Literary Spotlight: The Spectacle

Writing by underrepresented voices pairs beautifully with curated visual art in this multi-genre journal.

The Spectacle

Ph.D. students Kelly Caldwell and Cassie Donish run much of their 4-year-old literary magazine, The Spectacle, out of their kitchen near Washington University in St. Louis. They’re passionate about the intersection of critical theory and creative writing.

“We’re interested in providing space for people to do weird and interesting hybrid and crossover pieces,” Caldwell says, explaining that as a scholar herself, she has found it difficult at times to claim the identity of poet as well. “Our goal is to open up the space for possibility in The Spectacle,” she says.

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To that end, she and Donish and the magazine’s genre editors also want to emphasize the connection between literary and visual arts. Most pieces that appear in the biannual online publication are paired with original art from a variety of contributors. “The art is either made in response to a piece, or it’s curated,” Caldwell explains. “Each issue becomes a small art exhibit.”

 Tone, editorial content

Caldwell and other editors at The Spectacle want to give minority and queer voices space to talk about whatever subjects move them in the moment. “The writing doesn’t have to have anything to do with things that other people might expect from you,” she explains. “Writing about a black body, a queer body, transition, queer desire – those are all very important things and great things, and we have published pieces that hit those notes. But we are also really into giving marginalized people the permission to do what mainstream writers do all the time, which is just write casually about whatever they want without it being a burdened process.”

Caldwell herself is trans, and she rejects the assumption that she writes always from the perspective of a queer theorist. “I’m really happy to see ecopoetry from a trans writer,” she explains. “The writing doesn’t have to be about gender and identity.”

Contributors

Past contributors to The Spectacle include Japanese-American writer Karen Tei Yamashita, trans genderqueer feminist TC Tolbert, and Daniel Borzutzky – the first-generation son of Chilean immigrants. Issue #6, out at the beginning of 2019, includes fiction by Asian-American writer David E. Yee and nonfiction by retired pediatrician Laura Johnsrude.

Johnsrude’s piece, “Look at my Chest,” begins:

“Tom Petty dies of a heart attack on the day of my breast biopsy. I picture him, this rock star I loved, looking down at his chest, clutching it with his hand, and then collapsing, lying down for the last time. If I live as long as Tom Petty, I only have ten more years.”

In 2019, editors ran a series of short essays under the heading “Internet Mythologies” that explore creative interactions with technology. Contributors included digital humanities scholars Melanie Walsh and Micah Bateman. “We sought out people who have multiple degrees, who have true scholarly expertise, but they’re interested in interacting with it in a way that’s more accessible and adventurous,” Caldwell explains.

She was particularly thrilled to publish three of trans poet Jos Charles’ pieces in Issue Six. “They’re three very small poems which unfold with surprise,” she says. “They’re really powerful.”

Caldwell is also delighted to have Aaron Coleman’s interview with African-American poet Jericho Brown in Issue Six. “It came out right before Brown’s new book, and the interview resonated with a lot of different people,” Caldwell explains. “It was exciting to have Jericho’s voice so clearly available for people to engage with.”

 Advice for potential contributors

Editors at The Spectacle are always looking for interviews with writers, musicians, politicians, and others. They request an email query beforehand, explaining whom the writer plans to interview and why. “The Revue,” The Spectacle’s eclectic blog, runs interviews, short poems and flash prose, as well as humorous short pieces including lists and comics, and book reviews, plus hybrid pieces.

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Reading periods vary, so check the website for current information. Fiction writers are welcome to submit up to 5,000 words, while poets are asked to submit three to five poems or a total of eight pages. Nonfiction up to 5,000 words may include literary journalism, memoir, and personal essay. 

“An important aspect of The Spectacle is that we’re a very queer magazine, although we’re not labeled as such,” says Caldwell. “We’re definitely interested in nontraditional voices, in people of color and queer writers, though we’ve published a lot of straight writers, too. We aim to provide marginalized writers with a creative, readily available space.”

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.