Rooted

The mangroves inhale her, a buzzing, air-thick, knotted world. She has seen eighty-one years of their change—

Eighty-two? Perhaps eighty. The decades, like the roots, tangle themselves together, extend into murky depths. In her best sturdy shoes, Sik pads as quickly as she can over the silt. Her soles squelch in the softened edges. Brackish water laps at her feet, languid but somehow alive, thrumming with far-out currents. She thinks she catches the glint of crocodile eyes, but it sinks beneath the surface before she can be sure. Around the mud-flats, mottled brown crabs cling to the trees, make her mouth water with the pickled-vinegar memory, the porridge dinners. But no time for hearty meals now. She scuttles along.

The insects whine in a pulse; Sik absorbs it and her own blood hums in response. The paper flutter of wings, somewhere in the speckled canopy. She catches its tailstream the way her mother once taught her; her soul soars for a heightened breath and a flash of vivid, blurring colour before ripping away. She doubles over, groaning. Suddenly she is sweating more than she already was. That is a muscle she has not stretched in many years. Why, when there are now cameras and film and radios to bring the sights and sounds to you? She imagines what her mother would say: Careless. Arrogant. Rootless. Jam bhoi sang tao lai. You can’t have it both ways.

Still, in that one soaring glimpse through the crow’s eyes, she saw what she needed to see. They are coming.

She catches her breath and then picks up her pace, hobbling through the swamp. Her hospital gown snags on branches. The roots attempt to trip her; she drags one foot and then another over. Those muscles are also not what they once were. But she will not need them for much longer. Kuh, kuh, kuh. The bird coughs out its own song, but Sik hears familiar Teochew syllables. Go, go, go.

She goes, goes, goes. There was a time the mangrove forest grew every year, but there are few saplings now that the islanders have set their sights on more romantic plants to populate the land. All these trees are as old as she is. Older. As comforting as that is, it makes her ache. Not many choose to come here any longer. What will happen when they are outgrown?

Her foot catches on a jut of rock and she falls. Her knees nearly crumple with the impact and she hisses under her breath. Even now worrying about the future, she scolds herself, dusting off the sand and pushing herself to her feet.

The fall and the thoughts have cost her a precious minute, however. A hum of an approaching disturbance vibrates through the roots, sending the water shivering. Loud, clumsy, but too-fast footsteps, faster than she is. As she hobbles deeper into the swamp the trees seem to lean in—embracing, shielding, capturing, their earthy, slightly saline scent turning the air viscous. She does not know what she is looking for, exactly, but she will know it when she sees it. Hurry, hurry. An owl hoots low overhead. A flutter of white feathers. The shape of a woman sailing into the corner of her eye. Sik whips around, but it’s only her own shadow racing over the water’s surface. Her heart pounds nonetheless.

Then she looks across the bank and sees it. The spot at the edge of the water. The trees around it bow gently away, skirting the copse with their many legs to create a waiting little bay.

Hurriedly she finds the shallowest part of the water and splashes across. Some slithery brown creature jolts away from her in a panic. She scrabbles onto the opposite bank and drops onto the soil, panting. When she’s collected herself, she lets the swamp sink back in, and she knows she’s found the place.

The island has changed so rapidly her memories are stuttered instead of smooth. Suddenly, skyscrapers. Suddenly, condominiums. Suddenly, no more kampungs and only trishaws for tourists, and suddenly her children are speaking English and going to holidays in Japan every year, and suddenly, the city is unrecognisable. She does not always know if it still has a space for her, too old to learn the new ways, left behind in an island that no longer exists. But the mangroves have a place for her. This place, for her. It recognises her, the soil moulding soft around her limbs and the trees around her protecting.

She shuts her eyes briefly to the hum and chirping, the slosh of the slowed tides. She remembers times out in her father’s fishing boat that the waves were not docile like this. They roared, black and spitting, threatening to upend the world. But the mangroves keep them safe from those waves; they tame them. She remembers a time when the mangroves wrapped the island. Now they cling in scraggly patches to the coast, replaced by factories and farms and slim pretty trees with concrete-stunted roots, and the dragon tides lick their lips at the land.

