When I ripped Emerson’s Redivider 13.1, winter 2016 issue, out of the manila envelope to see the cover photo of the back of a black man’s head and neck, I turned to the back cover to see a portrait of a pretty white girl with one blue and one brown eye. Her expression alluring, I wondered if they were meant to be looking at each other. I’m not pretending to know what it means, but the first words out of my mouth were, “Cool. This is cool. I want to read this, right now.” And I sat down and read, right there on the step.
Normally, when I know I have to review something, I flip and scan and fiddle. I set my pens and highlighters in a row. This time I jumped into the first page where Julie Henson’s Beacon Street Prize (show me the money!) winning poem, “Fell the Trees” meat-hooked me, with an upper-cut of a first line: “Where my sister lives, the twin girls are seventeen and dead.” I read the poem three times. Then I googled her. Now I’m a fan. I’ll buy her book.
On page five, Beacon Street Prize (cha-ching!) fiction winning story, Ben Nickol’s "Tenants," starts with, “It was a little cabin, across the lake, I was refurbishing to rent during the summer months.” The prose is tight. The first person POV is an older curmudgeon who hates computers and lives in the past. I can relate. The second paragraph, starts with, “I don’t know how the girl found the place,” and the reader is hooked, lined and sinkered. That’s it; there goes the afternoon, sitting on the porch reading.
As judge James Scott says in the foreword, to paraphrase, this simple story sneaks up and plants every detail in the memory. Basically, in a nutshell, the curmudgeon and the family that rent the cabin, fix up the house, grow close, have a beautiful summer and then boom, we have to watch him watch it all fall apart. Yes, it’s sad, but the is a delicacy and skill in the telling that ranks up there with Alice Munro. "Tenants" was simple, clean, sad, and inspiring. I googled Nickols. Sent him a fan-email. Put him on my to-read and to-watch list. The story is so warm, I feel like he’s a friend.
The non-fiction winner, "I’m Trying to Tell You I’m Sorry" by Nina Boutsikaris is a brave and lyric memoir. It’s sexy and revealing and honest. “Meaning I was born, like most of you who are born this way, with certain desired commodities, maybe the most desired commodities.” Reminiscent of a young Mary Gaitskill, Boutsikaris explores boundaries; the link between sex and power. With a rare candid lust, her prose jumps off the page. I sped through it. Yes, I googled her. Yes, now I’m a fan. Yes, I’m metaphorically in line for her collection of intimacies, real and imagined, which I doubt will have trouble finding a publisher.
I put the journal down and went in to make lunch, thinking, “Isn’t this exactly what a literary journal should do? Join emerging writers with fans? Give you a quick healthy dose of tight poetry and prose? Make you feel new? Inspire? Yes.” The editors, judges and staff of Redivder 13.1 nail it to the floor and took no prisoners. They took risks, risks that commercial publishing cannot take, but will in the future, thanks to the exposure here, and it pays-off.
Over the week, I dipped chronologically through the issue, finding more gems: "The Peeping Couple" by Kyle Ellington and Parini Shroff’s "Grass Widow" are both intriguing and memorable. But I can see why the contest winners got the big bucks.
This issue can be judged by the cover. Alluring, powerful, provocative, full of simple stories and heart-wrenching images—Redivder is doing what a journal should.