In my capacity as a creative writing instructor, supervisor, and mentor, I’ve edited a great deal. In these past ten years or so, some of my students have gone on to publish, and I have been gratified to know I may have had a small hand in their work or a small influence on them. I am an honest person when it comes to editing, and those who I respect can expect marginal commentary like “meh” or, more simply, “no.” I’m no Gordon Lish in the slash and burn school of editorial but I do like to think that some small touch of mine will help a story go from muddled to marvelous. My approach is always to try to locate the story and to help it emerge as fully as it can. Having said that, I do like weird. And to be honest, I have been jonesing for the opportunity to curate a literary magazine—just once, just to see what that might look like.
So, when Tyler Willis and Spencer Gordon asked me if I would be interested, and gave me almost a full year to work out my plan, I thought: oh boy, a whole magazine of fresh stories and I get to choose them. I had a couple of constraints (ones I constructed for myself). I wanted to work with international writers as well as national writers. I wanted to introduce new voices. And, if at all possible, I wanted things to get strange.
It’s an honour to be asked to guest edit this summer edition of The Puritan and to be able to introduce these great short fictions:
Sarah Maria Medina sent “Rosario’s Jewel Box,” a story I still cry over every time I read it. I love its subterranean vocalization, the lyricism of it, and the cruelty, too. Heather Birrell sent in a piece very different from her usual work—kind of a risk, then, one that ventriloquizes a bad-ass, true-historical woman. “Hands to Heaven” is a stellar example of sustained monologue and a wild, funny ride. Mitchell Johnston’s “Getting Rid of the Bernsteins” is one of the strangest, most absurdly brutal story events I have read in a long time. This is what happens when the imagination is let to explore the impossible. Nehal El-Hadi’s “La Puerta” is a mournful excess. The way grief slips into reality, and plays out between hope and obsession, is wondrous. Ellen Van Neerven’s “Buoy” is a heartbreaker of a story—the social disparity it articulates and the oceanic lilt of its prose makes me hold my breath for the duration. “The Beauty of the Walk On” is a gorgeous study in which we are so alienated in the deliberately cramped space of Trish Salah’s elliptical, campy, and fierce enunciation that we literally can’t look away from the stunning mess the protagonist is in. Finally, “Complicit” is a genius panopticon of a story by Khalida Hassan. When every action is recorded and assessed, who is above scrutiny? The funhouse of watching the way this story inculcates every character as they are “caught” is a spectacle of very, very fine writing, indeed.
I am so proud of these stories, the way they seem to meet each other in strange ways. I did not know when I began that the stories I chose would sometimes resonate with one another. That various mothers would intersect herein, that animals would populate the space, that nature would infiltrate, and that the summer edition of The Puritan would begin to teem with a sly weirdness that is, in fact, everyday. We are all weird—more or less—in our lived experience. I did not consider the way in which this curatorial work would begin to look like my unconscious, either—but because I chose this and this and this and because in choosing I must have also desired it, I am also laid bare by it. So, now you’ll see all the odd, hidden nooks and crannies of what I love. And I am happy for that, too.
I want to thank the writers for putting up with my obsessive editorial. And I want y’all to read these. Read them!
Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is the bestselling author of the novels All The Broken Things, Perfecting, and The Nettle Spinner, as well as, the short story collection, Way Up. Her fiction has recently been published in Granta Magazine, The Walrus, 7X7 LA, Storyville, This Magazine, and Significant Objects. Fiction Kathryn has written has been shortlisted for The Toronto Book Award, The Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and The ReLit Prize, has won Danuta Gleed and the Sidney Prizes, and been longlisted for CBC Reads 2016. She is associate faculty in the MFA at the University of Guelph, and has taught extensively for the University of Toronto School for Continuing Studies and online through The New York Times Knowledge Network. She is currently pursuing a PhD in English Literature at the University of Toronto.