Rachel Nix Interviews Sam Singleton

Rachel Nix Oh CanadaRachel Nix: As the newest staff member of cahoodaloodaling, we’d love for our readers to know more about you. Would you tell us about yourself, Sam?

Sam Singleton: Well, as of recently, I’m a person who spends 50% of my time dreaming about all of the delicious things that could be baked in my kitchen, and 50% of my time thinking about the next utilitarian trick I can teach to my new fur baby, Ziggy (and yes, that is Stardust). At this moment, all he knows is “stay,” which he only half-heartedly accomplishes when someone has food.

sam1Outside of my current mental hobbies, I teach 5th grade (where you’d think kids would have all of their adult teeth but, surprise, no they don’t) and oversee the yearbook at a middle school in middle Tennessee. I’m currently getting my Master of Library and Information Science degree so that I can accomplish my forever dream of being a hopeless shelf wanderer. Best of all, though, I get to read wonderful pieces of work with you guys, which makes my hopeless shelf wanderin’ life even better.

RN: We’ve all enjoyed having you work with us, and especially starting with the “Queer Spaces” issue. I know this is a subject you’re invested in and have spoken up for before becoming one of our editors; why do you think it’s important to not only read, but celebrate queer writers?

SS: Representation is everything. I think it’s important to celebrate queer writers for more reasons than would be advisable to write in this answer, but I really think it comes down to two things: queer people are diverse, and people still think the word “queer” is derogatory. I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a friend once who is 4-5 years older than me. We were watching a TV show (I think it was Gaycation), and someone used the word “queer” not in a derogatory sense, but in reference to a group of queer people. She was dumbfounded by my lack of response and asked repeatedly why I wasn’t offended by such a “rude term,” and I struggled to explain that, while historically it was used as a derogatory term, I actually identified as a queer person. It’s moments like that, I think—when people outside of the community don’t realize that there’s such a wide diversity of human sexuality and gender identity—that’s why reading and celebrating queer writers is so important. It’s even worse when you’re searching for something even remotely like your experience and all you have access to are stories about you written by people who are straight, or men, and none of it makes sense or feels right. I want a better future than that, especially for the kids I work with every day. I want them to know that there are worlds out there waiting for them, and that they can find themselves somewhere, or that if they can’t, they can blaze their own trail. I think we’d all say that that’s something we wished we had had as teenagers.

RN: Poetry and storytelling are the most defining teachers, in my opinion. Both have always been incredible vehicles for understanding, and, in today’s society, literature is possibly the most sincere conversation-starter for the struggles minority groups face—in both the broad sense and in complicated individual perspectives. I know this is another topic you’re deeply concerned with; as a teacher, how do you use literature to bring your students into such discussions?

SS: Literature and storytelling are a way for people—and, in this context, especially my students—to not just tell their truth, but also to live through it, understand it, and process it. The student groups that I work with come mostly from minority groups, some 85-90%, with the majority being of Latinx/Hispanic backgrounds. DACA and immigration laws directly affect them, which creates a lot of insecurity and, as a result, a struggle to focus at times. Students need literature where they can identify parts of themselves that might be painful, or scary, or intense—they need authors like Jacqueline Woodson, Pam Munoz Ryan, Sherman Alexie, Julia Alvarez, and Kwame Alexander to open those doors for them. We use literature to explore things that are real, like reading about the plight of immigrant workers in California during the Dust Bowl while reading Esperanza Rising or dissecting the power and incredible struggle of a young Black girl living in the South in the ‘60s and ‘70s while reading Brown Girl Dreaming. It’s more than just reading, though, that is important. Giving my students a chance to tell their own stories is the most important aspect of literature. If they leave the year understanding anything, I want them to understand most that literature tells a story that other people can connect to and that their stories, above all, are worth telling.

RN: You and I are pretty much on the same page with poetry, which is part of the reason I stole you from the staff at large to focus on my poetry team. So let’s talk pet peeves. I’m mighty fussy about certain things and immediately write a piece off if the poet mentions stardust or crimson anything. Unnecessary formatting is another quick route to my stink-eye. What sort of overused wording or writing gimmicks make you want to print a submission out just to tear it to bits?*

SS: Rhyming patterns for the sake of rhyming will always be my #1 pet peeve, hands down. Here’s the thing about rhyming: it’s great when you’re ten, or when you’re learning to write rhymed verses or ABBA patterns, but 9 out of 10 times it comes out unnaturally. I (begrudgingly) taught GRE and GMAT test preparation classes for 2 years, and one rule always stood out to me: if you have the choice between using a word you know well and using a word that sounds good, but you’re only somewhat sure of its meaning, use the former. Poetry’s the same way. If you’re writing poetry for what you think will look good, or what will sound the best, then are you really writing poetry at all?

I’m also against any metaphors that have anything to do with angels, unless those angels are dark and twisted and somehow going to Hell.

RN: Not everyone realizes this, but editing an independent literary journal is typically a volunteer job and the only pay-off comes by way of pride in being part of the publishing process. So what made you want to get into publishing?

