The aim of literature ... is the creation of a strange object covered with fur which breaks your heart. –Donald Barthelme. Come Back, Dr. Caligari
The trick is to realize that one is not important, except insofar as one’s example can serve to elucidate a more widespread human trait and make readers feel a little less lonely and freakish. –Phillip Lopate. The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present
In his piece in the Houston Chronicle, Phillip Lopate described 1980s Houston as a self-conscious city, its fertile cultural scene often obscured behind “soulless glass skyscrapers” and oil boom. But he and Donald Barthelme saw the city’s promise. They joined the faculty of the University of Houston’s newly minted creative writing program, kept company with painters and architects, and teamed up to found a modest literary journal. Lopate claims the journal’s original name, Domestic Crude, was chosen in the spirit of the city’s “boastful-ashamed dialectic.” The first issue was rust-brown and slender enough to be bound with staples.
As Houston and its literary community flourished, so did the journal, adopting the name Gulf Coast in 1986. From then on the journal grew through the tireless efforts of a dedicated board, graduate students of the UH Creative Writing Program, and key figures such as Marion Barthelme. Since then, the journal has evolved in form and feature. We’re lucky enough to be homed in Houston, a city that boasts a more diverse population than any other metropolitan region. Houstonians speak Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Hindi, Pashtun, Chinese, Urdu, etc. Since the inception of the Translation Prize in 2014, we’ve continued to build an emphasis on the art of translation by publishing a wide array of languages. In this issue, you’ll find works from Russia, Germany, Puerto Rico, and Japan. You’ll also find a new and exciting manga piece by Miki Yamamoto, translated by Jocelyne Allen. It is our goal to better reflect the true texture and variation of our city, and, really, our country as a whole.
The essays and art in homage to the esteemed art critic, poet, and teacher, Thomas McEvilley, celebrate a life that touched many others. New York Times art critic Holland Cotter writes that McEvilley was someone “who understood very clearly that there was a world out there, and that both art and criticism were, or should be, part of that world, connected to it.” This issue also features the work of Rosson Crow who is described by Tamar Halpern as a, “re-animator, giving the past new life.” and Susan McClelland, whose work comments on and challenges themes such as terror and surveillance. This fall, we’re thrilled to launch the Toni Beauchamp Art Lies Prize in Critical Art Writing, a prize that will shine a light on the important work of art writers and will open up a new space for critical conversation.
Our thirtieth anniversary issue is full of poetry and prose that connects to and interrogates the past. National Book Award winner Robin Coste Lewis speaks through time to the first African-American Arctic explorer Matthew Henson, “Thank you, whoever you are, for standing behind the camera and thinking / ‘Matthew Henson’ and ‘photograph’ at the same time.” Molly McCully Brown walks us through The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, “In the beds, the smell / of kerosene and lye.” And Hadara Bar-Nadav meditates on the horror of the Holocaust, “Troubling histories/hidden/inside the prettiest pastel cakes.”
We are interested in language that pushes us out of sleep and into the realness. Danez Smith does just that: “i scream in the field & i’m not/ talking where the meat falls from me/ i’m singing a song for my lost ones.” In “Trans Memoir 4-7” Sarah June- Woods explores gender through metaphor, “..people is/ the word for living creatures who look almost like monsters but not quite.” And finally Mike Alberti reminds us that, “All it required was to become nothing, dissolve the borders of yourself and let the world in.”
Preparing for this milestone issue, we too tracked the past, interviewing Phillip Lopate and exploring the works of Donald Barthelme. We lingered over Barthelme’s collages. They are inventive and uncanny, encouraging you to look closer and see differently. In that spirit, Digital Editor, Michele Nereim, embarked on the project of creating the small art-pieces featured throughout the issue, scouring the Library of Congress digital archives, combining and refashioning old images so they might say something new, connect to now. Like how the wedding of unfamiliar words can forge new ideas. Or bring to light what’s already there.
Looking back at 30 years of Gulf Coast, we realize that, ultimately, the power of the journal radiates from the writers and artists themselves, their words and works. As Darrel Alejandro Holnes says, “Beyond the night, / I’m becoming a force forever expanding in the universe.” We are merely the radio.