There is a lot more that goes into a dinner invitation in my home than comes out in a casual, “you should come over for dinner!” Many see dinner at a friend’s house as no big deal, but the political history behind historical and even modern dinner parties cuts to the core of what it means to be social animals, to leave ourselves vulnerable to critique and open to friendship. Or at least it does for me, a Millennial plagued with at least a few stereotypical conditions: a healthy dollop of social anxiety, a preference for technological communication, and concerns about what makes me really an adult.

I spent most of my 20s meeting people on “neutral” ground – cafés, bars, restaurants, school – places that provided the ambiance and food options for me rather than making me do all the work. While I rarely saw those locations as fancy, and we didn’t always love dining hall food in college, those locations didn’t intimately reflect on me the way a dinner in my home does. The restaurant was a middle ground, a space where we could appreciate it or dislike it without claiming it as our own, as part of ourselves. More importantly, I had only had my own bodies to reckon with for potential judgment; people judging other people’s bodies is no new thing, but many people have the luxury of putting on a clean outfit, brushing their hair, and pretending like everything is fine, whether it is or it isn’t. I had a lot of rough days during my 20s, but when I met someone for coffee, I got to choose how much they saw of my stress, while my home was often an untidy wreck behind closed doors. More… “Reviving the Dinner Party”

Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Olivia Gatwood is a poet, performer, and educator. A Brave New Voices, Women of the World, and National Poetry Slam finalist, her poetry has been featured on HBO, Huffington Post, MTV, VH1, and BBC. Her latest book, New American Best Friend, reflects her experiences growing up in both New Mexico and Trinidad, navigating girlhood, relationships, class, and sexuality. Olivia is also a Title IX Compliant educator in sexual assault prevention and recovery and has performed internationally at over 200 schools and universities.
Ever since discovering Olivia’s poetry on Youtube at 16, her words have become a constant in my life. They’ve made their way into sleepovers, my irrational horror at the doctor’s office, and early-morning bus rides. They’ve helped me in times of uncertainty, encouraging me to take pride in the things I was once ashamed of. Olivia was kind enough to speak with me about her work and experience as a poet, Title IX educator, and her upcoming book, set to release with The Dial Press/Random House in 2019.

More… “Ode to Olivia”

Returning to the States after two years in Poland – during which I had married, taught English, and witnessed the rise of Solidarity and the imposition of martial law – I suggested to my wife that we live in Philadelphia.

I had always liked the city, not least because I owed my existence to it. Somewhere in its folds in 1941, my father, a student at Penn Law School, met my mother, a nurse at the Children’s Hospital. As parents, upriver in New Jersey, they introduced my brothers and me to the zoo, the Franklin Institute, Connie Mack Stadium, Elfreth’s Alley. Years later, as a student at Villanova, I took the Paoli Local in to watch Big Five basketball at the Palestra and, one memorable evening, strippers at the Trocadero Theater. In my junior year I bought my first pair of round tortoiseshell glasses – the same style I wear today – at Limeburner Opticians on Chestnut Street. More… “Out of Philadelphia”

Rolanda D. Bell is an actress and singer from Oakland. Recently, she was featured as Nak in the film Blindspotting (created by Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs). Outside of being very excited about this film, I was pleasantly shocked to see Bell, a plus-sized black woman, in an industry that tends to favor standard size, fair-skinned women of color. I had the opportunity to speak with Bell about what inspired her to start acting, the difference between working in theater verses working in film, and presentations of plus-sized black women in film. She will also appear in the Netflix film, All Day and a Night (created by the cowriter of Black Panther, Joe Robert Cole) coming Summer 2019. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “Resonating Roles”

It began in the 11th grade in Dr. Hannum’s class on the 19th-century British novel. I was already a Dickens fan. I had read David Copperfield in the tenth grade and liked it so much that I spent the summer between tenth and 11th grades reading Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and A Tale of Two Cities. But it was Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native that tipped the scales. I had bought the book for the course so that particular copy I already owned. By the time we had finished reading it, I wanted to own other books like it. Trollope, Thackeray, Austen, Meredith, the Brontës, all the great British novelists who wrote those tomes with complicated, melodramatic plots and dozens of idiosyncratic characters. Whenever I needed a refuge from 20th-century agnst, I would step back into Jane Austen’s Netherfield Park where men wore frock coats and pursued vaporous women, to Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers where determined clerics and their ambitious wives maneuvered for power and influence in a rural English diocese, or I would join Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson as they tracked their arch enemy Professor Moriarty through London’s fogbound streets. I wanted those books. I needed those books. More… “A Not-So-Curious Fascination”

It’s unusual for anyone to wish they could be as cool as a cartoonist, but Julie Doucet is the rare exception to that rule. In her groundbreaking 1990s series, Dirty Plotte, Doucet delineated an aesthetic that was brazen, clever, funny, and broke taboos like they were cheap ceramic plates. Reading her comics, you could be excused for wishing you had an ounce of her fearlessness, at least when it came to putting ink on paper.

