Welcome to our new Literary Mama blog series: Craft Talks. In this bi-monthly post, we’ll have a mini-interview with our own editors about craft, what they look for in submissions, and all things writing.
Today, I talked with Kate Haas, Creative Nonfiction Editor. She told me about Stephen Dunn, happiness, and the importance of reflective moments in writing.
1. Tell us about yourself and your position at Literary Mama.
I have a B.A. in English from Earlham College, and in my previous life was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco and a HS English teacher on the east and west coasts. Currently I live with my partner and young adult sons in Portland, Ore., where I’m a freelance editor as well as a writer, with essays in the New York Times, Washington Post, and other publications. Here at Literary Mama, I’m one of the two Creative Nonfiction editors. I’ve been with Literary Mama since 2006, starting as CNF editorial assistant and becoming an editor the following year. Literary Mama is where I truly learned the craft of editing, as well as a great deal about writing. It’s still a thrill for me to open a new submission and to work with a new writer on her first published piece.
2. Is there a passage, sentence, or line of a poem that you absolutely adore? Why is it so good?
But there it is, as promised, with its perfect bridge above the crocodiles, and its doors forever open.
That’s the last line of “Happiness” by Stephen Dunn, a short poem I first read as a teenager. I used to peruse my mom’s New Yorker magazines back then, mostly for the cartoons and the movie reviews–certainly not for the poetry, which I found irritatingly obtuse. Yet that title caught my eye (probably because I was an unhappy teen) and I still remember how electrified I was by this poem, by the way he captured what I absolutely knew to be true: the way happiness can seem as unreachable as an imaginary castle – but it’s waiting, if you can just get there.
3. What do you look for in submissions? What type of writing grabs your attention?
In submissions I look first for a good story, told well. It doesn’t have to be about some wildly unusual parenting experience. An arresting story can be crafted from a routine trip to the (hot) pediatrician, the death of a pet rat, or a trip for ice cream with a newborn. I’m partial to essays that open with a vivid scene, and I always appreciate dry wit and an authentic voice. Most important is that the writer is able to go beyond the circumstances of her own particular story, reflecting on and conveying it in a way that will resonate with readers.
The Creative Nonfiction Department seeks essays of all kinds (lyrical, personal, memoir, braided, flash) that focus on motherhood. For examples of what they are looking for, please read their previously published Creative Nonfiction pieces.
Read something you liked? Let us know in the comments!