Issue 5 (Summer): Call for Submissions

For Issue 5 of La Revista Almagre/The Almagre Review we are looking for fiction, flash fiction and art on the themes of Race, Class, and Gender. We would like contributors to submit short stories (and other forms of fiction) that explore the realities of these social categories in the U.S.

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To be clear, we are looking for insightful fiction that is powerful and illuminates that which divides us in society, how people engage in conflict with others, and sometimes build bridges across the divides. We want a diverse group of contributors, especially works from people of color — African Americans, Latinos/Chicanos/Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian Americans.

We also want fiction on issues of gender, how women see themselves, their relationships to men or their refusal to be defined by their relationships to men, and of course their changing roles in society. This does not preclude male perspectives. Too often men feel that their views on gender are not valued in the discussion. We want to change that, especially in regard to how masculinity is understood.

And then there’s the issue of class. For this category we welcome the perspectives of working class people, those who are sometimes called “the working poor,” even the homeless. We would like to see an often ignored category — the white working class perspective. At the same time we realize that social class is a reality that underlies and helps to define the other two categories. What this means is that anybody can write about “class,” regardless of where she or he fits in the social hierarchy.

We don’t want the kind of writing that is typically found on blogs, or the kind of expression we hear on politically oriented talk shows, or on TV news interviews. That sort of thing has its place. However, we are looking for something deeper, and, yes, more sensitive. What we want is for you to invite others into your world, to tell them about how you see things, your perspectives, your experiences. We want to create unity. The way we see it, right now the American quilt has too many people snipping at the hems and seams, disuniting our narrative. We are looking to build an issue that allows readers to walk in someone else’s shoes — easier said than done. In spite of the cliché, “to walk in someone else’s shoes” is a much-needed experience in this polarized society of ours. And in the end, your fiction must still hold up as a well-written story.

We look forward to reading your submissions. Everything that is submitted to us is carefully considered. There is no submission fee, but in the interest of artistic solidarity, please consider buying a copy. Every cent goes into the next literary theme.

Sincerely,
Kirsten Alires, Editor
Kayla Sibigtroth, Editor
John Lewis, Principal Artist
Joe Barrera, Publisher
The Almagre Review/La Revista Almagre

A literary journal founded and published on the banks of el Rio Almagre, an ancient name for Fountain Creek, at the foot of Pikes Peak on the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies.

Joe Barrera: Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the Tet Offensive

On Feb. 3, 1968 I was sitting on the banks of a muddy river in the village of Thanh Canh, or as we called it, Tin Can. I never learned the name of the stream. Reflecting on that time, Tet 1968, I see a microcosm of our misadventure in Vietnam. The situation revealed lessons we should have learned but did not.

Tet Offensive (Warren K Leffler)

Convoys of U.S. and South Vietnamese jeeps, APCs (armored personnel carriers), trucks loaded with troops, M-48 tanks, dusters (armored vehicles with 40mm cannons) crossed the river on a pontoon bridge. The convoys looked powerful but it was an illusion. On one side of the bridge there was a French fort, an enclosure surrounded by berms, mounds of dirt. The defenders burrowed into the mounds to make fighting positions. We called it the “mud fort” because it was just a triangle of muddy dirt, a relic of the French Army’s futile attempt to control Annam. The fort was a harbinger for us. Along the river, bamboo hooches (shacks) stretched for several kilometers. The fort was manned by the Regional Forces/Popular Forces, RF/PFs, trained by U.S. Green Berets, part of our futile effort to control Vietnam. We called them “Ruff Puffs.” They hid in the fort at this crossing on the road between Kon Tum and Dak To and never came out. We were out all the time. We walked up to the French mission. There were dozens of kids, Vietnamese nuns, an exquisite Catholic church, an ascetic French priest–the lone survivor. The mission, the church, the mud fort. I doubt that anything is there anymore. Shades of Beau Geste and the Foreign Legion.

