Sundress Publications is glad to give space to the writing community at large to have broader discussions on important topics. Recently, we have hosted discussions on issues such as plagiarism and now we offer up space to a roundtable on accountability in publishing. E. Kristin Anderson leads the discussion among the writers Hannah Cohen, Kenning Jean-Paul Garcia, Kolleen Carney Hoepfner, Kanika Lawton, and Nathan Alan Schwartz. This is a 4-part series. While we may individually agree (or disagree) in whole or in part with any or all of the participants, the views expressed in these roundtables are not necessarily representative of Sundress Publications, Sundress Academy for the Arts, or any other part of the collective.
In our first session of this accountability roundtable, E. Kristin Anderson introduced readers to the current cultural need for more discussions on public call-outs in our media-driven society. Here are some of her words . . .
“Social media has delivered us into a culture of expediency. Careers can fall apart in an afternoon. Every single thing we say and do can be recorded and reported and spread faster than ever before. We all know that words have power, and that power has grown exponentially in the age of the “like.” With great power comes great responsibility—I know you know this, too.
Our community includes writers coming from so many different backgrounds and levels of experience. So how do we have discussions about ethics in the most ethical way possible? How do we know when to “cancel” someone and when to call them in and hope they can do better next time?
With all of this to consider, we hope that we can answer some of these questions. . .”
What follows, below, is part 2 in this 4-part series. The first part can be found here.
• E. Kristin Anderson (EKA): (moderator) (she/her)
• Hannah Cohen (HC): (she/her)
• Kenning Jean-Paul Garcia (KJPG): (xe/xyr)
• Kolleen Carney Hoepfner (KCH): (she/her)
• Kanika Lawton (KL): (she/her)
• Nathan Alan Schwartz (NAS): (he/him)
EKA: Have you ever been called-out (or in) and how did it feel? What was your immediate response?
HC: Yes, but not online. I’m lucky that I have a good group of people that will correct me if I say something wrong or ignorant. Look, we’re all constantly in flux and growing. The difference is that I make an effort to change my beliefs or thoughts if I’m told, “Hey, Hannah, that’s not right.” But honestly, that shouldn’t be on other people to tell me I’m wrong. Just examining your own issues and doing the research or work should make you a better person.
KCH: I never have, but I will tell you that if I were as entrenched in the literary community as I am now ten years ago, I would have been. I was definitely not the person I am now. Like Hannah said, we’re all (hopefully) always in flux, changing. I used problematic language back then, but I grew out of it. I learned why it was harmful and I learned not to use it. I don’t have a problem, usually, with who people were in their past; it’s when they don’t change in the present that it becomes an issue.
If you see me messing up, TELL ME! Call me out! I promise I will not be thin-skinned and write a 20 tweet thread about you.
KL: I personally haven’t been, but very recently L’ÉR was “called out” for saying we will always stand by survivors and will never support abusers…which was baffling to experience. I’m not saying my conduct is always top-notch, and I make mistakes all the time, but I do think it’s important to see if there is any basis to a call-out—there’s a world of difference between being called out for being a bigot, versus being called out for not giving a platform to bigots.
The person “calling us out” took issue with the fact that we say we support marginalized writers. (We always have. It’s literally written into our mission statement.) This abusive person was calling us out because they are part of some of the “most vulnerable, marginalized” populations that we support, and they felt that we should “consider and stand by” them because of their marginalization. When we said that marginalization is no excuse for abusive behavior, especially when said abuse is targeted against other marginalized groups, this person accused us of “excusing ourselves” and being hypocritical, before tweeting out how best to take us and another journal down.
I will only say this once; abuse is abuse is abuse is abuse. Nothing absolves an abusive person from their actions; marginalization doesn’t excuse horrendous behavior and saying that you “can’t be abusive” because of your identity is a pathetic attempt to exempt yourself from taking responsibility for your actions.
I should mention that, in this case, the abuser frequently targets people who are at least 5-10 years younger than them (including one of my closest friends) and says they don’t hold any power, including over students. The fact that this person is in a position to teach others is already a position of authority over others—systematically, yes, they may not have power. But in this particular case? Yes, they do; they hold power over students and over those who are younger than them, and using this power to abuse, gaslight, and harass others, just to turn around and say you’re the one being victimized is so mind-bogglingly ridiculous I can barely wrap my head around it.
KCH: I saw that exchange with Kanika and it was so disheartening. People can be of marginalized status and still be abusive.
KJPG: I was called out by someone who turned out to be a gaslighter and fraud. I was called out for a Facebook post. I tried to stay out the argument that was going on in the comments but I was called out by both sides. I thought I could publicly deal with one side while privately dealing with the other side. It did not work out and I lost a friend for a little while.
Since then, I’ve carefully monitored my social media comments but I am still slow to respond since I’m nobody. I wonder if an argument on my Facebook page really matters. I guess it does to some folks. I think the only things that really require a quick response from me is blatant anti-blackness and attacks on NB/trans folks. Yet, with that written, I’m much more likely to respond when other Black folks are in the argument than when it’s white folks arguing with other white folks about what is and isn’t racist.