“Ma!”

Sik’s eyes fly open. Bursting onto the opposite bank, tripping and cursing and sweating and wide-eyed, are her three children. She swears under her breath. She has to do it now.

She yanks off her shoes as her oldest son, Ah Seng, starts making his way across the shallows. He lunges forward, but she thrusts her feet into the water before he reaches her. The mud closes around her ankles.

“Go away, Ah Seng!” He’s reached her now; she bats him away as he tries to pull her up. Her daughter and her youngest son, Ah Mui and Ah Yik, have started across as well, although Ah Yik’s face twists as his expensive shoes touch the water.

“Ma,” Ah Mui pleads from a distance. “Please come home. We already prepared the plot.”

“I told you I don’t want that plot right! I told you I wanted to come to the mangroves!” She finds the sudden strength to wrestle Ah Seng. A renewed energy has begun seeping into her veins, a new solidity firming up her muscles so badly ravaged by the illness. She sucks in a vicious breath. She has not felt this strong for many years. “You never listen to what I say, and you still dare be shocked.”

“Who wants to come to the mangroves!” Ah Yik throws up his hands. He has abandoned his wading attempt and returned to dry land. His fancy shirt is soaked through, and it reminds her suddenly of him as a little boy wet from playing in the rain. She knows all his business partners call him Richard, but he will always be Ah Yik to her, the chubby child with his singlet turned translucent, wet hair dripping into his Milo. “You don’t know what they’re going to have to do to them in ten, twenty years—”

“In the park you have protection; we can look after you there,” Ah Seng says, but his despairing expression, and the way he steps back from her, knows it is a lost battle. He can see the roots already twining up her legs.

Ah Mui is still trying. “We paid the shaman for a beautiful flower tree—”

“Flower tree! Flower tree do what? Let people pick only. Look nice nice in the park, hor? Let lightning strike only.” Sik thumps her chest, which echoes like a drum. “My ah gong died in the war, you know! He fought against the Japanese. He never get to choose his path, but he die to protect the island, you think I want to be a flower tree! I old already, don’t care about being beautiful. I don’t need you to protect me.” Ah Mui opens her mouth, but Sik cuts her off. “Need shaman somemore. Here, the old magic all connected, don’t need anything but your spirit. Huh? You watch. You learn. Maybe when your time comes you will choose to be useful also, instead of become those trees that will blow over in a monsoon! Burden everyone only.”

Her children exchange wary looks, one eye still on her as though surrounding a wounded animal. Sik sighs, even as she feels her spine straighten, her ribs begin knitting together. The magic has not yet reached her soft heart. “Come, lah,” she says gently, reaching forward as much as her stiffened torso will allow. “Don’t fight already.”

After a fractured pause, Ah Mui is the first to stumble forward and fall awkwardly into her mother’s browning arms. Sik kisses her forehead, the way she did when Mui was a girl. When Ah Mui pulls away her eyes are glistening and she sniffles.

Ah Seng gruffly holds her for one, three, five seconds, tucking his head in the crook of her neck. “Bye, Ma.”

Ah Yik hesitates. Then, finally, he puts his feet in the water and trudges over to her. He brushes against her roots, but it doesn’t hurt. His arms go around her, and by now she can’t feel his chest rising and falling against hers, but she feels his chin shuddering against her shoulder. “Aiya,” she croons, patting him stiffly on the back. Her hands are starting to harden, grow rough. “It’s okay one, Ah Yik. The path not so hard. Can always come see Ah Ma.”

