Former StS Blog Editor Sheila McMullin on VIDA and Why We Should Number Up, Part I

Did you know that in 2013, 39 men and 33 women were published in Fence Magazine? Or that, in the same year, Conjunctions published 50 women and 51 men? How about that 55 women and 49 men appeared in New American Writing? And that Callaloo published 78 women and 65 men? Or that 2013 also saw the Paris Review publish 48 women and 47 men?

But why, you ask, are these numbers important?

Because literary publications that achieve near contributor gender parity are in a strict minority. Furthermore, the publications noted above who have actually featured more women than men in their pages are even more of a minority. It is not typical that a literary journal or magazine believed to be a “thought leader” within the arts community will publish or review an equal number of men- and women-identified writers. What is quite typical, though, is that a publication’s table of contents will skew heavily toward male writers. But see the numbers for yourself. Check out the pie charts graphing this male/female dichotomy of writers published and reviewed in our country’s leading creative journals and magazines.

All numbered out?

Some of these numbers are probably worse than what you expected, right? I felt the greatest devastation when seeing McSweeney’s publishing of 13 women compared to 43 men. We know sexism is not dead, but we always hope for the best in people, right? And when it comes to the artifacts we create, we want to believe it’s the art that speaks for itself, not the gender of the artist. But this isn’t the reality. Women’s voices have been and are consistently hidden, and because of this it is “easy” for a general public to believe/assume that the inequality doesn’t exist.

In Sarah Vap’s newest, The End of the Sentimental Journey, a vivisection of language, gender, and poetics, she writes at one point about the severing of a dog’s vocal cords during scientific experiments to prevent the dog from barking. In the silence, those conducting experiments were able to avoid hearing the dog express pain and fear and begin pretending it did not feel at all. She compares this to human to human interaction and to the way minority communities are forcibly silenced to offer the privileged majority a reprieve.

Silencing of a community on mass scales, in turn, encourages complacency and a denigration of our human rights. Bringing those voices back into the conversation is the work of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and it is the tireless volunteer work of VIDAs who have brought you these statistics. For more in-depth reflection on The VIDA Count 2013 numbers read Amy King’s “Lie by Omission: The Rallying Few, The Rallying Masses.”

VIDA is changing the tide.

For four years now VIDA has tallied and published the results we’ve always suspected but did not yet have the hard data to back us up. (It is part of the reason why so many women have chosen to write under masculine pen names.)  In the words of Count Director Jen Fitzgerald, “Each year women from across the country dedicate thousands of combined hours to perform an arduous task: we manually, painstakingly tally the gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews.  We do this to offer up concrete data and assure women authors (and wayward editors) that the sloped playing field is not going unnoticed.  We do this to ignite and fan the flames of necessary discourse.  We do this each year because our literary community can only benefit from a range of voices.” If you are curious as to how VIDA counts, you are welcome to review the methodologies.

The New Republic publisher and editor, Chris Hughes, responded to the latest VIDA Count saying, “VIDA [has] released a breakdown of the genders of contributors to the major literary magazines in the country, including The New Republic. Unfortunately, we were near the bottom of that list. Our print contributor breakdown looks more like what you would expect from 1964 than 2014, and it must change. We will hold ourselves to a much higher standard in 2014.”

This is tremendous news, and the actual goal of VIDA: to encourage all of us to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

Check back next week for Part II of VIDA: How We Can Number Up.


Sheila McMullin runs the feminist and artist resource website, MoonSpit Poetry, where a list of her publications can also be found. She is the Website Assistant for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and Contributing Editor of poetry and the blog for ROAR Magazine. Her chapbook, Like Water, was a finalist for the Ahsahta Press and New Delta Review chapbook competitions, as well as a semifinalist in the Black Lawrence Press chapbook competition. She works as an after-school creative writing and college prep instructor, and volunteers at her local animal rescue. She holds her M.F.A. from George Mason University. Follow her @smcmulli.

