OUT­SIDERS ON THE IN­SIDE

SEVEN WRIT­ERS WHO EX­IST ON THE MAR­GINS—WOMEN OF COLOR, DIS­ABLED WOMEN, AND QUEER WOMEN WHO HAVE NO MFAS, LIT­ER­ARY AGENTS, OR IN­DUS­TRY CON­NEC­TIONS—HAVE FORGED THEIR OWN PATHS TO PUB­LI­CA­TION. HERE’S HOW THEY DID IT.

Poets and Writers - - Contents - By michele sharpe

Seven writ­ers who ex­ist on the mar­gins—women of color, dis­abled women, and queer women who have no MFAs, lit­er­ary agents, or in­dus­try con­nec­tions—have forged their own paths to pub­li­ca­tion.

SAN­DRA Gail Lam­bert took a round­about path to pub­li­ca­tion. She didn’t start writ­ing or pub­lish­ing in earnest un­til her fifties, after work­ing for years as the co-owner and man­ager of Charis Books, a col­lec­tive fem­i­nist book­store in At­lanta. She doesn’t have an MFA or con­nec­tions to a ma­jor pub­lisher. She’s a sixty-six-year-old wo­man and a self-iden­ti­fied les­bian who also uses a wheel­chair. Di­ag­nosed with po­lio as an in­fant, Lam­bert spent her child­hood as a mil­i­tary brat, rarely stay­ing in one place for long and mov­ing with her par­ents to coun­tries such as Eng­land and Nor­way. Along the way she devel­oped a deep love of read­ing and an in­tense con­nec­tion to land­scape and na­ture, which is re­flected to­day in her fic­tion and es­says. The first per­son in her fam­ily to grad­u­ate high school and get a col­lege de­gree, she be­gan work­ing at Charis in 1980. Dur­ing her time at the book­store she at­tended nu­mer­ous lit­er­ary events and read­ings and be­gan to dream of be­ing a writer—one who got to go be­hind the ropes at book fairs and par­tic­i­pate on pan­els at lit­er­ary con­fer­ences. To­day she is liv­ing her dream. Her de­but novel, The River’s Mem­ory, was pub­lished in 2014, when Lam­bert was sixty-two. Her mem­oir, A Cer­tain Lone­li­ness, is forth­com­ing from the Univer­sity of Ne­braska Press. She also re­ceived a 2018

NEA Fel­low­ship in Cre­ative Writ­ing and re­cently took on a men­tor­ship po­si­tion with the As­so­ci­a­tion of Writ­ers and

Writ­ing Pro­grams’ Writer to Writer

Men­tor­ship Pro­gram.

So how did an out­sider like

Lam­bert—an older, dis­abled, gay wo­man with no MFA or lit­er­ary agent—break into the seem­ingly in­su­lar

Amer­i­can lit­er­ary com­mu­nity? The an­swer is as mul­ti­fac­eted as

Lam­bert’s life and as com­plex as the con­cept of the out­sider it­self.

Al­though the his­tory of West­ern lit­er­a­ture is rich with leg­ends of out­sider writ­ers who found suc­cess, the scales have al­ways been tipped in fa­vor of men. This im­bal­ance con­tin­ues to­day, as ev­i­denced in the an­nual count con­ducted by VIDA: Women in Lit­er­ary Arts. Since 2010 VIDA’s re­searchers have col­lected and an­a­lyzed data rep­re­sent­ing gen­der dis­par­ity in pub­lish­ing, sur­vey­ing by­lines and cov­er­age in fif­teen top print pub­li­ca­tions each year. The 2017 count, which was re­leased ear­lier this sum­mer, re­veals that men still dom­i­nate the in­dus­try. Only two of the fif­teen pub­li­ca­tions an­a­lyzed achieved par­ity between male and fe­male writ­ers. Writ­ers from other marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties—writ­ers of color, queer writ­ers, and dis­abled writ­ers among them—ex­pe­ri­ence sim­i­lar ex­clu­sion from much of the main­stream writ­ing and pub­lish­ing world.

