Welcome to So to Speak

March 2, 2011 by So to Speak · 4 Comments
Filed under: Announcements 

So to Speak, founded in 1993 by an editorial collective of women MFA candidates at George Mason University, has served as a space for feminist writing and art for nearly twenty years. So to Speak: a feminist journal of language and art publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and visual art that lives up to a high standard of language, form, and meaning. We look for work that addresses issues of significance to women’s lives and movements for women’s equality and are especially interested in pieces that explore issues of race, class, and sexuality in relation to gender.

So to Speak Nonfiction Reading Period Extended!

March 23, 2015 by So to Speak · Leave a Comment
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So to Speak: a feminist journal of language and art, has extended its nonfiction reading period to Tuesday, March 31.

We have a wide view of feminism and are particularly interested in expanding our variety of submissions. We’d like to see pieces that embrace or deeply consider unusual perspectives on common feminist topics (the intersection of gender, socio-economic status, immigration status, race, sexuality, motherhood, sisterhood, ), or uncommon ones (religion and feminism,  religious beliefs and reproductive freedom, biblical femininity, or anything else that you’ve noticed!). Essentially, we are looking to give voice to stories pertaining to women which would otherwise go unheard.

We consider a wide range of literary forms, including:

-personal essays: lyric or narrative

-experimental essays


-character sketches/profiles, including well-developed interviews

-flash/micro nonfiction

Please submit for free online at: https://sotospeak.submittable.com/. Multiple and simultaneous submissions accepted. 4,000 word limit. Chosen essays will be published in our Fall 2015 print issue.


Artist Arisa White: Father Can You Hear Me?

March 19, 2015 by So to Speak · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Nonfiction, Poetry, Uncategorized 

For a few years now, working on a collection of epistolary poems, addressed to my estranged father, I’ve been pronouncing epistles like “epistols.”

It is a vulnerable making process to write to a father who has been absent from my life for over three decades—an absence that has required me to listen, and therefore write, in a new way. The collection, dear Gerald, is me talking to the silence, out of it, around it, but always aware that it is there, unknown and important and a critical part of my personal history.

I know a smattering of details about my father, Gerald. His father and brother were in the police force, and from my research on Guyana, the police force is a paramilitary arm of the government. The “epistol” evokes this family history. Maybe I need a pistol on this journey; one that’s loaded with words and unexpressed emotion, and when the trigger is pulled, my voice is liberated. Ringing through the air, announcing I am here. There is a report. Father, do you hear me?

My mother reminds me
of a time when I bumped
into you on Nostrand Ave.
I was near graduating
elementary school and
don’t remember this.

Not a beard or brow,
style of shirt doesn’t
come to mind, how
you said hello moved
northbound with traffic.
Where you stood, blank
and scent of curry.

My eyes look
and in looking
they find nothing and
that nothing is everything.

Musk and incense,
knotty-dread chewing bark—
knock-off handbags, bootleg
cassettes, videos—dancehall
held inside his coat. He’s
tempted to find my need,
so he can make a sail.

Is it true they deported
you back to Guyana
for killing a man?
Your countrymen risked
their lives, stowed away
in refrigerators to American
land to stand on.

When I tally kerchiefs
of your kin, flagging pockets,
heads, antennae clearing waves,
it must have been a sweet
conflagration that took
the avenue to ash.

I’m a woman born to widow
and eat veils. I herd my self
through smoke and bells,
sky-sure when seeing my departed.

bell hooks writes in Talking Back that

“Moving from silence into speech is for the oppressed, the colonized, the exploited, and those who stand and struggle side by side a gesture of defiance that heals, that makes new life and new growth possible. It is that act of speech, of “talking back,” that is no mere gesture of empty words, that is the expression of our movement from object to subject—the liberated voice.”

My mother asked me the day of my 33rd birthday if I wanted to write my father in Guyana, his homeland, where he was deported for involvement in a criminal case. She had an address. My father is part real and part mythology for me—he’s made up from a pastiche of stories, collected from others. What to say to a man who is my father and my imagination?

dear Gerald is biomythography, a term coined by poet Audre Lorde to describe her book Zami. Ted Wharton describes biomythography as “weaving together of myth, history and biography in epic narrative form, a style of composition that represents all the ways in which we perceive the world.” The intertexuality of the genre provided an approach for translating the degrees of silences nestled inside me, the preverbal unsaid and things I’m afraid to say. There are typographical poems, prose is used, free verse and formal, and references to the Torah, Obama’s 2012 election speech, popular culture, mensuration, oh my.