Hibernaculum: Dissecting Story and Fable like an Animal

March 30, 2014 by So to Speak · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Poetry, Post by: Sheila M, Reviews 

The hush of cold greets us in the opening circus of Hibernaculum. A family in winter navigates through the chatter of its children, young adults, and older adults. Firm boundaries between each age-restricted grouping of relatives provides our speaker a way into understanding her changing role as a woman in the culture of her family. Our attention begins to narrow onto our speaker who fights to come into her own and be her own type of girl through the re-imagining of yonder tales. Poet Sarah E. Colona, dissects story and fable like an animal in her first full-length collection from Gold Wake Press (2013).

Divided into three sections, Hibernaculum is not a resting place for the animal or storyteller in us all. The first section is full of familial musings, some written at a slant digging into a deeper pain as in “Custody of Ghosts,” and some beautifully tender as in “Visiting John, 1990.” In this piece our speaker visits her brother in the hospital along with her parents. Too ill the boy cannot be touched, and the gift they bring for him as a guarantee he will be leaving those sterile conditions cannot be left with him. Soon our speaker begins to see herself as a twin in those around her. As a reflection in a mirror, in statues, in a dead girl, our speaker whispers to be noticed feeling a futility in her efforts as well. Here we begin to uncover what slinks into our rooms after all the lights are turned out, and enter a ramping toward the surreal.

Section Two goes Grimm, goes ancient Greek, and fills us with the dark fables we learned young. As adults we re-experience these stories with acute awareness of our growing skepticism of fantasy in the shadows penetrating our daily lives, and yet the soft animal inside is still quivering.

Colona has an intriguing ability to move between disparate periods of storytelling, placing a poem inspired by Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast next to a piece on Psyche. She doesn’t conflate the two but connects them through a female voice that seems to transcend time. Through an empowered female voice, the characters Colona embodies provide an alternative context to the story surrounding them and the unflinching myth they’ve been transformed into.

I found “Cruelty,” the last poem in the section, to be a kind of Ars Poetica for Hibernaculum.

make no mistake

stories are predators not pets

But we long for company

Here Colona conflates the mythic with the contemporary. She moves in and out of danger constantly confronted in stories; not only in fictional tales we read, but through the news we hear on television. This poem confronts the temptation, danger, and hatred reflected in stories mirroring our lived experiences. Our speaker, by the end, tames the beast, Story laid its head in my lap/ and purred encouraging an effort to remember there is still decency in the world.

The third and final section brings us back home. We return to the present day engulfed by scenery, this time haunted, not by myth or fable, but by anger and regret. And this section comes out swinging, carrying some heavy fist-pumping anthems. Here we navigate perception and Colona opposes the categorization of women specifically based on gender. She calls out that hypocrisy in poems like “Another Round with Loneliness,” “Have At,” and “The Little Engine that Did” forthrightly. But also examines closely one’s inherent hypocrisy as in “That Girl We Killed” and “Bitch.” We end in the stories we create of ourselves, not to become mythologized stone, but to lean toward an empathetic understanding of what is around us and how we’ve framed our love.

Sarah Colona is currently at work on a new collection poetry, That Sister, and a novella based on Burlington New Jersey (her hometown) folklore and history. Hibernaculum is available on Amazon.


Sheila McMullin runs the feminist and artist resource website, MoonSpit Poetry, where a list of her publications can also be found. She is the Website Assistant for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and Contributing Editor of poetry and the blog for ROAR Magazine. Her chapbook, Like Water, was a finalist for the Ahsahta Press and New Delta Review chapbook competitions, as well as a semifinalist in the Black Lawrence Press chapbook competition. She works as an after-school creative writing and college prep instructor, and volunteers at her local animal rescue. She holds her M.F.A. from George Mason University. Follow her @smcmulli

The Artist Activist Online

Former So to Speak Poetry and Blog Editor Sheila McMullin on the history of the StS blog and using online platforms to advocate for social change:

On March 8, 2011 I launched So to Speak’s blog with a simple one line post. No in-depth journal and provocative claim, just a quick message with the beginning word “Celebrating.” With this word began So to Speak’s interaction as an online open forum for discussing feminist issues as they pertain to art and artist communities. In those early days our editorial circle saw the blog as a supplement to the print journal, providing a space for our contributors to speak in broader terms on their creative process and artistic and feminist intentions in relation to their printed pieces. The blog was an opportunity for the community at large to engage with our activist-driven organization and find in us a community of peers who understand the importance of celebrating feminist dialogue, a safe space to explore identity relations, questions, and build new relations. It was a space for those curious to learn. A place for those skeptical to debate. It is no secret that women and those who don’t identify as cisgender are unproportionally harassed and denigrated on the internet. In launching a blog dedicated to feminism in the arts, I with Blog Co-editor Alyse Knorr were fulfilling a lack we saw in So to Speak’s organizational structure, and stepping up to fight against the notion that women aren’t allowed to play. Of course feminists and budding feminists waiting for a call to action were on the internet. And So to Speak needed to find them and bring them together. We believed that to meet the needs of our feminist allies we had a firm obligation to participate in the online community.

