Athena Dixon is a former contributor at For Harriet, a Managing Editor for Z-Composition, and a Fiction Reader for Gigantic Sequins. Her poetry and non-fiction has appeared both online and in print at Okayplayer, Rolling Out Weekly, Blackberry: A Magazine, Rose Red Review, Pluck!, Compose Journal, and THIS Magazine among others.
Lean more about Athena at www.athenadixon.com
Geosi Gyasi: Where does your love for literary arts come from?
Athena Dixon: I’ve been writing short stories since I was around ten years old. I’ve always been fairly shy and books were my outlet. However, it wasn’t until the 8th grade I really started to love the act of writing. I had a student teacher for one nine week period who focused on poetry. She put us through our paces with a variety of styles and gave us feedback on each piece we submitted. She told me I reminded her of Emily Dickenson. Her encouragement sparked research which lead me to the works of Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, and Maya Angelou. It was my first exposure to black female poets. From there, I realized I’d found a voice and started to write voraciously.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember how your first piece of writing looks like?
Athena Dixon: I can’t remember my first piece of fiction, but my first poem was a piece titled “My Dad is Grand”. I wrote it in 1990 for my father’s birthday. I actually still have it. It was the spark that lead to my current writing style.
Geosi Gyasi: You are a former contributor at For Harriet and a managing editor for Z-Composition. My question is what does it take to be an editor for a literary magazine?
Athena Dixon: I think it takes an unbiased mind and a curiosity of sounds. A good editor, in my opinion, approaches the submitted work as a blank slate. It shouldn’t be about personal connections or bias, popularity, hot topics, or aesthetic. If the work is well crafted and impactful, it deserves a chance to be published and spread to your readers. Additionally, a good editor should be just as interested in the sound of a work as well as how it looks on the page. I read everything I publish aloud. I think the mouth feel of poems is sometimes overlooked in lieu of how aesthetically pleasing it looks on the page. Poems should sing.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you get time to write when you have a regular day job?
Having a day job can be a hinderance to my own writing. When I was an English adjunct just out of graduate school, I had a very hard time balancing teaching Composition and completing my own work. I found I had very little energy to edit my poetry after teaching between three schools. Thankfully, I’ve worked for the federal government for nearly seven years now and I’ve been able to balance quite a bit. I tend to write on the weekends, on my breaks and lunches, and between casework at my desk. I keep a folder on my work desktop with poems, stories, and essays in progress. I usually carry a journal everywhere. Whenever the mood strikes me, I jot it down and come back to it later. I will say I need to develop a specific schedule to maximize my time.
Geosi Gyasi: As the founding editor for Linden Avenue Literary Journal, what are some of the things you look for when accepting submissions?
Athena Dixon: Honesty, if you have clearly disregarded the submission guidelines it is highly likely I won’t read your submission in its entirety. I lean towards work that relays moments in time that are often forgotten. I liken it to background music. The stories and the images used to create the work is important not intrusive tropes and wordiness.
Geosi Gyasi: Has the aim for which you started Linden Avenue Literary Journal been achieved?
Athena Dixon: It has to some degree. My original intention for Linden Avenue was to give voice to writers regardless of his or her connections, educational background, publication history, etc. In that respect, the last three years have been just what I wanted. Now, I want the journal to have a bigger role in publishing. I’d like to expand into a press and eventually a writing collective/retreat. I think there are still needs to be met in the writing community and I hope Linden Avenue can meet them.
Geosi Gyasi: What are some of the best writers you’ve published in Linden Avenue?
Athena Dixon: There have been some amazing writers over the last three years, but a few standouts are Andrea Blythe’s “Red Riding Hood Remembers” from Issue One, Darren Demaree’s “Emily As We Dance With Full Foot” from Issue Twenty-Nine, Pia Taavila-Borsheim’s “The New Day” from Issue Twenty-Five, Suchoon Mo’s “Two Women Sing” from Issue Seven, Agholor Leonard Obiaderi’s “Reunion” and “A Taste of Cabon” from Issue Six, Janna Vought’s “All That Remains” from Issue Four, and Karen Munro’s “Ararat” from Issue Three.