Addressing these poems to my father, a patriarchal and absent figure—the model for all our governance—is an act of empowering myself and holding my lived experiences as universal truths. I put myself at the center of the narrative, as well as those like me, and I’m transformed by this shift in consciousness. I declare my presence with the force that made abandonment possible. I’ve learned my power. Father, you will see me. I will speak in metaphors, lyrically, subject-verbs in disagreement, from the vestiges of English creole you left in my three-year-old ears.


I’m one of those people who find letters on the sidewalk, left behind on public transportation, read them and keep them as if they were written to me. The letters are always addressed to lovers: making a plea to stay, making a case for leaving. It’s terribly romantic, even in how those letters aligned themselves with the literary tradition of Romanticism—colloquial language and powerful feelings. I never found the final draft of a letter, instead what I got were missives with paragraphs crossed out, no signature, and the writer was very clear in her emotion. She wasn’t concerned, as much I was with dear Gerald, about how to translate these emotive responses into poetic form. For the following, excerpted poem, “rain,” I played with the idea of how to make a poem cry. There’s something very sentimental about that, but I wanted each drop, each fragment, to be it’s own unit of meaning; it’s own tear:

In Talking Back, hooks, brings up the issue of audience:

“To make the liberated voice, one must confront the issue of audience—we must know to whom we speak. When I began writing my first book, Ain’t I A Woman: black women and feminism, the initial completed manuscript was excessively long and very repetitious. Reading it critically . . . my words were written to explain, to placate, to appease. They contained the fear of speaking that often characterizes the way those in a lower position within a hierarchy address those in a higher position of authority. . . . Writing this book was for me a radical gesture. It not only brought me face-to-face with this question of power; it forced me to resolve this question, to act, to find my voice, to become that subject who could place herself and those like her at the center of feminist discourse. I was transformed in consciousness and being.”

My father, as an audience, called up fear. A fear of rejection, primarily for being a queer woman in an interracial relationship, and I would hit up against that anxiety when I started to write about my romances. I have a natural impulse to share, unless I’m fearful in some way, and therefore don’t feel safe. It became all those homophobic voices I heard, especially from those closest to me like, “We don’t need to know who you sleep with,” yet all around us children and the heteros that made them. The same kind of anxiety when talking about getting my period—the feminine/queer details of my life felt taboo and there was the protective urge to quiet them. When you speak up or speak about yourself, you talk back to all the narratives that have mastered you, so that you can be centered in a voice of your own authority. I countered the censors with “What is there to lose? He’s been out of your life longer than he’s been in it;” as well as made connections through cultural and personal history, using what little I knew about him to mend the foundation of our relationship. In the end, what took priority was creating an honest portrait of a poet and a woman.

Why do I partner up with women who can’t find their things?
These aren’t things they seldom use—these are objects for the daily.
Keys and wallets, agendas and phones. My things have their places
and I’ve a strategy for bringing them back into my possession.

If I need her help, that’s the final option; and what irks me
is finding her things in the open, in her jacket she wore
the night before, or on the table, peeking from underneath
the cable bill.

All their stuff in nooks, spread and sprawled, commands attention,
requires care, and they can’t keep their eyes on it. These fatherless
women I love, my mother included, on the daily make their selves lost
to be found and I retrieve what’s missing, which reminds them they
haven’t been abandoned.

I don’t entrust them to find what belongs to me. I don’t expect them
to get stressed out, neck tight, and shallow breaths to look for what’s mine.
I resent their empty hands when I pretend these expectations don’t exist,
and I ask, Are you my daddy?

Send me your “epistols”: I know there are others who are estranged from their fathers, who are bastards, forgotten, or who have lost a father who was never present, and I want your letters in exchange for a copy of dear Gerald. Seriously. Your “epistols” will be inspiration for a second collection, which I’m considering to title: Who’s Your Daddy? Visit http://atoguyana.wordpress.com/dear-gerald-letter-submissions/ to learn about how to submit.


