Interview with George Filipovic, Co-editor of “One Throne Magazine”

November 6, 2015
Photo: George Filipovic

Photo: George Filipovic

Brief Biography:

George Filipovic is the co-editor of One Throne Magazine, which he founded at Dawson City, Yukon in 2014. The magazine publishes all genres and writers from all nationalities. In its first year, two of One Throne’s stories were named “Notable” by two Best American anthologies (Best American Essays and Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy). Another story was subsequently made the first chapter of a novel that was bought by HarperCollins India. The magazine has published short fiction written by a 2014 Caine Prize finalist, other short fiction by a 2014 Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and poems from each of the joint-winners of the 2015 Brunel African Poetry Prize. One Throne prides itself on probably being the most diverse literary magazine on the planet. Most issues carry writing from at least three continents, with women and minority groups equitably represented.

Geosi Gyasi: You practiced law in your hometown, Toronto, before leaving for the Yukon in 2012. Can we dwell on the Yukon for a while? Could you tell me anything about the Yukon?

George Filipovic: In summers we get about 20h days, in winter we get about 20h of night. We have mountains, forests, grizzlies, moose, and caribou everywhere. The women and men are independent and many are extremely creative. We have a lot of eccentrics, including one man who lives in a cave.

The Yukon is a Canadian territory that is far up north, a neighbor to Alaska. We’re about the size of California but with only about 35,000 people. There’s rarely anyone around to tell you what you can or can’t do. At the same time, the communities are close-knit. You may have heard about the Klondike Gold Rush. “The Klondike” is a region in the Yukon – my home region.

Finally, there’s a literary culture here, especially in Dawson City, where I live. A good number of stories have been written about the Klondike, but beyond that, three well known writers have lived in my “city” of 2,000: Jack London (“White Fang”), Pierre Burton (“Klondike”), and poet Robert Service (“The Cremation of Sam McGee”). The most-prestigious writing residency in Canada, Berton House, is still located here in Dawson, so we’re spoiled with always having top writers coming through. There’s also an art school in Dawson and a visual artist residency. It’s an inspiring place.

Geosi Gyasi: Why did you decide to leave Toronto for Yukon?

George Filipovic: A defining moment that I always comes back to is being downtown on a Sunday night at 10pm. There was a line-up of about 30 cabs waiting outside my office building because so many people were still inside, working. Cities are all about money, all about work, and people generally don’t have time to take a breath or sit down and think. In Toronto, work consumed most of a person’s waking hours; your employer benefited from your life more than you did. I had to get out.

Geosi Gyasi: It is a fact that the official languages for Yukoners are English and French. Do you speak both languages?

George Filipovic: No, I don’t. My parents tried to teach me French, enrolling me in special classes and so on, but it just wouldn’t take. I’m English only (and some Serbian).

Geosi Gyasi: Why the name One Throne?

George Filipovic: Because I don’t believe in the borders in literature – it’s all one kingdom. You have magazines that talk about publishing the best literary fiction, or the best science fiction, or the best Canadian or American writing, etc. To me, all those boundaries are totally artificial and I don’t respect them. Great writing is great writing, regardless of subject matter (in the case of genres) or where the writer comes from, or anything else. The literary world is one kingdom, one throne. Our magazine publishes the best writing from that one kingdom.

By the way, I like that answer enough that I’m going to update our “About” page. Thanks for asking this.

Geosi Gyasi: Your fellow editor, Dan Dowhal is a Yukon-based writer, producer, and educator. How did you meet him? Could you tell us something about him?

George Filipovic: I met Dan at the “Dawson City Print and Publishing Symposium” in 2012, my first year in the Yukon. Dan has two novels to his credit, and in 2012 he was the Berton House Writer-in-Residence. After his residency was done, he decided to stay permanently. Like me, Dan’s originally from Toronto and escaped the suit-and-tie life (for him it was the computer company IBM).

Geosi Gyasi: There are a number of First Readers for One Throne Magazine, which I assume, read and give feedback on submitted manuscripts. How did you select your first readers?

George Filipovic: When we have a vacancy, I post an open call on One Throne’s Twitter or Facebook account. It’s amazing how generous the writing community is and how many people are excited to apply. I ask candidates to email me their CV and to answer several interview-type questions.

I try to make sure our staff has a balance genders and that people of colour are represented. It’s important to me to have access to a wide range of opinions, and a great way to achieve that is to have a staff with a wide range of experiences. One type of audience may be indifferent toward a submission, but another type may really love it. And if all the readers can agree on one submission, then I know we have something truly special on our hands.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any special reason why you decided to opt for publishing on quarterly basis?

George Filipovic: In the beginning our main concern was making sure we could be very selective and only publish quality. Our worry was that if we churned out too many issues, we might have to fill space with work we didn’t love. Besides that, both Dan and I were (and are) very busy with other responsibilities. Today One Throne’s grown and is taking up enough time that we’re actually considering going biannual.

Geosi Gyasi: How is the whole process of accepting and rejecting manuscripts carried out at One Throne?

George Filipovic: We receive most of the submissions over our website. I think that at last count, the average was about seven submissions per day. On top of that, I directly solicit submissions from writers and poets I enjoy.

When any submission comes in, it’s voted and commented on by the First Readers. Their votes and comments help identify work that I should take a closer look at.

In the end, I make the final call on whether to accept or reject a submission. Dan is busier than I am with non-magazine ventures, so he only gets involved with the borderline submissions, when I’m unsure. Then after a submission is accepted, Dan and I closely edit it with the author, especially if it’s prose.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you think of other literary magazines who charge reading fees?

George Filipovic: I’m against reading fees. I’m a strong advocate of enhancing diversity in literature.

The Atlantic mentioned this in a recent article, and I’ve also been saying this for quite a while: Reading fees squeeze out writers who can’t afford to pay $3 every time they need to make a submission. Keep in mind that writers, on average, need to submit a story 10 or more times before it finds a home (i.e., One Throne’s acceptance rate is <1%, and there few mags, anywhere, with acceptance rates above 10%). That’s at least $30 per story, and perhaps more than $30 per month, every month, if you’re submitting more than one story. The lower class can’t afford that. So what happens? Magazines who charge these fees won’t receive stories from the lower class – voices that the whole of the literary world supposedly wants to hear more from.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it likely that in the near future, One Throne will pay writers?

