never know anything about." 

3. “Some women being empowered does not prove the patriarchy is dead. It proves that some of us are lucky.”

From "How We All Lose," or "Sorry, the Patriarchy Isn't Dead," an analysis of how women gaining steps toward equality does not mean men are losing anything: "What goes unsaid is that women might be more ambitious and focused because we've never had a choice. We've had to fight to vote, to work outside the home, to work in environments free of sexual harassment, to attend the universities of our choice, and we've also had to prove ourselves over and over to receive any modicum of consideration."

4. “I don’t believe in safety. I wish I did. I am not brave. I simply know what to be scared of; I know to be scared of everything. There is freedom in that fear. The freedom that makes it easier to appear fearless—to say and do what I want. I have been broken, so I am prepared should that happen again . . . You have no idea what I can take.”

From her essay "The Illusion of Safety/The Safety of Illusion": "There are a great many potential trigger warnings. Over the years, I have seen trigger warnings for eating disorders, poverty, self-injury, bullying, heteronormativity, suicide, sizeism, genocide, slavery, mental illness, explicit fiction, explicit discussions of sexuality, homosexuality, homophobia, addiction, alcoholism, racism, the Holocaust, ableism, and Dan Savage.

Life, apparently, requires a trigger warning."

5. Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive. This myth is like heels and purseS—pretty but designed to SLOW women down.

From "How to Be Friends with Other Women": "Want nothing but the best for your friends because when your friends are happy and successful, it’s probably going to be easier for you to be happy." Shine theory, y'all.

Sharpen your pencils. It's submittin' season.

The Paper Darts Short Fiction Award is back and, boy, do we have a surprise. This time, the venerable Roxane Gay has agreed to judge you/r stories.

[chorus of excited cheers and gasps]

Damn right. But let's cut to the chase. Here's all the juicy details you need to know before submitting:


Award: $500

Entry fee: $5

Judge: Roxane Gay

Word limit: 1,200

Deadline: 4/15/2016

Submission process:

• All entries must be previously unpublished and 1,200 words or less.
• The entry fee is $5.
• Enter as many times as you please. Each entry requires an entry fee of $5. If you include more than one story in your uploaded file without paying an entry fee for each, your submission will not be considered.
• Entrant’s name should not appear anywhere in the uploaded material. Do not submit a cover letter—the readings are blind, so you won’t need to butter us up.
• Previously published stories and stories forthcoming in other publications (print or online) will not be considered.
• Simultaneous submissions are allowed, but the entry fee will not be refunded if the story is accepted elsewhere.
• Notify us immediately to withdraw a story that is accepted elsewhere.
• All submissions are eligible for publication by Paper Darts in print or online.
• Deadline: 4/15/16 (subject to extend as we see fit).

This is Roxane Gay.

This is Roxane Gay.

You might know Roxane as the one who wrote Bad Feminist, a collection of essays outlining how it's possible to be human and a feminist at the same time. But to us, we idolize her for her work as founding editor of the literary magazine [PANK], which is probably the one place online that's cooler than Paper Darts. Her memoir, Hunger, is due out this summer, and we'll probably beat you to the front of the line to pick it up on its release day.


A Bit of Spellcasting: An Interview with Sonya Vatomsky

Rachel Charlene Lewis

Sonya Vatomsky is a Moscow-born, Seattle-raised ghost and the author of poetry collection Salt is for Curing (Sator Press) and chapbook My Heart in Aspic (Porkbelly Press). They are an assistant editor at Fruita Pulp, where they also review poetry. Find them by saying their name five times in front of a bathroom mirror or at

Rachel Charlene Lewis: Right now, My Heart in Aspic is on the top of my books-to-buy list. What was the driving force behind the chapbook? What would you tell anyone who is wondering whether or not to buy it?