ARISA WHITE is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess and Post Pardon. One of the founding editors for HER KIND, an online literary community powered by VIDA, she is a Kore Biters’ columnist at Kore Press. A native New Yorker, living in Oakland, CA, with her wife, Arisa is an advisory board member for Flying Object and a BFA Creative Writing faculty member at Goddard College. She was awarded a 2013-14 Cultural Funding Grant from the City of Oakland to create the libretto and score for Post Pardon: The Opera, and received, in that same year, an Investing in Artist Grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation to fund the dear Gerald, A to Guyana, project, which takes a personal and collective look at absent fathers.

The Rise of the Asian-American Female Troll

The Rise of the Asian-American Female Troll

Jean Kim

Should I, as a long-silenced Asian-American female, be proud or horrified at the rise of the Asian-American female media troll? Yes troll, as in someone saying insane, oppositional, provocative things on any form of media, particularly social/internet-related, to gain attention, albeit negative in form?

Many are unfortunately familiar with the bipolar extreme stereotypes of the Asian American female personality: the quiet, submissive Lotus Flower Girl and the deathly, vampy Dragon Lady. Both types inhabit a subterranean space of mystery that can be easily digested and dismissed by other non-Asians, or better yet, used as sexual fantasy templates.

When it comes to the entertainment industry, there has been minimal progress in moving past these tropes for Asian women. As for the mainstream media, attractive TV journalism Connie Chung-clones aside, there haven’t been any significant Asian-American female (or even many male) thought leaders or public intellectuals. Until the rise of the Asian-American female troll.

One might argue that the first one was Filipina-American Michelle Malkin, the Clarence Thomas of Asian-Americans. Like Thomas, she rose through the conservative ranks by trolling in right-wing values at the cost of highly curated self-denial. Her heavily affected pseudo-WASP accent, her alliterative married surname, her defiant arrogance in spouting the party line of an old rich white male GOP’er, all successfully gave her the most political commentary screen time an Asian-American female has ever seen (if she’d even categorize herself as one). The banana queen proved that Borg-style assimilation can be richly rewarded.

Until something hotter came along. Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, upended everyone’s fear of an Asian planet and richly trafficked in the glory of it. Dragon Lady to the max, she married that trope with that of the enduring Mommie Dearest, resulting in a nightmarish hybrid that brought out the rage of coddling, academically indifferent American parents and children everywhere. Asian-Americans also cried out in horror at the unveiling of something they thought was their own hidden household secret, meant to be kept as an awkward inside joke. Yes there’s a dark reason behind those straight A’s and gold medal wins at competitions.

That controversy gave me mixed emotions. I never had to deal with a Tiger Mom (Tiger Dad in my case) but the single-minded pursuit of Ivy League admission perfection was very familiar to me, and it was interesting to see those values debated as popular public discourse. It was a form of brainwashing that I easily adopted, until I left the nest and realized it left me existentially empty. So I’m at Yale, and I have no social skills or inner confidence. Now what?

I also had to struggle with having been raised to actually be the Lotus Flower Girl. My father fell into another unfortunately common if less publicly known Asian stereotype, the chauvinist abusive father figure. I was berated for talking back or acting too “American” when I asserted my independence. I watched my mother insulted and mocked while being forced to be the perfect Stepford housewife.

So in the increasingly competitive arenas of college and medical school, my trained mousiness became a major handicap. I developed worsening social phobias around speaking in class and talking to teachers. In the gung-ho self-driven hospital learning culture, as a medical student at the bottom of the totem pole, I floundered, afraid of offending or doing something wrong or just being wrong. My evaluations repeatedly said, “quiet,” “needs to be more assertive,” “timid.” One supervisor outright said, “She’s just a shy Oriental girl.”

Frustrated, I started going to therapy and gradually built up my confidence, but not without some troubled forays to the other extreme: my own Dragon Lady started to come out. As I learned to suppress less emotion, some underlying anger started to leak out at inopportune moments, and I wasn’t allowed to wear mental Depends. As I rose in my professional career and had to take leadership roles, I overcompensated with aggression at times, and not always without reason. It was harder to get people to listen, to respect your authority, when in society, you aren’t considered a natural leader. I would see countless instances of even quiet men saying a few soft, deep-voiced phrases, and everyone bending over backwards to get it done. But when it came to my request, people often reacted like schoolkids throwing spitballs instead and looking the other way. Sometimes I’d wonder if the only way to get people to do what you want was to be a bitch.