When Ah Yik steps away, they are all three standing in front of her. Mui’s arms are wrapped around her; Ah Yik has his hands shoved in his pockets. Ah Seng worries the hem of his shirt. Sik smiles at them as her fingers knot and lengthen, as her hair thickens and spreads, as her roots sink deeper and further into the swamp and the land. Her view of the children fades, and in its place rises a warm wind of greater consciousness. She sees the crocodile lazy on the water’s edge; the hornbill that watches for prey; the spider weaving its web. She sees the island curving into the horizon. The boats that bob against the skyline; the buildings that perforate it. The bustling port and the floating market, the dusting of trees along pin-straight roads.

Faintly, as she sinks into the swamp, she is aware of hands gently resting on her sides, cheeks against her branches, and three soft, steady pulses merging slowly into one. An old instinct swims hazily to the surface, melds into the new. I will protect you, she murmurs, and then she slips and twines and tilts her head upward, roots steadfast in the earth and arms reaching toward the sun.

Podcast Episode 26: All We Have Left Is Ourselves

Subscribe via RSS, Google Podcasts, Android, Stitcher, iHeartRadio or on iTunes!

Welcome back to the Reckoning Press Podcast. Today, I, Michael J. DeLuca, am going to read you Oyedotun Damilola Muees’ PEN Robert J. Dau Prize Winning and Utopia-nominated story, “All We Have Left Is Ourselves” from Reckoning 5. I going to need to ask you to bear with me. This heartbreaking story about living with the consequences of corporate environmental exploitation is written in a culture and an English vernacular far from my own. I’ve had help, I’ve been practicing for this, psyching myself up. Oyedotun says my pronunciation’s not bad, it doesn’t have to be perfect. All my time reading Nigerian twitter at 5AM instead of writing is about to pay off!

Voting for the Utopia Awards is open now through August 21st. We’ve been podcasting the nominated work over the past few episodes, and next week if all goes well I’ll have Remi Skytterstad’s nominated novelette, “A Song Born”. Please go vote; you can find the link at reckoning.press or on twitter.

Our fundraiser is still on, we are oh so close to being able to raise payrates to 10c/word, $50/page for poetry, and I have been out in the woods and fields collecting blackberry prickers in my hands so I can offer Patreon supporters some delicious wild preserves. Don’t let my suffering have been in vain! Just kidding, I love it. Anyway, you can read about the fundraiser at reckoning.press/support-us.

[Bio below.]

All We Have Left Is Ourselves by Oyedotun Damilola Muees

Nature’s Chosen Pronouns

*after Greta Gaard’s Toward a Queer Ecofeminism

But maybe nature isn’t even

a “her” . . . . When nature is feminized

and thereby erotized,

and culture is masculinized*,

the trouble starts, and it’s the bad kind.

When the girl puts on a summer dress:

“she’s asking for it”.

When the soil is “too rich not to steal”:

“she’s asking for it”.

When the non-westernized have (better)

non-reproductive sex and more

than two genders:

“they’re asking for it”.

So stop

the farther occupation of flesh,

of bodies made of earth.

Cut the virile organ

of colonization

before it brings more death

and the death of desire:

compulsory heterosexuality,

the age of the missionary,

with the conqueror “on top.”*

Podcast Episode 25: when the coral copies our fashion advice

Subscribe via RSS, Google Podcasts, Android, Stitcher, iHeartRadio or on iTunes!

Hi, it’s me again, Reckoning publisher Michael J. DeLuca, reporting from droughted, heatwave-beset northeastern North America. Is it brutally hot and dry where you are? Is your representative democracy hamstrung by corruption?

While you’re waiting around for the revolution, cool off with me for a minute or two and listen to Ashley Bao read her effervescent, beachy-apocalyptic poem, “when the coral copies our fashion advice”. This is the second of five podcast episodes featuring our Utopia Award nominees from Reckoning 5.

The Utopia Awards, organized by Android Press as part of CliFiCon22, will be up for public vote between August 1 – 21, and winners will be announced at the conference in October. We really hope you’ll listen and be inspired to vote. I’ll include links to the voting pages here once they’re live.

