Since 1976, the literary magazine Lilith has published poetry and prose with the goals of amplifying Jewish women’s voices and empowering Jewish girls and women in their lives and in their communities.
Editor-in-Chief Susan Weidman Schneider is of the publication’s founding mothers. “We’ve been committed to publishing a diversity of writers from the very outset,” she notes. “Our publication’s mission is to honor all voices, bringing people from the margins closer to the center. We’ve been publishing Jewish women of color and LGBTQ writers for decades.”
Agents and editors read Lilith in search of emerging voices. “They view having been vetted and published by us as a kind of calling card,” Schneider explains. “Being published in our magazine can lead them to a book contract. Many of the short stories we’ve printed go on to become part of a writer’s book.”
Lilith salons provide jumping-off points for multigenerational literary discussions across North America. Facilitators receive questions about the prose and poems in each new issue, along with ancillary readings to inspire quarterly conversation.
Tone, editorial content
Editors appreciate work that embraces both feminist and Jewish content, and they’re thrilled to read submissions from BIJOC writers as well as from emerging writers. They look for beautifully crafted, entertaining pieces that run the gamut from fiction, memoir, and poetry to reporting, analysis, and interviews.
“Our scope has been pretty broad,” Schneider says. “We look for pieces that touch on some intersection of Jewish and feminist, as our tagline says, but we’re not doctrinaire about it. We publish stories about women’s lives that have a tincture of both of these aspects.”
For decades, the magazine has published first-person narratives. “We’ve had very powerful memoirs in the magazine, whether they focus on personal experiences that are highly unusual or more typical so that readers can experience an ‘a-ha’ moment,” Schneider explains.
Humor is welcome, as are deep dives into controversial subjects. In summer 2013, Penny Wolfson wrote an essay titled “Flesh and Blood,” about her father’s cast-iron meat grinder and her parents’ rigid gender roles during the preparation of dinner. More recently, Yona Zeldis McDonough wrote a provocative piece for the fall 2020 issue titled “Did Alzheimer’s Turn My Husband into an anti-Semite?”
Past contributors include Grace Paley, Esther Perel, Cynthia Ozick, Blu Greenberg, and Edith Pearlman. Black Jewish scholar Carolivia Herron has a short story in the fall 2020 issue of Lilith titled “The Neowise Comet Listens In.” “It’s about what is being overheard as the comet cycles around the world but particularly around Washington, D.C.,” Schneider explains. “It’s marvelous – a totally different perspective on the Neowise comet.” Herron writes:
“I am a returning departing comet. The last time I was here Gilgamesh hadn’t been born yet, but you were here. You’re Black. You’re Jewish. I saw you in tents, in huts, in booths, under canopies – corridors, hallways, chambers. You crossed the sand and came to the salt water, you saw islands.”
Poet and writer Lesléa Newman has a poem in the fall 2020 issue titled “My Grandmother’s Dishes” that particularly resonated with readers for its personal narrative about what to do with inherited heirlooms. “Anything to do with objects is fascinating because as women, we become repositories for the family’s objects,” Schneider explains.
Four times a year, she and other editors host a launch party for the new issue of Lilith. In the fall of 2020, the event took place on Facebook Live; anyone can view the archived recording to see the “kidney-shaped dish set the color of Coney Island’s cold wet sand” from Newman’s poem, performed for the launch.
Advice for potential contributors
Fiction up to 2,000 words should illuminate the particular concerns of Jewish women, with – as Lilith’s website notes – “heart, soul, and chutzpah.” Editors look for poetry about the Jewish women’s experience, and they’re open to edgy, exciting topics ranging from broadly accessible to more specialized. Creative nonfiction can take the form of biography or autobiography, including memoirs and journals and letters, interviews and oral histories, investigative reporting, and analysis and opinion pieces.
Potential contributors should study the publication before submitting, so that they’re certain their work is a good fit. The current issue of Lilith is available online for free. Subscribers have full access to the current issue, both print and digital, as well as to 44 years of archived content. Blog content is free, as are editor-selected pieces organized around themes such as loss, liturgies, and holidays.
Editors aren’t particularly interested in seeing stories pegged to biblical narratives. “Sometimes, people see ‘Jewish’ and ‘feminist’ and write about how these come together very explicitly,” Schneider explains. Instead, she looks for new and unexpected angles on the experiences of Jewish women – everything from translations from the Yiddish of 1930s feminist short stories to poems about a grandmother’s Bulgarian dumplings. “I used to think if I see one more ancestor-worshipping piece about a grandmother cooking, I would not be responsible for my actions,” Schneider says. “But the truth is, there’s almost no topic that’s stale if it’s well-told.”
Lilith at a glance
“Independent, Jewish & Frankly Feminist.”
Reading period: Year-round.
Length: 500 to 2,500 words.
Genres: Fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, book reviews, opinion pieces, reporting, analysis.
Contest: Annual Fiction Contest.
Submission format: Via Submittable online.
—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).Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart