Preface to Volume XXXIV

Welcome! As you’ve no doubt noticed, this is a special issue, celebrating the achievements and contributions of our longtime poetry editor, Joe Benevento. A number of friends, colleagues and students stepped forward to share work old and new in honor of this poet, fiction artist, scholar and teacher. For forty years he has generously cultivated the work of many (as well as tending his own impressive garden), and we take this opportunity to recognize and thank him for sharing his gifts with us. Notice, we’re not using the word “legacy,” because —  happy to relate — Joe has graciously consented to continue in his role at GHLL.

In this issue you will find as well numerous contributions in addition to those specifically dedicated to Joe. This is easily our biggest issue to date, and by several measures, our most diverse. This results not from conscious planning, but rather in response to shifts, some subtle, some dramatic, in the volume and kind of submissions we receive. GHLL has always been committed to classic craft. In working with our interns, we study other literary journals – descriptively, without judgment. There are good magazines publishing good work that is not what we’d publish. For example, there are venues that say they are looking for the “edgy,” that leap at searing polemic (not us), or that forefront radical points of view (also cool. And also not us). Whose masthead might well read épater la bourgeoisie! K, live long and prosper. As Tennyson’s Ulysses said of young Telemachus, “He works his work, I mine.”

It was pointed out, long ago, and not necessarily in a spirit of pure admiration, that we do not publish much speculative fiction. That was not a matter of prejudice. We simply didn’t get much of it that at the same time paid attention to the dimensions of classic American short fiction. Plot, character, voice, all that. But in recent years, we have seen more better coming in over the transom, and thus, more has gone out in our pages. Joe Baumann shares new work in this issue. Watch that young man, he’s riding a bullet. Wayne McCray appears for the second time, working on the edge of consensus reality, but also within a recognizable tradition (you could call it New Fabulism, although the author didn’t). Longtime readers will see that Robert Peters’ “Unfortunate Sun” is in some ways very much a departure for us – and yet it shows lapidary attention to language and how it integrates with atmosphere. Imagine if Samuel Beckett and John Burroughs had collaborated on the gravedigger scene in Hamlet.

Nonfiction used to be a slightly dusty showcase off to the side of our little shop. Now those submissions run pretty close in numbers to short fiction. Maybe the pandemic called us to exercise the ruminative mode more, and gave urgency to the distinctive genre of memoir: what-we-did-and-why-we-did-it. In addition to foregrounding craft, GHLL has always wanted to see a connection to recognizable human experience. And some of this is going to fulfill what master rhetor Doug Hunt calls “the doctrine of cost” – it costs the reader something to read, and we sense it cost the writer something to write: caring for an adult special-needs child; accompanying a partner through terminal illness. That will leave a mark. You will find here writing that makes the familiar strange, and the strange familiar. Jocelyn Cullity takes us “outside Bangkok.” Juhee Lee-Hartford and Wei Wang walk us between worlds. Numerous worlds.

We have become much more international, because our good submissions have become much more international. Something I point out to students in the History of the English Language course: the majority of speakers of English now live outside of North America and the British Isles. The language, and the literature, are no longer ours in the settled sense we found serviceable for so long. We have our identity, but it evolves.

We are pleased to present first time writers, both young and end-career. We also have two poets laureate and a Pulitzer-honoree. Our writers number many academics, but also several physicians, a couple of lawyers, two actors, an architect, a genetic researcher and a hedge fund manager. Eliot thought that writers were improved by having something to write about other than writing.

This feels like one of those Janus moments, when one looks both forward and back. The journal has a rich past, and it also has a dynamic future. We thank our writers for being here – as we do you, dear readers.


Kirksville, June 2023