Also, in case you missed it: we’re having a fundraiser! We’d love to pay everyone better and give more folks a chance to feel invested in this undertaking while making more cool stuff and amplifying more radical, revolutionary, restorative ideas. There will be rewards! Take this opportunity to sport some antifascist, pro-environmental justice Reckoning bling. Maybe win a personal critique of your writing from one of our editors. Or encourage our staff to generate some bespoke educational content on how to make the world a more livable place from right in your own backyard or local biosphere preserve. Come on over to reckoning.press/support-us to learn more.

[Bio below.]

when the coral copies our fashion advice by Ashley Bao

Apology for the Divine Masculine

“And the ship, the black freighter,

disappears out to sea, and on it is me.”

 

Wetlands become one with the rising gulf

as oil rigs drink the earth’s secret juices

and phallic man-made things do other rapey things

to things to which we have ascribed yonic features

and so forth in a pastiche of sexes assigned

to things that never asked not to be sexless.

Does Mother Earth apologize when she

retaliates, swallowing swamp towns

and eating away at the foundations

of coastal cities, as my mother made

my sister and me apologize to our

abuser if ever we fought back?

If a drop of water fell

for each time I apologized for no reason

(besides that I grew up Baptist, believed

that God-on-Earth was tortured so God-up-There

would forgive me for being what He made me),

I’d sail across a sea of sorries,

beg mercy for reaching the shore,

and fall into the arms of the first

brute to excuse me for loving him.

Once, a middle-aged sorceress told me I’d never find love

unless I wrote an apology to the divine masculine for always

expecting the worst of him, and I told her, honey, not until he

writes me one for always proving me right. Once, a friend

told me that apologizing was my most feminine trait, as if

I weren’t cooking dinner in heels and a backless dress, as if

femininity were skin I’d like to shed, and I said I apologized

for all men who wouldn’t do the same, except, no, how

could I apologize for something I’d been assigned—

male, boy, man, him—but never really been?

If Mother Earth covers her face

in a veil of liquid blue shame

for what we’ve done to her

then I will not be sorry

it was her language,

not his, I learned.

Podcast Episode 24: On the Destruction and Restoration of Habitats

Subscribe via RSS, Google Podcasts, Android, Stitcher, iHeartRadio or on iTunes!

Hi, it’s me, your nominal host, Michael J. DeLuca. Today on the Reckoning Press podcast we have for you Reckoning 7 nonfiction editor Priya Chand introducing and reading her Utopia-nominated essay, “On the Destruction and Restoration of Habitats”. This is the first in a series of what will hopefully be five episodes highlighting work from Reckoning 5 nominated for the inaugural Utopia Awards.

The Utopia Awards, organized by Android Press as part of CliFiCon22, will be up for public vote between August 1 – 21, and winners will be announced at the conference in October. We really hope you’ll listen and be inspired to vote. I’ll include links to the voting pages here once they’re live.

My pitch for Priya’s essay is as follows: she’s doing what solarpunk fiction projects, and she’s encountering the complexities and conflicts of the real world making that work harder, more fraught. It’s the work we all need to be doing. Follow Priya’s example.

Also, in case you missed it: we’re having a fundraiser! We’d love to pay everyone better and give more folks a chance to feel invested in this undertaking while making more cool stuff and amplifying more radical, revolutionary, restorative ideas. There will be rewards! Take this opportunity to sport some antifascist, pro-environmental justice Reckoning bling. Maybe win a personal critique of your writing from one of our editors. Or encourage our staff to generate some bespoke educational content on how to make the world a more livable place from right in your own backyard or local biosphere preserve. Come on over to reckoning.press/support-us to learn more.

[Bio below.]

“On the Destruction and Restoration of Habitats” by Priya Chand

Sweetwater, Poison

Last September, they told us not to drink the water.

Our water, from our river, the same water that’s cooled every summer thirst, washed every dish at every birthday party, rinsed the sap off every Christmas since the day I was born.