George Filipovic: With cash, probably not. Right now we do the best we can, trying to show our value for writing in other ways: for example, pairing writing with donated art. I’m a “burner” who has been heavily influenced by Burning Man, which is a totally noncommercial, but awesome, creative event.

For One Throne, there are two big problems with cash, of which the second is more important. First, we don’t have any cash. Second, I’m not sure we can get our hands on it without selling our soul. Cash is a controlled by a narrow group. It’s controlled by the middle and upper class, of whom most live in western countries, of whom most are white. I don’t want to be in a position where our mag must cater primarily to that narrow audience, to print writing that pleases that narrow audience.

If we were chasing money, I’m not sure we would’ve been able to print a story like “The Second Coming of Dambudzo Marechera” – our most popular story ever, which found a large audience in Zimbabwe, just probably not an audience with a lot of money. It would’ve been a tough business call. The story would’ve cost quite a bit to buy, yet I’m not sure the middle or upper class would’ve been motivated to donate enough to us to recoup it, because that story wasn’t primarily directed at them. Though things are slowly improving, too many western readers can still be quite narrow minded; it’s still hard to convince some of them to read a novel or even a short story if the writer’s name sounds strange to their ears. If our mag was dependent on cash, and catering to that audience, I worry we’d be forced to be the type of literary magazine I don’t want to be.

The donated art though – that’s been a godsend. Visual artists donate their art to accompany each poem or story, and have probably made us one of the most beautiful magazines on the internet. One writer wanted to have her story’s art tattooed on her body. For some writers, the accompanying art is a very big deal.

We also offer our issues for free, so the writing can reach a broad audience worldwide, not just readers who can afford to pay for subscriptions (up to $15 per issue in Canada). That, too, is important to a lot of writers.

Next year we’ll probably up the ante. I’m still new to the Yukon but have started making some handmade products (nothing too fancy – I don’t have the skills yet). Beginning in 2016, I’ll probably mail them out to contributors as a thank you.

Basically, if you’re looking for cash specifically, you likely won’t find it with us in the near future. But if you believe other commodities besides cash can hold value, that’s a different story.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you make money running One Throne Magazine?

George Filipovic: I don’t, but money was never the object. The combined expenses (Submittable, web host, web name) are approximately $1,000 per year. Since being founded, we’ve had about $150 donated.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any formal education in publishing or editing or writing?

George Filipovic: No. My talent is one that I think grows naturally from a lot of reading: I can look at a story in a broad sense, and tell what works or doesn’t. Dan, the other editor, is formally trained and is a wizard with the technical rules.

Geosi Gyasi: You are an experienced criminal defence lawyer who practices at both the trial and appeal level. I’m not sure if you’ve ditched away your law profession?

George Filipovic: Yes, after eight years I quit law in 2012 and hope to never go back. I’m a much bigger fan of initiatives like restorative justice than I am of law and courts. I’m not a fan of resolving conflicts by using an adversarial system. That doesn’t seem like a very smart thing to do. It’s definitely not fun to be part of.

Geosi Gyasi: Before you even became a lawyer, you assisted in prosecuting alleged war criminals at the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal. How was it like working at the United Nation’s International Criminal Tribunal?

George Filipovic: Wonderful. As the cliché goes, I guess I was more idealistic then. The UN is like a microcosm of the world. My coworkers hailed from what seemed like every country, it was eclectic. And all the work had ramifications on an international scale. I was there in my mid-20s and at times it seemed surreal.

Geosi Gyasi: I can’t believe I am asking you this – but are you a writer yourself?

George Filipovic: Everyone has a different interpretation of what it means to be a writer. As for me, I rarely seem to have time to finish my own stories, so no, I wouldn’t call myself a writer. That would be going too easy on myself.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your hopes, dreams and aspirations for One Throne Magazine?

George Filipovic: I want the great, underappreciated writers to get their due.  And I want to motivate all audiences, not just the western middle/upper class, to participate in literature by giving them the chance to read writing they can relate to. In the first year and a half I think we’ve done that, and we’re going to keep doing it.

I’m a huge fan of writing from African countries, which I think is the most-heavily underrated right now. Because of colonization, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more English-language speakers in Africa than in North America. But few people in North America read African writers; they make a lot of assumptions (“Won’t writing from Africa need to be translated?”).

I wish more North Americans would pick up the annual Caine Prize Anthology of African Writing, or the Granta Book of the African Short Story. For example, I don’t know if there is any person, anywhere, who wouldn’t find Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s Kintu – which is flying off the shelves in Uganda, but can’t even find a publisher in North America – or Olufemi Terry’s short story “Stickfighting Days,” to be among the most affecting prose they’ve read. And for something much lighter, I’d suggest “The Intervention” by a writer who later appeared in our own pages: Tendai Huchu. There is a huge, vibrant world of stories out there that not enough westerners know about.

Finally, I want to bring people together. Literary fiction isn’t always dull, SFF can be poetic, and poetry doesn’t have to be impenetrable. There are so many cliques in literature, and each seems to make wildly inaccurate assumptions about the other. I want to run a different kind of literary magazine and open people’s eyes.


Interview with Ann Taylor, Author of “Bound Each to Each”

November 2, 2015
Photo: Ann Taylor

Photo: Ann Taylor

Brief Biography:

Ann Taylor is a Professor of English at Salem State University in Salem, Mass., where she teaches both literature and writing courses. She has written two books on college composition, academic and free-lance essays, and a collection of personal essays, Watching Birds: Reflections on the Wing (Ragged Mountain/McGraw Hill). Her first poetry book, The River Within, won first prize in the 2011 Cathlamet Poetry competition at Ravenna Press. Her recent collection, Bound Each to Each, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013.

Geosi Gyasi: Under which circumstances led you to become a writer?

