We are driven by the compulsion to tell stories; everyone.
For two years, I have studied poetry in an MFA program dedicated to educating literary artists to advance social, economic, and environmental justice, and I have worked on Lunch Ticket for three issues.
The 47 student volunteers on staff work hard to make this literary journal a safe and sacred space, from the manner in which we discuss submissions, to how we collaborate with one another. As we work toward our goal to foster equity in publishing, it became even more evident to me that material cannot be divorced from the process; that as editors, we must align our editorial conventions with this vision. During the making of this issue, it was not uncommon for eight or more editors and assistant editors of different genres to engage in a thoughtful discussion of any given piece. We leaned into each other’s experiences to inform editorial decisions. One such decision was refusing to provide a platform for those who work against or trivialize the pursuit of justice.
At Lunch Ticket, we take our mission extremely seriously. We do not tell stories to be a voice for the voiceless. Instead, I believe we strive toward what 13th century Persian poet Rumi calls “the deep listening.” “What is the deep listening? Sama is / a greeting from the secret ones inside … your intelligence grows new leaves in / the wind of this listening,” the poet defines the enlightenment that takes place within when we truly hear the other.
But we must recognize our separation before we can appreciate hearing them: “Listen, and feel the beauty of your/ separation, the unsayable absence.” Without the ability to sense the beauty of our separation, the absence of being a person in this world, Rumi says we might as well be dead. Yet, he gives us hope for justice: “The dead / rise with / the pleasure of listening.” If I had to name a theme for this issue, that would be it. The voices of Lunch Ticket 13 revel in the justice of listening.
We tell stories to honor our ancestors. Telling their stories makes us come alive. In “Babiy Yar” (Fiction), the speaker promises, “I’ll write about our secret war, the war after the war.” Their mother answers, “Start tonight.” In her essay “Souvenirs,” poet and writer Lena Khalaf Tuffaha says “To remember is to resist the transformative powers of violence. If occupation tries to reduce a homeland to collapsing camps and ominous military checkpoints, resistance is remembering its beauty, is seeking out the stones and red anemones and wild thyme of the hillsides.”
We tell stories to speak up and take action. “If I didn’t move, this time it would be Joey on the news. He’d be one of those hashtags on Twitter,” Arriel Vinston writes in “Following Joey” (Fiction).
We are thankful for the words of our past poetry contributors Lena Khalaf Tuffaha and Cortney Lamar Charleston, who generously obliged when I was seeking essays by poets, on any topic of their choosing, for Lunch Ticket 13. A 2017 Ruth Lily Fellow, Charleston writes about his decision to study business when he was in college, “What do you want to be when you grow up? That’s such a White-ass question, if we’re being honest.” Published alongside Tuffaha and Charleston’s essays is Akhila Kolisetty’s “Experiencing Whiteness.” Kolisetty unflinchingly examines her privilege as an Indian American traveling in Sierra Leone.
Numerous pieces examine parent-child relationships: Carolyn Oliver’s poem “Elementary,” MJ Lemire’s essay “Losing Faith,” and in flash fiction, “How to Love Your Child Without Your Neighbor Reporting You to Child Services” and “Picking Out Bananas.” There is also a theme of exploring mental health and confronting stigmas of mental illness: in fiction, Cannonball and Phone Voice, Brandon Melendez’s poem S/c/h/i/z/o/p/h/r/e/n/i/a/, and Elliot Gavin Keenan’s essay Notes to Self.
As Lunch Ticket is working toward our initiative to mentor and publish more young people, I’m reminded that some young people are ready to be heard alongside published writers. A rising high school senior, Michael Wang (“Fleeing Syria”) is our youngest contributor. “Michael cares deeply about issues of social justice,” his bio says. “After reading about Syrian refugees and the ensuing U.S. ban on immigrants, he imagined how a young boy might feel fleeing a war-torn country.” We’re honored to publish Wang’s self-translated YA fiction in both English and French, along with numerous new voices who are being published for the first time in Lunch Ticket 13.
Lunch Ticket is excited to announce our contest winners and finalists. Gabo Prize winner Caroline Wilcox Reul translates selected poems from Carl Christian-Elze’s Our Ghosts and How We Talk To Them. Guest judge Tiffany Higgins says, “I love that the poet and translator have brought into English this concept of a selfie-dream … Reul keeps us in this quirky, ghostly world.” Reul’s prize-winning translations appear alongside other literary works translated from German, French, Chinese, Bengali, Hindi, Yiddish, and Dutch, in our Gabo Prize and translation sections. Diana Woods Memorial Award winner “Arabian Night” by Diane G. Martin “takes us by the hand, invites us deeply into the writer’s lost world,” said guest judge Gayle Brandeis. “A stunning, necessary, gut punch of an essay.”
As we work toward our social justice mission, we are grateful for Juan Felipe Herrera‘s reminder that unity, while sweet, is challenging to achieve. We stand with writers and editors everywhere who have lead by example: recently, the decision of Timothy Donnelly, BK Fisher, and Stefania Heim to step down as poetry editors of Boston Review due to the executive editors’ decision to retain Junot Diaz as fiction editor.
As I reflect upon the chorus of voices that came together to produce this issue, I return to Herrera’s statement about writing as a communal art: “We really are nourished by being in a pact of artists and people.” Being a part of the Lunch Ticket community has nourished and humbled me. I am grateful for the contributions of my peers and appreciate the work and patience required to build a future with equity in publishing.
The right to tell stories belongs to everyone. It is challenging and necessary work. In the words of Jordan Faber’s “Babiy Yar,” start tonight.