- Portrait of the Artist
Self-doubt can be a writer’s best friend or mortal enemy. It all depends on how one directs the inner uncertainty that is the constant companion of every wordsmith who puts pen to paper for a living. Doubt can fuel the sharpening of a sentence to achieve a feeling of satisfaction. In another incarnation, the same uncertainty casts a dark shadow and slows a writer’s progress in a way that feels like physical and psychic paralysis. But most of the time a writer moves back and forth between certainty and uncertainty, creating a rhythm on the page that will engage a reader while at the same time satisfying an inner need to tell a story.
“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” Samuel Beckett’s concluding words from The Unnamable are the artist’s mantra, as those brief sentences reflect the turbulence that sometimes accompanies the creative process. For this issue of VQR, which features the work of emerging writers, photographers, and visual artists, I’ve thought a great deal about the creative process as I’ve watched this issue evolve during the editorial process. What drives a writer to create a particular story or character? How does a blank canvas become a work of art? What drives a journalist to pursue a particular story? Without a doubt, creative spark and ambition serve as the companion to bravery and doubt and drives the work of every artist.
In this issue, we spotlight our contributors’ willingness to take creative risks in any number of ways. It is this desire to break through and see or say something new that connects the work of our emerging writers and artists to those we are publishing in this issue who are already established in their craft.
Rather than just hours perched in front of a typewriter or computer screen turning sentences around, jobs outside the literary world shaped the work of many writers. John Steinbeck served as a caretaker at a fish hatchery, and at one time fiction writer George Saunders worked in a slaughterhouse. Cultural critic and essayist Mark Edmundson’s “A Paint-Factory Education” looks at how the role that a job he once held—mixing paint in a factory—helped shape him as a writer and push ahead his career as a literary critic and teacher. Edmund-son never got used to the physical demands of factory work, but finds that in retrospect the experience was as formative as what he learned from the pages of books he read in those stolen moments when he should have been working.
In his first contribution to VQR, journalist Dax-Devlon Ross has written a revealing piece of reporting on the role of race in jury selection in North Carolina. The American justice system depends on fairness and the full participation of citizens to work, yet, as Ross notes, “there is perhaps no arena of public life where racial bias has been as broadly overlooked or casually tolerated as jury exclusion.” In “Bias in the Box,” Ross takes a close look at the impact that the racial composition of a jury has on cases that involve the death penalty. This story is given further depth through the insights of those who have witnessed jury bias firsthand.
In addition to writers, this issue also features the work of five emerging photographers brought together by LOOK3 in Charlottesville. Every four years, LOOK3 holds LOOKbetween to identify and foster the work of promising early-career photographers. From that group, [End Page 10] VQR selected work that we felt matched our editorial mission to foster storytelling through the photography as well as publishing work that pushes the boundaries of the medium. The photographers we are featuring are national and international in scope: Anna Beeke, Lauren Grabelle, Eric Kruszewski, Alex Potter, and Yuyang Liu.
We also have a diverse group of stories for our fiction suite in this issue. Each story marks a real breakthrough for the five early-career writers we are publishing. For all of these writers, this is the first time their work has appeared in VQR. And for several, this marks their...