Rachel Nix: “Queer Spaces” was open to all writers/artists under the queer umbrella. Despite no geographic focus and a wide range of contributors, I’d say there’s a wonderful cohesion to this issue that embodies the concept of community, and more specifically: the concept of queer community. What’s your take on the range of submissions we received for this issue?
Alesha J Dawson: As cliché as it sounds, this issue really does have something for just about any literature lover—regardless of orientation. And then when you take a step closer to it, it’s easy to see how it absolutely delivers a raw sense of the international queer writing community. The works we asked for were works created by queer individuals, but ones that did not necessarily have to deal with queer topics. So, not only were individuals submitting from varied locations and cultural backgrounds, but the content of the submissions were extremely varied as well. However, throughout these complicated and interchanging styles, genres, and topics, the issue as a whole genuinely vibrates with the wholeness of connection. The individual pieces seem to be in conversation with one another—subconsciously reaching toward, and reacting to, each other. Anything that can generate that much cohesion despite so much diversity really gives testament to the power behind its unifying factor—which in this case is the queer community itself. In this way, I think the issue not only shines light on some amazing queer voices, but also paints a vivid picture of the way in which the queer community celebrates and validates its diverse members in general. And that’s exactly what I was hoping for.
RN: cahoodaloodaling is a collaborative publication and we’re excited to say this “Queer Spaces” issue is basically an introduction to your new project, Screen Door Review. Can you tell us a bit about SDR and what drove you to get a queer literary journal started in the South?
AD: Absolutely. Screen Door Review is an online quarterly literary magazine that publishes poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and graphic narratives written by individuals belonging to the southern queer community of the United States. And as far as what drove me to start this magazine, I think it’s a vast mixture of things that have recently aligned in a way that’s allowed for this project to take shape. My academic background is in English literature and I was an adjunct professor at the University of Montevallo and the University of Alabama Birmingham for about three years altogether before I began SDR. Unfortunately, those jobs didn’t really pay the bills—as anyone who has adjuncted before will know. So when I decided not to apply for PhD programs like I’d planned to, I stopped teaching and got a 9-5 office job to start working toward some financial stability. I knew that was the right move for me, but I desperately missed being surrounded by literature. So, I started seriously thinking about my next steps: how could I keep supporting myself financially, but use my experience, skills, and activism (something also very important to me) to help meet a need somewhere. I started looking for local literary magazines to apply to or help out with and thought, since I am a lesbian, it would be great to find one that focuses on southern queer literature. But I just couldn’t find one. So, I started one. It was June 2017 and I was talking with one of my good friends, Hannah, who is now one of our editors, and she helped give me the confidence to just go for it. I started making the website that week and things went from there.
RN: You’ve not spent your entire life in the South, or even in the United States, which to me adds an interesting layer to your aim in Screen Door Review and particularly in the endeavor to amplify the southern queer perspective. Would you tell us a bit about your background? Also, why do you think southerners deserve a specific literary outlet?
AD: I’ll answer your second question first: pretty simply, I think that everyone deserves a specific literary outlet. I think that literary representation is important for cultural representation. We need a magazine like this, especially now. As a country, we need queer southern voices published in order to more clearly represent the literary face of the South. As southern queer individuals, we need our voices published because we deserve a home that respects our stories and celebrates our identities, instead of one that hides them in the closet. That’s what Screen Door is going to try to accomplish.
And yeah, my background is a bit varied. I’ve spent ten years of my life living in various places in Europe. My parents worked in Moscow when I was growing up, so we lived there for about 8 years. Moved back when I was 17. Then I kept gravitating back to Europe—for a study abroad program in Germany (through the University of Montevallo) during undergrad and then again for my Master’s in English at the University of Edinburgh. I’ve been back in Birmingham since then and grappling with ideas of my own southern identity. I felt like I had so many identities that I had to keep separate from one another—my international life, my queer life, my southern life. Naturally, when I write, my work tends to deal with the ideas of place and the relationship between place and person, because of all of the different areas I’ve lived in. And that writing has really helped me bring those identities together. I want so very much for queer individuals in the South to not feel like they have to separate their queerness from their southerness much like I thought I had to at some points in my life. A literary magazine that focuses on those two specific identities—while wholly celebrating all the diversity that comes with—seems to be a great way to help with that.
RN: To go a bit further, how do you think it might be a benefit to readers who aren’t from here to hear what we have to say?
AD: I think it’s vital for others to hear expressions of southern queer writing because it isn’t a combination of identities that most people really group together. And pushing people to see that there is a whole huge part of the South that really gets missed out on in various forms of representation is a great thing to strive toward. Misrepresentation happens all the time. I often found myself while living overseas defending being from the South, and sometimes even from the US. So, again, the more representation we have, the more people everywhere can really hear our voices and for it to start to sink in how exceptionally wonderful so many people in the South are and how much we are moving forward and fighting to be a better South.
RN: To wind things down here, I’m gonna ask you a question I ask in every interview—because it seems like each editor has one book that’s defined them in some way. Any genre, and subject; what’s your favorite book? What book matters to you?
AD: Oh, yes. This question. Two books immediately spring to mind: Out of Martha’s House by Donlin Foreman and Deathless by Catherine Valente. Since you only asked for one, I will tell you a bit about Out of Martha’s House. It’s a short poetry book that is in English on one side and Italian on the other. I don’t speak Italian, at all, but works that use multiple languages feel so much like the way my own brain works sometimes that they really get to me. This particular book also has images of interpretative dance spread throughout the pages. The poetry is outstanding, but I just love the collaborative essence of the whole piece working together. I found it in a 5 dollar bin at the university bookstore in undergrad and it’s stuck with me ever since.
RN: Thanks so much for joining us as a guest editor, Alesha. We’ve all enjoyed working with you and are excited to see what Screen Door Review accomplishes. Let us know when the first issue is coming out! Anything else you’d like to say?
AD: Thank you so much for inviting me to be your guest editor for this issue. I really can’t express how grateful I am for this experience and how wonderful it feels to have your confidence going forward with Screen Door Review. I’ve learned so much from y’all over this short time and am excited to see what you do in your next issues, as well. All the best!
Screen Door Review is a quarterly literary magazine that publishes poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and comics authored by individuals belonging to the southern queer (LGBTQ+) community of the United States. The purpose of the magazine is to provide a platform of expression to those whose identities—at least in part—derive from the complicated relationship between queer person and place. Specifically, queer person and the South. Through publication, we aim to not only express, but also validate and give value to these voices, which are oftentimes overlooked, undermined, condemned, or silenced.