By: Sheena Roetman
Sovereign Bodies has been on a bit of a break this past month, which was partially unintentional but also partially self-inflicted. Nearly everyone involved with our organization needed some downtime for one reason or another, but we are gearing up for fall with some truly incredibly writers and ideas. That said, I wanted to personally address one particular reason for the hiatus.
As many of you are probably aware, Sovereign Bodies published a piece by Tiffany Midge in June critiquing the theme of Four Winds Literary Magazine’s then-recent call for submissions, “Taking Back Tiger Lily.” There was immediate publicity and responses from both “sides,” so to speak. We received very strongly worded emails and commentary, some in full support and with high praise but also extreme disappointment and frustration. I was genuinely surprised with both the positive and negative attention Midge’s words received, and to be completely honest, I am pleased that it garnered such attention. I want to ensure everyone that every email, every message, every concern was given my full attention.
Nearly everyone involved in both Sovereign Bodies and Four Winds, as well as other publications and projects that showed either support or concern, were able to privately have an incredibly in-depth conversation about the issues at hand and we were collectively able to develop some solutions.
Before I get into the more detailed ideas, I want to quickly address some simple journalistic editorial policies that I follow when administrating Sovereign Bodies, as well as other projects I am involved in. Perhaps my choice in running Sovereign Bodies as an objective journalist needs to be re-evaluated, and I am 100 percent willing to have that (civil) conversation.
- I maintain that any text published here is solely the opinion of its author. It absolutely does not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of myself, our parent organization or any of the other writers. Some will disagree with me (and I will address this further on), but I found Midge’s piece to be well written, both in her use of language and in her reasoning. Editorially speaking, I did not see anything irresponsible in her work, and therefore it was accepted and published. - I categorically refuse to remove content from this site, or any other I may manage. As mentioned, some people disagree with the decision to publish Midge’s piece altogether, and I will definitely address that in a minute. I will publish corrections, clarifications, counter arguments, updates and letters to the editor/readers, but for the sake of transparency and digital “paper” trails, I will not remove content. - I do not hold a blanket policy against re-publishing work previously published on personal blogs or ‘zines, etc. As long as the writer holds the rights or I receive permission from previous platforms, I see nothing unethical about this. As always, I am willing to have a conversation about this if anyone disagrees. - There was absolutely nothing illegal about Midge’s words. By legal definition, the piece is inherently not slander and it certainly would not qualify as libel. She, as well as every other Sovereign Bodies writer living in the United States, has a right to fair comment and criticism. This obviously does not mean that we are protected from criticism ourselves (as writers, I would hope that we would welcome criticism), but it does mean that the utterly asinine threats of legal action were unfounded, if not downright irresponsible and short sighted.
Some of the more nuanced concerns included the fact that Four Winds was not specifically named, that the criticism was published prematurely (the issue had not yet been published) and/or that the criticism was coming from personal disagreements between Midge and the managing editors of Four Winds. Furthermore, there was intense discussion regarding the use of imagery in the piece and the exact parameters of appropriation and reclamation.
While I cannot speak to the personal issues that may or may not exist between the two parties, I will address the other points. Midge’s decision not to name Four Winds was her own – I personally saw it as tool to shield the people involved in the project from personal criticism and to focus namely on the project. This also applies to the question of whether or not the criticism was prematurely published – personally, I saw Midge’s criticism as being solely applicable to the theme and the language used in the call for submissions, not to the actual body of work being produced. That said, I am personally penning a review of the issue to be published here on Sovereign Bodies shortly, as agreed upon by myself and Four Winds’ editor-in-chief, MistyLynn Shipman Ellingburg.
Finally, and most importantly (but also the most difficult to address), the issues of the specific imagery used, as well as the discussion of appropriation and reclamation. It would be impossible for me, or anyone, to fully explore these issues in such a limited space as this letter. From the very minute I started receiving emails with these specific concerns, I have been trying to solicit essays on these topics. I simply do not feel comfortable addressing them myself, because I definitely do not feel that I completely understand them or possess the language with which to do them justice. I wholeheartedly welcome (in fact I am practically begging for) submissions on these topics. The imagery used in the piece was particularly responsible for a lot of the backlash I received, so of course I am particularly interested in addressing it – if so many people saw that usage as being problematic, then I absolutely want to explore it and understand those issues more.
With all that said, I want to thank everyone who wrote emails and participated in the discussions surround this. It was exhausting and illuminating at the same time, but inherently important in that we must be able to converse with each other about these things and help each other grow and learn. I am not blowing steam when I say that I crave more discussion, even if you disagree with me. Especially if you disagree with me. Please never hesitate to email me at sheenalouise [at] gmail [dot] com, or feel free to PM/DM me on Facebook or Twitter, or text or call or whatever you need to do. I hope this conversation can continue to evolve, and I sincerely apologize for such a prolonged delay in publicly addressing it.
Sheena Louise Roetman