Sadly, Amy Chua has used that tactic with great success, getting attention but also death threats. Not to be dissuaded, her second book is even more distasteful. The Triple Package turns self-aggrandizing racism into a happy cultural self-help perk. Now you too can achieve my brand of trashy single-minded success by following a mindless tripartite formula than only ten special ethnic groups have figured out! The rest of you, too bad!

Yet, despite what ought to be ambivalent shame towards her “success,” Yale’s Asian-American Alumni Association invited her this past April as a panel speaker to their first-ever alumni reunion event, alongside other luminaries like David Henry Hwang the famous playwright and Gary Locke the former Governor of Washington. Somehow, she is still considered an Asian-American celebrity role model, for trolling her way to the top on the carcasses of eugenics and child abuse.

Earlier this year, Suey Park, Twitter legend and social critic, added rocket fuel to her meteoric twenty-something rise by adding gasoline to the March #CancelColbert controversy. After starting an interesting Twitter feed called #NotyourAsiansidekick and promoting fresh dialogue on neglected Asian-American feminist issues, Suey Park was profiled in the Washington Post and the Guardian. My initial reaction was appreciative; she was using her hip Social Media savvy to bring attention to voices and issues that often don’t go mainstream. She was the new confident generation of Asian-American woman: smart and outspoken.

Until she decided to cheaply hijack the Colbert media storm. I will be blunt about how I feel about that “controversy”: Colbert was mocking racism with an ironic racist quote. To call that racist is wrong, even idiotic.

Instead, Suey Park went on a rant on Salon about the “white ally industrial complex” and rambled about how somehow the joke was still racist since a white man told it (albeit a very liberal one). She became the main ongoing momentum behind #CancelColbert. Her notoriety continues to climb.

But at what cost? She has every right to her opinions and to showcase them as she sees fit, as does Amy Chua and Michelle Malkin. But when our public Asian-American female voices are so few and far between, is this the only way to get mainstream American to hear us? By espousing extremist, reverse-racist, rabblerousing viewpoints? The American Media is highly complicit as well; they clearly relish and promote these women for the publicity storm they create, all the while having ignored the more moderate Asian-American, let alone any female, voices waiting in the wings, begging to be heard.

With time and experience, I’ve learned that balance is the way to go; that quiet strength is not an oxymoron, while speaking up when needed is a virtue. I would ask for similar Asian-American role models and messages to be heard by the mainstream media, in a room now full of senseless shouting.


Jean Kim works as a psychiatrist in Washington, DC and lives in Bethesda, MD. She is working on her M.A. in Nonfiction Writing at Johns Hopkins and has been a Nonfiction fellow at the Writers’ Institute of CUNY (City University of NY)’s Graduate Center. She will be published in an anthology on mental health by Creative Nonfiction, and has also been published in Bethesda Magazine, Medical Student JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), Pharos, The New Physician, and Outside In Literary and Travel Magazine.


2015 Fiction Contest Submission Period Has Been Extended

March 2, 2015 by So to Speak · Leave a Comment
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So to Speak is pleased to announce that we have extended our deadline for the 2015 Fiction Contest from March 15 to March 31! Our judge this year is Sarah Creech.

The winner will receive $500, publication in our Fall 2015 issue, and two complimentary issues. The honorable mention entry will be published in our Fall 2015 issue. We welcome pieces of short fiction up to 5,000 words. To enter, submit through our Submission Manager. The reading fee is $15 and can be paid through our Submission Manager.

All entrants will receive a free copy of our Fall 2015 issue!

About the judge:

Sarah Creech is the author of Season of the Dragonflies, published by HarperCollins in 2014. Born and raised in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Sarah Creech grew up in a house full of women who told stories about black cloud visions and other premonitions. Her work has appeared in storySouth, Literary Mama, Aroostook Review, Glass, and as a finalist for Glimmer Train. She received an MFA from McNeese State University in 2008 and now teaches English and creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte. She currently lives in North Carolina with her two children and her husband, a poet.

Check her out on Facebook and Twitter.

The “Groundhog Day” of It All: DVAM is Over, Now What?