A horde of villagers came running downstream and into the ramshackle fort. The North Vietnamese were advancing. They were a short distance away. Immediately, the U.S. tanks patrolling the road formed a defensive lager next to the fort. We infantrymen had to content ourselves with holes along the banks. But all was quiet. That night one of the tankers fired H&I (harassment and interdiction) up and down the river with his M79 grenade launcher, which fires a 40mm projectile. In the morning the Ruff Puffs yelled and shook their fists at the tanks. The H&I had sunk numerous sampans, boats the villagers used to fish in the river. There went their livelihood. So much for winning hearts and minds.

In the afternoon loin-clothed Montagnards filed into our perimeter. Their leader, a dignified old man, sat down with us. I gave him a can of Coca-Cola. He drew a map in the dirt. We compared our map to his. The others were disdainful but I insisted that he was telling us something: a concentration of NVA troops. I read the coordinates and convinced one of the tankers to use his powerful tank radio to call in an air strike. The jets came in. That took care of the imminent threat. The Montagnards melted into the forest. Did they escape reprisals from the North Vietnamese?

We won every battle in Vietnam, including Tet, but lost the war. There are reasons why we lost in Vietnam and are bogged down in our present wars: We have good motives but our empire treads the path of older empires. We do not effectively engage the enemy. We are too road-bound, too inflexible. We build too many “mud forts.” We do not understand local cultures and alienate our friends. We dismiss nationalism, the impulse to throw out the foreign invader and recover past glories. Nationalism inspired by religion is what motivates our present enemies. It’s almost impossible to stamp out, and now it has terrible forms–the Taliban and the horribly twisted ISIS.

 

Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

Joe Barrera: Christmas in South Texas

Growing up in south Texas in the 50’s we used to get Christmas presents on three different days. First there was the feast of Saint Nicholas on December 6. Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop who gave gifts to poor people, is the original gift-giver whose name has morphed from the Dutch Sinter Klaas into Santa Claus. Because of him people in Europe give and receive gifts. A remnant Spanish custom survived in our small town and the children got gifts on December 6. I remember getting oranges and apples in my stocking, but never the proverbial lump of coal that the  bad kids were supposed to get. For many of the older Mexican people Dec. 6 embodied the spirit of the season, whereas Christmas was the American celebration. All the Christmas customs, the gift-giving, the decorations, etc. were absent. We didn’t have a Christmas tree, for instance, until sometime in the late 50’s. My mother found a dried branch  from the huge pecan tree in the yard. She brought it inside the house, painted it white and hung Christmas lights on it. That was the first Christmas tree I remember. It looked beautiful. Gradually, Christmas presents began to appear under the tree. By the early 60’s most of the old customs had died out and the new Christmas had taken over.

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The real celebration of “Christ’s Mass” was at church. “Misa de Gallo,” midnight mass on Christmas Eve was the important occasion and even the little kids would attend. The highlight was the procession of the children to the empty manger, to lay down the image of Baby Jesus. After mass everyone would go home and eat tamales and drink the powerful cinnamon-laced Mexican chocolate. That stuff could keep you up all night but of course that was not allowed for the children. The men had gone deer hunting and brought back plenty of venison. The women had spent hours in the kitchen marinating the meat and putting it into the corn dough wrapped in corn husks and then steaming the tamales in huge pots. There is nothing more delicious than venison tamales. For days afterward we would be eating tamales. At Christmas women ruled the house. I remember my mother and her “comadres,” which literally means “co-mothers,” making untold dozens of tamales and enjoying their sisterhood time. I sneaked in just to listen to them talk, but men were not allowed in the kitchen.

