Literary Spotlight: Image

For three decades, literary meditations on faith and spirituality have found a home in this reflective journal.

Image
Issue #99 of Image

Issue #99 of Image, subtitled “Art Faith Mystery,” includes an essay by Katie Kresser suggesting that bizarre artistic images of Jesus across centuries can lead to a deeper, richer understanding the cosmic Christ.

It includes Sonya Bilocerkowycz’s meditations on the history of a renowned Ukrainian restaurant in the United States and how it evokes her deceased Ukrainian grandmother, with whom she spent time as a child growing up in South Dakota.

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Two short fiction pieces in Issue #99 follow protagonists who grow up in conservative religious subcultures and then abandon them. Editor-in-chief James K.A. Smith includes an editorial statement titled “In Praise of Boredom,” in which he explores viewing art as the antithesis of distraction and a means of much-needed reflection in a frenetic world.

Editors founded Image, based in Seattle, in 1989. Beloved by readers worldwide, it explores the intersection of western religious traditions and contemporary literature and art. Smith and executive editor Mary Kenagy Mitchell embrace creative works that examine both devout faith and spiritual struggling.

Tone, editorial content

While a number of literary magazines offer work that engages with religious faith, Image gives space to writers who might show unease or grapple with religious tradition. “We would publish a fairly traditional Catholic poet and have these latter pieces alongside each other in conversation on the page,” says Mitchell. “We look for both an engagement with tradition and an openness to the world.”

Paul Mariani is a traditional Catholic poet; Image has published several of his poems over the years. His “Psalm for the Lost” (Issue #83) appeared in Best American Poetry 2016. It begins:

“Down the dark way, the dark way down.
Everything dark now, as he has come to see:
that the way was always dark, the journey dark,
the mind dark, the answers like the questions
dark, each day dark, the glaucous pearl white eyes,
even when the sun spread across the greengold grass,
glistening the bright skin of the copper beeches.”

Shane McCrae, poetry editor at Image, has also published work from Katie Ford’s Anchoress monodrama created with composer David Serkin Ludwig (Issue #101). “The poems are from the point of view of an anchoress, a medieval religious woman who lived in an isolated cell off the public square fed by people who tossed bits of bread to them,” Mitchell explains. “They’re strange poems. Ford is imagining them as these recovered manuscripts full of weird gaps and ellipses. We’re excited to publish them.”

Image showcases a breadth of writing styles and spiritual perspectives, she says. “We want to be about the new and contemporary but hold an awareness of tradition and connection with the past.”

Contributors

Past contributors to Image include Chimamanda Adichie, Li-Young Lee, Mary Oliver, Elie Wiesel, George Saunders, Marilynne Robinson, Kathleen Norris, Annie Dillard, and Ron Hansen.

Mitchell points to Marie Curran’s “Kara, I Was Animal” (Issue #97) as the type of nonfiction that appeals to her. In the essay, the narrator is post-evangelical and has moved away from a conservative religious tradition but maintains complicated feelings about her past.

“She’s in a hippie natural birth class in Colorado, and there’s one person in the class who doesn’t fit in – a person who’s an evangelical conservative Christian,” Mitchell explains. “Against her will, the narrator continually gets paired off and trapped with this woman she’d like to avoid.”

The first lines of Curran’s essay command attention: “You were holding the beef dip you had brought to the vegetarian potluck when I met you. The potluck was the lunch hour of the day-long birthing class at our midwife’s cabin.”

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“It’s really uncomfortable. The writer is confronting her own class prejudices and also the way that her background persists,” Mitchell explains. “A lot of people who grow up in a conservative religious tradition have that complicated sense of unease.”

She also admires Leslie Jamison’s nonfiction writing. “She writes about addiction and recovery, mental health, politics, and visual arts,” Mitchell says. Issue #101 includes an interview with Jamison in which she discusses a Guggenheim exhibit of paintings by the Swedish mystic painter Hilma af Klint.

“People are beginning to realize that Klint was inventing modernism long before the all-male crew of modernists,” Mitchell says. “Jamison talks about her paintings’ ‘lush extravagance’ as an alternative to thinking about spirituality as deprivation.”

“There’s a way that I can understand spirituality – or have understood spirituality in the past – as ascetic or as deprivation, when really there’s another way of understanding it as extravagant provision instead,” Jamison tells the interviewer in Image. “I like the way her paintings seem to be manifestations of that idea.” 

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Advice for potential contributors

Image staff encourage potential contributors to address work to specific section editors listed on the website; however, writers must send all submissions through Submittable (also linked on the website). Editors prefer fiction and nonfiction submissions between 3,000 and 6,000 words. They also consider proposals for interviews with notable writers and artists, as well as profiles of living composers, musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers. 

As someone who’s sat on both sides of the editorial desk, Mitchell asks potential contributors to consider the importance of a stunning first sentence and an equally compelling first paragraph and first page. “This can’t be stressed enough,” she says. “No matter how important you think that first sentence is, it’s even more important. The writing has to be beautiful.”

 

Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). melissahart.com