Today StS is still all these things under the care of the current editorial circle, and better, more expansive, more in-depth, more provocative. I am eternally grateful to Blog Editor Sheryl Rivett and her Assistant Blog Editor Paula Beltran for continuing and fostering StS’s online presence. One thing many people don’t really yet understand about encouraging online communities through dedicated and consistent blogging is that it takes a whole lot of energy  and a s**t-ton of time. With open minds embracing online opportunities So to Speak has been able to be more of an engaged feminist advocacy group expanding its reach to promote gender parity in the arts and in our communities at large.

That beginning celebratory word on StS’s fresh blog, jumpstarted my personal endeavors of becoming more involved in utilizing web presences for social causes within organizations dedicated to advancing gender parity. I want to celebrate creative bravery. These days many of us engage in online communities through various social media sites that encourage surface level and sensationalist interactions. With sites like Facebook the tendency becomes to showcase only the most thrilling, titillating side of ourselves. These kinds of interactions can at times be a reprieve or fun, but if taken too seriously can interrupt crucial opportunities for empathetic human interaction. Similarly to how hyper-sexualized advertisements and media affect our collective conscious on definitions of “natural” and “beauty,” our most popular social media sites can actually make us feel more lonely, more isolated. Through these sites we have been trained to compare our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel, a well-worn yet accurate phrase. I don’t deny that sites like Facebook and Twitter play huge roles in providing low-budget socially-conscious groups opportunities to advertise, promote, and connect. These are often the hubs individuals go to see what’s the latest and check updates on news and events. But sites like these can also encourage an ego that denies the validity of another’s identity because of the lack of an ultimate goal of interacting in offline spheres. We forget the avatar on our screens represents a beating human heart, with just as many complex emotions and needs as we have.

I like using the internet very much. It is fun, serves a knowledge-based purpose, and connects me to like-minded folks and family and friends all over the globe. And while the internet allows me to stay in touch with people I love and explore the world without necessarily leaving home, it is still incredibly important to remember that the surface level of interaction while on the internet is through an inanimate object.

As I have become more involved in online communities I understand more the complete necessity for my online presence to directly influence my offline actions. The internet is a tool to make my material and physical life more fulfilling, more understanding, more substantial. So, for AWP 2014 I wanted to bring together creative literary thinkers who actively engage online in platforms they either built themselves because they saw a lack and wanted to fill that space with positive community-focused interaction or significantly monitor and update a unique platform with a socially conscious action-orientated mission for creative thinkers who want to learn to engage online in meaningful, nourishing ways and to talk about how to do so in productively.

On Saturday, March 1, the panelists and I will discuss building unique online platforms, or participating in already existing platforms to shape a cyber presence that provokes actual social change and propagates dissemination of educational materials in the physical world. We’ll discuss and explore opportunities for using our online platforms to evolve typical trite conversations, to change language, to vocalize inclusivity, reform out-of-date sexist traditions, and push out of comfort zones to empower individuals. Through our conversation, I hope we can come together to celebrate our unique visions and encourage users to create an internet that moves away from trolling, harassment, anxiety-provoking sites and moves toward representing the diverse cultures we participate in and the diverse human beings we are.

For you, in the cybersphere, who are ready to start using your online platform to advocate for social change consider what it means to blog with integrity, and focus on opportunities for offline activism by providing links at the end of your posts to others’ organizations or groups who argue for similar productivity you do and could benefit from a charitable donation or some type of volunteer action.

Now go write and share!

Headed to AWP? Be sure to check out the panel that Sheila is moderating!