Ann Taylor: I’m sure I was drawn to writing from teaching college literature and writing for my entire career. Reading great essays by E. B. White and Joan Didion, for example, made me want to try writing essays. Reading Chaucer, Keats, Frost, Bishop made me want to try my hand at poetry. Also, teaching students to write essays and poems is inspiring.

Geosi Gyasi: What does it take to become a writer? Is it by identifying the talent or by going to school to study writing?

Ann Taylor : I think good writing is a combination of talent and hard work, mostly hard work. Good reading also helps with good writing.

Geosi Gyasi: Between the time you realized yourself as a writer and now, have you improved in any special way?

Ann Taylor:  I’m always working to improve my writing by trying new challenges — new subjects, new forms, new rhythms. Writing is a process of discovery that never ends. I think I’ve become a better reader over the years, so I’m better able to learn from others. Also, I attend writing workshops that are very helpful with the details of specific poems. Good readers can help us to become better writers.

Geosi Gyasi: As a professor of English at Salem State University, what is the relationship between teaching and writing?

Ann Taylor: Teaching requires reading good literature constantly, and it requires an effort to understand the complexities at a level where they can be explained to students who may not be at all familiar with the work. I am delighted if I can guide students to the delights of the works we read in every course. Teaching writing also makes me more aware of the experience of the writer when I sit down to write myself. The experience is reciprocal.

Geosi Gyasi: Did you struggle finding a publisher for your book, “The River Within”?

Ann Taylor: Trying to publish a book is a sometimes frustrating experience. I had sent out manuscripts before this collection, but they were not successful. I often got compliments and encouragement from publishers, but not the acceptance I wanted, so I returned to the manuscript and looked at it even more critically. I dropped some poems, added some new ones that I thought were better and sent it out again. I was delighted when Ravenna Press accepted the book and awarded it first prize in their Cathlamet contest. You can’t let yourself get so discouraged you give up, but you also have to be honest with yourself.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you factor “form” in your writing?

Ann Taylor:  I tend to write free verse based on the sound, meaning, and rhythm of the lines, but I am always aware of the iambic pentameter at the base of poetry in English and of the need for variation. I do often write using different stanza lengths or placement of lines, but so far have not focused primarily on official forms.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Do you receive any criticisms for your book, “The River Within”?

Ann Taylor: Yes, first of all from the poet, Lynn Strongin, who selected the book for the prize and from the editor at Ravenna Press, Kathryn Rantala. Their comments in the introduction are an encouragement for me to read. So far, I have also had some positive reviews at various local sites and from editors who have published my work.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any circumstance that led you to write, “To Carry on with the Dying”?

Ann Taylor:   I have visited Pompeii twice and found it remarkable, a civilization stopped in time. Later on, I read a piece complaining about the neglect of the site and the ongoing damage. I wanted to call attention to this wonderful location  and at the same time to highlight the danger of losing so much of it. I was not writing a traditional visitor piece.

Geosi Gyasi: What motivates you as a writer?

Ann Taylor:  I think first of the simple pleasure I get out of trying to put a thought, a feeling, an experience into words. I love the challenge. Writing allows  me to re-visit places in my own life and it intensifies those experiences. Also, I love the experience of publishing individual poems and ideally, a collection. Another thing I might mention is the experience of working with editors of various journals who continue to express interest and to provide support. .

Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as the greatest challenge as a writer?

Ann Taylor: Patience and the necessity to carve out some time to write are important. The requirements of a busy life have a way of filling up all the time, but it is necessary to “go at it again,” as Thoreau says. No excuses.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you name three books that have had the greatest impact on your life as a writer?

Ann Taylor: E. B. White’s Essays, Seamus Heaney’s Collected Poems, Elizabeth Bishop’s Collected Poems. I also have to mention Chaucer. I love his humor and his suggestion that we try to “make a virtue of necessity” in life. Ann Taylor:

Geosi Gyasi: Do you see yourself writing more books?

Ann Taylor: I see myself continuing to write no matter what. The books, I hope, will come along in time. I never aim to write a book, just to write the best poem I can write at the moment.


Please Vote for Me to Win 2015 Ake/Air France Prize for Prose

October 21, 2015

My Short Story has been shortlisted for the 2015 Ake/Air France for Prose Prize.

Please I will need your vote to help me win the Prize. Simply click on my story and vote for me. The title of my story is Entry 2 “Death and Dream”. Voting ends on Saturday, 24th October, 2015.

Please spread the word. Anybody at all can vote for me. Thank you, Geoffrey Gyasi (Geosi Gyasi)

Please vote here.

Interview with American Writer, Alexis A. Hunter

October 16, 2015
Photo: Alexis A. Hunter

Photo: Alexis A. Hunter

Brief Biography:

Alexis A. Hunter revels in the endless possibilities of speculative fiction.  Over fifty of her short stories have appeared recently in Shimmer, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Apex, and more.  To learn more, visit

Geosi Gyasi: You were raised on a farm in rural Michigan. Could you tell us something about your upbringing?

Alexis A. Hunter:  Being homeschooled and living in rural Michigan, I had a pretty quiet childhood. And a good one.  We had our adventures, but they were usually adventures at home, trying to wrangle the pigs into the trailer or catch the cow that got out of her pen.  We made up stories and played them out–played ‘pretend’–like most kids do.  I told myself stories falling asleep at night.  I got my fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, but emerged feeling really blessed to have had the childhood I did.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you define speculative fiction?

Alexis A. Hunter:  Speculative fiction generally refers to science fiction, fantasy, and horror.  These tend to be genres where we can ‘speculate’ about the future, about what could be. I love these genres mostly because they have almost no limits–push your imagination as far as it can go, bring that idea into a story, it’s great fun. It can also be a fantastic tool to examine current problems in our society.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that writing a novel is difficult than writing short fiction?

Alexis A. Hunter: I don’t want to say more difficult.  I think writing short stories vs. writing novels are just different kinds of difficult.  The novel requires a greater capacity to see and wrangle the big picture; short stories require incredible brevity, using fewer words to paint a story, but while giving it the effect of being part of a broader world.

Geosi Gyasi: Why did you decide to become a writer?

