Goddard MFA alumna Brianna Johnson’s thesis, Fire Sale, was recently published as a digital chapbook with Essay Press. Here’s how it begins:
“I come from whiteness, which is not innocent. If I speak of things which cause intense pain, it is because I have felt pain because of them. Not feeling would cause greater pain to the memory of those brutalized. I don’t condone evil, but I acknowledge it. I am here to acknowledge it.
I have been weak. I have been in terror. I hated that I could be weak. I hated that I could have a lineage of evil. I do not wish to appropriate the tragedy of others, only to tell the story of how some part of a tragedy was my lineage, that some part of evil was drawn in my family, that some very large part of female objectification, violence, mental illness, and death kept its pace with me. This is what I have come from. I am not going to lie as I continue to grieve.”
Essay Press‘s mission is to publish “artful, innovative and culturally relevant prose that is too long to be easily published in journals or magazines but too short to be considered book-length by most publishers.” Find out more about them and what they publish on their website. We caught up with Brianna to find out how she brought her thesis out into the world, and how she chose to publish digitally with Essay Press. This is her reply:
I found that what I had written and rewritten and relived and rehashed had to be given time to swell and wane and grow less stinging for me to bring it to a time and place where it could reach you. At Goddard, it was my B.F.A. final project and my Master’s thesis in coupling and tumbling forms. It is ten years and my whole life. It is the thing I couldn’t shake and just would not be finished. Maybe it is finished now.
I can’t tell you how many hands have touched this or how many eyes have been on it. I fully stopped counting rejections when I became a master at it. My guess for this one work: upwards of 100 rejections, easily. And so I kept working on it. I didn’t care if it was perfect when eyes saw it.
There were things I knew:
This would not work – as something beautiful and palatable to everyone. My only home would be small presses and this suited me.
There was danger – reactions to the work could be hard to predict.
This would not sell – I was never going to be an easy, comforting, marketable voice.
This would not do – I needed to have it read.
After years of nothing, I began to see breaks and possibilities and movement. I felt it was still shabby in parts, but after a while, I began getting little love notes of apology, personalized apologies for not being able to take it. The work was a finalist in contests and these were cataclysmic pivots in time.
I was a finalist, but I was not chosen by the guest judge. Essay Press, however, wanted to publish an excerpt, because there were big “champions” of my work there.
I knew this for a while:
This work needs champions.
It came to be a digital chapbook, because a digital chapbook came to me. It was offered to me and it was just the freedom I needed for this work with a large dose of nurturing by my editor, Aimee Harrison.
I chose not to excerpt, but to revise the whole, because I wanted to offer something whole and I wanted to speak in wholeness and all at once. I was waiting for the fullness of authenticity.
BRIANNA JOHNSON was a participant in the 2013 A Room of Her Own retreat. Her time there led her to found the Agua Viva Fellowship for a woman writer in recovery from alcohol and/or chemical dependency. In 2015, she was invited to act as a Waves Discussion Series contributor and lecturer alongside Maxine Hong Kingston. She has earned her BFA and MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College where she was mentored by, among others, Rebecca Brown, Douglas A. Martin, and Bhanu Kapil. Her work has been featured in Tarpaulin Sky Magazine, Spout Magazine, and Off the Margins. Her digital chapbook, Fire Sale, published by Essay Press is available to read at http://www.essaypress.org/ep-55.