So You Want to Build a Platform: But What is It & Why Do You Need One? Women Writers & Editors Speak Out (Sheila McMullin, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Molly Gaudry, Sheryl Rivett, Arisa White)
Room 608, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6
Saturday, March 1, 2014

10:30 am to 11:45 am
While women’s voices are underrepresented in print publishing, online activism can balance the scales. Cultivating an online presence is not as easy as DIY and shameless self-promotion tales make it look. Creative thinkers, to highlight minority and emerging voices, develop unique online resources to build ever-expanding communities and celebrate accomplishments. Panelists explore empowerment, utility of web-based writing, maintaining professionalism, and ways to keep viewers returning and sharing.

WILD, BUT NOT LOST: A Review by Sheila McMullin

January 5, 2014 by So to Speak · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Poetry, Post by: Sheila M, Reviews, Uncategorized 

Melissa Schuppe’s debut chapbook Wild, But Not Lost (Finishing Line Press, 2013) finds itself in the good company of poets’ Sarah Vap, Rachel Zucker, and Arielle Greenberg: women writing motherhood and sharing women’s multifaceted experiences in the age of choice and women’s equality. Yet, as the many feminists reading So to Speak, we know choice not always has so many options and equality not so balanced. As a single woman, not yet a mother, but hoping to one day become, I am always appreciative of the poetic insights gleaned from poetry participating in adulthood theatrics and caring for aging folks and children. Schuppe’s collection acknowledges the all too familiar changing of relationships with parents and siblings, and struggles of keeping afloat in the dynamic landscape that is now our everyday lives.

Back-to-back poems “Note to Self” and “Nora” focus on beautifully complex relationships between mother and daughter, woman and elder. These pieces trouble static binaries of how one is assumed to react to and treat children and elders. From “Note to Self” to the end of the collection hold my favorite poems in the chapbook. Here I found a quickening pace of our speaker’s reflection on very present moments, creating uncanny collisions of material and thought, as in the husband who can no longer wear his wedding ring, not from lack of devotion, but of a changing of body. In Schuppe’s bio she writes herself to be “a wife and mother whose words reflect the exploration of her life’s event,” so I imagine Schuppe in “Note to Self” working with the elder woman who is growing “impatient with death,” who would “like to get out of here tomorrow,” and Schuppe noticing the body worked by age. I imagine when our speaker touches the older woman it both reminds her of her own fragility, reminds me of my fragility, and how that is scary. But overwhelmingly, we are provided insight through our bodies about the changing of time and how to look toward the future without so much fear. On the flip side of that, “Nora” a nine-year-old hugging her mother barefoot in the kitchen reminds us that one day children become adults, and although young they still carry agency. In this moment, our speaker is “afraid for what’s to come” and I am grateful for that honesty. It lets me imagine one day, in my own kitchen with my own daughter in my own version of this poem I will be afraid to, afraid out of protective love, but like Schuppe will have found inner strength to believe it will be alright. And with close attention, maybe then, I would hear “the whistle,/ clarity emerging” too.

Check out Melissa Schuppe’s guest StS post On Being Silenced


Sheila McMullin is an after-school creative writing and college prep instructor, supportsVIDA–Women in Literary Arts as part of their Membership Team, and is a contributing poetry editor and the blog editor for ROAR Magazine. She holds her MFA in Poetry from George Mason Univeristy where she was the 2012-2013 Heritage Fellow and the poetry editor and blog/twitter manager for So to Speak. During her final year at GMU, Sheila interned at the Library of Congress in the Poetry and Literature Center helping to create easily accessible poetry resources for the public through the LOC database. In 2010, Sheila lived and traveled throughout China, teaching English to university students in the Shandong Province. Winner of the 2012 Mary Reinhart Poetry Prize and 2012 Virginia Downs Poetry Prize, her work can be found or is forthcoming in HER KIND: Women in Literary Arts, YEW: A Journal of Innovative Writing and Images by WomenThe Catbird Seat Blog at the Poetry and Literature Center in the Library of Congress, 1913: A Journal of FormsROAR Magazine: A Journal of the Literary ArtsBig Lucks, Counterexample Poetics: Assemblage of Experimental Artistry and Gentle Strength Quarterly.

