Fem: Tell us a little bit about your magazine, Lumen.
Rosemary Donahue: Lumen is a space for cis women, trans women, and nonbinary folks to tell their stories. Yesenia and I wanted to help carve out a space in the literary world built on inclusivity and acknowledgement, because our identities are all multi-faceted and we need to meet each other where we are. We have a blog section that we update a few times a week, as well as a magazine of poetry, fiction, memoir, and more that is published online quarterly.
F: You’ve said that you’re very involved in the editor’s role when it comes to your work in Lumen. What’s your perspective as an editor? In what ways does it differ from your perspective as a writer?
RD: That’s a great question. I hear so many times from writers who have submitted work to other outlets, received acceptance, and then found their writing ripped to shreds. While I appreciate that these editors see something in the pitch or first draft and are willing to work with the writer, I don’t think it’s fair to accept work if the core of the piece is actually not right for the publication. As an editor, I try to help shape work in such a way that it becomes more clear and engaging for readers while maintaining the particular voice of the writer. After all, we choose these pieces because we enjoyed them from the start! I think that when editors try to shape a piece into their own voice rather than helping the writer develop their viewpoint, it becomes a case of “just write it yourself.” Of course, I’m not advocating that editors steal ideas from writers, but they also shouldn’t accept pieces that aren’t really in the style of their publication. This year, with Lumen, I’ve made it my goal to find the balance between editing a piece such that it’ll fit in with the Lumen style, and allowing the writer to run with their own stylistic choices.
As far as my own writing process, I aim to write in such a way that my personality and style is apparent but is still relatable to a large audience. I write with the editor in mind, and try to make things as clear as possible from the start so that the editors I work with won’t have too much cleaning up to do.
F: How do you seek to build community among your fellow writers? What do these connections mean to you?
RD: Oh, dang. Developing a sense of community through my work has been, by far, the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Some of our submissions come in unsolicited, but many are formed through conversations with writers we already know. For instance, Alexis Orgera, a writer who has work in Issue 01 of Lumen, recently came to me with a wonderful idea for a series on our blog, and I’m working to develop the idea with her. I think it’s so important to support each other in our writing endeavors, and I make a conscious choice to reach out to people I know have something important to say and offer to work with them on shaping a piece, in whatever capacity they should require from me. These connections have been invaluable to me; I find that my own writing has transformed because I’m lucky enough to read and become inspired by the work of others on a daily basis. I feel so honored to be welcomed into the lives of so many brilliant people, and to have formed a group of people to go to for writing advice, editing help, or simply venting and celebrating about stumbling blocks and successes.
In your view, what do you think are some of the biggest challenges of being a feminist? How do you think we can all go about being more inclusive as a community?
RD: I think we’re up against a lot. So many of the structures in place that inform how society works are not set up to be inclusive or to provide equal opportunities for all people. Sexism runs rampant, racism is FAR from dead, and we often fail to acknowledge economic disparities between white women and women of color. I think a big problem here is that people fail to see beyond their own experiences; sometimes, our own hurts feel too loud to hear that other people are in pain, too. We need to open up our communities to people coming from different experiences, and we need to “pass the talking stick,” especially those who are part of a group often afforded a platform to speak. Acknowledging privilege is hard, but crucial.
F: You’ve spoken a lot about how the patriarchy negatively impacts both men and women. Would you like to elaborate on that?
RD: When my partner and I first started talking, we read bell hooks’ The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love together. It opened my eyes to some ideas that are actually kind of controversial within feminist discussions, but that I believe are crucial. In the book, she writes, “The masculine pretense is that real men feel no pain.” Men are taught that emotional expression is “feminine” and wrong, and this begins a cycle of violence and rage — when there is no outlet for human emotion, and when violence is encouraged as an appropriate form of male expression, we all lose. Many have a hard time acknowledging that men are in pain due to patriarchal structures, but to dismantle the behaviors and language that harm marginalized folks, we have to examine how everyone is affected. It’s funny; some of the things that MRAs fight for are actually feminist! For example, having changing tables in men’s restrooms would acknowledge equal parenting roles and equality in relationships, and would be a step away from the notion that caring for children is “women’s work.”
F: How has feminism impacted your daily life?
RD: I’ve found more confidence and strength in myself over the years, as I’ve read more work from feminists and approached important discussions from a feminist angle. I think that having these ideas in the back of my mind provides a sort of compass for the decisions I make and informs the way I interact with others. I also think it’s important that, as feminists, we acknowledge we are never done learning, and that my feminism might look different from yours. However, ALL feminism must aim to be inclusive and must put ego aside for the sake of progress. I’ve learned how to apologize, how to listen, and how to acknowledge my own weaknesses and privileges.
Rosemary Donahue is a freelance editor, writer, and co-publisher of Lumen Magazine. She loves talking about books, cuddling with her dogs, and inventing new words. Send podcast recommendations and recipes to email@example.com, and find her online at rosemarydonahue.com and as @rosadona on Twitter and Instagram.