Now, all 12 issues of that seminal series have been collected in the rather massive The Complete Dirty Plotte, an impressive two-volume slipcase that also includes stories done for anthologies, essays, interviews, and other esoterica. More… “Dirty Plots”

The opening of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire begins with a ship waiting in the middle of the night. It is dark, foggy, unsettling. Another boat approaches and they begin shifting boxes of whiskey from one ship to the other. A nameless character asks them to hurry, “I’m a sitting duck out here,” while another refers to the whiskey as “liquid gold.” The show about prohibition begins with the risks taken by rum and whiskey runners to import booze into the United States throughout the 1920s. Like other facets of popular culture that represent this period, the majority of show dwells on the criminality: the gangsters, the corrupt politicians, the members of law enforcement/IRS/Post Office that are attempting to hunt the “bad guys.” Scarface, Some Like it Hot, Robin and the 7 Hoods, The Untouchables, Lawless to Boardwalk Empire focus their efforts on the sordid, seedy, and sexy details of breaking the law. Hugh Ambrose’s posthumously published Liberated Spirits, takes a different tack. More… “Kindred Spirits”

This is the last piece we worked on with D.B. Jones who died on the morning of October 29th. Jones was a great advocate for our publication, was always wonderful to go back and forth with about edits, and he had a wonderful way of simplifying everything to the root. We will miss him greatly.

Sometime in the year 2000, I think, I came across a news story reporting that explorers had found the source of the Amazon, the world’s largest river. The group making the discovery was an international, 22-person expedition sponsored by three of our most potent supporters of scientific research: the Smithsonian Institution, the National Geographic Society, and the Defense Department. With the aid of satellite mapping technology, laptop computers, and the Defense Department’s global-positioning satellite system, the explorers located “the point of flowing water the farthest distance from the mouth” as a tiny stream high on a slope of an 18,363-foot mountain in Peru called Nevado Mismi.

Having grown up with a love of exploring and a fascination with maps, I could relate to this story and imagine what an adventure it must have been. Half a century earlier, when we were 11, my friend Owen and I went on an analogous venture one August day and made a structurally similar discovery: the source of Shrine Park Creek, just outside of Leavenworth, Kansas. The creek arose west of town, winding eastward through Shrine Park before entering the city limits. In town it meandered through an industrial area, then inched past a row of tarpaper shacks and oozed through the city dump before emptying into the Missouri River. More… “The Source”

I didn’t change my last name in some symbolic act of patricide; it never felt that radical. I’d been estranged from my father and his family for most of my adult life. Throughout my childhood he appeared like the occasional summer storm cloud in an otherwise blue sky — the kind that quickly accumulates in hot weather, brings momentary relief from the sun, and then, with the most incremental atmospheric change, explodes with lightning and crushing torrents of rain. If the idea behind a surname is to serve as a marker of the people you come from, the tribe you belong to, then mine should have always reflected my mother. Simple.

For years, I considered making the change to Sanderson, my mother’s maiden and current name, but the sheer pain-in-the-assness of it always got in the way. Switching the important stuff — social security card, driver’s license, passport, bank things — didn’t worry me. Everything else — social media accounts, Amazon Prime membership, upcoming event tickets, my dog’s name at the vet — worried me. It’s overwhelming, but in June of 2017, I finally decided to pull the trigger. More… “Navigating Name Change”

Sylvia Plath has a way of showing up in everything I do. I find her in the essays I write, the things I say, the movies I watch — even the clothing I choose to wear. She is ever-present, ever-changing, working her way into my writing and conversations. I spoke with Emily Van Duyne, a writer, scholar, and feminist, who has also been heavily influenced and shaped by Plath, an American writer and poet best known for her novel The Bell Jar and poetry collections such as Ariel and The Colossus and Other Poems. Emily Van Duyne is an assistant professor of writing at Stockton University in New Jersey, where she is also affiliated with faculty in Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Harvard Review, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Meridian, and Literary Hub, among others. She has written many essays about Plath and is currently at work on a critical memoir called Loving Sylvia Plath. You can tweet her @emilyvanduyne.

More… “Pondering Plath”