The Inside Scoop on So to Speak’s Spring 2019 Contest

Are you planning on submitting to So to Speak’s annual contest for poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and visual art? If not, you should be! Our staff and judges are excited to read, view, and engage with your work.

Be sure to get your best work showcasing an intersectional feminist lens in before December 15, 2018. We’re accepting submissions via Submittable — just make sure you answer all the questions on our form fully and comply with our requests regarding file types. Keep your cover letter short and sweet, and don’t forget your third-person bio.

It’s especially important that you tell us why your work fits in with our intersectional feminist mission. Often, we find people write “N/A” or try to leave this field on the submission form blank. That really peeves us! If you want to submit to us, you should be able to tell us why your work belongs in an issue of So to Speak. If you mention this in your cover letter, feel free to refer us to that section of your letter or summarize. If you leave that field blank, it will lower your chances of acceptance significantly. It’s that simple.

The contest submission fee is $8, but we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to submit, regardless of financial situation, so we hold two fee-free days every month while our contest is open. The November fee-free days will take place near the end of the month. Sign up for our email newsletter, and we’ll send out a heads-up the day before we go fee-free. If you can afford to pay the $8 submission fee, we ask that you do so! Every penny of our submission fees go back into the journal and help us hold fundraising events, donate to our favorite local charities, and print awesome journals. (If you want to support us beyond $8, please buy a journal or two!)

So, you’ve got the logistics. Now what? It can be difficult to know exactly what editors and judges are looking for when they read submissions. At So to Speak, we’re committed to being as transparent as possible about our processes so that you have all the information up front. We asked our fantastic judges, Victoria Chang (Poetry), Pam Houston (Fiction), Sandy Allen (Nonfiction), and Erin Silver (Visual Art), what they’re looking for when they select winners. We also asked our genre editors to tell us what they’re looking for while they’re reading, too, so that you can get a sense of which poem, story, essay, or art piece to submit.

Ready to get the inside scoop? Read on!


Our Judges: What They’re Looking For

If you’re excited about this year’s judges, you’re not alone! Our staff is also buzzing with excitement — we only pick judges whose work we admire and are passionate about. It’s an honor to work with them, and we’re thrilled to offer So to Speak submitters the opportunity to have their work read by them. We asked our judges a few questions about what they’re looking for, reading, and more to give you some insight into what to submit to us.

Below are their responses:

Victoria Chang:

1. What are you reading right now?

Everything! I have to do a lot of reading for various juries and other things I’m on. So there are probably 30 books scattered around my house.

2. What are some of the things you look for in pieces?

Originality, surprise, new thinking, something innovative in form, frankly anything that doesn’t sound like everything else.

3. Some of the biggest influences on your writing right now?

If I were writing, I could answer this question, but I don’t write often. Working on my last manuscript, Virginia Woolf’s The Waves is always a big influence.

4. Are there some poems you feel have impacted how you read and write for a long time?

For me, I am constantly looking for new ways of thinking and writing so there’s never any one particular poem that influences me for a long time. I have a huge binder of poems that I use for teaching which are poems that I have liked for various reasons.

5. What are some formal elements that you find interesting in pieces? Maybe things you might find compelling that you don’t often employ in your own writing?

For me, it’s not just something new in form, but how the form interacts with the language. I’m most interested in originality.

Pam Houston:

1. What are you looking for in a piece?

I am always interested in a voice that grabs me, and I like a writer who has a strong eye for detail. I want to be surprised–not shocked–but surprised. I am not immune to lyric fight.

2. What are you reading right now?

Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers and Joe Wilkins’ new novel, Fall Back Down When I Die, in galley.

3. What works are influencing you?

Well, mainly, in these troubled political times I am trying to rise to the imperative of the old standards, Baldwin, Morrison, Didion, Rankine.

Sandy Allen:

What are you looking for in a piece?

