After spending a week in glorious, lush, dauntingly pretty Portland, Oregon, I wasn’t ready to come back to Jackson. Never mind that Jackson is equally glorious, lush, and dauntingly pretty—though without the overwhelming presence of looming trees and bicyclists. Hell, even the Portland weather, breezy and cool and overcast, followed me back to Mississippi. I love spring in Jackson; it’s one of the reasons I still live here.
All the same, spring wasn’t giving me an embrace. I never, ever want to be back home right after a vacation. This is true even though I had been homesick the night before. This would be true even if I’d spent a week in Chernobyl. So, Wednesday night, I got back around midnight, vaguely morose and exhausted. I couldn’t face checking my mailbox, and stepping back into my life.
So, I didn’t grab nor open the largish envelope from Itta Bena, Mississippi, until today. As soon as I saw it, though, my heart leapt. This package would have scrubbed out the doldrums from my brain. I knew what it was; I just couldn’t believe it.
Two months ago, I submitted a 4300-word short story—“Done with Skateboarding”—to Valley Voices, a semiannual literary review published by Mississippi Valley State University. Edited by John Zheng, a Chinese scholar of African American literature and southern studies (say that five times fast), Valley Voices features a mix of fiction, poetry, and book reviews. Small journals reflect, usually, the tastes of their editors, almost like extended diaries of a specific literary person. So, Valley Voices features lots of literature by and about black writers and Asian immigrants. An odd, fruitful mix. I wanted to be a part of it—I’m black, I’m an intellectual, I’m a southern writer. And, oh yeah, I know the editor.
John Zheng had emailed me, back in April, with some questions and saying that he liked it. I answered his queries, and then promptly forgot about it. Hey, payment was five copies and a year’s subscription. So stakes weren’t exactly high, or so I thought.
But yesterday, looking at this package, a part of me soared. I ripped open the envelope while walking back to the apartment. And there they were—five copies of the latest issue of Valley Voices. (It’s the Fall 2011 issue, for the record. Literary reviews and academic journals tend to be way, way behind.) And there, on page 58, begins my story.
My first story published as an adult.
Yes, yes, yes, I had a two-pager in Lost Battles, which I’m proud of, etc. But I wrote that piece a decade ago, and it was published by a close friend, so I don’t exactly count it. Yes, yes, yes, I’ve published several reviews and essays over the last 4-5 years. At heart, though, I pride my fiction writing over anything else I do creatively. That’s probably a mistake, as I write more criticism than fiction, but there it is. So, now, for what it’s worth, I’m a published writer of short stories. Well, one, anyway.
Onward and upward.
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Valley Voices doesn’t have much of a web presence but here it is. You can buy issues and make contact here: Valley Voices, MVSU 7242, 14000 Highway 82 West, Itta Bena, MS 38941-1400, or by email to email@example.com.