Alexis A. Hunter: When I was very young, my mother told me that God gave everyone a special gift.  She said her gift was the gift of writing.  I thought that was pretty cool and wanted it to be my gift too.  I think that’s probably when I first began to write.

Geosi Gyasi: Does your family approve of your writing?

Alexis A. Hunter: My family is wonderfully supportive and encouraging of my writing.  ‘Approve’ is a funny word.  I know I sometimes veer into content and tackle ideas that they might not necessarily approve of, but I think where it counts most–those elements of support and encouragement–they are absolutely 100% there for me.  I’m thankful for that.

Geosi Gyasi: What has been your greatest challenge as a writer?

Alexis A. Hunter: My greatest challenge lies in the area of editing and revising.  I still struggle with that element of writing.  I tend to dump out mostly complete drafts and do very little revising.  The downside is that if a story comes out with a major flaw, I’m likely never to fix it and simply drop an otherwise promising story into the trunk, never to be seen again.  I’d be delighted if I could just find a way to make my brain tackle larger scale revisions!

Geosi Gyasi: What sort of preparation goes into the writing of a story?

Alexis A. Hunter: This is of course different for everyone.  It’s even different for me!  There are some stories I simply sit down and write, with no idea where I’m going.  These tend to be prompt-driven stories.  They also tend to be shorter.  There are other stories that I plot out every detail and create character sketches for–these stories tend to be longer, more complex, and on the whole–probably better than my other stories.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific place where you sit down to write?

Alexis A. Hunter: Not specifically, no.  I tend to simply write from the couch, using my laptop and with some good, instrumental music to get me in the right mood.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you read reviews of your own works?

Alexis A. Hunter: I do read reviews of my own stories–and avidly at that! I’m always excited to see what other people think of my work.  Sometimes they think very highly of my stories and sometimes they don’t.  Everyone reads differently and brings different things to a story; they all see something different, and I love the chance to see my work through someone else’s eyes.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as your best work so far?

Alexis A. Hunter: I would have to say probably “Be Not Unequally Yoked”–published by Shimmer in January of this year.  It feels like my most important story, and readers so far have really connected with it in an exciting way.  I brought a lot of my past into that story, setting it in the area in which I grew up, and it also gives me a special fondness for the tale.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as the best part of writing?

Alexis A. Hunter: For me, the best part of writing is finishing a first draft.  Typing out “the end” on a story gives an incredible thrill, almost a high, that even selling that story doesn’t quite parallel.

Geosi Gyasi: What books are often found on your writing table?

Alexis A. Hunter: I’ve been reading a lot of classic sci-fi authors recently–Philip K. Dick, Asimov, Vonnegut.  Asimov is so far my favorite of the lot.  Currently, I’m knee-deep in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. If I had to pick a favorite all-time novel writer, it has to be Octavia.


Geosi Gyasi: Are you working on any new project?

Alexis A. Hunter: I’ve got a few stories brewing at the moment. One is shaping up to be a more hefty story–probably a novella or novelette, so that’s exciting.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your piece, “Gold Dress, No Eyes”?

Alexis A. Hunter: I wrote “Gold Dress, No Eyes” for a contest on a neo-pro writing forum called Codex.  I was given the title of this story as a writing prompt and it was such a captivating image!  I absolutely had no trouble with this story.  It sort of unspooled out of me with ease.  Not all stories come to me that way, so needless to say I was excited.  I really love nontraditional narratives–especially list stories–and I wanted to tell a story through a series of objects.  Pulling all the pieces together was a bit of a challenge, but I think it worked out in the end.

Geosi Gyasi: I’m just wondering how you got the idea to write, “Be Not Unequally Yoked”?

Alexis A. Hunter:  Every week, I meet up with a local writer or two and we give each other writing prompts. We write up something in about twenty minutes and read it aloud to each other.  It’s a fun challenge and keeps me writing.  The core idea of “Be Not Unequally Yoked” came about from one of these meetings.  I wrote a flash piece about a girl who stumbles across an Amish werehorse in the middle of rural Michigan.  I really liked the idea itself and decided to write something a little longer.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected for your works?

Alexis A. Hunter: I’m assuming you mean have I ever had my stories rejected by publishers? Absolutely I have.  Every writer has their stories rejected.  According to my submission tracker, I’ve had a little over 460 rejections over the course of the past five years. That averages close to a hundred a year, I think.  I like to wear those rejections like a badge of honor.  To me, how many rejections an author has received is a good indicator of how much they put their work out there, how hard they’ve fought, you know?  Some authors sort of takeoff from the get-go, but my writing journey has definitely been a long (and fun!) walk.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about the people who read your works?

Alexis A. Hunter: Absolutely.  Readers are so, so important.  Not just to me as a writer, but to me as a person. When I see someone reading a book on their lunchbreak at work or while waiting in a doctor’s office, I get a rush of happiness.  It’s a common bond between us.  I’m a reader just as much as I’m a writer.  We learn so much from reading, and really stretch our imaginations and our souls.  As for the specific people who read my work–they are all amazing and I am so grateful to them.  I write because I love to write, but the fact that people take time out of their busy lives to read my stories is just so gratifying.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you often do in your spare time when not writing?

Alexis A. Hunter:  Video games.  All the time.  I’m sort of hooked on Destiny right now, but you can pretty much always find me playing some shooter or RPG or another.  When I’m not playing video games, I’m either binge-watching another great TV show on Netflix or have my nose stuck in a good book.  I’m hooked on stories, what can I say?  No matter how they’re delivered, I love getting into the lives of characters.


Interview with Mariela Griffor, Author of “The Psychiatrist”

October 12, 2015
Photo: Mariela Griffor

Photo: Mariela Griffor

Brief Biography:

Mariela Griffor was born in the city of Concepcion in southern Chile. She is the author of House and The Psychiatrist and founder of Marick Press. Her work has appeared in Passages North, Cerise Press, Washington Square Review and others Journals. Mariela holds a B.A in Journalism from Wayne State University and M.F.A. in Creative Writing from New England College. Her forthcoming publications include the translations: Canto General by Pablo Neruda (Tupelo Press) and, Bye, have a good time! by Kristina Lugn (Eyewear Publishing). For info

Geosi Gyasi: You were born in the city of Concepcion in southern Chile. Could you tell me anything about your birthplace?

