Reviewpoint is a new feature on the HFR blog. We often get asked "What do you look for in a submission?" While we're always glad to talk about the magazine (especially if it gets you to subscribe!), we wanted to take the dialogue beyond the usual "Here's what we're looking for..." post. We publish work that affects us deeply as readers, so to invoke that experience we'll be talking about why we chose specific pieces for HFR. That means bringing the contributors in on the conversation, so to start off, Claire Beams discusses the genesis of the powerful story "We Show What We Have Learned" from issue #46.
After I finished my MFA, I began teaching high-school English at a small and wonderful school on Cape Cod, where I’ve been ever since. Two big things about the job have surprised me: how all-consuming it is (I’ll be done every day at 2:30! I had thought. I’ll have so much time to write!) and how much I love it. Teaching has been like receiving an extravagant, unexpected, and outsized gift: it’s dazzling in ways you couldn’t possibly deserve, and you feel incalculably richer just for owning such a thing; it just may or may not go with anything else you happen to have in the living room.
I wrote “We Show What We Have Learned” at the end of my third year. For about a year before writing the story, I had been trying, with mixed success, to claw my way back into some semblance of a writing routine. I’d mostly been reworking pieces that I first wrote during grad school, and I thought I had at last come to an understanding of what ailed some of them, but the process of curing those ailments was slow and painstaking. “We Show What We Have Learned,” which began as an idea I had while waiting to fall asleep one night, felt refreshingly different from all of that. The whole premise struck me as a kind of dare, something I wasn’t at all sure would work on the page. I wrote it mostly to see if I could. The final story has (thankfully) very little to do with any teaching experience I’ve ever had. But within it are heightened versions of some of the ideas teaching has made me consider: the way parts of our lives can become little worlds unto themselves, governed by their own rules, and the ways in which, through the daily frictions of interacting, we shape and mark each other. I’m tremendously grateful to everyone at HFR for supporting this story.
Check back with us tomorrow as we continue Reviewpoint with Fiction Editor Ari Sen writing about why he decided to publish Clare's story.