I like the kind of essay that walks into the joint and just about everybody looks up. An essay that struts. That knows itself. Because it’s lived a life. It’s been through some tough stuff, big overhauls; it’s come through stronger. Whatever it is… Funny or sad, formally innovative or totally traditional, an essay should be, in every its keystroke, the attempted expression of something that its author has come to actually need to say and exactly this way. I prefer my essays with no bullshit; no frills or tricks for the sake of. A good one lingers. Its scent hangs in the room even after it’s strutted back into the night.

Erin Silver:

What are you looking for in a piece?

I’ll be looking for art which has a gutteral effect. Positive or negative, I’m drawn to art that seems to come from an intuitive process as opposed to a heavy handed overly polished one.


Our Editors: What They’re Looking For

Our judges won’t be the only folx reading your submissions! Our editors will be assisting with the selection process, so it couldn’t hurt to consider what they’re looking for as well. Our editors are involved because they are experts on So to Speak’s mission and standards, so they help the judges cultivate the message vibe of the Spring 2019 issue.

Here are their editorial statements:

Elspeth and Nicole, Poetry Editors:

We are looking for poems that are polished–that might sound obvious, but we receive a lot of poetry that has so much potential but just isn’t quite clean or complete yet. Additionally, thoughtfulness in craft is important–attention to form and line, imagery and description, and sound–however, how a poem does/doesn’t use craft should be distinct and particular to what that poem is doing. There is typically a consideration of voice as well: consistent, strong, self-aware, and tracks tonally for the journal. For us, this also means aligning with So to Speak‘s brand: intersectional-feminist writing; we are interested in work that is both overtly and/or subtle in its feminist aspect(s), and keeps in mind the forward motion of progress by elevating stories, ideas, and voices that have lacked these spaces.

Tara and Sophia, Fiction Editors:

We are looking for stories that explore new and exciting ideas and feature complicated characters in complex situations—whether the situation is external or internal. Tara wants to read stories that are engaging from start to finish, that grab the reader from the very first sentence and don’t let go until the last. Sophia is looking for stories with an atmosphere that matches the emotional situation of the characters and a narrative that takes the reader somewhere thoughtful and unique.

Jhanvi and Casey, Nonfiction Editors:

The thing that should hold all of your essays together is intersectional feminism–we’re not looking for a story that’s been told unless you can tell it to us in a way that pours us a drink. Makes us want to pull up a chair and listen to the tenor of voice reverberate into the night. From your essays, we want freshness and courage. Give us work that has something important to say, narrators that are able to reflect on themselves, and beautiful, complex ideas.

Rhōdes, Art Editor:

When you submit visual art to So to Speak it is extremely important that the pieces’ vision has been fully articulated in both the work itself and your artist’s statement. So to Speak is looking for work that clearly speaks it’s truths and intersections, pushes against and out of archaic boundaries and symbologies, and contains a clear narrative. The work— regardless of medium— should exhibit careful consideration to craft and execution.


We at So to Speak hope that this information helps give your submission an edge, and makes navigating the submission process a little easier. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to reach out. Our email address is: You can also get in touch with us via our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts. Follow along to get more reminders, updates, and information about our contest, mission, fundraisers, and events.

We hope that you consider submitting to our contest and supporting our journal. You can submit to our Spring 2019 contest via Submittable. Best of luck! We can’t wait to read your work.



Pam Houston’s essay collection and memoir, Deep Creek, will be coming out from W.W. Norton in January of 2019. Her most recent book is Contents May Have Shifted, published in 2012. She is also the author of two collections of linked short stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness and Waltzing the Cat, the novel, Sight Hound, and a collection of essays, A Little More About Me, all published by W.W. Norton. Her stories have been selected for volumes of Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Awards, The 2013 Pushcart Prize, and Best American Short Stories of the Century. She is the winner of the Western States Book Award, the WILLA award for contemporary fiction, The Evil Companions Literary Award and multiple teaching awards. She co-founded the literary nonprofit Writing By Writers, is professor of English at UC Davis, teaches in The Institute of American Indian Art’s Low-Rez MFA program, and at writer’s conferences around the country and the world. She lives on a ranch at 9,000 feet in Colorado near the headwaters of the Rio Grande.


