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This project beganlooselyin April 2001 at the yearly Associated Writing Programs conference in Palm Springs, the least Northern place one could imagine. It sprung out of the discovery that an unusually large number of Northern writersin particular, writers from Michigan's Upper Peninsulahad passed through Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of serious Southern football and Dreamland BBQ. Which is odd in itself. The MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Alabama had somehow managed to woo a sizeable number of Michigan writers to coming down to a place where there, for all practical purposes, there is no winter.
What brought all these writers here? Not to mention those from Minnesota, Northern Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois?
I had been wrestling with questions for the last few years of what it was like for a Northern writer to be so far South. Or is there even such a thing as a Northern writer? And how did I know that I was one if there were such things? And if I was, how did I go about finding other like-minded obsessives?
We can probably say safely that there is a strong Southern literary tradition, even if it may be more a marketing construct than anything else. Everyone knows Southern writers (whether those writers want to be labelled as such or not), right?. Everyone knows what it means (at least stereotypically) to be a Southern writer. Dead mules. The racism. The ghosts of slavery and the struggle for civil rights. The Civil War / or the War of Northern Aggression, whatever you want to call it. Rural living. Lots of run-down things. Cars on blocks. Rusted machinery. Churches and bars.
Then what does the Northern writer have to deal with? Snow? Cold? Mining? What about that rural living? That rural life? The rusted-out cars on blocks? All the churches and bars? Sounds familiar...
And who qualifies as a Northern writer? Is it like the South where it sometimes seems like you have to be born and bred down South to be a Southern writer? Or does sharing one long winter qualify you as a Northern writer?
The editorial board and I wrestled with these questions for a while and decided to put together an anthology of Northern writing, which is what you see here. We put out a call for submissions and lassoed work from as many writers as we could think of who might want to weigh in on the Northern experience. We decided in the end not to limit submissions from geographical areas, since we figured our preconceived notions of what constitutes Northern writing would probably be asinine anyway. We simply asked for work that was in some way related to the North.
We ran a panel at the 2002 AWP conference in New Orleans and talked more about this. We heard differing viewpoints from New Englanders who certainly considered themselves Northern writers. We got submissions from ex-Northerners who had lived in North Dakota for years and had moved to Texas. We were asked why do an electronic anthology? Why not a print anthology?
Fine question. This project is as much about building community as it is about anything else. The web seemed like the perfect (and free) medium in which to do it, since the web isof necessityabout connections. Plus it's becoming increasingly accessible (and acceptable) as a medium for print. Sure, a webpage will never replace a good book (and we do hope to spin this project into a print anthology at some point, if we can find takersany suggestions?). But this is a start. And it gives us plenty of space in which to build. There will be more to come. Which is why we need you to help spread the word.
We received many more submissions than we could use in the end. We did the best we could in selecting work that spoke to our project, and which we thought was the best we received. I am sure we overlooked worthy work and let it slip through our grasp, but we did the best we could. All submissions were read by at least three people. Since our staff was spread out all over the country (a Northern diaspora!), we forwarded huge stacks of photocopies (or emails) around and discussed the work as we could. We chose the work we could (mostly) agree on, and which seemed like it lent itself best to our choice of the web as a medium.
Any project like this is bound to be contentious. What differentiates this work from anything else? Its subject matter? Its mode of expression? Its midwestern taciturnity? And who are we to define Northern (or Southernyou'll note all the stereotypes we were batting about above) writing, or writers?
Let's (finally) let the work speak for itself. And if you've got something to say in response to this project, or have suggestions or critiques, we'd like to hear from you.
Ander Monson, Editor