The lit­er­ary com­mu­nity in the United States is only now be­gin­ning to ex­plore the ways that racist, sex­ist, ho­mo­pho­bic, clas­sist, ageist, and ableist at­ti­tudes have lim­ited the pro­duc­tion, rel­e­vance, and reach of lit­er­a­ture in Amer­ica. And the U.S. lit­er­ary mar­ket is start­ing to dis­cover just how hun­gry read­ers are for out­sider sto­ries. But de­spite in­creased aware­ness and in­clu­sive­ness in some cor­ners of the in­dus­try, the fact is that out­siders must still speak louder, write bet­ter, and work harder to have their voices heard.

Who ex­actly is an out­sider? Is it a self-de­fined sta­tus? Is mem­ber­ship re­quired in what the Supreme Court calls a “sus­pect class”—those who have his­tor­i­cally faced dis­crim­i­na­tion? Or are out­siders peo­ple who have that sta­tus thrust upon them whether they like it or not, and then de­cide to em­brace the des­ig­na­tion? The writ­ers I spoke with for this piece share a few things in com­mon: They are all peo­ple who be­long to marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties, who don’t see peo­ple like them­selves eq­ui­tably rep­re­sented in lit­er­a­ture or within the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try. And ei­ther by choice or ne­ces­sity or a com­bi­na­tion of both, they found pub­lish­ing suc­cess not in the main­stream, but in small, in­de­pen­dent mag­a­zines and presses—those out­lets that so of­ten lift up out­sider voices.

LIKE many dis­abled chil­dren of the midtwen­ti­eth cen­tury, Lam­bert was sub­jected to med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tions that now seem strange and even bru­tal­iz­ing, in­clud­ing lengthy hos­pi­tal­iza­tions that sep­a­rated her from the nat­u­ral world. As a young adult her love af­fairs, back­pack­ing trips, and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism were ac­ces­sorized with leg braces and crutches. Ul­ti­mately the pain, fa­tigue, and mus­cle weak­ness of post-po­lio syn­drome led her in mid­dle age to be­gin us­ing a wheel­chair. As she has noted, the phrase “wheel­chair-bound” is a mis­nomer—us­ing a wheel­chair has freed her, mak­ing it pos­si­ble to fo­cus her en­er­gies on what mat­ters most to her: writ­ing, trav­el­ing, ac­tivism, and spend­ing time out­doors.

Lam­bert pub­lished a few sto­ries in small lit­er­ary mag­a­zines in the late 1980s but soon there­after stopped sub­mit­ting work. In 2006 she re­newed her sights on pub­li­ca­tion and re­ceived ac­cep­tances from mag­a­zines such as Gertrude, Brevity, the South­ern Re­view, and the Alaska Quar­terly Re­view. She even­tu­ally found a home for her novel with Twisted Road Pub­li­ca­tions, a small press in Tal­la­has­see, Florida, whose mis­sion is to pub­lish marginal­ized voices. Then, with­out the help of an agent, she in­for­mally pitched her mem­oir to the Univer­sity of Ne­braska Press at the 2017 As­so­ci­a­tion of Writ­ers and Writ­ing Pro­grams con­fer­ence. The ed­i­tor asked for a sam­ple, and after months of e-mails, phone calls, and a full man­u­script re­view, Lam­bert was of­fered a con­tract. A Cer­tain Lone­li­ness will be pub­lished in Septem­ber.

Sarah Ni­chols, a poet in her mid­for­ties, doesn’t have a book con­tract, but she does have four chap­books com­ing out this year with small presses. Ni­chols, who has man­aged a ma­jor de­pres­sive dis­or­der her en­tire life, knew since child­hood that she wanted to be a writer. She dropped out of high school and even­tu­ally earned a GED, then let go of for­mal ed­u­ca­tion. When she first started send­ing her po­ems to lit­er­ary jour­nals, she felt in­tim­i­dated by the con­trib­u­tors’ bios.

