A Light in the Darkness: An Interview with Melissa Scholes Young by Dakotah Jennifer

Grace in Darkness is the eighth volume of the wildly successful Gravity and Grace series, an anthology of DC-area women writers started by poet and Gargoyle magazine publisher Richard Peabody through his imprint Paycock Press. This year marks the first that the anthology will be published through American University. jmww intern Dakotah Jennifer caught up with new series editor, novelist Melissa Scholes Young, about the series rebirth.

Dakotah Jennifer: What statement/message do you think Grace in Darkness is trying to make, what is its purpose?

Melissa Scholes Young: In D.C., our local is national. It’s an exhausting time, yet we need light through the dark. We need hope with the fight. Even as I say that, I feel the weight. Words always buoy me. Writing and reading are how I make sense of the world. I look to conversations on the page to help me understand. My world can be as wide as I want it to through the stories of others. I’m listening. Maybe that’s my only purpose right now. Giving voice and amplifying others. Saying to those who are struggling, “I see you.” I have more questions than answers, but I think prose should discomfort us.

DJ: How did the anthology end up with American University?

MSY: I’ve been honored to teach students at American University for the past six years in both the Writing Studies Program and the Creative Writing Program. When I proposed a class on Literary Editing and Publishing and decided to use D.C. literary journals as the texts, the anthology seemed a natural project for hands-on learning. I read all the submissions and edited the collection with AU alum and copy editor/book designer Nita Congress. My students wrote contributor spotlights and helped organize media and the launch. It’s been a collaborative effort. Each piece of this project has exceeded all my expectations: from the quality of the writing to the esteem of the contributors to the support of American University and Politics & Prose Bookstore. It’s a win for our entire literary community.

DJ: Why/how did you make the decision to take on this anthology following Richard Peabody?

MSY: I host a reading series called “Art in Dark Times” and Richard came to share Abundant Grace, vol. VII. He shared that his editing days for the series were over and I asked him if I could take up the reigns. Richard has spent his career in D.C. championing the writing of others and sharing his own poetry and prose generously. He happily welcomed me to take over the Grace & Gravity series and make it my own.

DJ: The anthology has a mixture of different styles, formats, and story lines. How did you choose which stories went into the anthology?

MSY: I write and teach flash forms so I know how much can be accomplished in condensed space, but I purposely didn’t want to limit word count or style. I wanted to see what would come if I kept my eyes open. I was amazing how the submissions began calling to each other. I thought a lot about the reader’s experience, too, as they move from theme and voice to sprint and breadth through the collection.

DJ: In the Introduction of Grace in Darkness, you talk about striving to “live by what [your] tote promises”; how does this anthology aid in that mission?

MSY: The D.C. literary community has been the warmest and most welcoming place I’ve ever been an author. I want to be a literary citizen first and foremost. “Empowered Women Empower Women” seems to sum that up. It’s service, yes, but it’s also the open arms I’ve been met with. Paying it forward is the best part of being a D.C. Woman Writer.

DJ: Has working on the anthology and your book changed you in any way?

MSJ: It was a happy coincidence that Grace in Darkness launches 5/7 and my own novel, FLOOD, launches 5/8. I’d plan on a long nap on 5/9 but my grades are due and I’ll be giving a reading at Fountain Bookstore in Richmond that night and then back at Politics & Prose at the Wharf 5/10 and at Barrelhouse’s Conversations and Connections 5/12. There is another Grace reading at One More Page 5/23 and plenty of more FLOOD book tour events. Being in the community, lifting up other authors, meeting readers, watching my students shine, what better life is there?

Editing a collection is a very different skill than writing your own book. Editing feels more like teaching. As an editor, I’m looking for what works and how I can help an author make it better. Writing a novel is a solo venture until your agent and editor weigh in. You’re wrestling the work in your writing room alone. Editing doesn’t feel quite so lonely.

DJ: In the introduction, you talk a bit about apologies and being unapologetic. How does this anthology embody that?

MSY: I fear we expect successful women to demure and not shout their amazingness from the rooftops. We often begin with an apology for simply speaking or existing or shining. I have no time for that anymore. I have no time for shade thrown. We achieve more by building each other up.

DJ: How do you think working on the anthology has affected your personal work, and vice versa?

MSY: The anthology has taken up all my writing time lately. I’ll be back at my own writing desk this summer with the draft of my next novel. Honestly, the anthology has filled me up. My own writing room feels full now. As a novelist, I’m used to doing things on my own. As an editor, I had to rely on others and it’s been a surprisingly rewarding experience. The contributors’ work is gorgeous and my students’ creativity in promoting the book has amazed me.

DJ: So, what’s next?

MSY: Grace & Gravity vol. IX in 2020! I have the cover art and I’ll be reading submissions in the fall of 2019. Get ready, D.C. Women Writers.

Dakotah Jennifer is a 17-year-old writer in Baltimore, MD, who loves spoken word poetry. She has been published in The Grief Diaries, and 2017 Columbia University HSP Literary Magazine. She is currently working on a collection of essays and a book of poetry, and plans to self publish soon.

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