F R O M T H E E D I T O R
Like Water For A Bedouin
j a n u a r y 1 3 , 2 0 0 0
BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, WA -- The first weekend of 2000, I couldn't wait to open the Arts section of the newspaper. The Seattle Times had been running a weekly examination of the arts tout compris entitled "52 Works That Changed The Millennium" which I had followed only sporadically over the last few months. There it lay in synopsis form that First Sunday, for me to peruse while the rest of my family whiled away the day watching reruns of Y2K celebrations from around the world.
Suffice it to say, I finished reading the feature feeling a bit smug.
You see, Günter Grass made the list.
Now, Günter had already enjoyed a good year, clinching the 1999 Nobel Prize for Literature for his book, The Tin Drum. When that news broke last September, I was deeply entrenched in manuscript reads from the summer's call for submissions. While it is inspiring for me anytime a magical realist earns prestige and honor, I was so inspired that I took a break from reading manuscripts in order to do a little research into literary prize lists. The names I found there made all that reading for Margin (hundreds of submissions) so very worthwhile:
Allende, Amado, Angel Asturias, Barthelme, Ben Jelloun, Carey, Chamoiseau, Erdrich, Esquivel, Faulkner, Fuentes, García Márquez, Hulme, Kawabata, Kundera, Morrison, Oe, Okri, Paz, Rushdie, Walcott, Winterson...(an incomplete list, at best)
What do all of these writers have in common? Some connection to magical realism.
This is no big discovery among literary critics, academics or even the well read. Certainly these thinkers comprise the loop of those who know the power, beauty and relevance of magical realism. (They are likely reading my commentary, nodding, bored, uttering "yeah, so...")
I'm not ashamed to admit I'm on a journey. I've not been in the think-tank for some time. By virtue of lifestyle, I've had to forfeit quality reading time and dreams of graduate studies for a peregrination defined by Winnie The Pooh, phonics adventures and Barbie merchandise which could be, arguably, more magically real than all the tales our friend Günter might conjure. (Well, maybe not, but perhaps that is another worthy quest.)
I joined this excursion purely by accident. I wrote my first tale of (quasi-) magical realism in the late 80s for a Story Workshop course (the dreaded Tall Tale assignment) at Columbia College Chicago. I have written a couple of magical realist stories since 1996. Please understand: I wrote none of these with any foreknowledge whatsoever of the existence of magical realism. But I suppose that's the way many pilgrimages begin.
In 1996, a friend pointed me to Borges, García Márquez and Rushdie. Reading these works, I felt I had fallen into a world which spoke to me in images and poetics -- this was a virtual cache of hypnotic, important, life-defining books. Naturally, I sought to feed on more magical realism and Lo! I found it everywhere: Patrick Chamoiseau, Connie May Fowler, Keri Hulme, Shani Mootoo, even John Steinbeck (To A God Unknown).
Imagine yourself a Bedouin being given a glass of water. Surely, the way I felt begs the comparison.
At the time, I had been touring the Poets & Writers Speakeasy forum. "Magical Realism" finally opened up as a topic, from whence the big debate emerged: What is magical realism? I nabbed a paperback version of Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community (1995; Duke University Press) with birthday money to scout out a solution. While the book appears to be the best singular reference on the subject, I am still navigating it. Editors Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris take almost 600 pages to answer the question, so I suppose I am at liberty to take my own time.
Still, the debate rages.
When the opportunity (read: compulsion) arose to create a website with its sole purpose devoted to exploring magical realism's literary topography, I could hardly refuse. I say compulsion because being a full-time parent doesn't afford me the gift of free time. I decided that if I was going to spend free time I didn't have doing something, it better be something intellectual, useful and fascinating.
Welcome to Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism. Take the subtitle seriously, but venture a definition lightly. There is no simple answer to the question, What is magical realism? no more than there is a simple answer to the question, What is an oasis? Unless, of course, your answer is, "Something you see when you least expect it."
Allow me to introduce my partners in this expedition. I met both editors, S.L. Deefholts and Laura Ruby, online. How about that for serendipity -- a virtual staff editing works of magical realism through the Internet.
S.L. Deefholts, Margin's Consulting Editor, is by and large the site's dedicated magical realism specialist. It isn't enough that she studied the subject thoroughly in college; her astute and spirited observations can be found in the Cafe Utne magical realism forum, a topic which she created and directed for a couple of years. She isn't kidding when she says she's well-traveled -- she's lived in Germany, Japan and Canada and has traveled to many corners of the globe, including India, Australia, France, England and Mexico. Perhaps it is this additional exposure which makes her awareness of magical realism -- with its political and cultural underpinnings -- so particularly keen.
Laura Ruby and I have had the good fortune to know each other "in real life." Through our companionship at a Chicago-area writers' group, I found her to be one of the most discerning readers I've ever known: well-read, patient and open-minded. It was clear she also understood that while editors, students and teachers might look at a work of fiction with critical and technical goals, readers hold and apply their own sets of expectations which are no less valuable or valid. She's also a fine writer with an emerging fiction career of her own. My decision to solicit her opinions as Fiction Editor seems self-evident.
Finally, allow me to direct you to our caravan of stories. You'll find traditional settings and themes among more avant garde works, which is to say that this is, truly, a safari, with all of the website's pages together constituting a single map. Don't look for a big fat ×, though. Like a shimmering oasis, it won't be found if you look for it. Instead, look for the key. Her name is Katherine Vaz, and she's the subject of our first special feature on Contemporary Magical Realists. Hers is world-class talespinning of the variety that will endure -- in dream-shadows and peripheral thoughts -- for a lifetime. In her words you might very well find that shimmering oasis. Thirsty Bedouins, come hither.
Welcome to our trek. Stay awhile. Visit often (use a bookmark!). Let Margin be your guide across the desert. We promise, you won't go away thirsty, but you will become marvelously lost on this excursion. -- TKS, Editor
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