Mariela Griffor:  Concepcion is the second largest city in Chile, second in number of inhabitants and in importance after Santiago, the capitol of Chile. It is a southern city, located close to the Pacific Ocean and volcanoes and a significant amount of small lakes and rivers like the Bio-Bio river surrounding the forests and mountains around. My entire family comes from the South. So we are not “cold people” but I would say more quiet than our countrymen in the North and we also are terribly nostalgic about the South if we ever leave its landscape.
The combination of mountains, forests and ocean make the experience of coming from the South unforgettable. I lived in Brazil once and the hot weather, humidity and the warm water of the Atlantic was shockingly unfamiliar and not very comfortable. Later on I was ‘lucky” to live in Uppsala and Michigan which are very similar to the geography of the South of Chile. Except for the eucalyptus forests and the poplar lining the highways in Chile I would say Concepcion in ‘the South’, Uppsala and Michigan have pines, birches, oaks, water and a lot of similar flowers.

Chile is a crazy geography. A crazy geography that can spoil you. To the East you have the Andes Mountains and to the West you have the Pacific Ocean.

Geosi Gyasi: Briefly describe the geographical area of Chile?

Mariela Griffor: Chile is a South American country occupying a long, narrow strip of land between the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Peru is to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far south. Chilean territory includes the Pacific islands of Juan Fernández, Salas y Gómez, Desventuradas, and Easter Island in Oceania. Chile also reach about 1,250,000 square kilometres (480,000 sq mi) of Antarctica.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell me about the language(s) you speak?

Mariela Griffor: I speak Spanish. I would say I use a bunch of very old words because my grandparents and great grandparents were from the South of Chile and they were settled in the area many generations ago.

One small book of poetry is called Resolana (Sunspots) which is not in use anymore, not by young people.

Geosi Gyasi: In 1985, you left Chile for an involuntary exile in Sweden. Why?

Mariela Griffor: Like many countries in Latin America, Chile had a military dictatorship in the 80’s. And as in many countries in Latin America an insurrection grew to the point of creating political movements throughout the country. Many joined paramilitary forces to fight the government of General Augusto Pinochet, a government that was bloody, corrupt and dictatorial. Chile enjoyed a long democratic tradition of over 100 years. Never before had so many needed to seek protection in other countries, the flow of Chileans who fled reached over a million. They sought exile in counties like Australia, France and Sweden. I was one of the over a million Chileans who sought refuge in another country. I was part of that anti-Pinochet movement and my involvement put my life in jeopardy. I needed to leave the country because I was hours away from being detained. I escaped by a ‘miracle’ called ‘luck’. Sweden was a happy casualty. I was confronted with the funny election of France or Sweden. My lawyer, who was a champion of human rights in Chile, said to me: “you can go to France or Sweden right now. In France I don’t know anybody; in Sweden I know some people”. Despite having four years of French in high school and no knowledge of Swedish I went to Sweden!

Geosi Gyasi: As a co-founder, can you tell us anything about “The Institute for Creative Writers at Wayne State University”?

Mariela Griffor:  The Institute for Creative Writers at Wayne was a great experience. It came out of a program in the Interdisciplinary Studies Program and aimed to give a broader perspective of writing to students of other colleges. As the program grew we concentrated on the craft of writing and we worked with students who already had manuscripts ready for submission. We put them in contact with Literary Agents in New York. Many of them got their manuscripts published.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell me about “Marick Press” and the work you do there?

Mariela Griffor: I am the publisher of Marick Press. Marick tries to open a door to new writers and also rescue titles from becoming one of many forgotten titles, and we put them into reprint editions. We publish a wide range of genres.  Marick Press is also a personal homage to two very important people I meet in Chile who gave their lives to improve the lives of other people. Those two people were also poets. The responsibilities they had were consuming but they never stopped writing poetry. Our press is somewhat unconventional regarding seasonal releases. We print and publish books during one season of the year, in the Fall/Winter from September to February, and we are open to submissions the rest of the year. We are going to be open again to submissions online through SUBMITTABLE in the coming year, we are pretty busy right now editing and preparing to publish our Marick Press Online Journal. This is some of the work we do at Marick.

Geosi Gyasi: You hold a B.A in Journalism and M.F.A in Creative Writing. My question is, is there any major difference between journalism and creative writing?

Mariela Griffor: There are enormous differences in both writings. In journalism the most important attributes are in opposition to what literary writing can offer. In journalism in general, there is a phrase that says, “if it bleeds, it leads” so bad news are always more newsworthy than good news. Then all the rules that can be applied to journalism such as composition, timelines, relevance, continuity, interest, prominence, sensationalism, etc. need to fit in a certain amount of inches and a strict number of words. It is an excellent discipline exercise but for the creative mind that likes to write free verse, it can be a challenge. For most writers I know, that have a background in journalism, this doesn’t represent any kind of problem. Journalism writing is a kind of writing that has its own rules, as do many other kinds of writing.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired you to write, “Exiliana”?

Mariela Griffor: I study Latin in College and I was excited about going back to the roots of the Spanish language. Exiliana comes from the Latin word (exilare/exsilare), exilium, excilium and means “banishment, exile, place of exile and comes from exul which means exul or “banished person”. Then the word ‘exiliana’, conjugated, is the ‘things’ or ‘stuff’ of exile. I didn’t come up with the title until I was together with my editor and publisher and so many names came to the discussion and, since my poems were about loss, persecution and exile, the title Exiliana seems very appropriate.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “House”?

Mariela Griffor: That title is very connected to the first one. The last stanza of each poem in ‘House’ ends in Spanish and the idea came after a reading I gave in Toronto where somebody from the audience came to me afterward and told me she was very upset about not being able to understand the end of the poem. So it was for me a good way to put the reader into my state of mind of ‘permanent exile’. I wanted to give them part of the experience that I carried with me all those years. It is true that readers don’t like tricks nor do they like to be manipulated into conclusions but I didn’t find another more explicit way to convey what I wanted to convey. It is true that the words, images and the poem itself can be interpreted in many ways depending on who is reading it, but I got very enthusiastic reviews from the bilingual readers who thought I was playing with the language. I was playing with the words but the experience was profound and I need an external structure to try to go deeper. I don’t know if I succeeded or not, but I like the architecture of my books. Even if I don’t have so many books out, I have an intensive time writing them all.