The twelve days of Christmas, December.25-January 6, had real meaning in those times. There was the joy of Christmas, but mixed with sadness, as all earthly experience must be. We remembered the Holy Innocents on Dec. 28, when all the men and boys named Inocente were honored. I often wondered how so many not-so innocent types could have that name. And how could Herod have killed so many babies? There was New Year’s Day, sacred to God the Father, who seldom gets any credit, but because of him sacred to all who bear his name, Manuel. After that there was Epiphany, on January 6, holy to all those named Epifanio. On Epiphany the Magi come bearing rich gifts. It is the Day of the Three Kings, el Dia de los Reyes Magos, the day of the Wise Men. This is also the name-day of all those named “Reyes.” In the old way of looking at things your name-day is much more significant than your birthday. The saint or sacred feast whose name you bear is your protector, a type of totem beloved in the Indo-Hispano culture.

If there was a true joyous day for all, this was it. Jan. 6 definitely eclipsed Christmas for gift-giving. Baltazar, Melchor, and Gaspar had brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ Child. We emulated them and brought our own gifts. We gave gifts to friends and family.  But in a holy time it’s the King you must honor and how can you give the King any gifts? He already has everything, owns everything. He doesn’t need your poor gift. The Irish nuns at the parish school told us so. They said that on his birthday it is the King who gives gifts. During this season we should ask the King for a favor. There is always life, but also death, and the Irish, like the Mexicans, are ever aware of death. The grace we should request, the sisters said, was for the dead–the release of dear loved ones from Purgatory. Release of captives, that was the true spirit of Christmas and Epiphany. More purified sinners are released from Purgatory at Christmas than on All Soul’s Day.

Joe Barrera, Ph.D, is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

James Stuart: Why Stories Matter

Colorado Writer, James Stuart, shares with the Almagre community the importance of stories…

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The greatest storyteller I ever knew probably hasn’t written anything longer than a personal check since high school. He was a farrier from Wyoming, and even at fifteen years old, I was a couple inches taller than him. But that didn’t give me any sense of scale in his presence. He could begin telling a story at lunch, tell three more over the course of an afternoon, and wrap them all up in an intricate bow just in time for dinner. He moved effortlessly between memory, folktale, pop culture, and dirty jokes, taking with him what he liked as he went and leaving the rest on the vine. Sometimes, you found yourself a character in his stories – a small part in a grand narrative you had already lived but looked forward to hearing told anyway. More times than not, that made you a punchline. But such was his skill, you enjoyed it nonetheless.

Through my work, I have been fortunate to know a number of great writers. Some among us are just naturally gifted at turning letters and punctuation into something beautiful. I’ve swapped notes with journalists, essayists, authors, poets, and screen writers. But in spite of their skill and success, none have ever matched the raw talent of that horseshoer I met when I was young. The greatest writers among us are also the best storytellers; the reverse doesn’t exactly hold true. That is the magic of storytelling in my eyes.

Storytelling may well be our most ancient tradition, crawling into existence from the primordial soup of early communication around the same time humans began to observe the world beyond food, water, and shelter. From its earliest days, it has not been confined by any medium.  It was paint on cave walls. It was music from carved bones and strung sinew. It was mythology, parable, and fable. On cold nights, it was traded around fires, providing an additional layer of protection from a world that remained largely mysterious. It was filled with heroes, monsters, tricksters, and sirens – many of whom live on with different names today. Animals often took on human qualities to teach or to amuse. Eventually, it would be written down, printed, recorded, filmed, digitized, and monetized. But the key ingredients and basic structure have not changed over the millennia, allowing storytelling to transcend cultures, wars, famine, plague, technology, and every other obstacle in its way. It connects us with our past, while preparing new generations for the future.

Storytelling will remain relevant because it is a direct response to basic needs. The need to be understood. The need to be entertained. The need to preserve knowledge. The need to be remembered. These necessities are not only timeless, they are fundamentally human.

As such, there will always be another story to tell.

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James Suart received his Bachelors Degree in English from Colorado State University in 2011. He has dedicated himself to writing fiction that is fresh, thought provoking, and occasionally profane. His influences are extremely diverse, running the gamut from Ernest Hemingway and Ray Bradbury to Zadie Smith and Jhumpa Lahari. He is also the founder of the webpage THE FORGE, a site dedicated to very brief short stories.