The advisory was only a precaution, the news broadcast reassured us, but the Food Lion and Harris Teeter shelves were empty in hours flat. Even the Smartwater, the Fiji, the fancy-pants expensive stuff no North Carolinian in their right mind would ever buy in bulk—every case was gone.

Up the river in Fayetteville, the DuPont team responsible for the release of the chemical driving the drinking ban was gathered in some PR war room, but downstream, we turned to sweet tea, lemonade, coffee, orange juice, every other thing in the fridge, always starting for the tap and remembering just as we began to turn it.

But of course, some people went right on drinking the water, just like some people have parties on the beach during Category 4 storms, because this is the Carolina coast and we are nothing if not accustomed to disaster.

This was before Florence, when we had enough distance from a truly bad storm to cheer on the fledgling squalls spiraling off the Gulf Coast, craving the respite from life and school they would bring. And if they ever threatened with any seriousness to arrive, it was a crude, manic, festive vacation, as we boarded up windows, spray-painting challenges or prayers on plywood, surfers racing for storm swell as the ocean churned and they howled the joy of getting waves as close to California big as our east coast shore could ever muster.

In Wilmington, North Carolina, our history is made up of pirates, hiding behind piny shoals from the law, of stubborn generals in the last bastion of the civil war, flowering azalea, cobblestones, steeples on every corner, college basketball and hurricane parties, and so some people flapped their hands, scoffed at science, and went right on drinking the water.

In the coming months, clumsy local-news reporting fed us the piece-meal story: Once upon a time, DuPont, nee Chemours, manufactured shiny new Teflon upstream in Fayetteville, and to make it extra-shiny, they used a chemical (and I swear this is the name, though I know it sounds like a comic book kryptonite) called GenX. It flowed with the rest of the sludge deemed safe into the Cape Fear River. And one day, in a series of routine tests, they found it in the drinking water. Someone saw the results and rang the alarm bells, even if they didn’t know what they were ringing them for.

The impacts of GenX on human health are unclear. It’s a new chemical, one of many PFAs beginning to be called “forever chemicals”, developed as a replacement for the blacklisted PBDEs of the 1980s. They exist in a kind of grey regulatory limbo, not yet classified as toxic or completely cleared. They’ve caused cancer in some lab rats—news that makes your stomach turn when you turn on your tap—but it hasn’t been enough for companies to forgo their profitable use.

What was clear, though, was that the bottled Fiji water my more nervous neighbors were using to brush their teeth with wasn’t going to do any good. GenX had been in our water for almost a decade already, at 130,000 parts per trillion. If it was going to hurt us, the damage was done.

So there was a great Southern shrug, and we all turned on our taps. Just like turning up the music at a hurricane party as the winds howl. What’s done is done, what’ll come will come.

Meanwhile, every agency with an acronym east of Raleigh was floundering. The bogeyman of this long-term mystery molecule was proving impossible to wrangle, harder even than the coal ash spill from a few years back in the same long-suffering river. Suddenly its presence in the water and its questionable past were splayed out on scrolling cable news bulletins night after night. There were town halls packed full of scared angry people who wanted to know what was in their water, and the harried municipal inspector fresh out of school, the underpaid chemists from the treatment plant—they all had to tell their neighbors: we don’t know.

Let me be very clear: Wilmington is not Flint, Michigan. Environmental disasters always disproportionately affect already marginalized communities, hitting hardest the people who can’t afford a case of Fiji water or people in food deserts who walk to the corner store for groceries and couldn’t carry five cases even if they could afford it. And parallels of negligence are certainly present. But GenX isn’t lead. Our children aren’t dying. And our elected officials were blindsided by its presence in our water, just like us, even if the Chemours executives were not.

This is the place I am from: where a river only this year after tireless fighting has stopped carrying a wild-card chemical downstream into the taps of everyone I know and love, where coal ash was spilled in the same waters a few years back and there was never just restitution, Where surrounding farmland is plagued by algae-choked lakes, animal refuse is dumped with abandon as factory farms go unregulated, where building codes allow brand sparkling new oceanfront construction for the revenue they will generate despite the constant sea level rise and erosion, where people stare stubbornly into the eyes of storms like Florence, which took seventeen lives and left my hometown an island, which worsen with every passing year.