Sonya Vatomsky: Oh, gosh, thank you! So, this gets weirder to talk about the further I get from it, but the genesis of the chapbook was me being assaulted, or rather me being assaulted and then having this moment where my entire sexual and romantic history got utterly recontextualized for me and I was just mad. It was the only thing I could write about for a long time. I like to think that my poetry transcends that, though. Most of my work, because I can’t help it, deals directly or indirectly with trauma and mental illness and power dynamics, and that’s definitely been a source of solace for readers who have similar experiences, but it’s also a spooky read for those looking for a bit of spellcasting before bed.


RCL: What is your writing process like? Has it changed at all over time?

SV: My writing process has not changed since I was a child. I write when I feel like it and I’m a very fast writer and I write until I’m out of things that feel necessary to say and then I abruptly stop. I don’t really edit or anything – if something no longer resonates with me, then I write something else rather than fixing up the old thing, which will hang around as a nice monument to when I felt a certain way, etc. I also have a lot of tattoos, most of which I’ve gotten with no more than two weeks of forethought, and I still like all of them. I’m not very embarrassed about my past, I guess?

You can read a little more about my writing “process” here, if you like.


RCL: To what extent do you think about your reader in your editing process?

SV: Not at all. I’m a jerk. Sorry.



RCL: Why do you publish your work? How did you get your start?

SV: I used to be a very private writer and then I found LiveJournal.

Basically, I love that traditionally underrepresented groups are able to get exposure through smaller presses/journals and self-publishing, and I love destroying that idea that there’s some kind of difference in “quality” between what’s on a bestseller list or in the canon and what’s being produced online, that some writing is “real writing” or whatever.

It’s difficult for me to pinpoint where my start is, exactly. It’s probably difficult for most people who grew up on the Internet, because you’re publishing everything. That’s not very helpful, is it? I guess the first time I was published in a, y’know, “serious literary context,” was last October when Sarah Boyle curated an essay series at Delirious Hem.


RCL: Why Fruita Pulp?

SV: Fruita Pulp is the best. I respect and trust Kyle (Harvey, the founder) a lot—he cares about what he’s doing and we’ve had conversations about what happens when an abuser is in your submission pile, for example, and we’re all trying very hard to A) not be terrible, and B) actively be good. We also don’t read blind, which is something that seriously stresses me out.

I’m also really into writing reviews for our issues, partly because reviews = free books for meeeee and partly because I want to amplify the writing of wonderful people doing wonderful poetry things as much as possible. Get in touch if you want your book reviewed—if I take a fancy to it, I’ll write something really gushy and we’ll both be too embarrassed to ever talk again.

Send us your poems!


RCL: What are you reading right now? What’s on the top of your to-read list?

SV: I read, like, six poetry books yesterday. I got Lisa Marie Basile’s war/lockKelly Boyker’s Zoonosis & Sarah Kain Gutowski’s Fabulous Beast: The Sow from Hyacinth Girl Press’ recent sale and they’re all phenomenal. I also finally read Sarah Xerta’s full-length Nothing To Do With Me, which is beautiful but also heartbreaking if you read it after her more recent work. And P. E. Garcia’s recent collection from Awst! Right now I’m almost at the end of Leah Noble Davidson’s Poetic Scientifica, which Sarah recommended to me and is fucking fantastic. Fiction-wise, I just finished Poppy Z Brite’s Exquisite Corpse, which I realize I’m, like, twenty years late on.

Up next on my to-read list is Monica McClure’s Tender Data.


RCL: When you’re looking for online lit to read, where are the first places you go?

SV: Twitter. I used to read sites like The Hairpin and The Toast every day but I think I aged out of their demographic or something. As far as literary journals go, Hermeneutic ChaosPith Journal, and Menacing Hedge are ultra-lovely if you want to eat up an entire issue of poems and stories.


RCL: You’ve written in the past about the problematic nature of the lit world. Where (and how) have you found community within the mess?

SV: At the intersection of poet Twitter and weird Twitter.

Things that give a hopeless feeling: reading a wonderful poem & discovering the poet isn’t on Twitter.


