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  • Editor's Notes

First, I'd like to thank Jaquira Díaz, 2016–18 KR Fellow, for being our guest editor in this issue for prose—fiction and nonfiction. She's selected a fantastic array of work that will provoke both delight and thoughtful engagement.

Reading this issue of the Kenyon Review, however, won't be easy. Sorry. It's not Jaquira's fault!

It's true, in fact, of everything we publish: the stories, the poems, the essays, in print and digitally at KROnline as well. Such is the way of literature—it's meant to challenge. Light entertainment can be found elsewhere. Naturally enough, I've long believed that the rewards of engaging great creative work are well worth it. Yes, there's the surprise and delight of the immediate reading experience, as I've often written about before. But I also believe that literature allows us to see deeply into the human situation and, indeed, into what makes us human in a way nothing else can do.

With poetry, of course, the challenges presented to a reader are obvious, whether in metaphor, elliptical structure, the evocative collision of imagery, or countless other strategies. That deliberate intention goes back at least a hundred years or so. For the early-modernist poets such as Ezra Pound and Langston Hughes, H. D. and Wallace Stevens, the ideal readers were those who shared their aesthetic as well as their political views—that the bourgeois and racist moral satisfactions of British and American society were vacant and even corrupt. Poetry, difficult poetry, could embody a defiance of those moral norms and an alternative to them. It took a serious and skilled reader to fully embrace the work, and that remains true today, though the ranges of poetic style and reach are more extensive than ever. [End Page 1]

On the other hand, as a story writer myself, I've long puzzled over why many readers of fiction remain wary of literary journals. What with the limited time and even more limited attention spans we are always hearing about, why haven't more of them (of us) turned away from lengthy novels to embrace shorter-form fiction, such as that found in these pages, as well as in collections and anthologies?

Over time I believe I've come to a surmise. Successful novels (even literary ones that are challenging in their own way), sweep their readers up and along. In any one session, readers can immerse themselves in plot and character and an author's sensibility for as long, or as briefly, as they please. After they've stepped away for whatever period, on returning, the narrative readily embraces them once more.

Different though they are from each other, however, the short stories we publish are all hard and crystalline and pure as gemstones. Peer closely and you'll see that they're compressed, as if under great pressure. Every word, every gesture, every subtle turn in the narrative trajectory or a startling decision by a character affects the entire tale, though we may not appreciate it until the end. Indeed, I'd argue that great stories demand rereading in order to be fully realized.

Subscribers often confess to me with a guilty smile that they don't read the Kenyon Review from cover to cover, as if somehow that's a failure. Of course you don't, I respond. Neither would I. Each story or set of poems requires a commitment and attention that are nearly total. Why should we shift our mental and emotional attention immediately to a next, entirely different and equally challenging, piece of literature? Not only will it immediately present new demands, but the pieces will be of a totally new order.

So please, don't try and read this issue from cover to cover. But dig in, yes, do engage in the struggle. Savor the gems published in these pages. It's not for everyone. But it's for you. [End Page 2]




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