It has been a great honor to serve as the editor in chief of Lunch Ticket Special, which celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Antioch University’s MFA in creative writing by offering new and previously published work by alumni from the entire two-decade span of the low-residency program.
I was originally drawn to Antioch’s MFA, and later to its online, student-run journal, Lunch Ticket (now in its fifth year of publication), because of the university’s historical mission: to provide “learner-centered education to empower students with the knowledge and skills to lead meaningful lives and to advance social, economic, and environmental justice.” Similarly, Lunch Ticket has sought to provide a platform for underrepresented voices, sometimes successfully and sometimes less successfully, but always with the honest desire to improve its methodology. At the time, I interpreted my personal interest in social justice as a desire to write about something other than myself. Ironic, because after completing my MFA, I return to what I’ve avoided: the personal sphere. But rather than the goal, self-knowledge is now a side effect of something greater I want to accomplish.
Social justice can have an expansive or narrow focus. It can emanate from a handful of the like-minded, or a community—or even a country. It can encompass two billion Facebook users or the entire globe. On a daily basis, we telescope from the personal to the interpersonal, our friendships and peers, and then outwards to the struggles of communities, societal ills, or global epidemics. These spheres often clash. During one of my Antioch MFA residencies, a student chained herself to a red-marked ficus. Its roots were disturbing the business-center plaza’s foundations. As a person who adores trees, I understood her rage, yet to fix the damaged structure would create a larger carbon footprint than felling the tree.
Recent political and cultural discourse have often felt like the byproducts of misplaced idealism, focusing on either the macro or the micro, with no room for mutual necessity, no litmus test for distortion. Misplaced idealism leads to weariness, or worse, resignation. We have inherited this earth with its concrete plazas, floating continents of garbage, racism, war, and misogyny. We have inherited the mistakes of our ancestors, and are not immune to making our own. So where do we go from here?
While assembling this journal, I asked my good friend and fellow Zephyr, Heather Hewson, to contribute her visual art. During the course of our MFA, we both dealt with a disproportionate amount of life shit. I will not betray her confidentiality; let’s just say that her shit was at least on par, if not greater than, my own. And mine was high voltage: cousin murdered in the Galapagos, mother attacked in a violent home invasion, husband institutionalized and then disappeared, emergency custody, divorce, lawsuits, liens… Suffice to say, we were both out with the old, even before we knew it was old. Or maybe we were just out. And yet, our shared laughter has been the manna for this not-quite midlife gut purge.
When she provided her portfolio, “Landscapes and Animals,” this one struck me. I suggested we should collaborate together, her as the illustrator, me as the writer. As a storyline idea: an episode from my preschooler’s terrible tantrums, both funny and tragic, reflecting his undigested pain over the disappearance of his father.
How can this friendship, among the countless others I made during my MFA, possibly reflect our mission of social justice?
It comes as no surprise that our many featured alumni speak directly to the pervasive social justice issues of our age, such as Naomi Benaron’s story about a Rwandan refugee, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo’s collection of poems about border crossing, Antoinette Brim’s “Walmart Poem,” about the fragility of black bodies, and Reyna Grande’s National Critics Circle Award-nominated memoir, The Distance Between Us. Other alumni mirror in their work their respective positions as literary citizens. Daniel José Older, a social media force, champions diversity in publishing, specifically within the YA and fantasy genre. Joe Jiménez and Wendy C. Ortiz are also vocal advocates for inclusivity. An excerpt from Gayle Brandeis’ prize-winning novel, The Book of Dead Birds, explores themes of misogyny, as do the poems “Comfort Woman,” “Why I am Not a Taxidermist,” and “The Loneliest Place in the World is in a Crowded Room with You.” Susan Southard’s award-winning book, Nagasaki: A Life After Nuclear War, addresses the terrible costs of war, as does an essay by US Marine Corps veteran, Lisbeth Andriessen. Antonia Crane brings to the foreground the ethical complexities of sex-work, substance abuse, and friendship in her essay, “Missing.” Likewise, Elizabeth Earley, Noriko Narada, Patrick O’Neil, and Hazel Kight Witham examine mental health and drug addiction.
Tara Ison wrote the Lunch Special essay—a beautiful tribute to the program founder and first Los Angeles poet laureate, Eloise Klein Healy—and our program chair, Steve Heller, has penned an essay that highlights fifty excerpts from our MFA final manuscripts. Previous editors in chiefs of Lunch Ticket provide reflections on their tenure at the helm of the main journal.
We are proud to publish a range of genres, reflecting the diversity of our alumni’s expression, from an excerpt from the New York Times-bestselling memoir by Jillian Lauren, Everything You Ever Wanted; a new chapter from the rez noir novel by Gordon Lee Johnson; speculative fiction by Wendy Dutwin and Dawna Kemper; to a popular craft book by Larraine Herring. We have included a video of Gina Loring’s slam poetry on HBO’s Def Comedy and reprints of award-winning work by Tammy Dellatorre and Anna Scotti. This unique issue features fiction by authors also working in film, Steve De Jarnatt and Topper Lilien, as well as poems by the acclaimed LA-poet, Jim Natal. We are showing visual art: a sculptural piece by Raymond Gaston, which displays a chapter he wrote during his MFA, and paintings by beloved alum, Daniel G. Reinhold, who passed away in 2015.
An MFA-community provides fertile ground for interconnection. So how can individual friendships provide the framework for social justice as a larger concept? I believe it is a matter of scale. A continental divide begins with a hairline fracture. For Heather and me, there is the personal—the extreme pain we suffered in respective solitude. There is the interpersonal—our friendship, our shared experience in the MFA program, our writing and art. And finally, the larger context: our experiences as a reflection of a world in flux, which is never a fairy tale. Collaboration and connection can be visions of social justice, the fulcrum upon which friendships deepen and thrive. This encompasses what it means for me to be an Antioch MFA alum, and what it has meant to produce and publish this anthology of alumni work with my fellow graduates. Whether my children’s book idea becomes a reality remains to be seen, but what will endure are these friendships, these microhabitats upon which we can grow and nurture larger ethical systems.
Editor in Chief