When I think of grit and Grit Lit, certain names come to mind. Allison, Brown, Crews. The list goes on. What has always stood out to me, since I first started reading these and the many other writers that have helped shape this type of literature, was the bareness of much of the work. In their stories, essays and poems, these writers expose the basest emotions and they do so in ways that make you feel uncomfortable. Often, you can see the trajectory of a character before they can, and you know it’s going to be bad. It may not seem bad to them, but as a reader we can think ahead, to rights and wrongs, to consequences. These characters act in ways that they truly believe in—at least at the time—and in ways that they feel will in some small way benefit themselves.
These are the types of things I looked for when reading through the submissions for this issue of cahoodaoodaling. I wanted pieces that would make me feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut one moment, and like I’ve lost someone very dear to me the next. I wanted work that screamed, sometimes for no reason and sometimes because that is really the only way to deal with suffering sometimes.
The pieces selected spoke to me in a number of ways. Not all hit me in the same way, but they all certainly hit me in some way. They were the pieces that had me thinking about them later in the day and into the next, the ones I wanted to talk about with strangers.
The featured piece, “Our Fathers” by Kerry Johnson, does just that. It speaks to the grit aesthetic, but it does it in the urban environment, much like some of Andre Dubus III’s work does. The piece is short and the Boston-accented voice carries you along quickly, just as rush hour traffic around Beantown is wont to do if you’re unfortunate enough to be driving there. There’s so much going on in such a short space, yet at the same time I feel frozen to the image of the woman stuck there. Life goes on, in terrible directions, but there are images, thoughts, that keep you rooted. There’s something, too, about the title—the hearkening to Catholicism and the power that comes from there—that speaks to me as someone who grew up Catholic and but has since wandered away.
The other pieces in this issue, too, epitomize similar ideas. You’ll see people dealing with the moments in their lives that will forever change them and they deal with those events in different ways. There’s grim determination, and sadness, and comedy. However they choose to do it, you’ll see that it sticks with you, too, I hope.
I was impressed right away, too, with the art that would become our cover art. These micrographic images, I think, show that there is so much that goes on under the surface of our lives, which reflects what I think of when I think of Grit Lit. These characters may be fucked up and at the end of their ropes, but it isn’t for just one or two reasons. There’s a lot more going on there, just as there is in life.
Continue on to our spotlight piece, “Our Fathers” by Kerry Johnson.