DB23 is a truly transitional work—it is the last issue curated and selected almost entirely under the direction of Drunken Boat Founding Editor Ravi Shankar, who is now serving on the Drunken Boat Board of Directors. In it is the vision of an incredibly dedicated staff of volunteer readers, editors, and (perhaps most importantly) artists who worked as a team with me when I first joined Drunken Boat as Managing Editor in 2014. Though many of our seemingly inexhaustible volunteer staff elected to stay on in new or previous positions, we are also welcoming new editors and readers who are stepping into both new and established roles. In this way, DB23 is the final issue of an era, but it is not a final issue, and I hope that DB23 signals a transition of growth through change rather than a sharp departure.
DB23 is especially significant to me because it includes the Glass House Shelter folio, edited and conceived by Julie Batten. Julie was one of the first writers I met with when I began as the managing editor at Drunken Boat, and her vision for this project was an indication of how right this community was for me. Ravi’s expansive vision of art included those often most marginalized not only by the creative world but by our society as a whole, and I was immediately grateful to be entering this actively inclusive and encouraging space. I was homeless as a teenager. Despite how often I say it, it doesn’t seem to get easier to say: that lingering shame and fear collects in my sternum and weighs me down when I try to write about it. Julie discusses this shame in her brilliant introduction to the project:
“The shame is present in all of the pieces we share here in this folio and it seems that the deeper we slip into denial, the more we not only carry our shame, but more critically, more disastrously, we become it. It is a condition born of our otherness, of that whistle that sends us running to the back of the line, of the voices we carry in our heads that whisper not good enough."
I still haven’t found a way to write about my own experiences as a homeless queer teenager, but I’m grateful to know that I am not alone, and that my labor of editing and publishing this journal creates a space in the literary world where we can seek one another. This seeking has to happen beyond our existing horizons, or else we are failing to acknowledge a part of ourselves.
In this issue we find kindred communities of artists and writers in Bulgaria, and in Sardinia. The opportunity to present this exciting, and challenging, work to an English-reading audience is extraordinary. Perhaps, like me, you had very little knowledge about Sardinia before entering into this issue. Sardinia Folio Editor Ciriaco Offeddu writes:
"No other populace in the remote past built so much, architecturally innovative and perfect, and spread out across such a large region. And no other civilization is as invisible as the Sardinians.”
That lack of information is no accident, though, it’s a direct result of colonial imperialism, the imaginary construct of an historical and unified Italy that has sublimated all difference from within its borders in order to justify a fantasy and a series of wars. As Offeddu says:
"The truth is that Sardinia had its own origins and its own historical path, different from other parts of Italy. And ‘Italy’ never existed in history—be careful: it is only a geographical concept foisted on us to justify wars that led to annexes."
This grouping of artists includes contemporary works in music, art, and literature. We have merely scratched the surface of the rich cultural landscape of Sardinia, it becomes quickly clear, in presenting these works to an English-reading audience. It is my hope that this marks a beginning, and that we see much more work from our Sardinian compatriots in the arts in the future.
The extensive collection that makes up the third and forth special folios in DB23 is a large selection of contemporary Bulgarian literature in prose and poetry. As Stephen Wingate says in his contextualizing introduction:
"The reason this particular folio is before you, and the reason that Bulgarian literature is around you more generally, involves the fortuitous combination of a country renewing its identity through literature and a group of people intensely committed to making sure that this literature gets known across the world."
Folio editor T.M. De Vos writes in her introduction that being in Bulgaria gave her access to a literary community that felt collaborative, genuinely invested in one another (in contrast to the U.S. American community, which is so often scrambling to fight over the same limited resources). That:
"This current of generosity infused the entire seminar, reinforcing the reality that writing is hard work, that it requires tremendous empathy, and that there is honor in doing it well. Nor is it a solipsistic pursuit: our purpose in coming together as writers in Bulgarian and English was to catalyze real cultural exchange—and to share experiences that helped us to bond as individuals.”
My hope is that somehow Drunken Boat can help extend and materialize that generous, encouraging, validating space for the writers of our global literary and arts communities. That in bringing together these writers in this virtual space we are in some way forging bonds of community between us.
Our regular sections in this issue include Poetry, Fiction, and NonFiction, each of which is packed full with it’s own treasures. Among them are Joey de Jesus’s beautiful erasures. Bonnie Chau’s haunting, lyrical Medusa Jellyfish: "Against the white sky, dozens of pigeons fly, tiny crosses turning into stars, then flattening, veering, tiny stars, tiny crosses, flicking, flickering, crossing and uncrossing, and then a stomach-dropping swoop.” Frances Kai-Hwa Wang’s funny, and heartbreaking, "Poignant Truth, Precarious You (and preparing for the Sriracha Apocalypse)”:
"Do you know Blue Willow? The world’s most popular china pattern ever, designed in 1790 by Thomas Minton in England and sent to China and India to be manufactured (a process that Europeans could not replicate for hundreds of years, by the way) for the black fermented tea dust that Chinese and Indians would not drink. The Blue Willow pattern so perfectly captured the Western imagination that they even invented a romantic legend of star-crossed lovers to go with it.”
In Translation, we have a section that engages with, provides the barest hint of an answer, to a pressing question in the field: "In recent years, the chorus has swelled: Where are the women in translation? Why do they account for just one in four translated books published in the U.S.?” And in Art we juxtapose Bulgarian and U.S. American-based artists working in text and image to find resonance across borders.
All-told DB23 brings you the work of 106 artists working in literature, visual, and audio mediums all around the world. It took the volunteer effort of a staff of more than thirty people, writers and artists in their own right, who work tirelessly towards the production of this virtual community space for artists, a true labor of artistic love. We hope that our labor, while economically unrewarded, is rewarding in its own particular way. And I hope that, if you, dear readers, dear community, have the ability you will consider becoming a subscriber to Drunken Boat through our new Patreon page.
Drunken Boat is committed to publishing a free, open access online journal of international literature and arts—that will not change. But because we do not have a paywall, or a print journal to subscribe to, we rely entirely on donations and grants to support our work. We hope that by opening up the possibility of subscribing at any level (even $1 per issue would help!) to our readers, we can generate enough revenue to pay our contributors, and stop charging a reading fee to pay for the software to run the journal. The way it works is this: you pledge whatever amount you want as a “subscription” through Patreon, and every time we publish a journal (twice a year!) you donate that amount to us in support of the journal automatically. Every donation is fully tax-deductible in the U.S.A., and will help us continue to move toward a sustaining infrastructure for our work.
I’m so honored to be taking the helm of this Drunken Boat now, with the strength of the community and the brilliance of the work that Ravi built. Here’s to our future, together.
Editor, Drunken Boat