This is the place I live now: where I sit in a classroom in Maine and listen as a professor talks about the sublime American wilderness, where I major in a field of study centered around the ‘environment’, in a town where farmer’s markets dot the village green and grocery stores have started charging per plastic bag.

I write these words on a scientific station off the coast of Canada on a summer arts fellowship, with hundreds of miles of ocean between me and a factory, where we count with care the eggs of even the common gull and are careful not to let even hand soap contaminate the nesting sites of sparrows, where at night the only visible sign of human industry under the stars with the milky way caressing their swirling center is the lighthouses to the south and north. I am paid two dollars an hour more than the minimum wage in my state to write poetry about storm petrels and honeybees and the fog rolling in from the sea.

And at first glance, this makes sense to me. After all, there are places like Kent Island, and places like Wilmington. There and Here.

When most people talk about the environment, they mean Kent Island and the jungles of Belize, beautiful wondrous pristine places, distant places, There.

But beer cans in estuaries and a state park with trails layered over tore-up old motorbike paths, and the muddy river under fourth of July fireworks flowing, and the creek behind the subdivision, and the GenX flowing downstream—the environment is hiding Here, too.

There is an incredible contempt in America for the middle landscape—a term environmental scholars use to describe places like Here. Not catastrophe and ruin, oil spills or garbage dumps or black-lung from coal or the radium-girl shocking headlines from old factories, but the Here—the backyard grass that needs mowing.

But the problems in our thinking are the hardest to shift, especially when the pull of the There is so deeply ingrained, and we are all forced to deal with the drudgery and carnage of the Here.

Like the officials in my home town with their alarmist call to turn off the taps or like the DuPont inspectors who said nothing all those years, it is either feast or famine with the American imagination. We invoke a love of Nature to save the redwoods, while it isn’t even a word we connect with planted petunias on overpasses or roots scrabbling up in vacant lots.

No one is paying me to write poems about the flooded cobblestones on 3rd Street after the hurricane, greasy with sunscreen and gasoline, about the retention pond my dad and I fished in, always catching turtles on accident; no one is paying me to write poems about the bare shelves of Food Lion, even the Fiji water gone.

But maybe the answer is that I will anyway. Because I am sitting in this pristine paradise with all the privilege that comes along with it, and I’m telling you: they’re the same gulls circling overhead, the same goldenrod that grows along the highway in the place I am from. At home and far afield I have the same right to clean air and water and a livable planet, regardless of how well it translates into our romantic ideals of wilderness.

The “environment” is of no use to us if it ceases to exist where it cannot fit easily into poems like “Leaves of Grass” or even “The Wasteland”. Feast or famine are not the ways to live in the world. The power of activism spurred by imagination is futile if our contempt for the middle landscape blinds us to the necessity of change.

We all live in landscapes that shapeshift, passing through blurring borders of Here and There. It can seem impossibly incongruent: the carelessness of a tossed-aside beer can on a commercial shore and the gentle fastening of a thousand-dollar tracker to the wing of a burrowing grey bird.

But I am learning to blur these lines, to unhitch my sense of beauty from an obligation to perfection. Like anyone with the privilege to experience such beauty, I must grapple with my longing to always live on Kent Island, to set these places on their pedestals. I know that my hometown’s muddy river water is not truly separate from the waters crashing on this untouched shore. It is all flowing from the same headwaters; we all live downstream.

Podcast Episode 23: Sold for Parts

read by

Subscribe via RSS, Google Podcasts, Android, Stitcher, iHeartRadio or on iTunes. Past episodes are here.

