Editor’s Note – Issue #21

New Orleans has always been a special city for me. During the summers when I was in college, dating a girl from Pascagoula, it seems I would end up in the Big Easy every other weekend, not doing anything in particular except wandering the French Quarter, drinking coffee and listening to the music that came from every available audible space. For me, coming from a smallish city in Alabama, it was the nearest thing to what I imagined life in New York or Europe might be like. Later, when I lived in New York, I appreciated the differences, the heat and the ghosts and the part of it that is Southern but also not Southern. We in the South are very fond of our ghosts, even the ones that don’t show us in the best light. They walk among us constantly reminding us of our checkered history.

In these ways, New Orleans has the essence of home for me, but it is also exotic and exciting and liberating. I’ve never really gotten over my fascination with it, and it has been the backdrop for much of my own writing. I suppose if I ever leave Birmingham again, I could easily find myself living there. Some of my friends have moved there and since moved back to wherever they came from. Other friends are still there.

In this issue, you will read short stories and creative non-fiction pieces that use New Orleans as a backdrop or as an explicit topic, and you will find work from writers who currently live in New Orleans. We are proud to say that two of these pieces are from young writers who are currently studying at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA). We are always pleased to help get young, talented writers a leg up, and these two are certainly deserving of the attention.

To change the subject only slightly, I wish to make some comments about current events. As the editor of a magazine that deals with Southern culture and Southern identity, I think it is my duty to be a part of the ongoing conversation about current issues, especially in light of the recent massacre in Charleston, S.C. and its aftermath, and in particular the symbols that represent our unfortunate past.

First of all, I want to say that I’m happy to see that same-sex marriages are once again legal in Alabama, and everywhere else in the country for that matter. There is still resistance in some corners of our state, but here in Birmingham, I think most of us are ready to embrace the new normal. With the recent Supreme Court rulings and the Confederate battle flags coming down in many places, I am actually feeling more patriotic than any time in recent memory. It seems that this Great American Experiment might actually be working, still imperfectly, but making steady progress. Now, if someone would just do something about Donald Trump… (okay, I stole that joke from NPR, but you have to admit it’s a good one).

As I am composing this, we are coming up on the 4th of July weekend, and, appropriately enough, my students in the Early American literature class I teach are reading excerpts from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and from Thomas Jefferson’s autobiography this week. We talked about what Paine and Jefferson might think about some of these current issues, and we concluded that Paine, at least, would see these changes as positive. He was not a religious man, so we can hope that if he were dropped into a modern world, he would not have all the hangups that the right-wing evangelical factions have about modern sexuality. He was also an abolitionist. We speculated that if he knew what happened over the two hundred years after his death, with the states of the Confederacy seceding from the union and the role that the institution of slavery played in that, he would see little reason to celebrate that secession 150 years after the war ended. He came to the United States from England in 1774, stirred by the spirit of revolution. He saw little value in clinging to a past where Americans were politically enslaved by England (a metaphor he utilized in his writing), so it’s easy to imagine that he would see little value in clinging to a past that represented actual slavery.

Jefferson, on the other hand, is more complicated. He was a Southerner and a slave owner. Even though he initially wanted to include a statement against slavery in the Declaration of Independence and was voted down, it’s possible that he was acting purely out concern for how history would view him. He probably thought history would pay little attention to his home life. He was a great man in many ways, and a liberal thinker, but it is hard to say what he would think about the history-making changes we are living through right now. I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt. I think many of us who have grown up in the South are familiar with how complicated it can be to come to terms with our history. To perhaps put it a little too coyly, issues of race in the South are never completely black and white. They are complicated.

Speaking of NPR, there was an interview there this week with an African-American gentleman from Montgomery (I can’t seem to find it now, or I would post the link). He was saying that where he lives there are monuments to the Confederacy everywhere, including streets and schools named after Confederate officers. In contrast, he says, there are very few monuments to slavery and Jim Crow, which means we in the South are not really dealing with our history of terrorism and cruelty. This lack of direct acknowledgement makes it impossible for us to have a real conversation about race and what it means.

I agree with many points the gentleman from Montgomery made, but with a few caveats. I have always felt deeply that a defining aspect of Southern culture is the way we live with our history, the good and the bad of it. I’m all for taking the battle flags down from state courthouses and other official state sites, but rather than seeing its presence as a glorification of the Confederacy and all it stood for, we should see it as a recognition of one of the dark moments of our history. Even monuments that overtly glorify or romanticize the Confederate army can be seen through this filter. We are reminded that as recently as fifty years ago, many of us still thought this way. Many of us thought these monuments were a necessary and good idea. We are not so far past it.

