Few would deny the truism, but the underlying lesson is observed more often in the breach: That every voice matters and deserves a chance to be heard.

As I reflect on last Monday’s successful Brewed Awakenings kickoff, I could not help but notice the uniformly ivory countenances of our merry band of literary revelers. You can see it for yourself, in the photos on display in my previous post.

Of course, diversity isn’t a function of color; most of our editors and authors are female, and several members of the board of directors (me included) fall into at least one legally recognized protected class. Nor is a mixture of color a sign of intellectual diversity. Yet as we progress in our mission to develop a robust literary culture in West Michigan, it’s incumbent on us to ensure that historically underserved voices be welcome — without hesitation or reservation — within our community.

As a matter of logistics, every query submitted to Caffeinated Press comes solely to me, in my capacity as chairman of the committee that manages acquisitions and the editorial process. I’m the only person who sees any author information during the intake cycle. I collect a de-identified writing sample and the writer’s synopsis and put them before the committee for a majority vote. The editors know nothing about a submitter, not even a name; all they get is the story synopsis and a brief writing sample. Although this rule is intended to protect against friends voting for friends or blocking non-friends, the rule also means that the editors accept content based solely on literary merit and not on the author’s biography.

(And lest you get too lost in the weeds — I only kick out material that hasn’t been de-identified or is grammatically incoherent, and my very rare unilateral rejections are subject to retrospective review by the full board of directors.)

Of our three main modes of production — the annual anthology, independent projects like novels or the forthcoming quarterly 3288 Review — the work we’ve received so far is fairly standard. Good, fun stuff, to be sure, but somewhat conventional in scope.

You know what would be great, though? Stories that —

  • Paint a “day in the life” of a single mother in inner-city Muskegon
  • Show how back-breaking it is to work on the factory farms in eastern Ottawa County
  • Explain why so many Vietnamese settled in Grand Rapids
  • Highlight the grey areas of sexual violence, especially among youth and minorities
  • Illuminate how a popular athlete at a rural high school could eventually get busted for cooking meth
  • Calculate the cost of the judicial system on people at or below the federal poverty line
  • Demonstrate how a person with a master’s degree can only find work as a barista — at age 30
  • Re-live the feelings, and the reactions by others, the first time someone expressed same-sex affection in public
  • Tell a white audience what it’s really like to be black in West Michigan
  • Relate the pain of being disowned from an upper-middle-class, Christian home by parents horrified by a teenage pregnancy
  • Outline the five biggest frustrations that people with physical disabilities feel about the people around them
  • Fight back against fat- or slut-shaming behavior by others
  • Offer an insider’s perspective on mental illness or addiction
  • Help people understand the effort and thought that goes into transitioning gender identities

Caffeinated Press is a safe place for people to tell their stories. We believe that a bountiful cornucopia of conflicting voices, when presented in the aggregate, tells a compelling story about the human condition. We believe that the stories most worth telling come from the pain or the joy that comes from within, and that within cannot be locused solely from a white, upper-middle-class, heteronormative worldview.

So, share your story. And if you want me to make an in-person visit to your group, I’m happy to accommodate you — use the “Contact Us” link on the menu bar to get started.

Every Voice Matters
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One thought on “Every Voice Matters

  • 2015-03-09 at 12:05 pm
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    Wonderful article about intersectionality in writing practice and systemic social issues!

    Reply

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