“Ev­ery­one seemed to have an MFA,” she says, “and I felt si­lenced by that.” A fem­i­nist work­ing to tell women’s sto­ries, Ni­chols has writ­ten per­sona po­ems in voices as di­verse as the Black Dahlia and the char­ac­ters from Grey Gar­dens. She also writes ekphras­ti­cally; one of her 2018 chap­books, How Dark­ness En­ters the Body (Pork­belly Press), fo­cuses on the work of pho­tog­ra­pher Diane Ar­bus.

MICHELE SHARPE writes po­etry, oc­ca­sional po­lit­i­cal pieces, and non­fic­tion, in­clud­ing the mem­oir Walk Away, which was pub­lished as a Kin­dle Sin­gle in 2016. A high school dropout, hep­ati­tis C sur­vivor, adoptee, and for­mer trial at­tor­ney, she lives in North Florida.

For Ni­chols suc­cess means show­ing up and do­ing the work in spite of the re­jec­tions that she now takes in stride, and it means dis­ci­plin­ing her­self to write and sub­mit reg­u­larly. Her out­sider sta­tus frees her writ­ing prac­tice, Ni­chols says, as she an­swers to no one.

Ma­jda Talal Gama is an­other poet with­out a col­lege de­gree. Rather than “out­sider,” she prefers “mis­fit,” a term re­cently pop­u­lar­ized by Lidia Yuk­nav­itch in her TED talk and sub­se­quent book, The Mis­fit’s Man­i­festo (TED Books, 2017). The daugh­ter of an Amer­i­can mother and a Saudi fa­ther, Gama grew up in the Mid­dle East and in her teens moved to the United States, where she im­mersed her­self in punk rock cul­ture. When she be­gan writ­ing, she im­i­tated the male Beat po­ets, in search of her voice. As she read and wrote more, she devel­oped her own voice, themes, and sub­jects, in­clud­ing the punk aes­thetic and the life and land­scapes of the Mid­dle East. As a poet writ­ing in Amer­ica, she has shoul­dered a com­mon out­sider’s bur­den: be­ing mis­read based on pre­con­ceived no­tions about her cul­ture. In Gama’s case this has of­ten meant ed­i­tors and read­ers in­ter­pret­ing her work as sin­is­ter or vi­o­lent be­cause of their own bi­ases and mis­con­cep­tions about Mid­dle Eastern cul­ture.

“It’s an oth­er­ing within Amer­i­can po­etry that truly keeps you on the mar­gins,” she says. “It’s ex­haust­ing to have to con­tex­tu­al­ize this world for oth­ers.” Gama’s work has been pub­lished widely in venues such as the Nor­mal School and the Beloit Po­etry Jour­nal. She is the po­etry ed­i­tor of Tin­der­box Po­etry Jour­nal and was part of a panel at the 2018 Split This Rock fes­ti­val on the po­etry lin­eage that Mid­dle Eastern and Asian writ­ers take with them into the di­as­pora. Re­cently she Googled her­self and learned that peo­ple she doesn’t know are in di­a­logue with her po­ems on so­cial me­dia plat­forms like Tum­blr and Twit­ter. She counts that, too, as lit­er­ary suc­cess.

A writer who has ex­pe­ri­enced suc­cess in mul­ti­ple gen­res, Shan­non Con­nor Win­ward is the 2018 win­ner of the Emerg­ing Artist Fel­low­ship in fic­tion from the Delaware Divi­sion of the Arts and the au­thor of the po­etry chap­book Un­do­ing Win­ter, which was pub­lished by Fin­ish­ing Line Press in 2014. A bi­sex­ual, pa­gan wo­man with dis­abil­i­ties, Win­ward iden­ti­fies as an out­sider. But what makes her feel most like an out­sider in the lit­er­ary world is that she writes out­side of academia. Work­ing full-time to sup­port her­self while man­ag­ing her dis­abil­i­ties meant it took her eight years to fin­ish a four-year col­lege de­gree, and she stopped there. She finds that writ­ers with MFA de­grees have the ad­van­tage of con­nec­tions— they have ac­cess to a net­work of other writ­ers and of­ten pub­lish one an­other in the jour­nals and small presses they edit.