Geosi Gyasi: What are your opinions on literary magazines that charge submission fees?
Athena Dixon: I don’t believe that’s an issue. I pay all costs for Linden Avenue’s staff, website, and hosting from my own personal funds, so I know how it can be a costly endeavour. If a journal needs to offset the costs of running the publication, curating contests, or producing print material, I see no problem with it.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you meet the managing editor and reader, Angie Chatman?
Athena Dixon: We attended the same graduate school, Queens University of Charlotte. When I put out a call for a reader a few months after the journal launched, she responded and she was the perfect fit.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell me about your short piece, “Saturday Night at the D.A.V”?
Athena Dixon: The essay is one of many I wrote during and after the breakup of my marriage. I’d been living in New Jersey with my now ex-husband and moved back to my home state of Ohio to be near my family. I was really hurting and my mother used bingo and other activities to keep her eye on me. She wanted to make sure I wasn’t isolating myself. Bingo was therapy outside of my actual therapy appointments. The game is oddly relaxing. There’s a quiet and a repetition to playing that allows time to slip by very slowly. It was just what I needed.
Geosi Gyasi: Who edits your own works before you submit it to publishers?
Athena Dixon: I edit my own work prior to submission. Currently, I have a reader looking at a collection of my poetry. It’s the first time I am submitting a full manuscript.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected by publishers/editors for your own works?
Athena Dixon: All the time! I publish fairly steadily, but I get my fair share of rejections also. I take it in stride.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you manage to turn down works that do not fit in your literary journal?
Athena Dixon: Although we do have a form rejection letter for use in some cases, I do try to leave personal comments on those pieces that were almost a fit. I know it takes a lot to put your work out into the world so I am never harsh.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever regret being a writer?
Athena Dixon: Not at all! Sometimes I wonder if I really am a writer.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific style in which you write?
Athena Dixon: My work tends to be very confessional. I have a background in spoken word so those cadences and rhythms tend to find their way into my poetry and my non-fiction work. I also tend to use quite a few trinities.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you often choose titles for your works?
Athena Dixon: There are times I start with the title and craft the poem from there, but normally the title comes from a specific image within the work or a portion of a line.
Geosi Gyasi: Poetry and fiction – which of them do you feel more inclined to?
Athena Dixon: Poetry. It fits my personality best. It’s succinct and packs a punch into very few words. When I speak, I want people to know I mean what I say.
Geosi Gyasi: Which writers have had great impact on you as a writer?
Athena Dixon: I love the works of Major Jackson, Nick Flynn, Kevin Young, Anne Sexton, Nikki Giovanni, Jeanette Winterson, Virginia Woolf, Ai, and many others. My favorite book is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I find it to be the perfect blend of poetry, fiction, and linguistics.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell me a little about your past as a volunteer at AmeriCorps Vista?
Athena Dixon: I served for two years in my home state of Ohio. My first year, I taught financial literacy courses for community members and ran an IDA (individual development account) program. The program allowed participants to learn better strategies and to save towards a specific goal such as a starting a small business, furthering his or her education, or purchasing a home. All funds the members saved were matched $2 for every $1. The second year, I helped with literacy at a childcare center. One of my main responsibilities was helping the children prepare for entry into kindergarten.
Geosi Gyasi: What influenced your choice of going to Queens University of Charlotte for your MFA?
Athena Dixon: I was accepted to a summer class at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. My instructor was Major Jackson, who was a faculty member at the university at the time. I’d thought about attending graduate school, but hadn’t made up my mind. After hearing his feedback on my poetry and learning more about the school, I applied and was accepted.
Geosi Gyasi: What are your main research areas as a writer?
Athena Dixon: I’m extremely interested in the works of Steven Pinker. Language, and how it is influenced by society, is fascinating to me. I am also interested in looking at Their Eyes Were Watching God as a feminist text. I think Hurston created a novel generations ago that still rings true when it comes to intersectionality, womanhood, and racism.