Editor Stacy Nigliazzo on Red Sky: Poetry on the Global Epidemic of Violence Against Women
Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: Firstly, thank you for your incredible work in creating such a vital resource. This anthology, which you edited with Melissa Hassard and Gabrielle Langley, is filled with poets that I adore (Naomi Shihab Nye, Shaindel Beers, Melissa Studdard, Heidi Czerwiec, Metta Sáma, Karen Skolfield, Sivan Butler-Rotholz, E. Kristin Anderson, Trish Hopkinson, Lisa Lewis, Rebecca Foust, and too many others to name). The introduction of this collection addresses the murder of your co-worker, Caroline Minjares, the subsequent appalling media coverage, which essentially erased her completely, and your email and erasure poem that sparked the idea for this project. Can you talk to us about the anger and shock that you felt and the art that you created in response? How essential are projects and poets that address violence against women? What is our responsibility to speak out?
Stacy Nigliazzo: Caroline was murdered as she slept. Her attacker, an estranged boyfriend, then hanged himself. I was shocked at first, and profoundly sad. When I saw the media coverage I got angry. Through poetry, I found an outlet for my frustration as well as a way to give Caroline a voice. I redacted one of the articles into an erasure poem. It was incredibly empowering, not just for me, but also for those who read it, and for those who had suffered similar losses and written their own poems. This is how the Red Sky anthology came to be—a flock of voices speaking out in acknowledgement and empathy—offering a lantern of hope. This is the power of free expression—why we write.
SM: You mention that Caroline Minjares’s story is only one of countless victims and survivors. This is also evidenced by the almost one thousand poems you received as submissions to this anthology. The poems in Red Sky are stunning and devastating and compelling. Can you tell us about the process of choosing which poems made the final cut? Can you speak to the importance of your decision to also include men’s voices? SN: The selection process was incredibly challenging. The three of us read each piece, often two or three times, made notes, and recommended our choices for final acceptance. We were hoping to offer a wealth of first-person accounts and testimonials, as well as stories of aftermath and recovery. We were also in search of exceptional writing—pieces rich in narrative, imagery, and figuration. It truly was a privilege to read each submission. I couldn’t be more proud of the final product.
In our very first editorial meeting, Gabrielle, Melissa, and I all agreed that we wanted to include men’s voices in Red Sky. This is because they share the burden of witness as fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons affected by violence against the women they love. We wanted to honor their stories and join with them in solidarity.
SM: Thank you for opening the collection with a brief conversation surrounding (dis)comfort and safety. Can you address the necessity of safe spaces and of exploring our discomfort in discussing and confronting violence against women?
SN: For me, the ultimate safe space is an empty page. When I can share that space with others to confront an issue as harrowing as violence against women and channel it into something positive I not only feel empowered, but free.
SM: What is your favorite or what are your favorite pieces in this collection and why? SN: My favorite poem in Red Sky is "The Last Santa Muerte" by Katherine Durham Oldmixon. In language that is haunting, succinct, and fluid, it highlights the tragedy of the high rate of female homicides in the border city of Juarez (Mexico) while referencing Santa Muerte, a folk saint personified as a skeletal figure whose name means “holy death.” The ending is perfectly poignant: the women of Juarez whose bodies / are the desert, whose hopes are its wind.
SM: What’s next for you? Where do we as a collective literary community go from here? What can we do to continue down this path? SN: The answer is simple both for myself and for the literary community: we keep writing. We speak to the causes that speak to us. We wear our pencils into powder.
**Proceeds for Red Sky will be directed to the Global Fund for Women.