Anyone who has been writing and trying to get published in literary journals for any time could tell you that trying to get published in 2022 is much different than trying to get published only a couple years ago. It’s never been easy for any aspiring writer to break through no matter who you are. Once you’re established that’s a completely different story, but getting that foot in the door, finding that editor who sees the value in your work – based on your writing alone – is incredibly difficult.
There’s hundreds upon hundreds (if not thousands) of literary journals out there these days, most of which are solely online. It’s incredibly easy to set up a basic website with little to no cost or knowledge and voila, you’ve got your own journal. With such ease there are seemingly endless numbers of pet literary journals out there with incredibly specific niches. And that’s great because everybody deserves an outlet and a voice, but getting published in those incredibly, incredibly niche journals is unlikely to be something that you can build upon as a writer, which is why I attempt to focus my efforts on more broad-minded journals.
In going through all of these, both niche ones as well as broad-minded ones, it feels like more and more it’s not about what they want but what they don’t want. Naturally, we all should want to hear from voices that have not been heard much in the mainstream, whatever that may be. However, one that I came across yesterday which left me a bit flummoxed was a literary journal that said they don’t want stories based on a character who comes from a “privileged background.” As far as I could tell this was not a niche journal, and yet this statement was so sweeping that it would knock out huge portions of literature from every tradition in every country.
It seemed to indicate that there was nothing any of us could learn from any character who was born into privilege, no matter what they may learn or where they may go from there, and that is incredibly frustrating. My first thought went to the story of the Buddha who was born into great privilege, but saw through the trappings and meaninglessness of it, and went on to found a philosophy/religion that has been practiced for thousands of years now, seeking enlightenment and the cessation of suffering for all beings. The story of the Buddha is the story of someone who was born into privilege.
Who gets to define privilege? When I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, my family, in relation to others throughout the surrounding area, would not have been considered rich or privileged, because there were so many others that had so much more. However, in relation to large swaths of the rest of the country and indeed the rest of the world, we certainly would’ve been considered privileged. To many around the world, simply having constant access to food, clean water, safe shelter and other things that so many of us take for granted, would be considered privileged, and so should we not hear from any writers who grew up with these things?
Ideas of “purity” have become more and more intensified with each passing year, and with the rise and continued growth of the Internet, providing the ability for people to never hear differing opinions if that’s what they choose. People on all sides of the political spectrum have grown further and further entrenched in these ideas of “purity” while believing their own sense of it is the truth and that the people on the other side could not be more wrong and should be completely dismissed, essentially not seen as human beings who can learn and grow, but enemies to be written off. This may seem like a huge jump from my little rant here about literary journals, but any time anybody is willing to write off an entire section of the populace, as if one character trait made everyone within that section a homogeneous mass, is extremely dangerous and feeds the extremism that exists on both ends of the political spectrum. Until we can see every individual as an individual, as well as containing the universality of human experience, we will continue to create pain, division and derision, pouring fuel on the fire that is seemingly burning humanity down.
Nothing about my person that can be quantified defines me, neither does it for any other human being out there. The web of causes and conditions that lead us to wherever we are at any given moment is so vast that none of us could ever begin to fully grasp everything that has affected our lives and made us who we are. Blanket statements that reject stories en masse based on a single trait can do nothing to benefit humanity, and if literature is not here to benefit humanity, I don’t know why it exists.