RCL: What adult life skill are you still working on?

SV: Washing my hair regularly. Sometimes showering in general. I don’t like getting wet. (I know, I know, whatever—I’m European.)


RCL: Do you have anything you would like to add?

SV: Buy my chapbook. Or buy my full-length collection. And, um, sorry about not showering.

Year of Magical Being

By Lizzy Shramko

There’s not much in an astrological session that I tell people that they don’t already know. But there is something really phenomenal that occurs when a stranger tells you something that is so deeply personal about yourself.
-Chani Nicholas

The Story in Astrology

I became interested in astrology in my late 20s. More specifically, a friend of mine encouraged me to order a birth chart book right before my 29th birthday. It was a cold January in Minnesota and I was single for the first time in eight years. I wanted make sense of the path my life was taking, a path that many people in my life reflected back to me as wrong, as somehow out of sequence.

People seek out celestial meaning for many reasons. When I turned to astrology, I was looking for a story.

As a writer, a reader, and a human living on this planet, I am surrounded by story. My Facebook feed presents a pixelated narrative to me, updating me on acquaintances’ daily habits, big and small. If film is my preferred medium, I can find a catalog of cinematic stories on Netflix designed to cater to my interest in “independent action movies with a strong female lead.” And if I’m feeling old-fashioned, I can always find story in books. But the thing about the stories that fill my life is that so many of them are like unsolicited advice from an older family member: prescriptive, out of date, and intended to make me feel like shit.

Facebook, for example, pushes certain life events. The other day, the social media site helpfully asked me if I experienced any of the following life events recently: marriage proposal, marriage itself, the birth of children, the purchase of a house. Those are the moments that make meaning on Facebook. It takes an effort to find a movie on Netflix with a strong female lead that does not eventually kowtow to the every need of her love interest (invariably a man). Even if you look for respite from these narratives in nature documentaries, the disembodied narrator often finds a way to replicate these heteronormative tropes in the lives of animals and plants. Seriously, plants.

The stories in my life consistently tell me that you are not fully human unless you are in love, in a relationship or somewhere on the pathway to marriage.

But I digress.

In my search for story, I stumbled upon the magnificent astrological world of horoscopes. I was certainly not the first, and definitely won’t be the last, to find their way to this magical place. Horoscopes offer story every week. Both expansive and specific, the horoscopes I read allowed me to fit myself into their lines. When I moved into my apartment alone, one of the more significant events of my life, it did not qualify as a Facebook life event. It didn’t inspire the same congratulatory appraisal of family members when I moved significantly shittier apartment with my partner years back. Building a home for myself, completely alone, is one of the most difficult and satisfying things I have done. The process of pacing the days, cooking for one, acquiring objects, and assembling and reassembling them in a space that was mine alone was exhilarating and exhausting. It was incredibly lonely. More importantly, even if I didn’t recognize it at the time, it was enormously empowering. That week, the first week of January, my horoscope told me to nurture myself, to focus inward, to take leaps into the unknown. And as much as it might sound like New Age pseudo philosophy, impersonal and empty, that horoscope carried more meaning than most of the other stories in my life. I could see myself reflected back, whole and happy.  

The neat paragraphs that most of us know as horoscopes are one astrologer’s interpretation of future/past events based on an astrological chart. Trust me, these charts are complicated AF. When I received my birth chart book (basically a short novel that describes the astrological leanings of my life based on what the sky looked like at the exact moment when I emerged from my mom’s vagina), I realized how sophisticated this astrology business really was. For a beginner, the sign you are probably familiar with is your sun sign.

I was born on February 28th, so I know that I am a Pisces.

But from there is gets much, much more complicated. I do not have the expertise to really go into all of it, but in addition to my sun sign, I learned my rising sign (how others see you) and my moon sign (reflective of your emotions). There are houses and angles. There is ascendant and descendant. Basically, you could spend your whole life learning about this stuff. In fact, some people do.