Again, I’ve been in too many rooms where white folks want me to be the judge on that kind of shit and I’m not here for it. Anyway, I hated being called out and I do a lot to preempt that sort of stuff now. I say a lot of stuff but I try to say it in a way that seems most understandable. Sometimes I post what I feel are givens and if a commenter gets out of line I try to deal with it quickly. I’ve learned that ignoring things won’t make it go away. Plus, when it comes to in-fighting among (speculative/avant-garde) Black writers I want to solve those problems. I don’t want rifts in what is quite honestly a very small and fragmented community.
NAS: I was involved in a situation when somebody from my mag posted a column on our website that was offensive and rude towards women. I had allowed the columnist to post work with complete trust that those types of things were not going to be posted. My immediate response to this was anxiety and fear both because of what was said and because of who it had affected. Immediately, I removed the post I made and apologized; but regrettably, it wasn’t a proper apology because I didn’t address those that were hurt and what the issues were with the column. We also removed the columnist from our masthead to assure that it wouldn’t happen again.
Later, after discussing and being called in by folks, I realized my original apology was weak and that I needed to address the entire problem. This call-out felt both right and awful. I was the editor and I had to take responsibility for what went up and that felt awful. But, I am more than grateful for those who called out both my magazine and the columnist and how it was done.
EKA: As editors, many of us have had to investigate claims of plagiarism, abuse, or problematic behavior involving one of our contributors or someone on our mastheads. What’s a good approach to this kind of investigation, and what do you think is “bad enough” to take action, privately or publicly?
HC: This hasn’t happened at Cotton Xenomorph, so I can’t tell you what we have done, but I know that as an editor I would take any claim seriously and double-check with other editors or writers to see if there is history or credibility before making a decision. When that poetry plagiarism scandal happened in December 2018, I do think it was, in some ways, blown out of proportion—people just jumped on the bandwagon and insinuated themselves into the drama, which is something I definitely would want to avoid if I were investigating any claim.
KL: I’ll be honest and say that the poetry plagiarism scandal last December really shook whatever sense of trust I had in the community. We’d published a guest post the week before by the poet who was at the heart of the scandal and we were bombarded with hate (mostly accusations of being “complicit”/“enabling” her behaviour). My poetry editor had accepted one of her poems for an upcoming issue; he retracted his acceptance and I took down her guest post. I made a post on all our social media acknowledging the scandal, why we took down these posts, apologized, and put our support behind the writers affected (since we had previously published one of them). I do think we conducted ourselves appropriately, especially since we didn’t excuse our behaviour (and, thankfully, the hate from that whole debacle ended).
KCH: I know that in the past, before I was EIC, things were removed from the DM site when it came out that a past contributor ended up being abusive or whatever. I haven’t run into any plagiarism issues, or anything like that, since. But I hope people know that I would look into any type of claim of problematic behavior and deal with it accordingly.
It’s really hard to say what is “bad enough,” it really depends on the situation.
KJPG: I haven’t had to deal with plagiarism yet and I hope I don’t have to. Tributes, “after” poems, and collage work can be difficult to deal with. I’ll be honest, I tend to do a series and then all of a sudden I see others doing what I’m doing and I feel like I should be getting some credit. So, I understand the anger that comes with being plagiarized— nonetheless, I don’t know where that line is. Now, I could pretend to have an anarchistic idea about property, including intellectual property, but I won’t. Hopefully, I’ll know what plagiarism is when I see it.
As for other problematic behaviors, I have pulled pieces from Rigorous due to transphobic messages and posts by a certain author. Mostly, I’ve been lucky but I’ve also been working my way out of publishing. I am mostly an indie author along with working with a micro-press on my books. I don’t want to be a gatekeeper and I enjoy my own sense of autonomy. I’m not trying to mind my own business but I think that there might be people who are better suited to judging certain behaviors.
I can be fairly laissez-faire. I published a piece by somebody that was pushing back against Instagram’s nudity policies. And I, admittedly, can be a bit of a provocateur for political reasons. I’m here for some insurgency. I’m not necessarily here for shock.
Unfortunately for some folks, I have my biases. That is to say, I’ll back Black folks, trans, and blue-collar folks on the extreme left in ways that I won’t support the right, upper-class, cishet or right-wing/centrist viewpoints. We all have freedom of speech but not in my magazine, nor in my performance spaces.
NAS: We haven’t had to deal with plagiarism at F2O. However, we have had several authors who had turned out to be problematic and we removed them from our site right away. Once we hear about wrongdoings from an author that we have published, we remove them from our site. I will always listen when people throw those things at us.
EKA: Since call-outs are often public, part of being accountable as an editor or writer means addressing the issue at hand publicly, often on social media. What does an appropriate public apology look like? What does it not look like?
HC: I will say that a public apology should NOT be a 27-tweet long Twitter thread that doesn’t actually address the issue or even apologize. Furthermore, apologies should not be the end-all solution. The ultimate goal as an editor dealing with a troubling situation is to minimize any damage caused by being called-out and striving to be a better editor and publication. Part of that is realizing that you may not get everyone back on board. Even if you didn’t mean to cause direct harm, you have to accept that you did so.
