A Conversation with Raina J. León

By Sonya Lara

This is the fifth in a series of blogs written by the editorial staff of the minnesota review interviewing editors and folks in publishing. We hope that these will shed some light on the industry and help you learn more about how, where, and why to submit your work. 

Raina J. León is a writer, coach, and Associate Professor of Education at Saint Mary’s College in California, and is a founding editor of The Acentos Review, a literary journal that “shoots from the spring that is the Acentos Bronx Poetry Showcase and The Acentos Foundation.” As editor, Raina supports Latinx writers and artists by reading through every submission, no matter what language they’re written in. Welcoming submissions in English, Spanish, Portuguese, a combination of those languages, and indigenous languages, The Acentos Review promotes and publishes the international Latinx community. 

This interview was conducted via Zoom during the Fall of 2019. To read the complete interview, please click here

SL: I love that The Acentos Review represents the international community of Latinx writers and artists. What was the thought behind that decision? How many submissions does The Acentos Review receive in other languages? What languages are those submissions written in? 

RJL: As far solicitation it’s really, really rare for me to request a particular piece. Most everything, I would say like 95% of our stuff, comes in through submissions. And for languages, we accept pretty much everything. If I don’t speak it, I can Google. So for me, personally, I suppose, being an editor, in particular, of The Acentos Review, and having a pretty in-depth reading capacity in Spanish and a basic reading capacity in Portuguese helps a great deal. And then, a lot of Romance languages I’ve either studied formally or informally. So if we’re in Romance language territory, I feel comfortable being able to read through something and being able to assess if it’s a fit for The Acentos Review at that time. And I should say, too, that as an editor, I work really hard to expand my aesthetic understandings so that The Acentos Review doesn’t have just [the frame of] if you write this kind of poem or if you write this kind of fiction, then you’re in. I like to read very widely, think about experimental forms, think about how people are using the page and white space, and what their influences are and all of that. You know I co-founded, but I have been the editor to keep us going for 11 years. And I’ve worked with a number of different guest editors along the way, who are incredible, and Lupe Mendez is actually going to step in as an associate editor for our next issue, so that’s a big change. I’m very excited. And I say that because I think that to have a diversity of aesthetics represented within The Acentos Review is absolutely key.

So why the international community? Because diaspora, and I think about what it means to be Latinx and to have, you know, grown up in Mexico and then lived in the States but now you’re in Spain and in the future, you’re going to be in Germany, because you’re everywhere, right? We’re everywhere. We follow the water, we follow the earth, we follow the wind. And yet there is this connectedness to home place, to culture, to cultura, to comunidad, to familia, and I bring those words, in particular, in Spanish, because I think that saying it that way is different, right?

I think about our emerging histories, our histories that rise into the present and then move into the future, and then the circularity of time and how we relive the past and yet challenge the past that would erase us. There’s so much, right? And if we’re just bound by the ludicrousness of like national borders, which are totally arbitrary, but remember that the sangre or the cultura is not arbitrary, that’s important. And so that’s why I think about connecting to international Latinx communities, and how we all identify. But that said, and this is really important to me, and we did this really early in our history,  I don’t make that determination of who identifies as Latinx. You got a Spanish last name and I’m just supposed to take it for granted that you identify as Latinx? I don’t. I don’t, because we have all sorts of names and reasons behind our names and the whitening of our names for different reasons (of survival mostly), and so one of the requirements for submission is to say, “being Latinx means ‘blank’ to me”. Right? Like it’s important for people to identify for themselves. And that’s not up to me.

SL: Why does The Acentos Review publish quarterly as opposed to bi-annually? 

RJL: I like the attractiveness of seasons. I like the connection to the seasons, and I also like the continuity of relationship with our readers. We actually have a pretty decent turnaround. It’s every three months so submissions aren’t hanging in the air too long. Because I know for myself as a writer, I don’t really like that either. To have submitted something six months ago or thirteen months ago and look at my Submittable thinking, am I ever going to get an answer? From submissions to when things are selected, it’s around three and a half months. We used to actually have a little bit shorter of a timeline between submission and publication. Now our timeline is about three and a half months instead of three. That extra two weeks is priceless. And my timing for review of things is much earlier. So when life happens, it never impacts our publication. So come hell or high water you can expect that every three months, there will be an issue. 

SL: How much editing can a piece need that you accept? 

RJL: I don’t do a lot of in-depth like line by line kind of editing. I respect when there are slight errors within pieces, because I like some transparency around process. So it’s not uncommon to find a small error in The Acentos Review, and I’m okay with that. I will get suggestions for updated versions from the submission cycle, and I always publish the form that they would prefer, especially if it’s true to what was accepted in some way. Once it is published, I will never, never remove it. And now my notes for acceptances always say, “this will remain in the online archive”. It doesn’t say forever, but it will remain forever. We all have these poems that make us think, I don’t know about that one anymore. And I know for myself, that I rarely read from my first book; there are these moments [when] I look at the work and I’m like, I was so young. And then there are these moments year years after that kind of reflection of, that was good. It was that poem, when I looked back, that I realized my youth. And there’s also a beauty in that youth that sometimes I want to brush over. But [youth] is important; it says something. It does work. It does work.

 

Raina J. León, Cave Canem graduate fellow (2006), CantoMundo fellow, Macondo fellow, and a member of the Carolina African American Writers Collective, has been published in numerous journals as a writer of poetry, fiction and nonfiction.  Her first collection of poetry, Canticle of Idols, was a finalist for both the Cave Canem First Book Poetry Prize (2005) and the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize (2006). Her second book, Boogeyman Dawn (2013, Salmon Poetry), was a finalist for the Naomi Long Madgett Prize (2010).  Her third book, sombra : (dis)locate, was published in 2016 as well as her first chapbook, profeta without refuge.  She has received fellowships and residencies with Cave Canem, CantoMundo, Montana Artists Refuge, the Macdowell Colony, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center, the Tyrone Guthrie Center in Annaghmakerrig, Ireland and Ragdale.  She also is a founding editor of The Acentos Review, an online quarterly, international journal devoted to the promotion and publication of Latino and Latina arts.  She is an associate professor of education at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Sonya Lara served as the Associate Fiction Editor for The Madison Review at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she received her BA in English-Creative Writing. Currently, she is the Co-Founder, Poetry Editor, and Social Media Manager for Rare Byrd Review, an Editor-at-Large for Cleaver Magazine, the Managing Editor for the minnesota review, and an MFA poetry candidate at Virginia Tech. Her work has appeared in Prairie Voices, Wisconsin’s Best Emerging Poets: An Anthology, Trestle Ties, and Heavy Feather Review. For more information, visit sonyalara.com.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s