Volume 16 | 2020/2021
Letters from the Editors-in-Chief
Lara Katz and Cate Pitterle
"Polyphony" means many voices. The more voices, the more complexity of perspective. There's something for everyone in these digital pages—something relatable, something unrelatable, something comforting, something terrifying. This past year has been unusual. No doubt, the years to come will be stranger still. The crush of news reports, personal crises, loneliness, the overturning of social strata—it's overwhelming.
Polyphony offers, in a way, an alternate reality. An author's first composition might receive hours of an experienced editor's time. A high schooler struggling to feel accepted in their own home might develop close friendships with editors around the world. A dedicated writer whose words have never been shared before might be published and read by the entire Polyphony community. I have specific people in mind for each one of these examples.
This year, Polyphony Lit has proven its resilience, its power, and its essentiality in times of crisis. Amidst global tragedies and societal reckonings, in a world that seems to be changing drastically every single day, Polyphony has enjoyed the arrival of dozens of smart, new, hard-working editors. So many editors that we practically ran out of submissions to send them. So many that I sometimes have to mute the Discord channel just to get homework done. So many, and so dedicated, that editors started sending me requests for assignments, instead of the other way around.
Every year, it seems our submissions bear an increasing burden of angst, fear, and profound emotion. This year has been exceptional. Our generation is growing up in a world that seems to be crumbling around us, and it's difficult to know how to handle it. I'm ashamed to admit, for example, that I was more shocked by the news that 50,000 Americans had died of COVID-19 than the recent update of 200,000. I'm being desensitized to disaster, and I know I'm not the only one.
The written word provides a void to scream into. There's at least two dimensions, as I see it, to the writing we receive. On the one hand, it offers an escape: when millions of students can't even go to school, Onassa Sun's "Marhaban" might take them to Morocco and Los Angeles. On the other hand, when 2020 threatens to overwhelm, Jonathan Truong's "Newspaper Planes" can provide a moment out of the twenty-first century—and a reminder that humanity has grappled with existential dread before, and emerged. Through reading, editing, and sharing writing, I believe there's enormous potential to be re-sensitized. To get back in touch with our own emotions. To be allowed space to grieve, as well as to rejoice, and to be grateful for what we do have. To take joy in being alive. To acknowledge that although we may live very different lives, we are all thinking, feeling human beings.
Thank you, to our wonderful readers, writers, editors, and all those who support us. I hope you enjoy this issue.
As I thought about how to approach this letter, I took a walk around my college’s campus. The leaves here are just beginning to change colors, the air is somewhere between warm and chilly, and every student’s face is covered by a mask. In every sense of the word, we are in a transition period—a sense of constant, undeniable uncertainty and change.
I myself am in that state. In my first two months of college, I’ve moved to a new city, started new classes, made new friends and, of course, begun to step back from Polyphony Lit.
It’s a time I always knew was coming. As a bright-eyed, possibly overenthusiastic high school sophomore sending my application to then-Mr. Lombardo (gosh, billy, I’m so sorry), it seemed impossibly far away. But only now that the time has come do I realized how my experience with this magazine—this beautiful, daring, wonderful magazine—has shaped me.
When I started here as a First Reader, I was admittedly nervous. I had no idea how to read poetry. I barely knew what creative nonfiction was. There were two routes that then seemed clear to me: one, take on a submission every now and then, get my feet wet, maybe learn something; or two, dive in headfirst. My choice, of course, was the second one. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
From that point, I dedicated hours to Polyphony. I learned how to read a poem and fell in love with the intricacies of creative nonfiction. I wrote tens of thousands of words of commentary, but it never felt like work. I’d found a passion—as my philosophy professor would say, purpose.
It’s hard to say, in the moment, that something will change your life. But as I sit at my dorm room desk thinking about the hundreds of pieces I’ve read, the words that our submitting writers poured their souls into, and the commentary that our own editors have handled with deft, grace and skill, I know that Polyphony has changed mine profoundly. I have grown into myself. I am confident in my skills as a leader and writer, and I know that my soul has become deeper.
I am not the only one. Polyphony Lit is a world-changer, and it does that by changing individuals. Every editor I know—every single one—has not only become a better writer and editor through Polyphony, but has learned to think more compassionately.
Two summers ago, I was lucky enough to attend Polyphony’s editor workshop in Chicago. I remember something billy said there in particular—about shifts in a piece of fiction. Every story must have shifts, he told us, points where the story changes and cannot be unchanged. The characters set themselves on a new route, and they must follow it.
Our world is shifting now, irreversibly. But shifts aren’t bad. In fact, they’re necessary for any story to continue. Stagnancy is the enemy of progress just as it is the enemy of good fiction. In a world where the only certainty are shifts, the only known the unknown, Polyphony holds a mirror to that universal truth.
That is why, more than ever, we need this magazine. Volume 16 has a huge part of my heart. Maybe I’m biased, but it might be our best yet.
I have a few favorite pieces from this volume, I think because they reflect our times so well. Sofia Miller’s “And the crows laughed” and Andrea Zhou’s “Revisiting Union County, Indiana” come to mind, but it’s impossible to name them all. Every piece in this volume—and many that are not—are enough to make me swoon.
I hope you feel the same. And I hope this volume will change you, in some small way.
Co-Editor in Chief