The Critical Flame, VIDA, Yr Feminism For The Day & more with Daniel Evans Pritchard
Sarah Marcus: You are the founding editor of The Critical Flame, an online journal of literature and culture, that publishes book reviews, literary essays, interviews, and more. What is different or unique about your journal? Why was it important to begin a "non" academic journal that publishes, for example, reviews that explore flaws and virtue in creative work? Where do you see this project going?
Daniel Evans Pritchard: When I founded The Critical Flame in 2009, the outlook for literary culture was pretty bleak. Newspaper book reviews were being cut, or folded into the style section. There was an epidemic of book store closings, and every week another literary magazine was shutting down. It was a depressing time to be a writer and to work in publishing. I wanted to do something to counteract these trends, to patch the cracks and the gaps and help keep the literary conversation vibrant. Publishing serious, long-form criticism made sense. It was very much needed at the time. Websites are cheap, and I had the web design/development skills to make it happen—so I just did, with my wife and a couple close friends.
It doesn’t make sense, to me, to publish essays that limit their own audience by convention, opacity, jargon, or overly-narrow points. That’s what I mean when I say that CF is non-academic. It’s not to say that all academic writing is any or all of those things. Not by any means. Academics write into a specific context that has its own conventions; academic writing pursues different goals than public discourse does. I think you could call Critical Flame intellectual—many essays are challenging, nuanced, dense (and many are very clear)—but it’s intended to be read by anyone interested in literature. Not just other writers. Not just scholars. Readers. No special credentials required.
Since I founded CF, the literary world has regained its footing. There are a lot of great new journals, offering smart criticism aimed at a general audience. So we, in turn, have looked for new gaps to fill. We spent a year covering only women writers and writers of color, for instance. We put a premium on translations, and tend to cover a lot of poetry, mixed genre writing, and small press titles. This year we expanded the scope of our publishing program to include literary essays—memoir, travel, lyric essays, cultural critiques—as well as a new interview series curated by co-editor Alison Lanier.
I think there are a lot of voices out there who don’t have opportunities to be heard. So we’re trying to make space for as many voices as possible, and to place them into a really broad literary context (rather than, say, focusing on a niche).
SM: You serve as a member of the board at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. As someone who is male identified, why is VIDA important to you? How did you get involved? How can men be better feminist literary advocates? Are there steps our greater literary community can take to better achieve gender parity and capture diverse underrepresented voices?
DEP: I believe a diverse intersectional feminism benefits everyone. Feminism is essential to getting closer to the democratic ideal, a critical stance that helps realize the human potential for justice.
My identity and the way I present that identity is the context I bring to every situation, so it necessarily informs my relationship to feminism. (And it was probably the early recognition of that dynamic which drew me to feminism in the first place.) I’m definitely still working out what it means to be a male-cis-hetero feminist, but I’m also still figuring out what it means for my life in general. Constantly examining that relationship is part and parcel of being a feminist. I’m not sure anyone really has it figured out.
The impulse to participate actively comes from my desire to live a good life—an ethical life, a life with meaning. I’m not religious, but I know that I have my Jesuit education to thank, in part. And my role varies. Often the best thing to do is to listen and support. A sensible option if you feel, as I do, that gender affects the norms of public discourse and expectations around leadership roles. It’s also so humanizing to just listen to people’s stories. People don’t do that enough. We’re surrounded by an incredible diversity of experience, but we’re taught to treat expression as a form of intellectual warfare. We’re taught to plan the counter-argument while someone else talks, a practice that encourages ego and insecurity. We could all just listen more, myself very much included.
So, as I‘ve said elsewhere, I do what I can, first, within my immediate sphere of influence. I’m an editor and a writer: the literary world is my sphere. For me to ignore or put aside my ethics within this community would be wrong. As far as advice… it’s always dangerous to just, you know, toss prescriptions around like Johnny Appleseed. But I would encourage my literary colleagues to act intentionally within their domains. I’d encourage them to be reflective about their own practices. To seek out and listen to a diverse set of experiences. To examine the biographical and sociological foundations of their taste. To embrace humility. Fundamentally, creating a world that’s better than what we have now means coming to terms with our individual and collective failures. We’re all in this, we’re all culpable. We can all do better. Feminism is a daily practice. So, practice.
SM: You recently began an awesome Facebook Group lovingly called, "Yr Feminism for the day." Can you please tell us about this group, how it started, and why it (in my humble opinion) is so incredibly important?
DEP: Well, I post feminist content to Facebook most days—articles, interviews, studies, memes, op/eds, blog posts. Whatever I find interesting. I know a lot of smart feminists who share great stuff and I read a lot. And rather than write a new blurb to accompany each post, I just started writing “yr feminism for the day” for all of them. That was probably two years ago. Over time the “yr feminism…” posts became a touchstone. Friends said they looked forward to them. People would send me suggestions. So I thought I would open it up to the public. Intersectional feminism is a big sprawling conversation, one to which a lot of brilliant people contribute, from many disciplines and fields. It’s not one monolithic thing. It’s not a single point of view. Feminism has a big tent and there’s space for divergent views and argument and humor and joy. I hope that “yr feminism for the day” will expose people to the many facets of the feminist project, in all their complexity and vitality, and foster a productive conversation.
SM: What writing or new projects are you currently working on? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future? Do you have any advice to new feminist writers?
DEP: I have had the good fortune over the last year to be able to direct a lot more energy toward my own writing, which has been really productive. Some of my essays have appeared recently in Rain Taxi and at The Battersea Review; my interview with poet Melissa Green will appear any minute now at the Woodberry Poetry Room blog; and I have a poem slated to appear in issue two of Prodigal. And in January I’ll be reading at the Belt It Out series in Cambridge (which has readings followed by karaoke at one of the last decent dive bars around; it’s exactly as wonderful as it sounds).
Aside from that, I have had this accidental translation project going for a while—"accidental" because I began translating the poems to battle some writer’s block, then suddenly had like fifty translations drafted—of the canonical twentieth-century Spanish poet Antonio Machado. Since he has been translated by people like Willis Barnstone and Robert Bly already, I don’t feel that pressure to represent him accurately in English; or rather, I don’t feel the need to take the posture that I’m revealing some transcendental aspect to English-language readers. I’m basically free to accept my role as interpreter and interlocutor, and to think of my work as re-visions. Most are not radically divergent, to be honest. I like working with his material, like a salvager or a sculptor. Some of my translations have appeared at The Buenos Aires Review.
The Machado has also led me back to translating from Irish. It’s a language in which I’m significantly less fluent. But English-language readers generally don’t know the Gaeilge tradition well either, so it’s an opportunity to explore a less-familiar corpus (though I must tip my hat to Don Share and the excellent Irish poets portfolio in Poetry). I haven’t studied the language since my days at Boston College. It’s a fun but enormously difficult challenge. Which, I now realize, is a running theme here.
Daniel Evans Pritchard is a writer, translator, and editor living in Greater Boston, and he is the founding editor of The Critical Flame, an online journal of literature and culture. He serves on the boards of both VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and Salamander Magazine, advises for the journal AGNI, and works as communications professional and freelance consultant. His work can be found in Rain Taxi, Little Star, The Battersea Review, The Buenos Aires Review, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter at @pritchard33.