“They are co­horts in a cul­ture that I’ve never been a part of,” Win­ward says. “Get­ting into cer­tain venues, get­ting no­ticed by the literati seems un­likely for a sub­ur­ban clean­ing lady’s daugh­ter with a self-di­rected and spotty lit­er­ary ed­u­ca­tion.”

Does for­mal lit­er­ary ed­u­ca­tion like an MFA lead to pub­lish­ing suc­cess? There are more than two hun­dred MFA pro­grams in the United States (see page 85), and new pro­grams are crop­ping up each year. In a 2017 Lit­er­ary Hub ar­ti­cle, “MFA by the Num­bers,” Amy Brady es­ti­mates that twenty thou­sand peo­ple ap­plied to these pro­grams in 2016 and that MFA pro­grams in the United States grad­u­ate ap­prox­i­mately three thou­sand writ­ers each year. Cre­ative writ­ing de­grees can cer­tainly lead to pub­lish­ing suc­cess for some writ­ers: Between 2010 and 2017, each win­ner of the Amer­i­can Po­etry Re­view’s an­nual Hon­ick­man First Book Prize held an MFA (though this year’s win­ner has only a BA in cre­ative writ­ing). Con­versely, only 13 per­cent of the au­thors on the New York Times hard­cover fic­tion best­seller list for July 8, 2018, have MFAs, and a quick sur­vey of the re­cent his­tory of that list shows it’s rare for more than one or two writ­ers with lit­er­ary de­grees to ap­pear on it. In short, while an MFA can be use­ful to a writer’s ca­reer, it’s not a guar­an­teed path to pub­li­ca­tion.

FAR away from the lit­er­ary world, Jenna Lê is very much an in­sider: She is a prac­tic­ing physi­cian and a pro­fes­sor at Dart­mouth Col­lege’s Geisel School of Medicine. But she’s also a poet and es­say­ist, and within that world she lives on the mar­gins. As the daugh­ter of Viet­namese im­mi­grants grow­ing up in the Mid­west, Lê had a tal­ent for math but also felt drawn to lit­er­a­ture.

“I wor­shipped a lit­er­ary canon to whose au­thors and char­ac­ters I bore no out­ward re­sem­blance,” she says, and “en­vied El­iz­a­beth Ben­net and Jane Eyre for not only their An­glo sur­names, but also their flu­ency in the norms of their re­spec­tive so­cio­cul­tural mi­lieus.” Be­ing an eth­nic out­sider didn’t end when she left the Mid­west. After her first book was pub­lished, Lê was in­vited to join a po­ets group, most of whose mem­bers were white.

“One of the most vo­cal mem­bers fre­quently went on ob­scene bil­ious tirades about his be­lief that writ­ers of color de­rive an un­fair ad­van­tage from their race,” she says. “When I ob­jected I was told I was over­sen­si­tive.” Feel­ing per­son­ally tar­geted by the man’s state­ments and of­ten thrown into emo­tional tur­moil, she left the group.

“I will not be any­one’s to­ken or hu­man shield,” Lê says. “And this ex­pe­ri­ence taught me that I ac­tu­ally do much of my best and freest writ­ing alone. Pre­serv­ing some de­gree of soli­tude helps me main­tain the in­tegrity of my unique voice.”

Lê’s first col­lec­tion of po­etry, Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011), was named a Small Press Dis­tri­bu­tion Po­etry Best­seller. Her sec­ond col­lec­tion, A His­tory of the Ce­tacean Amer­i­can Di­as­pora, pub­lished by An­chor & Plume Press in 2016 and reis­sued by In­do­lent Books in 2018, won sec­ond place in the 2017 El­gin Awards. She also pub­lishes fic­tion and es­says, and her work has ap­peared in in­flu­en­tial jour­nals in­clud­ing AGNI and the Mas­sachusetts Re­view.