Today on the Reckoning Press podcast we have Catherine Rockwood reading Nicole Bade’s quiet flash story “Sold for Parts”, about surviving, coping, in a world of loss. This piece seems particularly relevant here in the U.S., after a series of Supreme Court decisions that signals a precipitous erosion of rights, hope for safety and well-being and progress towards justice of all kinds, for everyone.

I hope listening to it provides you some solace, a little peace.

In case you haven’t heard, we’ve just announced a new submission call for a special issue about bodily autonomy and environmental justice, Our Beautiful Reward, edited by none other than Catherine Rockwood. To read that call and submit, you can go to reckoning.press/submit.

We’re also running our first-ever fundraiser, with the goal of raising payrates for writers, staff, and podcast readers, potentially producing a print edition of Catherine’s special issue featuring cover art by Mona Robles, and including cool rewards like pins, t-shirts, personal story critiques from some of our editors past and present, and other weirder fun stuff. Go to reckoning.press/support-us for details.

Thank you for listening!

[Bios below.]

“Sold for Parts” by Nicole Bade

A brief history of misery

Among the stones, there was a flower that reached out to me.

Many years ago, I dreamt of the Arabian Nights

When I woke up I found myself laughing

Nothing wrong with the laughter

But we shouldn’t take history seriously when it turned into a big joke.

I sat at the edge of the battle

Dressed like a warrior

I am not a half person anymore

No Matter how my society categorizes me

No Matter how the world introduces me

I stand in a proud position

Pouring my excitement into the Revolution’s womb

I run with all my might seeking a door or a window

I found nothing

I type on my Google page

‘Freedom’

I searched many times

But found no results.

I recalled the rooster’s sound in our tales

I waited for its appointment

But nothing came.

I shouted like a child

Who had her first sight of a gorilla

I moaned

All the women who were hidden under my skin moaned louder.

We are not a family

We are one.

We are tied to each other against the walls of the prison.

It took a very long time to crawl from under the tunnels

Climbing the highest trees

Rubbing our faces with the world’s maps

Among the stones, there was a flower that reached out to me.

I was born with a great motivation to scratch the sky

No Matter how many people limited my power

No Matter how hard the world fought me.

Fundraiser 2022 – Status: $2,064/year! $1,436 to the next tier!

Reckoning Press has been a nonprofit for almost seven years, and we’ve never had a fundraiser.

We’ve always paid professional rates to writers and artists, as well as providing small honoraria to editors and staff. We’ve read some 5,000 submissions, published 83 stories, 72 poems, 42 essays and 19 artworks about environmental justice. We’ve featured writers and artists from the US, Canada, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, the UK, the Netherlands, Spain, France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Greece, Israel, Egypt, Nigeria, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Singapore, Korea, Japan, the Phillippines, New Zealand, Tasmania, and Australia. We published debut writing by Innocent Ilo, Oyedotun Damilola Muees, Riley Tao, Francis Bass, Nancy Lynée Woo and Luke Elliott. Just this year, Oyedotun’s story “All We Have Left Is Ourselves” won a PEN Robert J. Dau Award, and we got six (6!) nominations for the inaugural Utopia Awards.

Over that time, our public funding has varied between about 8% and 12% of our budget. The remainder has come from me, Michael J. DeLuca, through my freelance income. That’s right, every time anyone buys an ebook subscription from Weightless Books or hires me to build a website, they’re supporting creative writing on environmental justice. All told, the seven issues of Reckoning (and part of an eighth!) weigh in at $47.7K, of which some $43K was my own money. I know how nervous people get talking about money, but it has seemed important to me to be open about this. I’m lucky, privileged, I never had college debt, I live as simply as I can manage, I have marketable skills I’ve for a long time now been able to sell to the most ethical bidder for a fraction of the going rate. This is what I choose to do with the money I don’t need. Paying people to think this way and render those ideas beautiful and compelling and share them with others makes me feel better about our world on fire.

So why a fundraiser now?