SS: I’ve always wanted to be part of the publishing process. My bachelor’s is in English, and my creative writing classes were always my favorite because of the opportunities we had to share and learn from each other. I gave up writing regularly after college, mostly because I had student papers to grade and little time for my own, but the want continued to linger. A couple of years ago, I stumbled on a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird in a used bookstore. I’d heard good things about the book from coworkers of mine at the library, so I decided to read it, though I’d never heard of Lamott before. I was stunned at how relevant it was to my life. I was going through one of the worst break-ups of my life, was feeling incredibly insecure and aware that I had lost my own balance for what I wanted from life. I think that’s when I realized that publishing and writing was something I wish I still had in my life. When this opportunity rolled around a year later (thank you, Rachel!), it was perfect. Being able to work with cahoodaloodaling makes me realize just how much I love writing, and reading great writing inspires me to write more.

Rachel Nix OliveRN: Most editors will confirm this: in publishing we see a lot of similar topics and over-told ideas; we don’t always get to read what we’re looking for. With our quarterly issues being themed at cahoodaloodaling, we likely get our itches scratched more than a lot of journals, though. That said, is there a poem you’re dying to read—a piece no one’s submitted yet, but you’re waiting to get your hands on?

sam3SS: Something that I wanted to see but didn’t feel like I saw enough of in this last round was poems specifically about gender dysphoria. I’ve been increasingly interested in GD for about a year now and have read a few different (mostly YA) books on the subject, but something in me wishes that there were more. I’d especially like to see something about gender dysphoria in the South, with the looming of despicable bathroom bills popping up from fear-mongering politicians. I’m seeing more teenagers come to the realization that they fit in a more diverse gender identity, and I think it would be wonderful—as a librarian, a teacher, and a human—to have resources for things that I, as a cisgender woman, do not fully understand, but want to provide support around.

RN: Who are some of your favorite writers? Whose work can you not get enough of lately? (Please feel free to send us links to their work online or personal websites.)

SS: In all transparency, since the end of the year has just passed, the majority of my “read” list revolves around YA novels because they are generally quick reads and can boost my Goodreads Reading Challenge score (I know, silly excuse). In reality, however, I found some real gems that way:

Kat Zhang, who wrote a series about hybrid siblings, has an intriguing book series called The Hybrid Chronicles that I devoured in three days;

Nina LaCour set a new YA high for me with We Are Okay;

Ivan Coyote’s Tomboy Survival Guide and One in Every Crowd caused me to lose an entire night of sleep;

and currently, I’m losing sleep over Leni Zuma’s Red Clocks, a frightening look into the new reality concerning women’s bodily autonomy.

My forever favorites will always be Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda, Jorge Luis Borges, Margaret Atwood, Junot Diaz, Sherman Alexie, and the one and only Kurt Vonnegut.

RN: We’re always on the hunt for publications to dig into and are curious where your affection goes. Which magazines, online or print, do you admire and follow regularly?

SS: Currently, all of my affection is going to the newest issue of American Libraries because I firmly believe that libraries are the foundation of a community’s investment in literacy. Libraries are also using their status in communities to stand up for social issues, including standing with Dreamers, offering counseling to people who could otherwise not afford it, and, as of late, opposing bathroom bills. The newest edition has an article about the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria—what else could you need from a magazine?

Outside of my own library obsessions, I’m incredibly fond of The Adirondack Review (the artwork! Carl Auerbach’s “The Inauguration”!) and recently, I’ve been reading a lot from the Hobo Camp Review.

RN: I ask this 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?

SS: There are two books that I read during transitional times in my life that really have defined who I am: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, where she gives life advice thinly veiled as writing advice, and Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, which is Brownstein’s memoir describing Sleater-Kinney and all of the mental health issues that occurred during the Sleater-Kinney era. Bird by Bird is a book I remind myself of often, mostly when I’m feeling as if everything in my life is too overwhelming; Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl reminds me that life is often going to be entirely too overwhelming.

RN: Got a question for us? About the publication, the staff, or what else we aim to do with you now that we have you in our clutches?

SS: What ingredients came together to make the magic that is the cahoodaloodaling team?

Raquel Thorne: When we started out, it was just Kate Hammerich and I working on cahoodaloodaling. That, itself, is a pretty magic story, but generally one you have to give me a few drinks to tell. After several issues, Kate and I began asking other writers and poets we knew who are vested in publishing to curate as guest editors. As our number of submissions swelled and we realized how much we enjoyed working with different readers, we extended invites to several in our writing community to join our volunteer staff. We’ve been really lucky to have some amazing people as part of our masthead. That, too, is part of the magic—getting to work with numerous writers at a point in their lives when working on a journal gives them the same joy Kate and I ran straight towards when we opened cahoodaloodaling’s doors.

*ME Raquel would like to assure readers that submissions are not printed for this purpose.

Samantha Singleton is a teacher, a wanderer, a literature lover, and a constant library shelf wanderer. When she’s not reading long, dry textbooks about conducting research for her MLS program or developing lessons for her brilliant students, she has the distinct pleasure of being the Assistant Poetry Editor at cahoodaloodaling, which, if she does say so herself, is one of the best parts of her day.

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