A writer’s racial or eth­nic back­ground and lack of aca­demic cre­den­tials, cou­pled with con­tro­ver­sial con­tent, can also lead to feel­ing like an out­sider. Shanon Lee, an African Amer­i­can free­lance writer in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., area, takes on com­plex top­ics like mar­i­tal rape and the lega­cies of slavery, sub­jects that aren’t al­ways wel­comed among main­stream pub­li­ca­tions. Lee be­gan her ca­reer blog­ging with DivorcedMoms.com, where she found a com­mu­nity among other di­vorced moth­ers. A month after she joined, DivorcedMoms was syn­di­cat­ing her con­tent on Huf­fPost, and Lee de­cided to work to­ward ex­pand­ing her sub­ject mat­ter and her reach.

“So much of get­ting work as a free­lancer is who you know,” she says. “And I knew no­body. I learned early not to put a lot of en­ergy into try­ing to fig­ure out whether to do stuff. I just did it.”

In­sti­tu­tion­al­ized racism also in­flu­ences Lee’s self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as an out­sider. “I’m usu­ally the only POC at lo­cal read­ings and one of the few on me­dia pan­els in D.C.,” she says. Lee was the first Black writer se­lected for an In­ner Loop writ­ing res­i­dency at Wood­lawn

Plan­ta­tion in Fair­fax County, Vir­ginia, a cul­tural cen­ter with, iron­i­cally, a long his­tory of slavery.

Lee feels suc­cess­ful when pub­li­ca­tions seek her out—the Lily, for ex­am­ple, an on­line pub­li­ca­tion run by women, re­cently reached out to her to write about #MeToo—and when she hears from writ­ers and read­ers whose lives she has touched. But she gets frus­trated, too, be­cause it’s easy for Black writ­ers to be pi­geon­holed. “Writ­ers don’t want to be put in a box,” Lee says. “Racial back­ground and eth­nic­ity can def­i­nitely af­fect the sto­ries writ­ers of color are as­signed and the pub­li­ca­tions we want to con­tinue re­la­tion­ships with.”

A mem­ber of the Rape, Abuse & Incest Na­tional Net­work (RAINN) speaker bu­reau, Lee ad­vo­cates for sur­vivors of sex­ual as­sault and also men­tors new writ­ers. “You’re sup­posed to be writ­ing the sto­ries you want to write,” she tells them. “An op­por­tu­nity will open up for you to do that.”

WRIT­ING as an out­sider of­ten means nav­i­gat­ing cul­tural bor­ders— those between the con­ven­tional and the un­con­ven­tional, the pow­er­ful and the dis­em­pow­ered. Out­siders in­habit the lim­i­nal spa­ces between those bor­ders, the spa­ces from which new knowl­edge, hero­ism, and in­sight rou­tinely spring. But cul­tural bor­ders can be op­pres­sive, just like na­tional ones.

Naomi Or­tiz lives in the Ari­zona desert, about forty miles from the U.S.– Mex­ico bor­der. As a dis­abled mes­tiza (in­dige­nous, Latina, white) wo­man for whom phys­i­cal space is of­ten in­ac­ces­si­ble, and with fam­ily on both sides of the bor­der, she sees her­self as in­hab­it­ing a lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive bor­der­land. An­other writer who has made suc­cess for her­self with­out an MFA, Or­tiz also ven­tured into writ­ing with­out a men­tor.

“No­body in my world has been a writer or in the arts,” she says. “I’ve had to [do] ev­ery­thing on my own.”

If not for mod­est ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy, Or­tiz would not be able to be a writer at all. She uses Dragon Dic­tate speech recog­ni­tion soft­ware to get her words onto the page and out to the pub­lic. She is a long­time dis­abil­ity jus­tice ad­vo­cate, speaker, and fa­cil­i­ta­tor, and blogs about self-care for writ­ers, en­cour­ag­ing her read­ers to be mind­ful of what their bod­ies are telling them. Her book, Sus­tain­ing Spirit: Self-Care for So­cial Jus­tice, was pub­lished in June by Reclamation Press. Like many peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, Or­tiz’s process can be slow; she ad­vises oth­ers to trust what feels right for them in terms of process and to trust the uni­verse as

far as out­comes. “We work for days, months, years,” she says, “and ul­ti­mately our work is an of­fer­ing to the world.”

