Editor Melissa Scholes Young in conversation with TWC’s Amy Freeman
Furious Gravity is volume nine of the Grace & Gravity anthology series, a literary journal devoted to women writers in the DC region, founded by Richard Peabody and edited by Melissa Scholes Young. Publication is May 2020 through a partnership between American University and Politics & Prose Bookstore.
AF: This anthology is a beloved DC institution. When and how did you start serving as its editor?
MSY: When I moved to DC almost a decade ago, Richard Peabody was one of the first to welcome me to town. I was attending three to four readings a week at independent bookstores and The Writer’s Center, meeting writers, and learning about the community. Richard asked me for a contribution for Abundant Grace, vol. VII, and I sent him a dark, funny story written in second-person called “Oxygen in Use.” My writing mentors had warned me away from this POV but the tale needed the intimacy, humor, and grief this risk allowed. Richard loved it. We became friends. He was at my house late one night for a reading series I host called “Art in Dark Times” and shared that the series was ending. I knew immediately that I wanted to continue the work he began.
You must have read hundreds (thousands?) of stories and essays by local women writers. What do you find they have in common? Is there anything that strikes you about the submissions you receive?
We had a record number of submissions for Furious Gravity, vol. IX. The quality of writing is a commonality. We have a shocking amount of creativity, passion, and talent in DC. I’ve always wanted to play in those leagues and learn from the writing of women brave enough to tell these stories. The sincerity and courage of the submissions strikes me too. So does the injustice. Can writing a story shine a light on the hurt and help it heal? I hope so. Wendy Besel Hahn, Furious Gravity’s nonfiction editor, read every piece too and she saw the grit, rawness, and, well, fury. These are necessary stories that feel urgent in the submission queue. I wish I could publish every single DC Woman Writer. I’d be honored to do so. And if I am fortunate enough to edit more volumes, I intend to.
Each issue’s title contains the word “grace” or “gravity” with a different focus attached to it. Can you talk a bit about how you select each issue’s theme?
Richard named the series after the first book, Grace and Gravity, and each subsequent volume has included one of these two ideas. In the submission call for Furious Gravity, Wendy and I challenged writers: “Tell us about the forces that pull us together or apart; show us anger as fuel. Bring us your outrage and feverish energy; expose the weight that draws us to our center.” So we are listening to the ways anger brings us closer and how outrage can be fruitful. The first volume I edited, Grace in Darkness, was published in 2018, and the theme was in response to the political darkness we’d uncovered and how grace might shine a bit of light. I don’t know that I select the themes; it’s possible they choose me, but I do look to art for hope. Sometimes it’s revolutionary to just say no to the chaos and to be subversive by embracing joy.
What do you hope to accomplish with this anthology?
I hope to contribute to and to serve the literary community. I want to amplify the voices of DC Women Writers. I’m incredibly grateful to the contributors. As the editor, I get to support emerging and established voices. The energy around Furious Gravity is a powerful force.
How can readers get their mitts on copies?
Books will be sold at all events and through Politics & Prose Bookstore.