2015 Year in Review
2015 was a year split down the middle. The second it began, Adam and I started this site. Half the year, Real Pants was most of the work I did. I wrote letters from the editor and asked excellent writers to develop beats. We celebrated new books in new ways. We threw parties. I cultivated the Civics section in particular. It was hard and good work. Things began to take form and substance at the site. We watched the numbers and refined our vision. We found ways to respond to injustice. I planned to write about the summer reading I did. Other things happened instead.
Christopher DeWeese gathered a beautiful collection of tributes to Tomaž Šalamun.
Jamie Fountaine talked to her brother about PJ Harvey and Afghanistan, opening with the startling question, “So, you went to war? How’d that go for you?”
Kati Heng unearthed—and illustrated—the most amazing one-star reviews on Goodreads.
Guy Benjamin Brookshire and the force of his prose convinced me not to watch football anymore, even if he didn’t quite convince himself. His essay ends, “Does enjoying football make me a bad person? No, it is only a symptom.”
In almost the exact middle of the year, I began a serious and, it turned out, quick-to-conclude search for a job teaching high school. This filled my summer, and in the fall I began this new work. I gave up a lot for it: a flexible and compelling job with a generous boss (my dad) and higher pay; easy mornings; more energy for writing projects, 421 Atlanta, and Real Pants; a regular gig teaching undergraduate creative writing; and whatever weird hangups I had about teaching high school full-time.
Because I know exactly what I gave up to teach, I also know exactly why I gave those things up, which meant I know exactly how to honor the new role I have and all it offers. What it offers, in short, is a large and particular opportunity for stewardship—a sustained and intensive stretching into and beyond what I thought was my capacity. The felicity of mixing a few modest things together, hoping, and watching other people make of it much more. A lot of bumping and scratching.
I like the word demanding. Teaching demands of me in a way that other jobs have not. I must be effortful, attentive, quick, thoughtful, clear, consistent, and smart. So much gets chewed up and out. I’ve got to learn to trim the fat. My classroom isn’t lean or muscular enough, as flawed as those metaphors are. But in the morning a pure cold light tips me into day and I work. A lot happens without too much molding. Elsewhere are derailments. They are not all my fault. I have the power to influence, but I have neither the power nor the will to control. I chose right: I will keep doing this.
Elsewhere—here—I’ve been largely absent for six months or so. Conventional wisdom says that six months is not enough to launch a website and expect momentum to keep building in my absence. We don’t have clear systems and procedures, and I let completed drafts sit in my inbox too long. We don’t have a sustainable ad model or money to pay writers or editors. In some ways, heading into 2016, Real Pants is made of a fragile cloth. The seams need reinforcing. By saying that, I’m not apologizing, or criticizing myself or the site. A fragile thing needs protecting, and there’s a lot here to protect. Conventional wisdom is not our guide here. Like:
Edward Mullany kept up the incredible work that he did from the site’s inception, and posted his 52nd and final installment of “Rachel and Ben” on December 26.
Dylan Kinnett, week after week, dove fearlessly into the murk and splendor of lit blogs, as he’d done all year long.
For nearly that long, Erin Dorney has been making me feel bad about my desk, in a good way, with her guest writers’ enviable photos.
Sade Murphy did with words what most of us can only do with our tear ducts.
Joseph Young distilled sparkling insight on contemporary art from all his rangy comprehension.
Natalie Lyalin found the existential in Netflix and Hulu.
Michael Kimball saved us like $40,000 by releasing his entire One-Hour MFA (In Fiction) on the site for free (though plenty of people still order a copy).
Jeannie Hoag sent us the best messages from outer space since Major Tom.
Two podcasts! The likes of Rachel Glaser and Will Oldham popped into the studio of our own Pantscast, and knowing that a new episode of Movie Time with Joe Hall and Cheryl Quimba awaited me is the entire reason I saw The Martian on opening weekend.