One difference between Birmingham and Montgomery is that we do have many monuments that acknowledge the cruelty of the Jim Crow era. We have the Civil Rights Institute, which I have toured many times, often while leading student groups. Some of the exhibits are downright haunting, and I have had students say that it was disturbing and upsetting to them, as it should be. It can be a very emotional experience. Even though Birmingham as a city did not exist during the era of slavery, the connection between Jim Crow and slavery is not lost here. The exhibits in the museum make the connection very clear by presenting a chronological history of civil rights abuses.

Downtown Birmingham is a living monument to the Civil Rights era, which means it is actually giving direct address to the issues to which the Civil Rights era was responding. So, the upshot is that yes, we should take down the battle flags from our government buildings because we don’t need our city and state governments even seeming to openly endorse a faction from our past that defended the institution of slavery. The other public monuments to the Confederacy should remain as reminders of where we have been, even where we have been recently, how far we have come, and how far we still have to go. Perhaps we can change out the plaques on some of these monuments to recontextualize them and acknowledge our more modern understandings of them. But we should also continue to add new monuments that acknowledge the ugly side of that history, that acknowledge the lynchings and the bombings that served the masters of physical and economic oppression.

For better or for worse, we in the South continue to live with our history and walk among the ghosts of the past. Flannery O’Connor called the South “Jesus Haunted,” which may be true, but it is haunted just as much by our history of slavery and terrorism against our own people. And even if we try to suppress them, those ghosts will not be lain to rest anytime soon.

Editor’s Note – Issue #20

It has been almost a year since our last issue came out, and we have missed you all very much. In that year, a lot has happened to us, and a lot has happened in Birmingham, where we live. I’m almost done with my second Master’s degree and trying to decide what to do next. Gay people could get married here for a minute, and then they couldn’t again. The Bottletree, a world-renowned music venue, had to close its doors after more than a decade of transformative influence on the city’s culture. Even in the wake of that disappointing development, outlets for food, drink, and entertainment seem to have blossomed here over the past year at a rate that we could never have predicted. In this issue, we feature an essay remembering the Lyric, a classic vaudeville theater in downtown Birmingham that is currently undergoing long-awaited restoration.

Speaking of which, this new issue is HUGE, with contributions from newcomers and old friends alike. Thanks to the theater connections of our Associate Editor Mike Tesney, we have two hilariously f***ed up one-act plays featured in this issue. We are very pleased to include poet Tina Mozelle Braziel, a long-time colleague and friend who is publishing with us for the first time. Local poetry slam favorite Lori Lasseter Hamilton is also featured in this issue. Marissa Rose, Judith Skillman, and John McDermott bring us exciting poetry from beyond the state lines (although we will say with regard to one of Skillman’s pieces that a “virgin mint julep” is an abomination that should never be named lest it become real). We have a new short story from Murray Dunlap, featured in our virtual pages for the fourth time. Amanda Pauley gives us a subtly creepy story about siblings getting revenge on a neighbor. We also have stories by Cynthia Sample, Ramona Reeves, David Langlinais, John Oliver Hodges, and Jerry Rabushka to offer for your perusal. And for dessert, we are featuring the Modern Masters Revisited series by artist Allen Forrest.

In other news, you may notice that we’ve been tweaking the website design, and we hope you’ll find it appealing. If there are any graphic design students out there that would like to intern with us and help tweak it further, we’d love to talk to you.

Finally, I want to announce that our Summer 2015 online issue will be a special themed issue, and the theme is… (drumroll, please)…

“Road Trip to New Orleans.”

Our summer issue will focus on New Orleans stories and New Orleans authors. In addition, we are planning to collaborate with Radio Free Alabama to put out a special print booklet with photographs and author interviews. If this experiment goes well, we will do more road trip issues with other Southern cities. We are still accepting non-New Orleans submissions as well, but they will be reserved for a later issue to be released this fall.

Editor’s Note – Issue #19

Our nineteenth online issue includes short stories from Matthew McEver, Cathy Rose, Christopher X. Shade, Kim Siegleson, and Sarah Jennings; non-fiction from Terry Barr and Rori Leigh Hoatlin; and poetry from Sarah Henning, Maari Carter, Philip Theibert, Dan Jacoby, and Devin Kelly.