KL: I agree: apologies don’t mean anything without changed behavior. Honestly, some of the apologies I’ve seen from publications (including the infamous 27-tweet long thread) are nothing more than empty promises and failed damage control. I know that sounds cynical, but it should not be hard to say, “Hey, we made a mistake. We apologize, this is what we will do to make things right again.” And then actually follow-through with your claims. Don’t call submitters “fuckers” and then get offended when they get offended. Don’t insult emerging writers and turn around and wonder where all the new writers are. Bluntly, don’t act naive—own up to your mistakes and actually make demonstrable changes or else the readership you rely on will start jumping ship.
NAS: An appropriate apology addresses the problem and apologizes clearly to those that were involved. 100% agree that apologies shouldn’t be the end-all solution. But, to me, it can be the beginning of it. Changing behavior (as said before) is key. Apologies should never be half-assed or through hazy words.
KCH: Yeah, please don’t 27-word-tweet anything. The best apologies say “this is what happened. This is how we failed. This is how we will try not to fail again.” And being thin-skinned isn’t helping anything; don’t take stuff so goddamned personally. Nothing gets me more annoyed than when editors who have messed up act like it’s a personal attack on them.
KJPG: I’ve done my fair share of redacting/distilling political apologies so I can say that it’s hard to be sorry while also saving face. Sometimes, you just have to say “here is what happened and I was wrong” and try to rebuild trust from there.
NAS: I agree with Kolleen—don’t take things personally. Just own up to what you did and apologize
THANK YOU TO THESE ROUNDTABLE PARTICIPANTS:
E. Kristin Anderson is a poet and glitter enthusiast living mostly at a Starbucks somewhere in Austin, Texas. A Connecticut College alumna with a B.A. in classical studies, Kristin’s work has appeared in many magazines including The Texas Review, The Pinch, Barrelhouse Online, TriQuarterly, and FreezeRay Poetry. She is the editor of Come as You Are, an anthology of writing on 90s pop culture (Anomalous Press) and is the author of nine chapbooks of poetry including Pray Pray Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night(Porkbelly Press), Fire in the Sky(Grey Book Press), 17 seventeen XVII(Grey Book Press), and Behind, All You’ve Got (Semiperfect Press, forthcoming). Kristin is a poetry reader at Cotton Xenomorphand an editorial assistant at Sugared Water. Once upon a time, she worked the night shift at The New Yorker. Find her online at EKristinAnderson.com and on twitter at @ek_anderson.
Hannah Cohen lives in Virginia and received her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. She is the author of the poetry chapbook Bad Anatomy(Glass Poetry Press, 2018). She’s the co-editor of the online literary journal Cotton Xenomorph. Recent publications include Berfrois, The Rumpus, Entropy, Cosmonauts Avenue, SWWIM, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for Best of the Net 2018 and has received Pushcart Prize nominations. Her website is hannahlewiscohen.com. You can follow her on Twitter for Twin Peaks humor, adorable cat pictures, and endlessly screaming into the void at @hcohenpoet.
Kanika Lawton is a Toronto-based writer and editor. She holds a BA in Psychology with a Minor in Film Studies from the University of British Columbia and is completing her MA at the University of Toronto’s Cinema Studies Institute. She is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of L’Éphémère Review, a Pink Door 2018 Fellow, and a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has appeared in Ricepaper Magazine, Vagabond City Literary Journal, Hypertrophic Literary, Longleaf Review, and Glass Poetry. She is the author of the micro-chapbooks Wildfire Heart (The Poetry Annals, 2018), Loneliness, and Other Ways to Split a Body (Ghost City Press, 2018), and Monster (Girl) Theory(post ghost press, 2019).
Kolleen Carney Hoepfner’s poetry and other writings can be found in Rabid Oak, Memoirs Mixtape, Glass, Occulum, and elsewhere. Kolleen serves as Editor in Chief of Drunk Monkeys, and is the Managing Editor and Social Media Coordinator for Zoetic Press. She is the author of Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament (Grey Book Press) and A Live Thing, Clinging with Many Teeth (Spooky Girlfriend Press). Her main goal in life is to have Alec Baldwin smile at her. She lives in Burbank, California, with her husband and children.
Kenning Jean-Paul García is a diarist, humorist, performer, and antipoet. Xe was raised in Brooklyn, NY but currently resides in Albany, NY where xe studied linguistics. As it would turn out, xe never really got to use xyr understanding of Sumerian and Akkadian as a cook nor while working the graveyard shift in one of the nation’s biggest box stores. #sigh Anyway, xe is the author of the no(t)vel – OF (What Place Meant) and Slow Living (West Vine Press) as well as the speculative epic ebooks – Past and Again and Playing Dead. Xe is also an editor at Rigorous.
Nathan Alan Schwartz likes to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight. He is also the EIC of FIVE:2:ONE.
A 501(c)3 non-profit literary press collective founded in 2000, Sundress Publications is an entirely volunteer-run press that publishes chapbooks and full-length collections in both print and digital formats, and hosts numerous literary journals, an online reading series, and the Best of the Net Anthology.