Suzi F. Garcia is an editor for Noemi Press, a 501(c)(3) arts organization founded in 2002 and currently housed at Virginia Tech. She graciously agreed to my questions. I was excited to hear Suzi’s thoughts about working with a press, on navigating first forays into publishing, and what advice she would give for those just starting out in their chosen literary communities.
MAKENSI CERIANI: As a poetry editor for Noemi Press and reader for The Nation, how does reading submissions for a press compare to reading submissions for a literary journal or single poem publication? How differently do you engage with submissions for a press versus a journal?
SUZI F. GARCIA: As a screener for The Nation, it’s the first time I’ve looked at independent poems for publication, rather than a manuscript, in a long time, and it was an adjustment. When I look at a manuscript, I look for potential, for a book I connect with and where I can see the author’s values, even if it is not perfect. We take a year to two years to publish a book, which means the author can edit the manuscript over several conversations throughout the process, and I form a relationship with the author.
When screening for poems, I am looking for a finished (or near finished) product. Maybe a title or single word or line can be changed, but the poems I am reading for The Nation are generally not edited between submission and publication. And the poems are published individually, so they must make a bigger statement alone, because they are decontextualized from the arc of the book.
For both though, I am thinking about the mission of the press/publication. For Noemi, my own aesthetics matter because I shape the mission as an editor. For The Nation, I take my cues from the editors, Carmen Giménez Smith and Steph Burt. They make the final choices, and even if something isn’t my aesthetic, if the writing is strong, it is my job to pass that along and they shape the aesthetic of the journal.
What qualities do you look for in a piece of writing? What makes a poem riveting to you, both as a writer and as an editor?
As an editor, I am looking for a poem that feels thoughtful, that is not relying on expected poetic tropes, but changing them up, particularly with unique voice.
When I am looking at a manuscript, I recently described my aesthetic as “messy.” I want to read and work with authors that are vulnerable and complex. The writers I’ve worked with: Jennifer Tamayo, Vanessa Villarreal, Hannah Ensor, Grace Liew, etc. They are all engaging in vulnerable and raw, emotional interrogations. Each poem deepens or changes the perspective, but they use different techniques and voices to do so.
How do you think about issues of diversity while you are selecting submissions?
Diversity is easy to accomplish when you work with a diverse community. Our staff at Noemi is diverse, so we see diverse people submit. I know people are often concerned with how anonymous submissions affect diversity, but because our readers and our staff and our submitters are from many different communities, we’ve never had to address that issue.
How did you first establish yourself in the publishing and editing community? How did your MFA in Creative Writing change the way you thought about presses and journals, if at all?
I got into writing because I enjoyed editing, and to edit the literary magazine at my school you had to have taken a creative writing course. I was the co-editor (alongside my partner, who is also a poet) at my community college and my undergraduate literary journals. I got involved at Noemi because I had a friend that knew the publisher, Carmen, through CantoMundo and thought I was a fit.
I took an internship during my MFA at Hachette Book Group in Grand Central Publishing. I really enjoyed that! I got to learn a lot about many different types of publishing, including romance, non-fiction, literary fiction, graphic novels, etc. I loved the people, though there were interesting diversity issues. Still, I really enjoyed my internship, and I learned a lot that has helped me as a writer as well, about what a top 5 publishing house expects and can provide.
In what ways has your insider, publishing knowledge changed your approach when you consider your own writing for submission?
I definitely think about how the poems I send out work together or individually. I have some shorter poems that work better together, that I certainly would not send somewhere that is looking to only publish one poem. I also think I don’t take rejections as hard anymore, because I’ve seen beautiful poems rejected because at the end of the day, space is a real issue. I take it to heart when editors ask me for work, or write me notes, because I know that many are doing it for no to little pay, and I appreciate them taking that time.
What advice do you have for individuals who may be looking to work for small presses? To get their foot in the door of literary editing and publishing?
Look for a press that has the same aesthetics and values as you. Do your research. Approach them, in person if possible (at AWP etc.), and show them that you’re passionate. Be clear about why you’re interested and what you think you could bring. Small press publishing means wearing many hats, and there are multiple aspects to the business. What can you bring?
What would you tell someone just starting out in their MFA program? What do you wish you had done differently, or taken advantage of more, during your time as an MFA candidate?
Many people struggle during their MFA, particularly people from marginalized communities. Like all of academia, it can be an isolating space. It was for me too. However, that doesn’t mean I think it can’t be worthwhile. Instead, I recommend diversifying and personalizing your MFA as much as possible. Part of the way I got through my MFA was taking courses in other programs. I left my MFA with two minors (Gender Studies and Screen Cultures). These minors fed my writing, and they also provided what I was missing from my education: real conversations about how race, gender, sexuality, etc. are situated. And they provided me with a community. One of my best friends to this day is the person with whom I taught Gender Studies, and my references after I graduated came from those programs.
What’s some of the best writing advice someone has ever given you? (What would you consider bad writing advice?)
I think the best advice is to remember that publishing is not a race, not to compare myself to others.
There’s a lot of bad advice out there, but there’s also a lot of advice that is individual. It may not be bad advice for you, but it may be bad advice for me. Writing is personal—how we do it, when we do it, if/how we publish it. It takes some trial and error to figure out how we each work best.
Suzi F. Garcia is the daughter of an immigrant and holds an MFA in Poetry with minors in Gender Studies and Screen Cultures. She is an Editor at Noemi Press and a screener for the poetry section of The Nation. She is a CantoMundo fellow, a representative for the Latinx Caucus, and a Macondista. Her writing can be found in Vinyl, Fence, The Offing, and more. Find her at @SuziG on Twitter or at www.SuziFGarcia.com
Makensi Ceriani is a first year poet at Virginia Tech. She is a poetry reader for the minnesota review.