The completion of this issue is bittersweet. Now that it is done, and our Volume 3 print issue is available, we find ourselves rather frazzled, and we need to take a break for a little while. Our current plan is to return in six months or a year with renewed focus and energy, but the plan could change depending on other factors in our lives that demand our attention. So far, it has been a very good run. We have made amazing, lifelong friends. We have connected with writers all over the world. And we think, in our own very small way, we have made a difference.

Thank you, all of you, for accompanying us on this journey so far. When we once again have the resources to give this project the time and energy it deserves, we hope to see you again.


Editor’s Note – Issue #18

A busy summer of writing, writing, and more writing culminated in two weeks at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, where we made a lot of new friends (the thoroughly stocked bar we set up in our dorm room helped). We hope some of those folks are reading this now. We have a lot of people to thank for that experience, including the writers Jim Braziel and Kerry Madden-Lunsford for recommending us. We want to thank our parents and the UAB English Department for helping finance the trip during a particularly lean year. We also need to thank Steve Yarbrough and Diane Johnson, who ran our workshop, Jamie Quatro and Joanna Smith Rackoff, who were our fellows, and the incredible Sewanee staff, especially Adam Vines, aka Boss. We expect these relationships to continue to be productive for a long time to come.

Our Fall 2013 online issue is possibly the best yet. We have some powerful pieces of poetry and prose (we are thinking of the old joke from The Blues Brothers. We play both kinds of music: country AND western). But seriously folks, there’s a lot of great stuff here. This issue is lean and tight, like a featherweight boxer, and packs a mean punch. We’ve even thrown in a little essay of our own to shake things up a  little bit.

We are also officially kicking off submissions for our annual print issue. In the past, the print issue has been comprised mostly of work we had already published online. This time, we are taking a different approach. Although work we have published online will be eligible for the print edition, we will feature a lot more work that is exclusively for the print issue. Because of the additional expense involved, the standards will be a bit higher, and the themes will be more focused.

We suppose we are evolving. We hear that’s what people do.

Editors Note – Issue #17

Since issue #16 came out, we’ve done a lot of work around here, and there is still a lot of construction dust in the air. Due to some recent publicity, we have started to get a whole lot more submissions, and to accommodate that, we have brought in some fresh blood to help us slog through the now teeming slush pile.

The first person to join the new team was Dan Townsend, whose fiction has been published in a number of reputable journals, including this one. He recently completed his Masters and asked if we needed some help with things, and we said we needed all the help we could get. In addition to reading submissions, Dan will be expanding our offerings by contributing some reviews and author interviews. His background as a professional fundraiser doesn’t hurt either.

Next, we called up Callie Mauldin, another talented fiction writer whose unique perspective really helps balance things out among us boys. In addition to being one of the best writers we know, Callie is also an actress and a comedic improviser, both of which contribute richness to her character-driven writing. Her ongoing work with Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival will also help inform our future fundraising efforts.

So we felt pretty good then about out prose submissions, but we still needed help with poetry. We emailed Adam Vines, Managing Editor of the Birmingham Poetry Review, and he gladly offered up his three most talented interns to the altar of STR. Halley Cotton, Jason Walker, and Cheyenne Taylor all have extensive experience with  both major literary magazines produced out of our local university, Birmingham Poetry Review and PMS (poemmemoirstory). In addition, all three are accomplished poets in their own right with multiple publications to their names.

Of course, along with all this new talent came a lot of new ideas and new energy. Matthew, Michael, and I are blown away by all the incredible ambition and insight these folks  bring to the table, and we are working overtime to make bring their visions to fruition where we can. Some things we hope you will notice is a more streamlined look to the website, a (hopefully) clearer mission statement and guidelines for submissions, author photos to make things a little more friendly looking, and featured selections from our archives on the front page. There’s no telling what more we will be able to do by fall, but we are hoping to find ways to make the site more interactive and encourage our contributors to make connections with one another (which is an essential part of our mission).

This issue is also especially exciting because we have had so much work to choose from, and we have had some quite stimulating debates about what would make it in. We think this marks a clear step forward in the quality of what we have to offer, and we hope you feel the same way. We also appreciate your feedback, so feel free to comment on our Facebook page or send us an email (steeltoereview AT gmail).