I’ve read wretchedly shaming horoscopes intended to scold the reader, horoscopes that follow the tired tropes of “success” that are regurgitated across media. In these narratives, marriage, children, and financial stability often equal inner peace, or something along those lines. But there are some astrologists that craft stories that heal, nurture, and help build up the world around them. They leave space in their forecasts for the multiplicity of meanings that exist in our complicated, messy lives. These astrologers’ ultimate version of “love” does not translate to romantic love alone, but to larger notions of social justice, critical healing, to nurturing a holistic love of oneself. If you need suggestions, Chani Nicholas is most definitely one of these astrologers. Nicholas practices what she calls “queer astrology.”


She explains

“Queer astrology to me is not assuming that I know anything about the people who are coming to me. That I don’t assume their gender, I don’t assume who they date. I don’t make assumptions about how they grew up, I don’t make assumptions about what their preferences are. And that I’m using a queer/feminist lens to counsel people.”


As a gender studies major, I have used critical theory as a methodology for dissecting the world around me to unpack and unfold the crevices of power that are so intricately and expertly enveloping my life. And yet. There is something magical, for lack of a better word, in embracing ways of knowing that are less rooted in a science I know. There is something empowering about believing in something beyond me.

I check Chani on the weekly.

Her horoscopes come out on Mondays, a day I have come to look forward to. Her forecasts for the week are uplifting and focused on self love and self acceptance. As a single woman on the cusp of my 30s, Chani is one of the only sources of acceptance that I can easily find. When I am tired and uncertain, when I have a shitty week at work where I feel unappreciated, or when I’m working on a piece of writing that is particularly challenging, more than just offering advice that is useful, Chani offers advice that is affirming.

Her words make me feel seen.

Illustration by Meher Khan.

Yes, Your Writing Is Shaped By Your Identity—But What You Publish Is Too

Rachel Charlene Lewis

These days, the lit world is spending a lot more time thinking about the role of identity in writing and publishing. With recent shifts toward a greater acknowledgment of the role of identity and the influence of privilege on what we write, read, and publish, more and more think pieces are spanning the web.

Many of us are asking the same question: How on earth is the lit world going to support people of marginalized identities in a society that has shown itself time and time again to be incapable of the same task?

Over the summer, Electric Literature posed the question “Should White Men Stop Writing?” on The Blunt Instrument, its monthly advice column for writers, with an answer that can be boiled down to, “No, don’t stop writing; just work toward good writing and don’t cast yourself as the white savior. Oh, and stop doing the weird white guy thing of submitting work over and over again . . . even after you’ve been told your work is low-quality.” (Get more of the column’s author in a Q&A over at Vulture.)

Many responses followed in the lit world. The Atlantic’s June 6th response piece, “Letter to a Young (White, Male) Poet,” gave a different set of advice that largely suggested the idea that white male poets shouldn’t stop writing, unless, of course, they’re bad at the craft.

But we’ve come up with no solution. And why? Are we looking in the wrong places? At the end of the day, maybe the responsibility to publish diverse perspectives falls onto publishers and editors.


Where are the diverse writers?

Let me be straight with you: I am a giant feminist, and as such, I’ve followed all of these conversations pretty closely. I regularly read diverse publications, like THEM, Plenitude, The Fem (disclaimer: I work with them), Blackberry Lit, Quaint, Kalyani, and Two Serious Ladies. I keep up with campaigns that fight for inclusivity in the literary world, like #WeNeedDiverseBooks and the VIDA Count. And it’s really interesting because, at least from the outside looking in, these publications don’t seem to be having the same massive struggle of not being able to find diverse writers that some editors claim is the reason for the whiteness, the straightness, and the maleness of their publications.

What I am frustrated about is the lack of responsibility that editors themselves seem willing to take about the maleness and whiteness of the lit world.

