Preface to Volume XXXII



You’ll have noticed a new look (and you probably got here via a redirect from our old home). New server, new software, but the same standard for fiction and poetry. We’ll get to that.


Also something new: we have launched a program of internships, an educational experience all around. It starts with a didactic phase, in which students are introduced to the history and operations of “littles” over the last century, and specifically to the natural history of GHLL, from Jack Smith’s launch of an in-house mimeographed outlet for student work, through his energetic development of it into a journal with national reach, to the pixels you now behold. Then comes extensive training in preparation for reading actual submissions. The inquiry is on aristotelian principles, as interns sift through back issues of the journal (and also a strategically-selected range of other literary magazines), to try and figure out what the standards are.


It seems to have been something of a revelation that there are indeed standards, that the selection is not merely an arbitrary projection of what the editors happen to like on a given day, or that GHLL looks somewhat different from a number of other journals one might name, because we are looking for something else. There are offices where they rip open the envelope, sniff and ask “is it edgy?”


(Yes, we still get a fair number of actual envelopes. And I remember some with distinct scents – perfume, weed. But I digress).


This was not a frictionless process. These interns were impatient to start selecting material themselves (as well they should be, and they did indeed, ultimately, participate in decision-making). It was interesting to hear some of them share more platonic approaches to principles of selection. For a number of them, diversity had a value of its own, and a very high priority: specifically, they felt we should seek writers (and presumably ranges of experience, perspectives, ways of knowing) other than straight, white, cis, christian, neurotypical, able, western, male and middle class. To these students, it seemed that the prime function of literature, and the highest use of such a platform and pulpit as a literary journal, would be to advance the cause of representation, of participation, of decentering, decolonizing. That is to foreground a moral function for art, public Bildung (something quite separate from propaganda). In its way, it’s old-fashioned, and historically represents a promising response to a period of decadence, mere indulgence.


Moreover, those are indeed estimable aims, and increasingly shared across the profession. Our longstanding preference for “craft” is of course liable to use, conscious or oblivious (but in either case culpable) as a smokescreen for cultural processes that replicate privilege – rather than the fulfilling liberal duty of expanding it or the revolutionary imperative of abolishing it (I am writing this on Bastille Day). I think we need to be conscious and purposeful in adopting those values. But the filter or sieve we have regularly applied seems at least consistent with that earnest intent. We choose poetry, fiction and nonfiction we think is likely to stick with readers after the reading is done.


Our verse often captures crystalline domestic moments (Abby Catlin, “My Romance with the Black Wool Coat,” Jennifer McClellan, “The Kitchen’s a Mess”), though other poets offer sometimes troubling visions of surges beneath ordinary surfaces (Brian Heston’s “Poem with a UFO Passing Through It”). There are traditional ruminations on Nature (Matthew Brennan, “Late Night Strolling by a Neighbor’s Garden”) and more contemporary concerns (Mahak Goyal’s “Privilege,” Slobodanka L. Strauss’ “Immigration at Nine”).


In fiction, similarly, we are pleased to offer the wrought work of a classic short-story writer — and one of our steadiest contributors, going back to early days of the journal (Karl Harshbarger’s “A Matter of Principle”). We have also another of David Langlinais’ Cajun stories in the Dale-&-Yvette cycle, which bears some relation to the venerable “local color” tradition (“Getting Even”).  We have always been partial to solid historical fiction, stories that capture time and place and invite us to consider how those things undergird the present (Rosalia Scalia’s “Boom Boom Becky’s Bakery Arises,” Peter Obourn’s “An Iowa Story”). But we also have the striking and speculative “AFIXA™” by Ron L. Dowell. You are going to remember that one.


Like you are going to remember this past year. The pandemic appears in our fiction (Robert Granader’s “A Parking Lot in the Q”) and among our essayists (Susan Eve Haar’s “1/2021: Unfortunate Nights”). In nonfiction we choose writers who invite us to accompany them on a ruminative journey, sometimes into very uncomfortable territory (Éanlaí Cronin’s “The First Goodbye”).


Some of these are indeed edgy, and there’s a variety of experiences and perspectives here. But what we hope is that these stories, poems and essays will not be finished with you once you’ve finished reading them. That was and remains our aim and object.



Adam Brooke Davis

Kirksville, July 2021