–M. David Hornbuckle

Editor’s Note – Issue #16

In our manifesto, which I admittedly wrote in the midst of a complex personal crisis* two and a half years ago, we say: “Tradition means something more than just doing the same things that people before you did with slight variations. Tradition provides a set of conventions and a set of expectations, and all of these can be reinterpreted and remolded and put to new uses. At Steel Toe Review, we strive to find literary and multimedia art that challenges and re-invents traditions.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea lately, almost obsessed with it. For the last year or so I’ve been teaching college English,  and it seems one of the things I find myself trying to convey most often is an awareness of genre conventions, whether the genre is an academic essay or a vampire story. At a conference in Charleston earlier this year, I presented a paper about the ways in which Voltaire appropriates and repurposes the conventions of older genres to create a new kind of literature. I wrote another paper recently about how Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy pick up conventions used by other Southern Writers and modify those conventions to fit their own aesthetic agendas. I think this is one of the main things that we do as writers. We master some conventions from the literature we have always read, and then we alter them to suit our purposes and to give them new voice. In poetry, this might mean experimenting with traditional forms. In fiction, it might mean looking at Southern gothic traditions, folk tales, shaggy dog stories, or ghost stories.

We’d love to hear from contributors about how they think about/use/appropriate conventions of traditional genres in their own work.

We are very excited to announce the publication of our Volume 2 Anthology, featuring all of the fiction and poetry we published online in 2012. You can purchase the anthology by clicking this link. For a limited time, you can purchase the anthology at 20% off the cover price.

By now, any contributors or kickstarter backers to whom we owe copies should have them. If not, contact us (steeltoereview AT gmail). We might not have your mailing address.

You can support us also by purchasing our beautiful t-shirts. They are $20 plus shipping and handling. Go to our Donate page to purchase.

*The “personal crisis” is relevant because it seems to me our minds work in unusual ways during those times. Things that used to seem important aren’t any longer, and other things rise up from the effluvia of past experiences, observations, and emotions that suddenly seem worthy of recognition and further examination. That is to say, I’m not sure I really knew what I was saying at the time, but as time goes on, what I said then continues now to resonate as true in more and more contexts.

Editor’s Note – Issue #15

We are extremely excited now to be going into our third year, and we are in the process of putting together a print anthology of all the fiction and poetry we published online last year.

Please help up make that project a success by donating to our Kickstarter campaign. As I’m writing this, we are 1/3 of the way to our goal, which is an amazing start. However, we really must push these last few weeks to make sure we raise our goal of $3000 by the end of February. Whether you are a contributor or a reader, we really need your support in a serious way right now. Please donate what you can–even a few dollars will help. And please help spread the word among your friends and families to support our mission.

Now that the commercial segment is out of the way, allow me to introduce issue 15. It includes a record FIVE veteran STR poets plus some new voices. We are proud to include in among those new contributors such accomplished authors as Michael Farris Smith and Jim Murphy. We are also pleased to have at least two writers in this issue who have never published previously. We hope this will be an auspicious beginning to long and successful literary careers for them.

Here in Birmingham, we are always reminded of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. around this time of year. As it happens, this year is the sixtieth anniversary of the Civil Rights campaigns in Birmingham and King’s famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail.. Today, February 4, also happens to be the 100th birthday of Rosa Parks, who set off the Montgomery bus boycotts in 1955. Coincidentally, the University we work for is in the process of hiring an African-American lit specialist. Coincidentally, we ourselves have recently been reading Jean Toomer and Alice Walker.

All this is not to say that this issue has any particular Civil Rights theme. We are not timely in that way. We are publishing stories about Christmas, about buying cars, and about selling houses. We are publishing poems about atoms and bartenders and quicksand. We are working very hard on our print anthology. We have been somewhat wrapped up in ourselves and neglected to look at the calendar. We didn’t put the pieces together until just now, as we sat down to type this.

But we want to acknowledge the items above and some sort of synchronicity of which we have been aware for some time. We have thought a lot about how the work of those mentioned above have changed the world, of course, but also the nature of the very literature to which we dedicate ourselves. Southern literature in this late century is much more difficult to pin down than it used to be. It has many faces, many voices. The city of Birmingham seems to be a vortex, at times, of such faces, such voices. At these times, we understand something about why we were brought up here, why we had to leave, and why we had to come back.

That being said, we would welcome submissions that focus on the themes of Civil Rights any season of any year.

-M. David Hornbuckle