Five Years of Arrows

Self-Portrait with Five Palm Trees (2017)

March 2022

Riddled with Arrows Literary Journal turns five years old today (or thereabouts).

Where were we back in 2017?  I was by then an experienced submitter with lots of publication credits to my name and a broad network of friends and virtual neighbors in my various literary and local communities. I’d been feeling the push to curate something journal-like of my own, having caught a taste for it with the “Ghosts”-themed issue of Eye to the Telescope. After a modestly successful crowdsourcing campaign I finally launched Riddled with Arrows into the world in March of 2017, just in time for the Spring Equinox.

My aim then was just to build momentum for something that was fun, low-key, and manageable, but also unique in the literary landscape (read: “niche”). I wanted it to be self-sustaining but also ethical, and—radical, perhaps, in a marketplace that seems hell-bent on eroding the value of the writer’s craft—I wanted it to be writer-friendly, encouraging, and kind.

The first five years of Riddled with Arrows exceeded my expectations in every way.  My dear friend Ro helped to translate my visions into the digital-verse, gifting us with two years of her time while teaching me to code. The Riddled community grew exponentially with each issue, and though our themed Submission Calls kept getting more challenging, our inbox overflowed with jaw-dropping poetry, prose, and art to play with. Difficult choices are an editor’s gold.  

I was breaking even on the project as we rolled into year three, generating enough income from our “Feed the Writers” campaigns, the Ars Poetica Contest, and a little help from some generous friends to keep paying writers without going broke. We began to push at the boundaries of what a literary journal could look like, always learning, always finding something new in writing about writing and poems about poems. We published poet laureates alongside never-published-ever authors, high schoolers and old schoolers and writers from all corners of the globe, manifold perspectives and subjects and styles all harmonizing over a shared passion for writing words.

In 2018 we had a presence at AWP in Tampa, Florida for the first time. By presence I mean me walking around with “Riddled with Arrows Literary Journal” on my lanyard, but I came away with so many ideas. If you’d asked me then where I thought we would be by year five, I would have talked excitedly about grant-writing, an advisory board, and our path towards non-profit incorporation and ways to pay for things like a larger masthead with diverse talents rewarded not just in glory but in digits, a kickass design team to take our meta-shenanigans to the next level, and crowdsourcing a creative commons submission manager as we launch the cultural war against corporations that monetize the hopes and dreams of writers through slush mills and the ivory tower gatekeeping institutions that play along.

Ehem. Maybe next year.

Where are we now? Lke the best fiction, life is unpredictable. In lieu of best-laid plans we find ourselves at year #5… well, not at the beginning, surely, but at *a* beginning; a new page or chapter, perhaps. Shipwrecked, maybe, but looking ahead to a whole new creative horizon.

Enter Riddled with Arrows 5.2: “Spotlight 2022”

With this Spotlight Issue, on the occasion of our fifth anniversary, we wanted to pause for a moment to reflect: not just on where we have been as a literary journal and where we hope to go, but where we are now, and what it means.

What is the point of metafiction in the face of climate change, pandemics, and war? Is there a place for ars poetica in political discourse? In revolution? What does it mean to be a good literary citizen this year, this month, today? How does one find a voice in a digital world, and what power/responsibility/impact do we all have in selecting which—and whose—words to raise up?

In this SPOLIGHT we chose to feature not just writing as art but also the artists themselves—the writers, poets, and creators who are out there right now, addressing these questions in real time, in 2022.

That was the idea, anyway. It turned out to be one of the most difficult and challenging projects this journal has ever tackled, physically and emotionally. And by “this journal” I mean me. The decisions were brutal, and as I crafted rejection letters for the many worthy and talented artists we had to say “thanks, but sorry” to this time around, I realized that:

“In endeavoring to select not just that work which “best fits” an issue or theme but also a small selection of artists to feature as exemplars of “the best writing and art about writing as art in the digital age” we set ourselves an extremely lofty, difficult, and objectively arbitrary challenge. How does one go about comparing the spotlight-worthiness of one creator over another?… It’s also self-limiting in that by selecting a handful of creators to spotlight—even in our niche little recursive corner of the literary world—we are in our own way constricting what metafiction and metapoetics can or should be—and who are we to do that? And by ‘we’ I mean I?”

Ultimately, our goal with this issue is just to offer up a sampling of interesting creators doing interesting things to spotlight “the process and product of writing as art” in 2022, while we reflect on what the future of writing *could* or *should* be. Maybe.

I hope our final selections here come together in a way that resonates, uplifts, informs, and boosts the signal for all of us—and all of you—out here in the trenches, still writing the good write. Whether you’ve been with us since year one or only just now realized we exist, thanks for reading. We hope you’ll stick around to see what plot twists the next five years will bring.

–>Shannon Connor Winward, Editor
Riddled with Arrows Literary Journal

Riddled with Arrows 5.2: “Spotlight 2022”
Foreword | Contributors
Meet the Features | Meet the Work