November 10, 2014 by So to Speak · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News, Nonfiction, Opinion, Uncategorized 

Now that domestic violence awareness month is over, where do we go from here?

By Karen Koch

For the Houston Area Women’s Center, October was the busiest Domestic Violence Awareness Month in recent memory.  We received a huge number of requests for media interviews, no doubt fueled by the Ray Rice video making headlines and the NFL’s subsequent policy on domestic violence.  As it often seems to happen with this issue, it takes something tragic for people to start thinking, and talking, about it.

But people were talking — a lot — and it was encouraging to see the increase in conversation and coverage about an issue we are so passionate about every day.  It was also refreshing to see a broader range of angles discussed.  For advocates, answering questions about domestic violence can feel like the film “Groundhog Day”.  Even with the best of intentions, conversations can get trapped in an endless loop.  People don’t tend to stray from the usual script of basic questions, and it can be discouraging for those trying to advance awareness and understanding.  Given that, nationally, domestic violence affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in their lifetimes, the lack of knowledge about something so pervasive in our society is staggering.

So it was particularly encouraging to see more, and deeper, discussions about the dynamics of domestic violence.  The fact that it’s about patterns of power and control and not about how he must have snapped or been provoked.  That it can – and does – happen to anyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or socio-economic status.  That the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship can be when a survivor leaves, underscoring the importance of advocate tools like safety planning and lethality assessments.

It was also wonderful having the opportunity to do more myth busting and flipping of pervasive scripts.  Changing the conversation from why doesn’t she leave to focus on why does someone choose to abuse? Witnessing the power of social media when the hashtag #whyistayed became a Twitter trend, and thousands of courageous survivors, regardless of gender, shared their experiences.  With all the recent talk about domestic violence, some of the most poignant and impactful messages were delivered in 140 characters or less.

At the Women’s Center, we even had the chance to shed light on a topic that seldom gets much mainstream press but is near and dear to our mission:  prevention and the ways we can recognize the deeply ingrained beliefs and norms we have as a society about violence … and change them.

And, of course, there’s the NFL’s new policy on domestic violence.  The fact that it clearly reflects conversations and collaboration with advocates is encouraging.  When it was released, we called it a good first step, and we’re hopeful that what looks promising on paper will lead to real and lasting change.

The best news of all, though, is that, in the wake of the increased coverage and attention, we had a 40% jump in calls to our 24-hour hotline.  That means more survivors learned that they are not alone and that help is available.

So, now that October is over, where do we go from here?

We need to keep the conversation going so domestic violence doesn’t slink back into the shadows where it thrives.  We need to build on October’s momentum so, eleven months from now, we’ve reached greater levels of awareness.  And we need to constantly remind ourselves that domestic violence happens every day of the year.  That video of Ray Rice was considered newsworthy, but it’s not a novelty for an abuser to knock a victim out cold.  The horrible and tragic Stay family murders made local news for weeks, but seldom does a day go by in the United States without at least one person being killed as a result of domestic violence.  We just don’t always hear about it.  Or talk about it.  But it’s happening all the same.  And all the time.

Victim-blaming is as insidious as ever

So, please, talk about domestic violence.  Learn about it.  Share what you learn with others and encourage them to do the same.  Memorize the phrases that are so crucial for a survivor to hear:  It’s not your fault.  You’re not alone. Make domestic violence so taboo in our society that abusers are subjected to the same degree of shame and scrutiny that’s historically been heaped upon their victims.

For more information about domestic and sexual violence and the free, confidential services offered by the Houston Area Women’s Center, please visit www.hawc.org. For information and statistics regarding the state of Texas, visit the Texas Council on Family Violence at www.tcfv.org.  For national resources, visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence at www.ncadv.org.

And please, if you live in the greater Houston area, memorize and share our 24-hour domestic violence hotline number:  713-528-2121.  Or the national hotline number:  1-800-799-7233. You never know whose life might be changed by learning that help is available.  Because, while domestic violence does happens every day, each day also brings an opportunity for survivors to learn that there is a path to hope and healing.


Karen Koch is Vice President of Communications for the Houston Area Women’s Center. A broadcast television veteran, she now uses her media skills to spread awareness about domestic and sexual violence and to let survivors know that they are not alone and that help is available.


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