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Literary Spotlight: Ruby

Send your best short-form food stories to this new literary food magazine.

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April Bradley was looking through her grandmother’s recipes at Thanksgiving during the pandemic when she decided to launch a literary food magazine. “I was thinking about what it would be like to have a community cookbook from the flash fiction and nonfiction community,” she says, “and how I’d love to see what writers could do with the recipe form.” 

She spent some time researching scholarship on recipe interpretations as narratives and got on Twitter to test the public’s reaction to such a magazine. “I got so many responses from people who said they’d love to contribute,” she explains. And so, in June 2022, she launched Ruby – a biannual literary magazine that specializes in short-form stories about food. 

Tone, editorial content

Bradley gravitates toward narratives that offer a memorable voice and characters, along with emotional resonance and artistry of prose. She accepts traditional, experiment, and hybrid essay forms and fiction up to 2,000 words. “Food narratives are vulnerable narratives, stories of belonging, identity, justice, disparities, and community,” she writes on the magazine’s website. “When we describe what we eat – how we prepare and experience it, where we obtain it, the spaces in which we eat, and how we share it – or don’t – we reveal who we and our characters are.”

When people tell her, “I don’t do food writing,” she tells them she’s looking for stories that use food as an object or an enhancement somewhere in the story. That’s enough for her.

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Elinor Ann Walker has an essay in Issue Two titled “Corn Bread, Cast Iron Skillets, and Confessions.” In it, she considers the various ways in which people from different regions prepare cornbread after the pandemic cancels her usual Thanksgiving gathering with friends. “Walker includes photos of her father’s and grandmother’s recipes,” Bradley says, “and reminds us of how ‘we remember people we love when we cook. We remember people we’ve lost when we sit at table.’”

Bradley is also a fan of stories that explore the significance of one particular object – pieces like Melissa Llanes Brownlee’s “The Rescued Cool Whip Container” (Issue One), written as an obituary. “It’s a flash fiction piece about what a family holds in this container,” Bradley says, “but of course, it’s also about how the author uses the object as a receptacle for emotion.” In it, Brownlee writes: 

We most fondly recall the day mom decided to make her famous green pineapple and carrot Jell-O salad in the reused Cool Whip container because she had forgotten she had already used her only mold for a rum cake. The resulting wobbly tower sat jiggling on the table, the grooves of the container making decorative circles on top. It saved mom, and for that, we are eternally grateful.

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Contributors

Sarah Hudgin, a pilot with a major U.S.-based airline, has a piece titled “Common Pumpkin Bisque” in the second issue of Ruby. In it, the writer uses a recipe-in-narrative as the structure, taking readers through various episodes of her life and using the bisque recipe as a touchstone throughout.

Iowa writer and editor Al Kratz has a piece titled “Long Patience” in Issue One. “He gave us an essay about his experience with an eating disorder,” Bradley explains. In it, Kratz writes:

I wanted something to work. On some afternoons, I’d tell my mom that tonight was the night I was going to eat, so we’d leave the peanut butter in the cabinet, and she’d set me a plate. I’d slowly get the hot food on my fork and into the air, but then the smell would hit and my body would seize, and by the time the food was just outside my mouth, I’d gag and set the fork down. The failure was palpable.

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“It’s poignant and incredibly emotional and so deeply personal and compassionate,” Bradley says. She also appreciates the collaborative piece she received from Trinidad Bidar and Patricia Q. Bidar. “It’s a bar piece, which is really difficult to write because you’re trapping everyone in a small space,” she says. “Readers really love this story.” 

The piece, titled “Tryptophan” (Issue One), explores one bartender’s nostalgic expectations for the Thanksgiving holiday and his disillusionment when he realizes they – along with assumptions about his attractive boss, Thalia – are bogus. The Bidars write:

When he was a kid, his mom always cooked extravagantly for Thanksgiving. For days, there’d be sandwiches on sourdough slathered in cranberry. Gooey turkey tetrazzini. Turkey enchiladas. And sometimes she used to bring him along to The Astoria. It would be him and Thalia, doing their homework together on the corner table. Her dad tended bar.

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Advice for potential contributors

Bradley enjoys publishing fiction and nonfiction by emerging writers as well as those who’ve been writing for decades. She looks for diversity of experience, location, and, of course, food. She’s not interested in publishing pieces involving racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, or gratuitous and sensational violence.

She yearns for surprising pieces by writers unafraid to take risks. “When I get something that has a lot of depth and complexity, that thrills me,” she says. “And when people experiment with form and structure, and it really pays off and it’s fun and exciting, I really, really enjoy that.” 

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Ruby at a glance

“Short-form food narratives that strive for voice, artistry, and character.” 

Reading periods: March 1-April 30; October 1-November 30. 

Length: 1,000-2000 words. Check website for details. 

Genres: Fiction, creative nonfiction, hybrid, themed essays. 
Submission format: On Submittable, via website. 

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Contact: Editor/publisher April Bradley, [email protected].
rubyliterarypress.com

 

Contributing Editor Melissa Hart is the author, most recently, of the middle grade novel Daisy Woodworm Changes the World. melissahart.com

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