On this Featured Friday, we interviewed feminist editor and writer, Sheila McMullin. Read more about her and her work below:
Fem: You do a lot for feminism and writing. Do you mind listing the magazines/organizations you work with?
Sheila McMullin: I’d love the opportunity to list the magazines and organizations I partner with! Thank you!
I am on the Web Team and serve as the Assistant Managing Editor. I write a column, called “Spotlight On!,” featuring and celebrating literary publications that publish exemplary work and include within their pages a diverse representation of writers. I manage the press kit and events calendar (send your feminist events to firstname.lastname@example.org) among some other tasks. And this year I was integral to managing and releasing the first Women of Color Count. This has been an exciting year to volunteer with VIDA.
I volunteer as Managing Editor and Poetry Editor for this print journal dedicated to emerging female writers. We are a home for cis and trans women’s writing.
As Communications and Outreach Coordinator, I volunteer to build an ever-inclusive and diverse online journal, while also focusing on growing a local Washington DC literary community.
My own website, which in my ideal world I’d work on full-time. It would be a feminist resource hub. As of now, in addition to stuff about my work, I have a continuously growing Resource Page, posts on local poetry and feminist literary happenings, book reviews, interviews. It’s a place to go and feel excited and proud about identifying as a feminist.
I also work for and volunteer a few different after-school programs including Writopia Lab, Shout Mouse Press, and Higher Achievement. I think any organization that intentionally builds creative confidence, celebrates, empowers the voices of young people is feminist, whether they self-identify or not.
F: We’ve featured your work on The Fem before. What made you choose us?
SM: You definitely chose me, in a cosmic sort of way. One day I got a ping back to one of the WordPress sites I manage with a url directing me to a page called “We Recommend” where The Fem mentioned a few of the lit magazines with which I was/am affiliated. You were brand new then, I think, and knowing that part of your first intentions was to build community made me want to know you and be a part of your universe. I love your attention to intersectional feminism and commitment to publishing writers throughout the gender spectrum. Your dedication to your writers to have a continuous relationship with them is something to learn from, and I have always been appreciative of.
“Luna Communicate,” the poem you accepted (thank you!) is unique to me and was rejected a lot before you published it. That poem is deeply rooted in my home. I felt like you had been created for me and would eventually find me. And you did, and now we share a home.
F: What makes writing feminist?
SM: Sarah Vap, Todd Fredon, Sara Ahmed, Alice Notley, Laura Redniss, Jazz, Ursula K. LeGuin, Audre Lorde, Amanda Hess, Amy Schumer, Dana Walrath, Sam Chanse, Claudia Rankine, Regie Cabico, Donna Haraway, Helene Cixous, Sonya Renee Taylor, Susan Sontag, Cameron Esposito, Jack Kornfield, Bhanu Kapil, bell hooks, Amber Lyon, Lizzie Velasquez, Becky W. Thompson, Julia Kristeva, Tarfia Faizullah, Lynda Barry, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Kathleen Hanna, Lisa Marie Basile, Beauty is a Verb, VIDA, #Binders all, plus so many more, seem to be making writing feminist. I think, you make it feminist.
F: What feminist issues are you most passionate about?
SM: I’d like to Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany this question. God, I’d love to be a part of so much more.
But my current focus is on youth empowerment and fostering safe spaces for youth, diversity and gender parity in publishing, something I like to call “bravery training” or “empathy training” (I talk about it briefly in an interview with Diana Raptosh), and trash clean-up especially along our waterways.
F: Have you always been a poet? What initially drew you to poetry?
SM: I think so. At the risk of cliché, as children we are all poets. We grow older and lyric translation of our experiences is often discouraged or suppressed, or we find other modes of art or craft that represent us more practically.
I stood with poetry. Poetry is part of my bravery training—acknowledging the hardest parts of being a person in the world with language and working to do that on my own terms.
I think in fragments. I’m not a compartmentalizer—everything is always associated and part of an infinitely larger story. Poetry makes sense of this and the “neighborhood I try not to go into alone” as Anne Lamont says of the mind.
F: Are there any common themes we can find in your poetry? What are they?
SM: I tend to rely on others to tell me what common themes they find in my work. I find that when I write toward a theme, the poem feels stunted and forced. And I love hearing what associations arise in readers—it helps me know my work better.
Others have said they see common themes of daughterhood, relationships with the speaker’s mother, sexuality, shame, illness, romantic love, rage, “bad” women, nature and connections to wild environments, sexual violence, and escape fantasies. I believe these all to be quite accurate.
F: We know plenty of writers who need a particular atmosphere in order to write. Do you have any writing must-haves, if so what are they?
SM: Being near a large body of water is my ideal atmosphere, although my current proximity doesn’t always afford this. Sometimes I’ll time running the dishwasher with writing because it sounds like waves.
I thought the MFA would teach me a kind of regiment, and I’d develop must-haves and be super productive. Alas, it did not, so sometimes I feel a bit stranded when trying to build a creative environment. I don’t feel like I have one now. I do know, though, that quiet is better with the option to stand up and pace, then sit and jot, pace again. I also prefer my cat on my lap, because he’s a good excuse for distraction and really cute to look at.
In terms of creation, though, I take a lot of notes and mostly write in my journal and transcribe onto the computer. I write “morning pages,” yes… from The Artist’s Way. The entire book isn’t my favorite, but I appreciate the concept of morning pages—it’s like yoga and meditation for me—it’s always a slog to get going because it brings up the gunk and hurt, but the awareness is a part of attending to our love and engaging in the world thoughtfully. I feel more patient and able after.
If people are not being aggressive, dangerous drivers, sometimes, the car seems to be a generative space and I’ll record line. Huh, the more I write here the more I’m finding out about myself!
Oh! Working a 9-6 desk job with little responsibility was very productive for my submissions stats. All day long I just put poetry packets together, sent them and my manuscript off. I didn’t like that job, so I left, but I was thankful for that productivity and the chance to be paid enough to pay for submissions fees.I highly recommend a “low stakes” desk job for anyone trying to finish their book. You get paid, probably have benefits, and energy saved for your creativity. And since it has nothing to do with your art, there won’t be that emotional turmoil associated with quitting when you choose to move on. Don’t buy into anyone who makes you feel bad for the type of job you might have at the moment. You need to care for yourself to do your smart, poetic writing, and to do what you need to do. In part that means not being financially undervalued. I know this is a frequent fight for women.
F: Who are your biggest writing and/or feminist influences?
SM: Todd Fredson. I attribute a lot of my creative confidence and political passion to him—he was my first friend and mentor making a life out of creative values. Sarah Vap because she helps me place shame into context, reminds me shame is placed onto you, and you don’t owe the poem politeness. “End of the Sentimental Journey” taught me how to write shamelessly.
VIDA, and Amy King, Lynn Melnick, Cate Marvin, in particular. I’ve been working closely with them on VIDA projects recently. I see what it means to be mission driven, work fucking hard, and be so smart and nuanced. It is incredible how much they get done and all in the effort of consciousness rising and community building.
Sheila McMullin is Assistant Editor for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. She is Managing Editor and Poetry Editor for ROAR Magazine, as well as Communications and Outreach Coordinator for District Lit. She works as an after-school creative writing and college prep instructor and volunteers at her local animal rescue. She holds her M.F.A. from George Mason University. Find her, along with her publications and awards, online at her feminist and resource website: MoonSpitPoetry.com. Follow her on Twitter @smcmulli.