ROAR CALL: Marisa Siegel of The Rumpus

What has been the most surprising thing about becoming the Editor-in-Chief of The Rumpus? What are you most proud of?

What has caught me off-guard the most is how little people want to know about the business of literary communities and literary magazines. There is a lot of great conversation around many aspects of our literary communities, but I don’t think we spend enough time acknowledging that it is a business. I’m guilty of this, too: I didn’t think about becoming a “small business owner” when I decided to purchase The Rumpus. I thought about supporting wonderful writers and sharing important stories, not about attaining S-corp status and filing tax returns.

A pleasant surprise is how supportive our readers are, and how supportive leaders in those literary communities have been, of my desire to keep The Rumpus alive and to use the site as a platform for marginalized voices and stories that might not find a home elsewhere.

I’m incredibly proud of my staff, who work on a volunteer basis and without whom The Rumpus could not exist. (Even our Managing Editor, Lyz Lenz, who is paid, isn’t paid enough and works longer hours than she’s paid to.) The staff’s dedication to the site and to helping me carve out my own mission for The Rumpus means everything. I’m so proud of the new work we’ve begun, including but not limited to: The Rumpus Inaugural Poems, TORCH, Season 2 of Make/Work, and Multitudes, just as examples.

Advisory Board

Finally, have you checked our new Advisory Board, created post-sale? I look at a photo of these women and I am both proud and reassured to know that these incredible writers and leaders whom I admire tremendously stand behind me and The Rumpus.

What do you think is poetry’s role in contemporary society?

I think poetry’s role continues to be what it has always been: to speak truth to power, to cross barriers within language, to use language to draw connections between communities that feel very separate, and to showcase the limitless capacity of words.

That said, I think that role has become more important in today’s political moment. I know that for me, in the days and weeks immediately following the election, poetry was the only writing in which I could find solace and from which I could take comfort. And poetry has continued to be both a daily wake-up call and a much-needed respite from the onslaught of terrible news here in America and around the world.

How do you define feminism?

My definition of feminism is fluid and ever-changing as I learn and grow. I was raised by a staunchly feminist mother who took me to pro-choice marches and encouraged me to question authority and never to doubt that my worth was less than a man’s. That’s where my feminism began. Through college and graduate school, it evolved as I studied (and taught) Women’s Studies within the world of academia, reading amazing writers like Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Judith Butler, and so many others. Now, I am a mother to a nearly three-year-old, and that is probably what influences my feminism most. How do I want to present motherhood to my son? How do I want to present gender to my son? These are questions I consider and bump up against every day.

But here’s the tl;dr version: For me, feminism means that you believe in equal rights, equal pay, and equal status for all humans regardless of gender, race, sexuality… regardless of anything.

What is your preferred method (marches, petitions, donations, etc.) and/or medium (essays, visual art, music, panels, etc.) for protesting oppression?

In terms of artistic response to oppression, for me personally it’s always going to be poetry first, and then essays. The essay form has also expanded in the last few years to include many kinds of writing, and I celebrate that expansion wholeheartedly.

Of course, while art has an important place in resistance, bodies on the ground (marches, petitions, phone calls, protests) and donating money to organizations putting bodies on the ground and protecting those who are being oppressed is probably what I think is most important. But I also know that we each work within our own skill sets and abilities and constraints to effect change, and for me, purchasing The Rumpus and making sure the site would continue through and beyond Trump, and getting meaningful art out there is my own response to our current political reality. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Trump winning the election solidified my decision to purchase The Rumpus.

Which public figure has done the best job of embodying empowerment this year?

I’m not sure I want to give this one to a very public figure—what I have found most empowering and what most embodies empowerment for me are the writers and readers making small changes and encouraging others to the same. For instance, Celeste Ng began using the #smallacts hashtag on Twitter shortly after the election and has continued to use that hashtag to inspire her followers, offering concrete but not overwhelming ways to create change and fight oppression.

But shout out to my girl Hillary Clinton, who has and will continue to inspire me and remind me that yes, it is harder to reach goal posts as a woman but we continue to try. Yes, we can, and yes, we will. It just may take longer than I’d (along with many of our country’s residents) hoped.

What single event, either personal, professional, or global, do you hope will occur by this time next year?

This is easy to answer: Donald Trump and Mike Pence out of the White House, following an open investigation that clearly shows why they didn’t deserve to be there in the first place.

Which country do you think is the most enlightened in the world?

I don’t know that I believe it’s helpful to think in terms of the nation-state anymore. I think that there are enlightened people in every country, and there are unenlightened people in every country. I also find the idea of “enlightened” somewhat problematic, with its inherent ties to access and education; I prefer to believe that there are good people in every country and then there are those who willfully choose to be unkind and hateful.

I can tell you that I do not believe the answer to this question could possibly be the United States of America. Not this year.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I read everything that goes up on The Rumpus, and I manage our Book Club, so I’m reading one book a month for that. I also have that aforementioned toddler, who gobbles books whole. I don’t have a lot of leisure reading time right now.

To answer your question, I just finished Samantha Irby’s new essay collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, which is our May Book Club selection and is phenomenal. I’m quickly devouring Roxane Gay’s Hunger, which I feel privileged to have early access to and which is breaking me open, before I delve into Achy Obejas’s new story collection The Tower of the Antilles for our June Book Club selection. Oh, and How to Train a Train.

When is the last time you had to stop what you were doing because you were overcome by an instance of beauty (and what was that beautiful moment)?

This makes me a little sad, because I don’t know that I’ve stopped/been able to stop for a while now. But I try to find instances of beauty while I’m working—in the pieces I’m editing, the work I’m reading, the people I’m interacting with—and of course, there is so much beauty in parenting and watching a child grow. But a quiet moment of beauty? It’s been a long time. Ask me again in a few years!

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