It has been pointed out to me that other people might also want the unique sense of well-being, of having done something to counteract the downward spiral, conferred by funding creative writing on environmental justice. We’d like to invite you in! If you like the magazine, if you’ve gotten a new angle or a new thought or found some handhold in our pages that helped you in these difficult days, even for a moment or an afternoon, well, we could use your help to put out more of these stories. And maybe helping us do that would feel good?

Reckoning has reached the capacity to grow beyond the extent to which I’ve been able to fund it. We want to pay writers better. In this age of massive inflation and artificial scarcity, 8c/word doesn’t seem like enough. We want to pay staff better. A $100 honorarium for a year’s worth of reading and editorial work might not seem like such a bad deal in an industry where so many editors and writers go unpaid, but we’d be failing at our primary purpose if we didn’t try to change that. We’d also like to do more special issues, like Creativity and Coronavirus and Our Beautiful Reward (the new bodily autonomy issue we started reading for last week). Over the last few months, we’ve rebooted the podcast; we’d love to keep doing that and pay our narrators at least a token rate.

Goals:

  • To raise our rates to 10c/word for prose, $50/page for poetry, we need needed an additional $2000 per year–and we got there! Hooray, you did it!
  • To double the staff honoraria, that’s $1500 per year.
  • To pay podcast readers $50 per recording, that’s $2500 per year.
  • To produce one special issue per year, that’s $2000.

To put that in perspective, we could achieve all of the above with just 135 new Patreon subscribers at $5/month.

  • Even 20 new Patreon subscribers at the $5/month level would push us permanently above the 10% public funding cutoff that would allow Reckoning Press to change its official nonprofit status from that of a private foundation to a public charity, making us eligible for tons more public funding in the form of grants from entities like the NEA. We made it here already, public charity status is achieved, thank you all so much!

After seven years, it seems worth trying.

So a fundraiser! With rewards!

Individual Rewards:

We have a bunch of books to give away, donated by the authors/publishers, including but likely not limited to:

  • A signed copy of Catherine Rockwood’s poetry chapbook, Endeavors to Obtain Perpetual Motion, from the Ethel Zine Press
  • A signed copy of Michael J. DeLuca’s Crawford Award finalist novella, Night Roll, from Stelliform Press
  • Copies of People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! and People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror! donated by Gabriela Santiago
  • A copy of the Subterranean Press edition (sold out nearly everywhere!) of Arkady Martine’s multi-award-winning A Memory Called Empire
  • Signed copies of Leah Bobet’s novels Above and An Inheritance of Ashes
  • Copies of Andrew Kozma’s poetry collections City of Regret and Orphanotrophia
  • A complete set of Reckoning 16 plus Creativity and Coronavirus. They look amazing on a shelf all together, I guarantee.
  • An “environmental justice bundle” from Small Beer Press: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho, Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman, Sherwood Nation by Benjamin Parzybok, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #33, edited by Michael J. DeLuca.

Milestones:

  • If enough people support us to let us raise contributor pay rates to 10c/word, $50/page for poetry—that’s $2000/year—Reckoning 7 nonfiction editor Priya Chand promises to take all our supporters on a virtual hobbyist lumberjacking tutorial around her local nature preserves and waste places in Northern Illinois.
  • If enough people support us to let us double the rates for editors and staff—that’s $1500 more, or $3500/year total—I, Michael, promise to take you all on a year-long video odyssey in quest to homebrew the most local, sustainable, delicious, lowest-carbon and cost-per-pint beer I know how, and I’ll send a bottle to every supporter when it’s done.
  • If enough people support us to let us pay podcast narrators $50 per recording—that’s an additional $2500/year, or $6000/year total—Leah Bobet promises to take all our supporters on a pickling/canning tutorial.
  • If enough people support us to let us do a special issue every year–that’s an additional $2000/year, or $8000/year total–we’ll do a print edition of the forthcoming, currently e-only special issue, Our Beautiful Reward, edited by Catherine Rockwood, featuring new Maya Monster art by Mona Robles!

Current patrons will be grandparented in to all of the above. Thank you all so much for your support!