Calling all rural LGBTQ and POC writers and artists!

America needs help reimagining the rural

TL;DR: After a long hiatus, Mount Island Magazine is returning this fall with a renewed focus: supporting rural LGBTQ and POC writers and artists. We will begin publishing new work in fall 2019. Submit your work now.

Tensions between rural and urban America have always run high. Each tells itself stories about the other—that the city is full of cold, elitist busybodies, and the country and its bumpkins run on home cooked stupidity; or that worthwhile dreams only come true in cities, and the country life waits serene outside as respite. Mean stories, hopeful stories, dumb stories—as is so often the case with us humans, we’ll say almost anything to keep misunderstanding each other. And as is so often the case in industrialized nations, America’s cities either tell the loudest stories or decide which of the country’s are worth telling; the cities are the economic and cultural centers, and the countrysides are their peripheries, their sidekicks.

With our deepening political divides and the rise of emboldened hate groups across the US, cultural critics have pointed the finger at rural America. Venture capitalist J. D. Vance’s popular 2016 book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, dissects for anxious liberals the values of conservative Appalachian voters, arguing that those values feed the social ills of rural America more so than economic inequality. Vance’s perspective has received some pushback, but mainstream America seems to have taken the bait (as if to seal the deal, Netflix is producing a forthcoming movie based on Hillbilly Elegy). 

In the post-2016 election call among liberals for insight into the mind of “the real America” (as in white, working-class Trump-voters), acclaimed author Rebecca Solnit argued against the persistent centering of “a small-town white American narrative” in social and political discourse. In her 2018 lithub piece, “Whose Story (and Country) Is This?” Solnit writes,

“In a story about a Pennsylvania coal town named Hazelton, Fox’s Tucker Carlson recently declared that immigration brings ‘more change than human beings are designed to digest,’ the human beings in this scenario being the white Hazeltonians who are not immigrants…Once again a small-town white American narrative is being treated as though it’s about all of us or all of us who count, as though the gentrification of immigrant neighborhoods is not also a story that matters, as though Los Angeles and New York City, both of which have larger populations than many American states, are not America. In New York City, the immigrant population alone exceeds the total population of Kansas (or Nebraska or Idaho or West Virginia, where all those coal miners are).”

In this argument to recenter discourse away from rural white Americans, Solnit betrays a deeper misconception about rural America, one that hinders any real attempt to bridge rural-urban gaps. Rural America is much more than its grumpiest, most MAGA-hatted corners. Unfortunately, the people who can best tell the story of a different rural America are often the least heard.

According to a recent report from the National Black Justice Coalition, the Movement Advancement Project, the Equality Federation, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, “an estimated 2.9-3.8 million LGBTQ/SGL people live in rural America, accounting for roughly 15-20 percent of the national LGBTQ/SGL population,” and many of these queer folks are also people of color. One fifth of rural Americans, approximately 10.3 million people, are people of color. But even these numbers need rethinking. As Holly Genovese writes in Teen Vogue,

“According to the 2010 U.S. census, more than 80% of the country’s population lives in ‘urban areas’ or ‘urban clusters.’ This is a popularly cited statistic, though some may not realize that an urban cluster, according to U.S. standards, is any town or borough with more than 2,500 people living in it but less than 50,000. This designation ignores the actual experiences of the many Americans not living in major cities or suburban areas.”

By those 2010 census statistics, I, in my (beautiful, complicated, irreplaceable) one-or-two-horse town of 12,000, live in an urban area, and my experiences should be counted among those of queer, mixed-race people in Boston, Denver, Fresno. Sorry, but it just ain’t true. Rural America is miscounted, fundamentally misunderstood. Too many of the folks who call it home are excluded from the popular image of “rural Americans,” and that erasure goes hand in hand with less access to support structures than their urban counterparts.

Even with recent surges of support for more diversity in media and the arts, rural LGBTQ and POC voices are going unheard. Even with the efforts of organizations like VIDA, We Need Diverse Books, and numerous small presses and magazines, folks working behind the scenes in publishing and the creative industries are still overwhelmingly white and middle or upper class—so the writers and artists whose voices are raised up often fit a certain set of white and middle or upper class expectations. A certain kind of brown immigrant story, a certain kind of small-town queer story. Editors, curators, and other creative “gatekeepers” are not lookng for most rural LGBTQ and POC voices because they forget that we exist, or they do not recognize our true existence when they see it.

Rural America is not complete without these voices. The LGBTQ community is not complete without these voices. Black and brown peoples are not complete without these voices.


The return of Mount Island, fall 2019

In light of all this erasure and misconception, a number of us rural people of color and queers have started a publishing project in support of our communities: Mount Island, a literary magazine by and for rural LGBTQ and POC writers and artists.

Mount Island is a platform for shifting the narrative, raising up our voices, and building bridges between us all.
 We’re starting by publishing original work online throughout the year and annually in themed print anthologies. There will be contests, prizes, tête-à-têtes; around our home base in Vermont there will be kooky readings, game shows, maybe even ho-downs—we aim to raise the straw roof.

We plan to release our first online pieces in the fall of 2019, when we will also open for submissions to our first annual print anthology. To learn more about our submissions process and to send us your work, read our submission guidelines.

Our launch this fall is actually a revival. The original Mount Island was a print and digital biannual for critical literature, art, and music. Starting in the spring of 2014, we released three issues, all of which are archived online for free download. In the spring of 2015 we went on a long hiatus—a hibernation, really—but it’s about darn time for Mount Island to wake up. Whether you were with us back then or you’ve just discovered us, we hope you’ll join us for this new, more focused iteration. If you’re not a rural LGBTQ and/or POC writer or artist, never fear! Good art and writing is for everyone, after all, and we’ll have it in spades. And while we now focus on publishing writers and artists from specific underrepresented communities, allies are always welcome and encouraged to submit in certain categories, or to lend their support on our volunteer staff.

So let it be known! We are calling all rural LGBTQ and POC writers and artists—all the queer country bumpkins, the Black and brown Appalachians, cowpokes, bayou babes, prodigal prairie kids. Wherever you are, whatever you create, you have a friend in Mount Island.

Submissions are open. Now let ‘er rip!