Book Chat: Along The WatchTower

In our next Issue, “Language & Music,” coming out December 26, we’re proud to feature an interview with award-winning Oklahoma author, Constance Squires, whose work has appeared in the Atlantic, Bayou, Eclectica, Identity Theory, New Delta Review, and many more.

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Along the WatchTower (2012) is Ms. Squires first novel. Set in the 1980s, on an American army base in Germany and then in an Oklahoma small town, the novel chronicles the growing up of young Lucinda Collins, following her from adolescence on into young adulthood. We get to experience the growth of this eager-to-please, yet strong-minded woman through the world of a military family — overseas and Stateside.

The setting is something we don’t really see in fiction, that of the military family. And it would take someone with Ms. Squires’ particular talent to truly color and people an environment that is often institutional and drab. But there is no doubt, this novel is vigorous and alive.

The book gives us a wishbone with young Lucinda at the vertex and her mom on one side of the V, her father on the other. What makes the story wonderful to read is the author’s ability to deftly and clearly portray the characters’ cosmic arcs, and from the start we sense the tension bending on the bone where we find young Lucinda.

Faye Collins, Lucinda’s mother, obviously has the artist’s soul, the Creative’s gravitas; her’s is a mighty intellect harnessed into the world of being an army wife. She is always the volcano under the bulk of crust…waiting for release. The manner in which she has arrived in this marriage, as illustrated by Ms. Squires, makes complete sense. The fact that she appears unfit for the life it provides is obvious, yet her world is bruised by the desperate and inescapable need for her husband and kids — by the things they can and can’t provide.

Jack Collins, Lucinda’s father, is a relentless contradiction; the consummate military personality who is lovable and impossible to love, both devoted to the family and completely remote. Every awful action or comment for Jack is followed by a moment of redemption, which is then followed by a cold indifference, which is then followed by utter selflessness, which is then followed by callous bravado, which is then followed by incredible warmth and so on. He can piss us off. But…he also has our sympathy. One thing Ms. Squires clearly conveys is a permeant awareness, as seen by the children, the damage to men and women in the military…before caring about that sort of thing had any public traction.

This wishbone creaks from the start. It is Lucinda, our young protagonist who has to figure things out inside this arrangement. To be in the military, to grow up in that kind of family inevitably means the lowering of expectations in our friends. It’s not that we need them less, or that they’re worse…we just have to replace them all the time. So, standards might be a bit more flexible.

Throw in Rock and Roll — Punk — booze — a touch of fascistic background radiation — devastating metaphors — and we have a wonderful, coming-of-age tale spread across the Atlantic, in a setting that is too little represented in literature.

We need this author, and we need her to tell us her stories. Regardless of topic, Ms. Squires has the gift for flesh and blood. It’s impossible to think of Along The WatchTower without the people in it coming alive. For instance, Jack Collins has one of the clearest voices I’ve ever read. His dialogue crackles in the head with the clarity of a Holden Caulfield. And Ms. Squires’ energies are not wasted there; the minor characters pop as much as any.

As part of the Almagre community, we encourage you to support creative thinking, Great Storytelling, and find your way to a copy of Along The WatchTower. It is a pleasure from start to finish.

John Lewis,
Artist/Editor
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Mike Callicrate: Regenerative Food Practices

DOWN TO EARTH: The Planet to Plate Podcast

The current economic model is failing; harming both the farmer and the consumer. Mike Callicrate argues powerfully for a new way of thinking about our agriculture. He advocates humane animal husbandry and “regenerative” farming practices that complete a full food cycle. This is good for the farmer, the consumer, and the animal. He also lays out the destructive practices of giant corporations consolidating their market share, and how they are corrupting our ability to purchase good, clean, honest food.

In this excellent interview with Mary-Charlotte on the Down to Earth (Planet to Plate Podcast), Mike Callicrate revisits and expands upon topics from his conversation with The Almagre Review, in Issue 2: “Leadership.”

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Mike Callicrate: Rural Advocate. People Advocate. Animal Advocate