Final Thoughts from StS’s Poetry and Blog Out-Going Editor, Sheila McMullin

I don’t have a firm definition of feminism. I have an emotional understanding. Feminism as a verb, noun, adjective, with a short descriptive sentence—I draw a blank, but wish I could share the images in my mind with you.

One image: A person holding a floating jellyfish with one tentacle as a balloon string, like feminism is this beautiful ethereal, living, and surviving creature that also stings.

I know. That’s kind of weird. A former poetry & blog editor of a feminist magazine who currently curates a feminist blog, and self-proclaims feminism on a daily inter-personal and inter-net basis can’t give a proper response. I know, I know.

But I guess, in the same way that poetry’s definition freely extends from lyric to narrative, to prose, to strict traditional form,  so can my feminism. I don’t yet know my truest understanding of feminism, but I am engaged in a full fledge career of finding it out, and I assume this will take a long time. Time is the point, though. Time allows us, when we are honest and dedicate the leeway to question and search, try and fail and try again, to feel proud of our accomplishments. So far in my life experiences, I have some ideas of where really empowering feminism is taking place, and I have some ideas as to where I find my feminist call: through positive feminist education for our children and online venues. Post-MFA you will find me working primarily in these fields, and the best part of it all is that it is super, duper fun.

To compliment my lack of a proper feminist definition I’ve been collecting old-school bell hooks quotes—that apply more than ever today—to keep in our back pockets and integrate into future conversations.

She says: Women should “bond with other women on the basis of shared strengths and resources. This is the woman bonding feminist movement should encourage. It is this type of bonding that is essence of Sisterhood.”

A single definition of Sisterhood, like a single definition of feminism, can be complicated because we’re all so diverse, but diversity does not mean we can’t be empathic and broaden our horizons.

“Racism teaches an inflated sense of importance and value, especially when coupled with class privilege. Most poor and working class women or even individual bourgeois non-white women would not have assumed that they could launch a feminist movement without first having the support and participation of diverse groups of women.”

When working with StS the essence of this quote has been hugely important to me. I’ve wanted a richly diversified demographic in our poetry section and on our blog. Of course I could have done better, but I believe with my beginning steps I helped quieter voices become braver and speak louder.

Much feminist rhetoric implies “that men ha(ve) nothing to gain by feminist movement, that its success would make them losers.”

We’ve also reached out far and wide to help men feel 100% a part of our feminist goals. As always, together we are stronger. I hope StS feels like a safe place for men and transgendered individuals. And if it doesn’t, please reach out and support us in doing better.

“Feminist movement can end the war between the sexes. It can transform relationships so that the alienation, competition, and dehumanization that characterize human interaction can be replaced with feelings of intimacy, mutuality, and camaraderie.”


Equality activism has many names: peace, humanitarianism, environmentalism, feminism. At the core of So to Speak’s activism is the representation of the many names of equality through writing and a focus on gender and sexuality. I was drawn to StS because of this diversity and by naming myself a feminist, working for a feminist organization made me feel proud and honorable. While I am saying goodbye to my position within So to Speak, I am continuing my feminist activism through my own writing, through being myself in the world, and through the curating of my feminist resource and website, Moon Spit. I define Moon Spit as “a collective project figuring out ways to be the best, happiest, empathetic, and fulfilled people we can be. Moon Spit is the feminine grit. My main goal on is to provide transparency on a feminist poet trying to provide feminist positive options–all in the effort of creating gender, cultural, and racial equality. I want this blog and website to be a space of us learning about us in all of our grace and humiliations. How to overcome prejudice with honor and intellect. To share our triumphs and provide examples of when we failed and tried again to succeed. We all deserve respect. I hope we create a space here of praise and dedication to a happy, happy future.”

I believe our values are always deeper and more sophisticated than we think. We are constantly fine tuning as we experience life with more and different people. I am learning everyday about what I believe, more specifically how I believe in feminism. At the center of feminism, I believe, is honesty. To be honest is to be trusting that others are honest. It is an unending circle of empathy. Without this we lack a basic and beautiful humanity. An honesty which promotes positive contributions to our communities helps us understand ourselves and our place in the world. I hope you will continue to interact and share in discussions with me here in the comments section, on my site, or on Twitter @smcmulli.

Take care, happy writing, and as always,

♥ Sheila M

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