If lit mags are publishing problematic works, they’re unlikely to have diverse writers vying for the chance to get their work in their now misogynistic/racist/ableist/classist/homophobic journal. Editors can’t be shocked when women don’t want to submit to their magazine when they just published a misogynistic piece last week. The same can be said for other marginalized identities.


Editors—learn the meaning of diversity

If we publish in terms of talent and actively seek diverse voices, we'll even out the playing field—but first, this requires a basic understanding of what diversity is, what inclusivity looks like, and how identity influences writing.

Our identities shape our perspectives, making all of us privy to the majority perspective per media (and literature’s) constant re-tellings of what it is to be straight, white, and male, and leaving only those of us with identities marginalized in our current US context (people of color, queer folks, trans people, people with disabilities, etc.) with access to certain perspectives.

For writers not to acknowledge the role that who they are plays upon how they move through the world is to make their experience seem as if neutral, as if their writing is just about the “human” experience, not about the experience of any individual and their identities.


We need diverse editors

On July 1st,  @MizCaramelVixen, creator of #BlackComicsMonth (with comics being another overwhelmingly white space within the art world), tweeted, “We need MORE editors of color as well as creators of color. Period.”

And they’re not the only one having this conversation. The Twittersphere, especially Black Twitter, has hashed this issue out via tweets on many occasions, both literary and not.

We can talk in circles about the role of identity and who should and should not write, but what’s become clear to me from the many think pieces spanning the Internet about the topic is that there’s no single solution. The fun part about focusing instead on the role of editors is that there is an answer—we need more diverse editors, and we need editors who do the work.

The fun part about focusing instead on the role of editors is that there is an answer – we need more diverse editors, and we need editors who do the work.

How does an editor select a piece? Do they look for something that makes them feel something? Do they look for something that speaks to the human experience? We can act all we want as if 1) editors are totally objective creatures by the nature of their craft, or 2) that the human experience is not often a cover for the straight, white, cis, able-bodied, male experience.

But what does it mean that the people looking for something to connect to so often share so many of the same characteristics? Those of us involved in chats about diversity often talk about the businessman who pulls aside a fellow straight, white, male, able-bodied young businessman and say, “You remind me of myself, son.” Lookie there—privilege.

Julie Dillon/Buzzfeed

Julie Dillon/Buzzfeed

And this isn’t just an issue in business. What does it mean if editors are imagining their past writer selves in writers whose identities match up with their own? What does it mean if reading and the ability to enjoy a piece is tangled up in being able to see oneself in the main character or narrator?

Buzzfeed published an article in 2014 by Daniel José Older titled, “Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, and Publishing” that discussed this issue in terms of the book publishing industry. When presented with a story headed by a person of color, one agent said, as quoted in the article, that they couldn’t relate to the character.

Again—we end up in a sea of, more or less, the same perspectives.


But can’t we just look for talent?

If what we seek is a world of invisible identities where everyone somehow has an equal shot without effort on the editorial level working to make our publications more diverse, we are completely failing at our task.

There is a lot to “talent.”

I remember sitting in my sophomore year English class and learning about the debate about whether rhetoric could be taught or not. I thought, wow, it must be fantastic to be able to convince people that you carry a skill that you, and only people like you, are capable of being born with.

I’ve found so much solace in the literary world in these past few years. I’ve shared pieces that rubbed me the right way with my closest counterparts as a means of discussing everything from newfound queerness to sexual assault. I’ve laid in bed with these pieces on my phone at 5:00 in the morning and been like, holy crap, this is what not being in absolute solitude feels like.

But I shouldn’t have had to feel so grateful to find writers like me. It shouldn’t be so difficult to stumble upon a piece by a queer, biracial woman. But, goodness gracious, be sure to tweet at me if you have one to recommend. If talent is the only thing holding these people back, then we must seriously be terrible writers.

What does it mean if reading and the ability to enjoy a piece is tangled up in being able to see oneself in the main character or narrator?