Victoria Chang’s fourth book of poems, Barbie Chang was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2017. She is the author of three previous poetry books, Circle, Salvinia Molesta, and The Boss. The Boss won the PEN Center USA Literary Award and a California Book Award. She received a Pushcart Prize for a poem published in Barbie Chang. She also edited an anthology, Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation. Her poems have been published in Best American Poetry, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, The Nation, New Republic, and many other places. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Sustainable Arts Foundation Fellowship in 2017. She is a contributing editor of the literary journal, Copper Nickel and a poetry editor at Tupelo Quarterly. She lives in Los Angeles with her family and her wiener dogs, Mustard and Ketchup and teaches within Antioch University’s MFA Program. She also serves on the National Book Critics Circle Board.


Sandy Allen is a writer, speaker, editor and teacher. Their essays and features stories have been published by BuzzFeed News, CNN Opinion, Bon Appétit’s Healthyish and Pop-Up Magazine. Sandy was previously BuzzFeed News’ deputy features editor. They also founded and ran the online-only literary quarterly Wag’s Revue. Sandy’s work focuses on constructs of normalcy, including psychiatric disability and gender. Sandy is nonbinary trans. Originally from Muir Beach, CA, they live in the Catskills. In January 2018, Scribner published Sandy’s critically acclaimed debut work of reported literary nonfiction, A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story about Schizophrenia.

Erin Silver is a Huston based painter. Her work is inspired by ghost stories, Victorian and Gothic symbolism, superstition, and iconography, tarot, and tattoo. Her work was recently featured in Grimoire Magazine and can be found at Follow her at @ecsilver.







E. Rhōdes Thompson is an non-binary MFA candidate at George Mason University. They are the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Hellscape, an online magazine dedicated to the creative work of neurodivergent people, and the art editor of So to Speak— a feminist literary journal. They are George Mason’s 2018-2019 Thesis Fellow in poetry, the recipient of the 2017 Mark Carver Poetry Award, and the 1st runner-up of the 2016 Jane Lumley Poetry Prize. Their work has been featured or is forthcoming in Juked, DELUGE, Baby Pony, Grimoire, Palimpsest Magazine, and Whiskey Island among others.




Jhanvi Ramaiya is a nonfiction MFA candidate at George Mason University. She serves as a social media coordinator for the program and for Hellscape Press, is the nonfiction editor for So to Speak Journal, and teaches composition in her free time. Graduate of Gettysburg College (Sociology BA), winner of two undergraduate writing awards, and purveyor of many puns, Jhanvi does not let fame get to her head. You can find her work in The Mercury, or performed live once a year at Gettysburg College. Follow her at @jhanviactually on Twitter.





Casey Lichtman  is a Creative Nonfiction MFA candidate at George Mason University. She grew up around Baltimore and studied English (with a concentration in creative writing) at Goucher College, where she was obsessed with Virginia Woolf.  She then completed a Master of Arts in Teaching and a Master of Science in Professional Writing at Towson University. At Towson, she also received the Robert M Ward Scholarship in Creative Writing. Her short story “Breathing” was published in Fine Print and she has been a featured reader at the Baltimore Book Festival. Currently, she serves as Assistant Nonfiction Editor of So To Speak Journal.




Tara Fritz is a second-year graduate student studying fiction in George Mason University’s Creative Writing MFA program. Originally from Pennsylvania, she received her BA in English from Saint Francis University. In her writing, she loves to explore the weird, the surreal, and the uncanny. Her works have previously appeared in The Vehicle, The Mochila Review, Brainchild Magazine, and Adelaide Literary Magazine. Currently, she serves as the fiction editor for So to Speak Journal.




Sophia Rutti is a 2020 MFA in Creative Writing candidate at George Mason University, with a focus in fiction. She is a Virginia local, not quite from northern Virginia and not quite from southern Virginia. In her writing, she likes to explore the in-between of experiences through the Lena of mythology, fairytale and legend. She currently serves as the assistant fiction editor for feminist journal, So to Speak.






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