Geosi Gyasi: Coming from Chile, is there anything you could say about the Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda?

Mariela Griffor: Neruda had been misread or misinterpreted for many years in the English-speaking world. It is true that his tremendous number of love poems gives him the reputation of the poets that speak the language of love and people all over the world can easily identify with those poems. His opus magnum was an essential book that few have interpreted well.

Neruda was a man of an exquisite complexity and fierce temperament who wrote poetry that is visionary and relevant today. His love for the American Continent is unknown, he is represented as a political poet who values the dogmas of his party over many other things. This takes away from the stature of Neruda, at least the Neruda I read. His value resides in the description of the details that cries for change. But also he is a master of language. He chants for change and condemns the usurpation that the American Continent had experienced. His love for the continent is not a pamphlet dedicated to the good old days but instead a chronicle of societies on the continent before and after Columbus. Different races and cultures can be found represented in his work. His voice is the voice of a giant who sees the world with your eyes and shows us a way to reengage with the humanity within all of us.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Give us a gist about what your book, “The Psychiatrist” is all about?

Mariela Griffor: Ah! The Psychiatrist. Somebody already said it in a review of the book: It is a tough read. But, I decided a long time ago that if I’m going to write books of poetry, then I will not compromise. You know, I felt I needed to compromise many times in my life. To keep myself alive I needed to be silent. It is true I’m limited in many regards but I can write and make people think, wonder, remember, identify with some of the landscapes, images, I write for myself and I try to find answers to the many questions I have; I can be whoever I want to be in the pages and The Psychiatrist is not only my story draped with words that I like to use and to play with, but these words are like ‘moon beams’ or shadows, they are words that are telling “you” who I am today, what “I” see, what the world has made of me and the ones I loved.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you find time to write?

Mariela Griffor: My time to write is always there; if I don’t write I feel physically sick. My best days are those with some long hours of writing. Those are my happiest days even if my poems are not funny and are seldom very happy. Some days I don’t write at all and I revise and polish old pages. I also have other obligations but I try to get things done quickly to sit at my desk.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you regard writing as a “real” profession?

Mariela Griffor: If you are broadly published and well-paid (or not very well paid) for your writing, then yes I think you are a professional. Now the commercial aspect of this profession is very different from other professions in the arts. Poets are paid badly in general so they seek jobs in other places like Universities, Colleges, Presses, etc. and they continue to write and pay their bills with the income from other jobs rather than from the income of their own writing. This choice gives them other sorts of headaches like, how faithful to their institutions is their writing. This is a way to survive, it is life. There are poetry zealots who say that poets should only write poetry and do nothing else. I have never heard anything more unrealistic than that but, if you look more carefully, those same people who say this are paid by foundations that give them a salary or they are themselves in an editorial position of some kind. Imagine if Wallace Stevens never wrote a poem because they had a job as an insurance agent! Or Pablo Neruda were not accepted as a poet because he was a diplomat for a long time! I say these people who want to ban everybody from writing poetry are suspicious characters because we don’t know their intentions. I would say if you want to write poetry, just write and publish. Don’t think about who is out there trying to pigeonhole you; if you want to write, write no matter what. There is one thing I’m very sure about: not everybody has the need to write. Some people spend their entire lives without reading or writing books, so if you have the ‘writing need’, you have to write.

Geosi Gyasi: What sort of preparation went into the writing of “Heartland”?

Mariela Griffor: It is a selection of poems from Exiliana published in Sweden. I lived fourteen years in Uppsala, Sweden, and many of the poems were dedicated to some places and people I met there.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a defined way of choosing titles for your books?

Mariela Griffor: Yes, I like one word titles, I like words that can capture a world view. But the titles are selected by editors in some small presses.

Geosi Gyasi: What is your greatest achievement as a writer?

Mariela Griffor: Thanks God this is not a job interview Geosi! How can I pick only one thing of 20 years of experience but let’s see if we can do this.  I have been able to express my experience, from childhood in Chile to a youth and in exile in Sweden, no matter where I was in the world, in my writing and in my way of life. I have been working with three different languages for 30 years but most importantly I learn how to use, play, honor, conquer, immerse into the words.

Geosi Gyasi: Who are your literary forebears?

Mariela Griffor: Roberto Bolano, Jose Maria Arguedas, J.M. Coetzee in fiction of course, but in poetry I can say Neruda, Mistral, Enrique Lihn, Jorge Teiller, Pablo de Rocka, Bishop, Moore, T.S. Elliot, Marti, Cesar Vallejo, in poetry and fiction there is Ceslaw Milosz and many more.

Geosi Gyasi: What is/are your main interest areas as a writer?

Mariela Griffor: I like to write poetry most of the time. But I write fiction and also a lot if interviews, reviews, articles and I keep a journal, lately. I’m working on a new poetry manuscript and a big translation from Spanish into English right now.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care to ask me any question to end the interview?

 Mariela Griffor: For sure I have many questions!

 Geosi Gyasi: Go ahead and ask me.

Mariela Griffor: Who are the most important writers in Ghana and South Africa today?

Geosi Gyasi: It would be difficult to single out just one or a select group of writers from both Ghana and South Africa, as there are many great talents on the continent. However, any list I give will be incomplete without the following — from Ghana: Benjamin Kwakye, Ama Ata Aidoo, Ayikwei Ama, and from South Africa: J.M Coetzee, Zakes Mda, Damon Galgut, Henrietta Rose-Innes.

Mariela Griffor: Could you find any of these writers in English and published in the States or UK?

Geosi Gyasi: Almost all of them I’ve mentioned write in English and have been published abroad. However, it is important to note that a number of indigenous publishing houses on the continent are doing extremely well. A few names come to mind: Kwela, Umuzi, Cassava Republic, Kachifo, and so forth.