Al­though she iden­ti­fies as a lit­er­ary out­sider, Or­tiz has been very much an in­sider in the dis­abil­ity rights move­ment. She man­aged a na­tional youth dis­abil­ity project for an or­ga­ni­za­tion called Kids as Self Ad­vo­cates, through which she deep­ened her un­der­stand­ing of dis­abil­ity cul­ture and pride. Be­ing af­fil­i­ated with that group gave her an in­sider cred­i­bil­ity when she was in­ter­view­ing ac­tivists from dif­fer­ent move­ments while con­duct­ing re­search for her book.

Dis­abil­ity ac­tivism has be­gun to take on a larger pres­ence in the lit­er­ary com­mu­nity, with writ­ers like Or­tiz work­ing to en­sure that lit­er­ary event spa­ces are more ac­ces­si­ble. But the is­sue of in­ac­ces­si­bil­ity con­tin­ues to be a chal­lenge. In a Fe­bru­ary 2017 blog for Academe, Stephen Ku­u­sisto, a poet, au­thor, and scholar who is blind, writes: “That dis­abil­ity is a mat­ter of cul­ture; that the crip­ples are among the con­cert­go­ers, the lit­er­ate, the cit­i­zenry is hard for aca­demics to fully grasp.” Progress has been spotty, es­pe­cially when dis­abled peo­ple are not con­sulted about how to ef­fec­tively ac­com­mo­date dis­abil­i­ties. The Dis­abled and Deaf Upris­ing col­lec­tive’s “Re­port From the Field” on the 2018 AWP con­fer­ence in Tampa, for in­stance, de­tailed how dis­abled at­ten­dees had been told there would be an ac­ces­si­ble shut­tle from the ho­tel to the con­fer­ence. But when they ar­rived there was no such shut­tle. Peo­ple who were un­able to walk from the ho­tel to the con­fer­ence were forced to pay for pri­vate trans­porta­tion, if they could find and af­ford it. While aware­ness about ac­ces­si­bil­ity in the lit­er­ary com­mu­nity has im­proved some­what in re­cent years, there’s still a long way to go.

IN FE­BRU­ARY of last year, I went for a ram­ble with San­dra Gail Lam­bert at the Sweet­wa­ter Wet­lands Park in North Cen­tral Florida, which opened to the pub­lic in 2016. As we passed through the gate that keeps bi­son and wild horses out of the park­ing area, me on foot and San­dra in her power wheel­chair, a long, loud wail hit the back of my neck like a pierc­ing alarm.

“What the hell is that?” I yelped. “A limp­kin,” Lam­bert said calmly. “There’s some court­ing ac­tion go­ing on.”

Lam­bert has lived in Gainesville for more than twenty-five years, since leav­ing her job at the book­store be­cause of her wors­en­ing post-po­lio syn­drome. A skilled out­door­swoman from years of kayak­ing through Florida’s marshes and wa­ter­ways, she is well versed on the birds that in­habit these ecosys­tems. Sure enough, a limp­kin soon flew over­head, fol­lowed by a sec­ond that let out an­other ban­shee shriek.

It’s the di­ver­sity and fe­roc­ity of na­ture that in­trigues Lam­bert most. Al­though she is fond of al­li­ga­tors— “North­ern­ers are so fas­ci­nated by us get­ting close to them,” she says—she feels most con­nected to drag­on­flies. Fly­ing, she says, they can change di­rec­tion in­stantly and with such power that their flight skills have been stud­ied, un­suc­cess­fully, by the mil­i­tary. They look frag­ile, but they are fierce and even fiercer in their lar­val stage. They will mob you at dusk, know­ing your breath

is a lure for mos­qui­toes, their fa­vorite food. Their mul­ti­fac­eted eyes see col­ors that are in­vis­i­ble to hu­mans—Lam­bert has spent many hours ob­serv­ing drag­on­flies and won­der­ing what they see that she does not.

