Issue 24 / Winter 2021 / Special Issue: Pleasure
Special Issue 24: Pleasure Means Moving Authentically
All year, we’re accepting work from writers of marginalized identities for the Quarterly. This first issue is devoted to BIPOC surrounding the idea of pleasure. Monica Prince, our managing editor, will tentatively edit all the issues; but she hopes to make room for editors who more closely align with the issues’ theme calls. Editors for each issue will write the introductions.
This intro has two strands: how I chose the community, and how I chose the theme.
Hopefully, by now, you know that the issue you’re about to read contains only BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) writers. There are obvious reasons for this exclusivity:
- Historically, SFWP and its online journal have published mostly white people (and if we’re really keeping track, mostly white women).
- There are only two paid positions at SFWP held by people of color.
- The concept of whiteness is a toxic domination that harms not just people of color but white people, too (raise your hand if you’re more offended by being called racist than actual racism).
I’m a Black cis woman running this journal. On average, I might get five BIPOC writers submit to the Quarterly in a year. Typically—it’s because I have to solicit the work.
This is unacceptable. Not just because Kamala Harris is the VP of the United States. Or because Meghan Markle is (was?) a princess/duchess. Or because communities of color have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19 deaths (while simultaneously being the only reason we don’t have a dictator in office right now #yourewelcome).
It’s just unacceptable. Women (most of us) have had the right to vote since the 60s. Same-sex marriage is legal. Trans people can serve in the military (again). Why is a press that’s been around for over twenty years still largely white with a Black managing editor?
In the fall of 2020, I joined a book club with my close friends from college—three other Black women looking to reconnect with their personhood during a tumultuous time. We read Pussy Prayers, a book about radical self-love for women of color, Black women in particular.
This book changed my life. Black Girl Bliss, the educational collective that wrote the book, emphasized through every single page the need to center one’s pleasure in order to return the power womxn contain from the jump. Every week, we’d meet and talk about how seen we felt, how we hadn’t considered something, how we needed to change.
I came away from Pussy Prayers with three new plans:
- I needed a new therapist—a Black woman (check!).
- My pussy deserved reparations.
- Pleasure should be the most important thing to me.
When we think about pleasure, many of us immediately think of sex. This issue of the Quarterly will lean into that notion at least a little bit.
But pleasure isn’t just about feeling good—it’s about authenticity. Experiencing your full range of emotions and selfhood without inhibition, judgment, or shame. Having a panic attack because it will help you process a trigger. Re-watching a TV series you’ve seen a dozen times because it allows you to relax. Enforcing your pronouns with a stranger who misgenders you.
Pleasure is about moving authentically. It’s about the spiritual work of being excellent. It’s about asking for what you want and leaving if it’s not provided.
The Two-Strand Twist:
I chose pleasure for the theme of our BIPOC writers issue because too often, publishing entities back writers of color into the corner of trauma porn. They ask us to submit to their contests and issues, and they expect us all to write about our skin color, our oppression, our anger. During the protests over the summer, a local activism group DM’d me on Instagram asking me to speak at a rally, requesting, and I quote, “In short, we want your pain.”
What about my joy? What about my peace? What about my pleasure?
Many of the writers in this issue talk about their pain; they write about the metaphysical dilemma Ntozake Shange offered: “being alive / n bein a woman / n bein colored.” The pleasure in these pieces isn’t only about sex and orgasm and love; it’s also about suffering, loss, anger. Pleasure—real pleasure is about entering an emotion with no assumptions and emerging whole, prepared for whatever is next.
I hope you will take this issue not with a grain of salt, but with a bubble bath, a box of chocolates, your favorite wine. I hope you will take it with a warm blanket, a lit candle, some spare tissues. I hope you will take it with the belief that pleasure exists outside of unexamined happiness, but also within truth.
This collection of poems, essays, short stories, and hybrid pieces aims to redefine what makes BIPOC writers great—not our collective suffering, but our collective excellence.
I think Audre Lorde would be proud.
In an effort to support our diverse writers, this year, we’re working toward paying our contributors. We want to keep our submissions free, so we’re asking for donations via Submittable but also via our individual posts. If you like something, feel free to donate! 100% of proceeds from published pieces go to the contributors, along with 100% of the royalties from our founder’s memoir: We All Scream by Andrew Gifford. If you’d like to donate to a piece you love, click the “Tip Jar” icon at the end of the piece. If you’d like to donate to all of the contributors (thank you!), click the “Tip Jar” icon at the end of this piece or the landing page. Feel free to subscribe to our Patreon as well for exclusive content and access to our Quarterly reading series!
All writers deserve to make money from their art if they so choose. Help us live up to this promise if you’re able.
Monica Prince, the managing editor for SFWP, teaches activist and performance writing at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. She is the author of How to Exterminate the Black Woman: A Choreopoem ([PANK], 2020), Instructions for Temporary Survival (Red Mountain Press, 2019), and Letters from the Other Woman (Grey Book Press, 2018). She is the co-author of the suffrage play, A Pageant of Agitating Women, with Anna Andes. Her work appears in trampset, The Rumpus, The Texas Review, MadCap Review, American Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter and check out her website.