It’s too easy to push the blame on the writers

White male writers disappearing isn't necessarily the answer to leveling the publishing playing field, because it's not as if all white male writers think the same way and have no perspective to offer—here, I do agree with the author of The Atlantic piece. And, again, being white and male says nothing about talent.

What I want to talk about more is the editor. How do we switch up the editing game to make it more accessible? How do we include more voices?

If there's any question to ask, it's how to regulate the seeking and publishing of diverse voices—not whether certain people should stop writing.


Editors, it’s on you

There are a number of journals who commit to publishing the works of diverse authors and to being inclusive in their publications. These are the spaces where editors take a step back and say, “What are we doing wrong?” when the only submissions they’ve selected are those of straight, white males, instead of saying, “Welp, guess they are just the strongest writers!”

These journals do not all go about their work in the same way. Apogee Journal, “a literary journal specializing in art and literature that engage with issues of identity politics: race, gender, sexuality, class, and hyphenated identities,” does not read blind. In a July letter from the editors, they say, “Blind submissions don’t actually protect writers from the existing prejudices of editors, and they alone do not contribute to editors reading inclusively.”

Vagabond City, a small quarterly literary journal that seeks to publish poetry and prose that fits outside the mainstream literary scene, asks writers to list their identities along with their submission. (Disclaimer: I edit this journal, so I’m biased.)

It’s the little things and the big things. It’s having submission fee-free periods. It’s promoting your reading periods in spaces beyond expensive magazines. It’s making it clear that you’re a safe space for marginalized voices.

Other spaces don’t necessarily shift their reading practices, but instead make their commitment to inclusivity, diversity, and social justice obvious in their social media presences. The Offing is an excellent example of this. They are continually taking stances on social justice issues like police brutality and mental health in POC communities. Whether their publication is diverse because of their social media presence or vice versa, whatever they’re doing is clearly working, as they’ve continually highlighted the voices of marginalized writers.

It’s the little things and the big things. It’s having submission fee-free periods. It’s promoting your reading periods in spaces beyond expensive magazines. It’s making it clear that you’re a safe space for marginalized voices.

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And it’s worth it.

I crave a world where I don’t have to scroll or flip through page after page or publication after publication to find a queer woman of color. And I’m not the only reader craving this. I am not the only writer terrified for her future. I am not the only person fearing for the moment when the trend to include diverse voices from the literary world passes and we’re left floating in the same sea with no solutions in sight and few editors left to fight the good fight.


What You've Missed in Simon Jacobs' Exclusive Series: MASTERWORKS

Simon Jacobs had an idea for a recurring series: flash fiction pieces in which the characters reenact famous works of art. Being a home for art and lit to meet and clash and mix, Paper Darts couldn't say no.

Welcome to MASTERWORKS. This serialized content is delivered exclusively to Paper Darts e-news subscribers each month. If you don't want to miss out on the next one, sign up for the Paper Darts e-news.

Part 1. Part 2.

Reading time: 3 minutes Recommended for: Pedophobes

Reading time: 3 minutes

Recommended for: Pedophobes

I asked you once if you’d ever considered having children—not because I wanted to have them, but because there was a silence I was either trying to fill or stretch endlessly into infinity. You were standing at the window with your hands on your hips as if surveying your kingdom, and there was something in the dismal, squat, slowly emptying buildings beneath us that reminded me of posterity. I was barefoot, which was unusual.
It worked. I’d barely gotten the words out when you broke into a peal of crackly laughter. “Have you ever seen a baby in a medieval fresco? They look like fucking monsters.”