When she was a kid, not un­like many young girls, Lam­bert didn’t know where she fit in. But be­ing dis­abled in an able-bod­ied com­mu­nity made her feel even more dif­fer­ent. When other kids went to gym class, she was sent to learn how to type— which in ret­ro­spect was a good thing for a fu­ture writer. Her cir­cum­stances of­ten kept her on the out­side, but they gave her an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for per­sonal free­dom and the abil­ity to tol­er­ate iso­la­tion. Her mem­oir, A Cer­tain Lone­li­ness, ex­plores the con­flicts of as­sert­ing her in­de­pen­dence in a world that ex­pects her to rely on oth­ers and the ten­sions between that in­de­pen­dence and lone­li­ness.

Be­ing part of a writ­ing com­mu­nity has re­solved some of those ten­sions. Read­ing sto­ries made Lam­bert feel bet­ter in times of stress and lone­li­ness, and in her dreams of be­ing a writer her goal was to make oth­ers feel bet­ter too. When she was first start­ing out, her writ­ing was about ex­plain­ing her dis­abil­ity to the abled world. That, she says, was de­mean­ing, and she never wants to do it again. To­day she writes about her life with no apol­ogy or ex­pla­na­tion, and she ac­cepts that some read­ers will get it all wrong. Her def­i­ni­tion of suc­cess has changed over the years; in the be­gin­ning it was about fin­ish­ing a piece, then it was about pub­lish­ing a piece. Now Lam­bert is in the process of find­ing an agent for her next novel. And al­ways, she says, suc­cess is about ex­pand­ing her writerly com­mu­nity and help­ing other writ­ers on the mar­gins. Lately that has meant help­ing new writ­ers through the AWP men­tor­ship pro­gram and coedit­ing an on­line an­thol­ogy, Older Queer Voices: The In­ti­macy of Sur­vival (old­erqueer­voices.com).

Lam­bert used to joke that if she were seen be­ing happy in pub­lic, then she’d done her po­lit­i­cal work for the day. That doesn’t mean she hasn’t been fe­ro­cious in de­fend­ing her in­tegrity when un­in­formed strangers tell her how brave she is to be out on her own in her wheel­chair, or when they have the temer­ity to try to touch her—some­thing she says hap­pens of­ten. When she writes of such in­ci­dents, as she did in her per­sonal es­say “The Laun­dro­mat,” pub­lished in Hip­pocam­pus Mag­a­zine in 2016, you can’t help but ex­pe­ri­ence some right­eous in­dig­na­tion on her be­half. If your own body or in­tegrity has been vi­o­lated in such a way, you can iden­tify with her story. And even if it hasn’t, you might be­gin to un­der­stand what it feels like.

Like all last­ing lit­er­a­ture, out­sider sto­ries and po­ems are a para­dox: They in­vite the reader both to iden­tify with a stranger and to re­spect, and maybe even un­der­stand, their dif­fer­ences. Like the drag­on­flies, out­sider writ­ers can see what oth­ers can­not. Their per­spec­tives are mul­ti­fac­eted and of­fer read­ers a new take on our shin­ing, com­plex world—a glimpse of how it ap­pears through their eyes. In a word, out­sider sto­ries open a door. They in­vite you in­side.

Like all last­ing lit­er­a­ture, out­sider sto­ries and po­ems are a para­dox: They in­vite the reader both to iden­tify with a stranger and to re­spect, and maybe even un­der­stand, their dif­fer­ences. Their per­spec­tives are mul­ti­fac­eted and of­fer read­ers a new take on our

shin­ing, com­plex world.

Sarah Ni­chols

Ma­jda Talal Gama

Shan­non Con­nor Win­ward

Jenna Lê

Shanon Lee

Naomi Or­tiz

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