Category Archives: Literary Fiction

Three Great Literary Magazines

During my blogging hiatus, I took a writing class through The Loft in Minneapolis, MN. It was a really great experience, one I highly recommend to anyone living in and around the Twin Cities. During one class my teacher mentioned how non-fiction and short fiction were starting to gain momentum, and expanding their formats to include some literary freedoms previously reserved for poetry. As an example, she mentioned the short non-fiction journal called Brevity. Intrigued, I did some googling and spent a good deal of my off-blogging-time reading and/or subscribing to literary journals. This entry is dedicated to three of my favorites.

BREVITY
Brevity describes itself as “a journal of concise literary nonfiction”, publishing works of 750 words or fewer. The best parts about Brevity? First and foremost, you can read current and past issues online for free! Secondly, Brevity focuses on publishing new writers; I love that! And last but not least, the short format is awesome in and of itself; the narratives are boiled down to their essentials and each sentence has power and meaning. It’s a terrific format. In fact, the magazine has become so popular that they are suspending submissions between May 2011 and September 2011 to give their poor staff a break. My favorite essay so far, White Guy by Steven Barthelme, is a mere three sentences long, but I laugh every time I read it.

GLIMMER TRAIN
Glimmer Train was founded by two sisters, who read and hand select each piece for their magazine. Many of their short stories come from sponsored monthly competitions. And like Brevity, Glimmer Train also focuses on publishing works from emerging and new authors. I subscribed to this magazine ($36 for 4 issues) after seeing an issue in my library, and I have not been disappointed. In fact, my renewal is coming up in a few months and I may re-subscribe for the next two or three years. Not only are there eight to twelve short stories per issue (enough stories to skip around based on your mood, or breeze over any that don’t suit your tastes), but each edition is gorgeous! Beautiful cover art, matching bookmarks with quotes from the featured works and author signatures, and childhood photographs of the authors. It’s a very homey publication. And just look at how lovely the editions are:

I am very proud to support this publication and encourage you to check it out. You can buy single issues online (though they sell out quickly), or subscribe for one to three years. Glimmer Train also has a related newsletter called Writer’s Ask where accomplished writers or teachers talk about writing techniques and offer advice to other writers.

ONE STORY
One Story is a literary magazine featuring just that, one story. It’s really quite a clever format, as it allows the reader to really focus on the short story. Each edition has three parts: the short story, the author’s biography, and a Q&A with the author interview that focuses on the writing process for the published work. I absolutely love it! And I would imagine that it is perfect for commuters. Perhaps my favorite thing about One Story is that they never publish the same author twice–each edition introduces you to a new author. One Story is published every three weeks, and at $21 for 18 issues, it is a bargain! Not only that but for $1.49 a month, Kindle users can have it delivered wirelessly to their device; this is how I receive my subscription. And let me tell you, I am always so excited to see a new edition pop up in my Kindle, that I (usually) read it immediately upon delivery. After all, as the website says “there is always time to read one story”.

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So often we only focus on novels or published anthologies centered on one theme or year. In fact, I’m sure there are many readers out there who aren’t even aware that literary magazines exist, aside from The New Yorker. Having only recently discovered these magazines myself, I feel proud to support these smaller publishing efforts. I highly recommend checking out these or other literary magazines, especially for voracious readers. There is enough material to keep you entertained until the arrival of the subsequent editions. Plus these literary magazines are like tiny little treasure boxes and an absolute joy to read.

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Symbolism and Allegory in The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Paperback, 224 pages
Published by Penguin, 1994
ISBN: 978-0-452-28219-3

In allegorical stories particular characters represent a much larger theme or concept, a concept that transcends the bounds of the character to represent society or human nature on a larger scale. In Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Pecola, a mere child, assumes a much larger role. Pecola, the unfortunate young girl, impregnated by her father, represents the plight of the black person in an unforgiving, post-Great Depression society.

Throughout the novel Pecola encounters hardships fairly unique to blacks in the 1940s. She is ignored; she is shown little affection, even from her family; her needs are ignored, even by her people; and Pecola is not viewed in the same light as the Shirley Temple-like white children. Encounters with other characters in the novel highlight the struggle of the black culture as she faces abuse and deceit where ever she goes.

The first aspect of Pecola’s life to abuse her is her home. Her father rapes her, implying that black society, by not rising above the station and behaviours assigned to them by the white people, that blacks are essentially fucking themselves. Pecola’s apartment itself is an impoverished, dilapidated space remodeled from an old store front. The store was, once upon a time, prosperous but eventually went out of business. The recycled goods in which Pecola lives represents the second class treatment and segregation of the blacks. The Bluest Eye was written after the Civil Rights movement– when blacks were segregated from whites into second class, decaying facilities. Pecola’s isolated, decaying home mirrors current events as observed by Morrison. The segregation is even noted when Morrison points out that the rich white people lived up the street, across town, and up hill– higher up both literally and figuratively– from Pecola’s wretched living situation.