Self-Helpless by Jon-Michael Frank has been a weekly treat. I love “The Blues” so much, plus everything since.
And Eva McKenna is casting Spells.
There is a lot more, too. Momentum did build. In the first six months, we elucidated a clear mission, and it was not a solo mission. My partner in this and other things, Adam Robinson, has been forthright and dogged in his pursuit of this site’s excellence. He issued the best and most definitive advice on going on a book tour and his rationale for publishing. One of the coolest things on any literary website ever has to be the “Free Blurbs For Your Book” piece that he put together. And just in time for this new year, before I could even get one Year in Review post together, he re-designed the whole site. I can’t really link to it, but here it is. Gorgeous. Take a look at Molly Brodak’s masterful consideration of whipped cream—for its own brilliant sake and to see what this site can do.
R.M. O’Brien, our managing editor, has brought down the house several times. If you were at our AWP party, you know what I mean, but there’s also his illustrious Revisionings beat, which began with Morgan Parker, continued with Laura Van Den Berg and Amelia Gray, and never failed to reshuffle and refine how I think about revision.
Natalia Castells-Esquivel managed our awesome Instagrammer-In-Residence program, and her guests gave us a glimpse of all kinds of literary activity. We will return with new batch of residents soon.
Rebecca Arrowsmith has quietly become integral to our site’s well-being. She sends the newsletter on Sundays and does this funny thing where she drinks different types of alcohol and then writes a draft.
And while I can’t have or do it all, at least not all at once, I do mean it all. I mean teaching, and I mean Real Pants. They are both about reading and writing. These things are elemental, though not simple. You wouldn’t believe what my students learn when they read. You wouldn’t believe what they learn when they write. It happens so fast and certainly. It’s harder for adults, but I want to do that here, too. I want Real Pants to keep asking of its readers what I ask of my students: to confront injustice, challenge assumptions, and ask questions.
Of course the thing to do at the end of the year (now the start of a new one, since I’ve taken so long) is to make a list.
I will end with my list for 2015:
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
This book is a sobering reminder that mass incarceration happens person by person. More on that here.
Claudia Rankine, Citizen
It’s been on every list, but I continue to encounter people who haven’t read Citizen, so I plan to keep listing it.
Lucy K Shaw, The Motion
I can’t believe I got to publish The Motion. Rather than defying or transcending or shattering genre distinctions, Lucy K Shaw simply ignores them and calls it fiction (but doesn’t object when it’s called something else).
Heidi Julavits, The Folded Clock
This book is so full of surprises that I haven’t finished it yet—and I love surprises.
Suzanne Scanlon, Promising Young Women
I didn’t want to share my private thoughts about this book before and I still don’t.
Amina Cain, Creature
Creature pleasantly asks readers to reconsider personhood altogether.
Michael Kimball, The One-Hour MFA
I’ve said, out loud and in my head, that this is the new Strunk & White, and I don’t mind saying it here, too.
Hanya Yanigahara, A Little Life
I’m still having nightmares.
Elena Ferrante, The Story of the Lost Child
As per custom, I read all of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels in a fever, and was compelled at every turn, and after all of it, when I read the very last sentence of the last novel, I gasped and cried and could not even believe it.
Jarod Roselló, The Well Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found
It’s cute until it isn’t. That’s a good thing.
Monica Fambrough, Soft Cover
I was reading poems from Soft Cover out loud to people.
Pearl Cleage, Things I Should Have Told My Daughter
I’m listening to the audiobook, which Cleage reads herself. My first favorite part is when she objects to being asked if she’s excited about having a baby (listen or read to find out why), and my second favorite part is everything about working for Maynard Jackson, the mayor of my childhood.
- The Body Still Isn’t A Temple: On Pregnancy and the Cult of Purity - July 14, 2017
- Women and Their Friends - June 23, 2017
- Announcing the Black Words Matter Anthology: Poems by Baltimore Students - April 14, 2017