Maariela Griffor: What are the big themes of the writers from Ghana?

Geosi Gyasi: Themes by writers from Ghana vary from writer to writer, largely due to our rich cultural heritage. For instance, I’ve read a number of Ghanaian literatures covering themes like homelessness, Heroism, Love, Birth and Death, Betrayal, Fortune, Power, God and spirituality, Survival and so forth. So you see, they’re varied and diverse.


Interview with Hannah Faith Notess, Author of “The Multitude”

October 9, 2015
Photo Credit: Luke Rutan

Photo Credit: Luke Rutan

Brief Biography:

Hannah Faith Notess attended Westmond College, majored in English and studied with the poets Paul Willis and Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, among others. She also attended Indiana University, earned an MFA in Creative Writing, helped edit Indiana Review, studied with the poets Maura Stanton, Ross Gay, and Maurice Manning, and the essayist Scott Russell Sanders, among others. She is currently the managing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine by day and writes other stuff by night. Her first full-length collection of poems, “The Multitude” won the Michael Waters Poetry Prize.

Geosi Gyasi: Permit me to ask a typical Geosi Reads question. I am keen on learning why you were given the name Faith? Do you think the name put any pressure on you to live a perfervid religious life?

Hannah Faith Notess: I doubt it. I am a little bit of a contrarian, so if I did feel pressure to be a religious person because of my name, I would have likely rebelled against it. As a poet, though, I think my parents did a nice job naming me because “Hannah” and “Faith” sound good together. I thought a lot about the consonant and vowel sounds of different names when my husband and I were choosing a name for our first child. I pay lots of attention to the sounds of words; that’s one of the things I love about poetry.

Geosi Gyasi: As a writer and editor, how do you blend the two professions?

Hannah Faith Notess: For my day job, I am the managing editor for a university magazine, Response, at Seattle Pacific University. Most of my writing and editing at work is in the field of journalism or public relations, so it is less personal. However, it’s also fascinating and sometimes inspires my creative work. For instance, in 2012, I interviewed an astronomer and we spoke about the exoplanets that are being discovered in our universe. That indirectly inspired a (still unfinished) poem.

Outside of work, I mostly write poems. I have done some additional writing and editing in the past, for instance, I edited a collection of personal essays in 2009, and I write occasional articles on books, art, and culture. But right now I try to devote the most time to poetry, because it brings me the most joy.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you bother to give your work to an editor or you do your own editing?

Hannah Faith Notess: Absolutely, I love to work with an editor whenever possible. I have worked with wonderful editors, and I have always found that a good editor can provide help with nearly any kind of writing. A good editor develops a theory of a writer’s intent and honors it. A good editor develops a rationale for why and how to suggest changes. At the same time, an editor puts the reader’s needs above the writer’s needs. So a good editor has to point out to a writer anything that might cause a reader confusion.

Geosi Gyasi: You wrote your first poem in the eighth grade. Could you tell us what this poem was about? Was it published?

Hannah Faith Notess: It was a lengthy tale (in rhymed quatrains) of a girl who spent time sitting in a tree and imagining things. Though it was not published, I did write it out neatly in my notebook with a set of colored markers, writing each stanza in a different color. So it looked very pretty. And I may have decorated the notebook with some sparkly stickers.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us a bit about your life in Westmont College and how you ended up majoring in English?

Hannah Faith Notess: I have always been interested in writing and literature, and the English professors at Westmont College shared and fostered that love. Two of my professors were poets themselves, and they took time to read and critique the poems I gave them outside of class. Also, during my time at Westmont, I studied as an exchange student at Daystar University in Kenya, and I took a class in African literature. So I am very excited to be doing an interview with a blog that highlights so many excellent African writers! Thank you for compiling these interviews.

Geosi Gyasi: Which living poets have had the most profound influence on your writing?

Hannah Faith Notess: Well, many of the poets I love best are dead, so I want to cheat and name a few dead poets first — Yehuda Amichai, Elizabeth Bishop, C.P. Cavafy, Frank O’Hara, and Wislawa Szymborska. As for living poets whose work I adore — B.H. Fairchild, Lucia Perillo, Terrance Hayes, Mark Doty, and Erika Meitner are a few.

Geosi Gyasi: You earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Indiana University. What influence did your studies have on your writing?

Hannah Faith Notess: Spending three years earning an MFA at Indiana was a wonderful experience. I read deeply and wrote so much. I tried styles of writing and experimented with forms — I had never even heard of a prose poem before! So I had a lot to learn. It opened all kinds of artistic doors.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you belong to any community of poets?

Hannah Faith Notess: Yes, I have an occasional writing group here in Seattle with a handful of other poets, and we meet every so often to talk about poetry and life. Seattle is a city full of people who both work hard and have unusual hobbies (climbing mountains, dressing up as anime characters, etc.) so I like to think our little group fits right into our wonderful, quirky city.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your poem “A Guide for Spiritual Tourists?

Hannah Faith Notess: In 2004-2005, I spent some time traveling in India, using, as many young tourists from around the world do, the Lonely Planet India guidebook to navigate and choose hotels, restaurants, and cultural sites to visit. I began thinking about the few Hindi phrases in the back of the book, juxtaposed against the sacred sites of various faiths that we had visited as tourists — the dissonance between what the phrasebook says and the wordless experience struck me as funny, so this poem was born.

Geosi Gyasi: Your poem, “For Money” was solely written in the first person. Do you write mostly out of personal experience?

Hannah Faith Notess: I am glad you asked, and the answer is definitely “no.” I do not think of the first-person “I” in any given poem as someone identical to myself, and I allow it to shift from poem. I incorporate experiences I’ve had into my poems, but I fictionalize freely and make things up. For instance, in this particular poem, I did have a summer job working on a farm for several months and I spent about a month picking blueberries. But other jobs in the poem are not things I have done. In drafts of the poem, I experimented with writing the poem in first person, second person, and third person. After trying all three, I settled on first person, imagining that if someone were reading the poem out loud, they could speak as though they were one person – or a chorus of people – who had done all those things.

