“Women Have to Save Us!” A Chat With Barbara Bergmann, Editor of Evening Street Review
Evening Street Review has a serious and passionate tone to its issues. The Spring 2015 volume opens with a discussion of Rachel Carson’s dedication to Albert Schweitzer in Silent Spring (1962)—wherein she quotes him as saying, “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.”—concluding basically, that we must cultivate the power of empathy if we’re to avoid the Earth becoming “a dead planet.” In addition to featuring poets and writers grappling with issues related to social justice, Evening Street Review sets itself apart with brief biographies of and “notes” by historical figures leading the fight for the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I had the honor of speaking to Barbara Bergmann, Managing Editor of Evening Street Review.
Interview by Sarah Katz
Can you tell me about the origin of the name Evening Street, as well as the magazine’s genesis?
Let’s start with how the magazine began. My husband [Gordan Grigsby, the editor] and I were married many years before we discovered we each had a secret wish to publish other people’s writing. We tried to figure out how to make that dream happen. And then we had to name the press. We wanted to name it River House Press because we lived in a small house on the Olentangy River in Ohio, but those words were used in so many other presses. So we tried many other names, and then Evening Street popped into my husband’s head.
It relates to the idea that we live in the evening of male domination of our world, and the dawn of females taking their rightful place as co-equal partners in all human endeavors. We thought “Yeah, that sounds pretty good,” and then we discovered it’s a small street in a little town next to us and an elementary school there. We liked the association. And when we first gave out the announcement of our publication, Marge Piercy saw the name and said she was so enchanted by the name, she sent us some of her poetry. And so we had a great launch based on her contributing. It was very lovely of her to do it.
Does she have a connection to Ohio?
My husband says that she took part in a poetry reading series at OSU, where my husband worked, so it’s a tenuous connection.
Evening Street stands apart, in my mind, as a publication focused on history and on historical figures who have advocated for gender equality. Why did you decide to execute the magazine the way you did, providing brief biographies along with excerpts of their texts?
My husband has been a feminist for many years, and my being a woman almost guaranteed I was too. (Laughs.) My husband is convinced that to survive as a species, we have to have women’s brains involved in molding our culture—everything we do. Male chauvinism has led us to destroying the planet, and women have to save us. So our goal is to encourage writers to give us insight into how that can happen.
How has Evening Street changed or evolved over the years since its inception in 2007?
I think the magazine itself has pretty much stayed the same. But what we’ve done as a press is we’ve added some contests and they’ve allowed us to discover more writers, and some of the writers have been so fabulous in our contests, we’ve put them in the magazine or published other books with them. Otherwise, we’ve stayed pretty much the same so we could sustain our audience—people could say, “We know them, we like what they do, and we want our work in that magazine.”
What steps have you taken to ensure that Evening Street presents a diversity of work from authors of different backgrounds?
I think we’ve just been lucky—we’re known in the prison system, which leads to an enormous amount of diversity. We’ve published people in the prison system. Also, word of mouth has gotten us diverse writers. When we find someone who has a voice we like, even if it isn’t polished, we’ll publish them, and it encourages people who aren’t in academia to send us work. Otherwise, it’s kind of luck of the draw [as to] who sends us work.
What are you looking for in submissions? What are some of your favorite pieces in the Spring 2015 issue?
We are partial to pieces about people becoming social beings who are strong in themselves and share that strength with others. But we are always attracted by clarity—you see what the author means immediately and the underlying feeling and meaning are clear. The excerpts from the three chapbooks in issue 12 of Evening Street Review are stellar examples of this quality. There’s no attempt for the writing to say, “Look at me. How clever I am.” The writing disappears and the personality and experiences shine through.
I think we’ve just been lucky—we’re known in the prison system, which leads to an enormous amount of diversity.
Evening Street Press publishes books, as well. Can you talk about some the books you’ve published, and why they were chosen for publication?
Hmm. (Laughs.) There are so many. Of course, our contest winners are ones that have gone through review in our competitions. Some of the books we did outside of that— there’s one [called] Insignificant White Girl by B. Elizabeth Beck—that came out of a poem she sent us, and she said, “I have this whole collection,” and we looked at it and said, “Yes, wow.” Other times, [we find books through] our chapbook competition, [and] we’ll publish three or four of those a year.
Another book by OSU professor Julian Markels called From Buchenwald to Havana—that one was a personal friend. We just happened to love it when we read it. He wasn’t even asking us to publish it, but we loved it so much. Each book has its own story. Those ones just floated to the top of my mind.
What advice would you give to writers seeking publication in Evening Street Review or by Evening Street Press?
It would help a lot to understand what our mission is, because we get some very male chauvinist stuff which gets kicked out right away. That doesn’t mean we don’t publish things by men—we do. In fact, we had a very interesting story about the owner of a boat who shanghai’s some guys out of a tavern and takes them fishing—it’s hilarious. Now what does that have to do with feminism? Well, it’s just a great story.
So you don’t have to necessarily be a feminist or think of yourself that way. But all of our publications are available in Google Books; you can read them all for free. So when people ask me, I say look for yourself. And you’ll get an idea of the quality and the topics we cover. We have people submitting from all over the world because we’re online.
In our issue number 14, due in June 2016, we have a wonderful piece of poetry and a piece of prose from an author in India—who found us online.
Is there anything we haven’t discussed that you’d like to mention?
Oh, I think we’ve covered a lot of great territory, so...
Sarah Katz is Publications Assistant at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, where she reads submissions to The Writer's Chronicle and The Writer's Notebook. She has an MFA in poetry from American University, where she received the Myra Sklarew Award for her thesis. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Heavy Feather Review, NANO Fiction, jmww, RHINO, The Rumpus, Temenos, and elsewhere.