Through Pecola’s mother, Pauline, Morrison relates another hurdle that the black culture must overcome. Pauline steps on a nail and becomes slightly handicapped. This symbolizes the blacks’ already weakened condition. Through years of mistreatment and feelings of indifference directed towards Pauline, she becomes an apathetic servant who bows down and obeys her white “superiors”. Morrison uses Pauline to represent the individuals within black society whose feelings of inferiority prevent them from taking a stand against the whites for equality. Pauline ignores her daughter, thus ignoring the please of the other blacks in society who strive for equality. Pauline, instead of comforting her daughter after Pecola knocks over a pie, runs to help a crying white toddler and promises to bake the toddler another pie. From this experience, Pecola realizes that her needs are less important than a white person’s and learns to not fight back. The cycle of self-doubt, apathy, and inferiority is forced upon the next generation.

Even God and religion betray Pecola. When Pecola goes to Soaphead Church for help, he appears to grant her wish for “the bluest eye”, yet still uses Pecola for his own purposes. While promising Pecola blue eyes, Church has the unsuspecting Pecola poison a dog. Though he appears helpful, in the end Church, too, betrayed Pecola. Here Morrison uses Soaphouse’s name to not so subtly imply that the Church, a safe haven for worship and hope for most of black society, will not help the blacks attain their dreams if they are naive to the limits of prayer. Prayer alone will not save the blacks. Morrison is stating that unless black people educate themselves, and open their eyes to the motives of the white people AND of their fellow blacks, they will remain forever vulnerable to deception and betrayal as was Pecola. Moreover “Soaphouse” implies a place where things are cleaned and washed. Morrison is also warning her fellow blacks not be deceived into white-washing culture. To assimilate so completely into the white culture will also leave blacks unfulfilled. She argues that blacks should retain their individuality and cultural pride in order to retain their strength.

Through repeating interactions and motifs, most notably in the repeated birth scenes, Morrison shows the reader that each of these insidious traits are passed from one generation of blacks to the next. The first birth highlighted in the novel is that of Pecola. The procreation of her mother and father creates Pecola, and Pecola’s observation of her parents’ experiences with white people teaches Pecola how she should act towards white society. Pecola is taught to yield to white people, and to be ashamed of her existence and appearance as a black woman. These characteristics are perpetuated when Pecola’s father rapes her and impregnates her with an inbred baby. This baby shrivels and dies. Here Morrison is saying that if the bad characteristics, such as inferiority complexes, indifference, and withdrawal, aren’t stopped, they will be taught to each subsequent generation of black children until the entire race shrivels and dies. Morrison is warning her people and her culture that to sit idly by and to allow white people to degrade the existence of the blacks will destroy black culture.

Another repeated motif is Pecola’s desire for “the bluest eye”. In the novel the bluest eye represents equality. Pecola aches for blue eyes because she knows that blue eyes will make her happy. This symbolizes the black’s push for equality; equality will make them happy and successful as a race. Morrison is keen to point out that Pecola is not wishing to be white, she only wants blue eyes. Here Morrison is highlighting the fact that black people do not want to lose their identity as a race. They only want to be treated equally and fairly. Taking this into consideration, it can also be argued that Soaphouse Church also represents the government. Soaphouse promises Pecoal blue eyes and when Pecola looks into the mirror, she sees blue eyes. However, to everyone else, Pecola’s eyes are still brown. Here Morrison is implying that although the government has enacted laws which give the appearance of black equality, the nature of society ensure that blacks still have very few rights, and ensures they will be treated no better than they were in the past. Morrison is issuing a word of caution to her fellow blacks, urging them not to abandon their fight for equality until blacks have achieved true equality. Morrison greatly values and is very proud of her heritage, and this love is apparent in The Bluest Eye.

I encourage everyone to read this book and not just for the thought-provoking allegory. Because the book deals with difficult subject matter such as molestation, incestual rape, and racism, people have pushed for this book to be banned from schools. Yes, the subject matter is difficult, but when else are young adults given a forum to intellectually exam difficult topics? There is a larger social commentary to this book, and many other banned books, that is important and should be discussed. If we blind ourselves to the baser elements of our society, we are weakening our culture and our collective intelligence as a society, exactly what Morrison is warning blacks not to let happen. How ironic that her attempt to enlighten us the reader, and us as a society is the object of censorship. We should not allow ourselves to be sheltered, or allow the wool to be pulled over our eyes. Social injustices such as genocide and discrimination occur because of such naivety and censorship. Banning The Bluest Eye won’t lead to genocide or a police state or totalitarianism, but it is a drop in the bucket. Enjoy a banned book, and enjoy The Bluest Eye. You will not be disappointed.

For another review of The Bluest Eye, see Park Benches & Bookends