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Reading time: 3 minutes Recommended for: Dog people

Reading time: 3 minutes

Recommended for: Dog people

It involved a cat that I fitted with feathery wings and a harness. We named him Peter, after the fact, and like most cats, he was a breaking point.
We were living in an empty theatre in a once-central part of town. Beneath the spotlight, you, as Oedipus, draped a patterned tablecloth over your otherwise-naked form in a tasteful way fitting the conventions of nineteenth-century French oils (no bush), I adjusted the pulley system so the hook dangled at just about chest level, and then I retrieved our sphinx. The cat—who often roamed the neighborhood in absence of its people—was lean and feisty and the color of beach sand, but once I latched his harness he went limp, hanging dejectedly in the air like the pendulum of a grandfather clock.

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Reading time: 4 minutes Recommended for: Wet blankets

Reading time: 4 minutes

Recommended for: Wet blankets

The classical 1936 Samuel Barber composition—widely regarded to be among the saddest ever—wasn’t something we did just once; in our best days, it was an entire epoch between us, a work we returned to time and time again. We’d put the record on and turn the volume up so loud that it filled the entire building, chins rising and falling as if in accordance with our very own hearts (as Mr. Barber intended), and then we’d drag out the props to recreate whatever dramatic scene from one of the twelve dozen movies that used this song.
My favorite sequence comes, of course, from Platoon, when Willem Dafoe, abandoned by his company on the jungle floor, bursts from the trees with swarms of VC at his heels, theatrical explosions rending the background, gets shot about a dozen times in slow motion, and then finally, falling to his knees, reaches his arms up, Christ-like, at the passing helicopters of his squadmates. I’ve always had a bit of a jungle fetish and a knack for pyrotechnics . . .

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Reading time: 3 minutes Recommended for: Voyeurists

Reading time: 3 minutes

Recommended for: Voyeurists

Alone again, I set a sheet of plate glass about my length against the bare, whitewashed wall at a 45-degree angle. I set a clock to midnight. I scoot into the triangle-shaped opening between the glass and the wall and lie flat on my back, a new home. I close my eyes. It’s like the version of a structure you make in the woods for the night by draping a tarp over a wayward branch.
“A lean-to,” I say to myself, momentarily contented with my knowledge of this terminology, as if, in some entirely separate life, I might be a woodsman or a gatherer, someone who uses his hands and wits as a replacement for technology, with full body hair and shapely calves.

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Reading time: 2 minutes Recommended for: Craft enthusiasts

Reading time: 2 minutes

Recommended for: Craft enthusiasts

I build the baby octopus first—the mouth-kissing one—as a test of my construction methods.
Literally, the Japanese title of the 1814 Hokusai print translates to “octopi and shell diver”; the woodcut design—each strand of hair, suction cup, and cresting wave meticulously detailed—is beautifully tender. Its principles engage in an amorous, onomatopoeia-laden dialogue printed in the background, cramped and ecstatic, the whole work a testament to an era of floating world pleasures and higher lung capacity.
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Announcing Paper Darts 3.0

Announcing Paper Darts 3.0

Earlier this year, our octolady let her laptop battery run dry and went on walkabout to re-learn how to keep lit alive. While she was away, she grew some arms and took up archery to survive in the lit mag wilderness. Today, she's back and ready to sling some arrows dipped in the most potent art and lit in her quiver.  (Insert Hunger Games joke here.)

AWP or Bust!

AWP or Bust!

Apologies. I brought no camera, took no notes, and only soaked it in the event with no documentation, naked. The Loft has a Youtube, and hopefully you’ll be able to watch or relive the event. The waiting lines wound from the room entrance to the stairs, 2 hours early. There were camera and press and two packed overflow rooms. Maybe you’d prefer watching from home.

The Strange, Feminist and Beautiful: Our AWP (Offsite) Event Roundup

The Strange, Feminist and Beautiful: Our AWP (Offsite) Event Roundup

Prince! Poetry! Oh my! The events at this year’s AWP are anything but the typical dry literary readings from your English major days in college. By now, you’ve probably had several lists of AWP events people are excited about thrust in your face or passively posted to your Twitter feed. The monotony is over! Here are our picks of AWP events tailored to our feminist friends—or for anyone who celebrates the weird and visionary in the world of literature.