Geosi Gyasi: Your book, Ghost House was the winner of the 2013 Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. My question is: do you believe in the existence of ghosts?

Hannah Faith Notess: I should note that the title, Ghost House, in part, refers to the Mario series of video games. Ghost House levels first appeared in the Mario universe in the game Super Mario World in 1990. In those levels, the video game character Mario must enter the ghost house alone, without his friend Yoshi the dinosaur, and he is chased by “Boos” and other ghosts that he cannot kill, but must run to outwit them and survive. This scenario reminded me of many mythical stories in which a hero travels to the underworld on some sort of quest, such as Dante’s Inferno or the myth of Orpheus. I was intrigued by the idea that a videogame could tap into a deep-rooted mythos, and I wanted to explore that through poetry. As for the existence of “real” ghosts, I’m certainly open to the possibility, but don’t feel strongly about it. I am most interested, as a writer, in ghosts as they appear in our myths, metaphors, stories, poems, and dreams.


Interview with Erin Malone, Author of “Hover”

October 1, 2015
Photo: Erin Malone

Photo: Erin Malone

Brief Biography:

Erin Malone’s first full-length collection, Hover, won the Patricia Bibby Award from Tebot Bach Press and was published in March 2015. What Sound Does It Make, a chapbook, appeared in 2008 from Concrete Wolf Press. The recipient of grants from Washington’s Artist Trust, 4Culture, and the Colorado Council of the Arts, she’s taught writing at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, Richard Hugo House in Seattle, at the University of Washington Rome Center in Italy, and through Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools program. She’s been given a Jack Straw Writer’s Fellowship for 2015. You can find out more at

Geosi Gyasi: Beginning with your first full-length collection, “Hover”, why did you decide to write it?

Erin Malone: I’d been working on a manuscript for years—about 10—when I finally started writing the poems that became Hover. At its heart, that original manuscript was about the death of my brother in childhood; the poems surrounding it were growing up poems, falling in love poems, you know. I think I’d started sending it to a few contests. But then I gave birth to my son, and suffered severe anxiety in the months following. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to read and understand a sentence, let alone write. I think it took me about a year to start writing again, and when I did the poems were expressions of that dislocation and fear I felt. So I guess my answer is that I didn’t really decide to write it; I had to write it. And I wrote it again and again until it was published—another 10 years or so. None of the poems from original manuscript made it into Hover, but the idea behind them did. The death of my brother and the anxiety about my son are what inform this book.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any special reason why you decided to become a writer?  

Erin Malone: I don’t know. I think I felt from an early age that I was good at writing. In elementary school I wrote comics and ghost stories and even a play that my teacher let me cast and produce! I was very lucky to be so encouraged. In high school I wrote terrible poems, and in college more terrible poems, but I started to get better. It didn’t occur to me that I could go to school to study creative writing until a college professor clued me in. So I went to graduate school, which helped me feel serious (too serious?) about it.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you come from a family of writers?

Erin Malone: No, but I come from a family of readers.

Geosi Gyasi: What books did you read growing up?

Erin Malone: As a younger kid, Gulliver’s Travels, Black Beauty, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Sherlock Holmes; as a teen, lots of Sweet Valley High and Stephen King. In high school and college I read (Shirley) Jackson, Hemingway, Faulkner, Hurston, Fitzgerald, Hughes. . . .

Geosi Gyasi: As a writer, who are your audience?

Erin Malone: As a poet I have to admit that it’s probably mostly other poets, although I wish it were wider, of course. I think it might surprise people to know how welcoming poets and poetry can be. We’re like rescue dogs—if you give us a little time and attention, we’re yours for life.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any persons who have influenced your career as a writer?

Erin Malone: Well, other writers. Poets like Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks, Donald Justice, Mark Strand, Louise Glück—I could go on and on. But other people who aren’t writers influence me too: family, teachers, friends, who ask me what I’m working on or who want to have a conversation about a book or about anything that really matters to them. That kind of support is sustaining.

Geosi Gyasi: How much research goes into your writing?

Erin Malone: Usually not much. But I am working on a project right now that requires some archival research, which I like. It feels like opening a series of doors.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Are you a fan of short poems?

Erin Malone: Sure. The economy of a short poem is like magic trick, when it’s done well.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell me something about your chapbook, “What Sound Does It Make”?

Erin Malone: All of the poems in What Sound Does It Make are also in Hover, though some are revised. All of them have to do with that dissociative feeling around my son’s birth.

Geosi Gyasi: Was it difficult securing a publisher for “What Sound Does It Make”?

Erin Malone: It did take time, a few years, to write those poems, and during that time I was sending the manuscript around to chapbook contests. Contests are difficult, yes, because they’re hit-or-miss—you have to be patient and just keep sending to different places. That said, I was extremely lucky to land on Concrete Wolf Press—Lana Hechtman Ayers is a talented and generous editor, and I love the book she made for me.

Geosi Gyasi: You’ve recently been given a Jack Straw Writer’s Fellowship for 2015. Could you tell me what this fellowship is all about?

Erin Malone: This fellowship supports Washington State writers by promoting their work through a series of readings, and by producing a professional podcast for each writer that includes an interview and an excerpt from one of the readings. Another great thing about it is that 12 writers are chosen, so over the course of the year you get to know each other—it’s a nice camaraderie.

Geosi Gyasi: Did you have a hand in the making of the photo cover of your book, “Hover”?

Erin Malone: Actually, that’s a painting by Eric Zener. I did get to choose the cover art, and I love his work. You can check out his website at

Geosi Gyasi: What are you reading at the moment?

Erin Malone: The Book of Hours, by Marianne Boruch. Also Wind in a Box (again), by Terrance Hayes.

Geosi Gyasi: What is currently on your writing table?

Erin Malone: A mess. And also a couple of new poems I’m working on.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever have writer’s block?

Erin Malone: I have stretches of time when I’m not writing, and that can feel very frustrating. But usually I can get through it by reading other poets, and slowing down to pay attention. If I do that and give myself some time, the writing will happen.

Geosi Gyasi: In your view, what is the best time to write?

Erin Malone: Whenever the house is quiet.



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