Pushing To The Uncertainty: An Interview with Davon Loeb

This interview was conducted via email by Summer Blog Editor Kelsey Kerley. It regards Davon Loeb’s memoir, The In-Betweens (published in 2018) as well as his process and experiences as a writer and educator.

Davon Loeb is the author of the lyrical memoir The In-Betweens (Everytime Press, 2018). He earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers-Camden, and he is an assistant poetry editor at Bending Genres and a guest prose editor at Apiary Magazine. Davon writes creative nonfiction and poetry. His work has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and one Best of the Net, and is forthcoming and featured in Ploughshares Blog, PANK MagazinePithead ChapelMauldin HouseJMWWBarren MagazineSplit Lip MagazineTahoma Literary Review, and elsewhere. Besides writing, Davon is a high school English teacher, husband, and father living in New Jersey. Currently, he is writing a YA novel. His work can be found here: davonloeb.com and on Twitter @LoebDavon.

The In-Betweens is a coming of age journey about a biracial boy who is trying to navigate the nuances, struggles, and joys of growing up in two different cultures, a Black family and a white-Jewish family, while living in non-diverse communities. This memoir, written as poetic flash and lyrical nonfiction, explores how racial and cultural identity is shaped through family, friends, and community, as well as how each of these factors are deeply complex and tumultuous, especially in the very divided America we have today. And as noted by Paul Lisicky, author of The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship and Later, “…The In-Betweens is awake to the awe of being in a boy, and the beauty and danger of negotiating a culture that wants to drive space between us, inside us.”

Superstition Review: Could you describe the inspiration for your memoir The In-Betweens?

Davon Loeb: My inspiration for my memoir The In-Betweens was really about trust—trusting myself, in my stories, in my craft. Ever since I was young, I was imaginative. Writing this collection was just about going back to being that little kid again, back to a world of make-believe, to when I was encouraged to dream, to tell stories. Sure, the MFA helped develop some skill, but this was about the persistence that followed. I was inspired to do the work, to write, to commit to this collection.

SR: Some of the chapters that stuck with me most as I read your memoir were the one-page chapters, the small snippets of a moment in time that were packed with emotion. Could you please discuss your process for writing the sections?

DL: I wrote those chapters to tell a story, and sometimes that story only grew into a paragraph or a page simply because the memory itself was small; it was a fragment, but the emotion was still like a hot wire. So I tried to lean into single images as support for the frame of those smaller chapters. In the chapter “5-Series BMW”, my stepfather is working on his car in the garage. The BMW is an image in itself but also a symbol for masculinity. Instead of explaining masculinity, the image and the symbol do the work for me. Once there, in the minute of the moment, I need to trust in the storytelling—really believe in the brevity. After finishing the memoir, I realized these flash chapters balanced the book well.

SR: You’ve managed to capture so many unique moments of your own childhood while still making them relatable to the reader, creating a sense of nostalgia and memory of things they have never known. Which memoirs and memoir authors inspired you?

DL: I intentionally wanted to capture memories that readers could identify with. I’m a real believer that it’s sometimes our duty, as writers, to create universality through individual stories. I wanted my readers to experience the same dirt of childhood, to be hand over hand with me, through the joys, the laughter, the tears. I’m so glad it worked, and readers felt a connection to this little boy. In regard to reading memoir, the genre was actually new to me. I started my MFA as a poet and left writing memoir. A reasonably short list of some of my favorite memoir authors are the following: Paul Lisicky, Roxane Gay, Porochista Khakpour, Tyrese Coleman, Chloe Caldwell, Tracy K. Smith, and more names I know I’m missing. I actually read more poetry than memoir, and that list would be too long.

SR: As well as being a writer, you are also a teacher. How has your experience as an educator influenced your writing?

DL: So much of writing is being vulnerable, which is like teaching. I believe the best teachers are the ones who are not afraid to be themselves, not afraid of getting “eye-level” with their students. When writing this memoir, I took the same approach. I said, “This is who I am. I am not scared to show you,” because readers can see through a façade as quickly as students can. But the relationship between the two is also evident in my craft as a writer and educator. I teach Literature and Composition; I read and write all day. This is my life, a muscle always at use. Consider this: as writers, we are constantly changing, a course of lifelong revisions; in the same way, teachers are forever adapting, sometimes in the moment in a classroom or as society shifts, like now, during a health pandemic. Nonetheless, these roles are inseparable; they are equally part of my identity, and I could not do one without the other. Though it can get messy. My students love to Google me, and read my book, which is cool, but sometimes makes for an interesting conversation. The point I try to impress is that I am forever in it, forever learning, forever a student.

SR: One of the main factors of an identity that you discuss in The In-Betweens is race. How did you go about addressing this topic and what did you find most challenging about it?

DL: Discussing race is definitely the crux of a lot of my writing. I try to focus on race as something fluid, rather than stone. I want readers to value my experiences, as well as understand that my experiences are not the tell-all stories of racism or the entire black experience. I felt especially confronted with my race or my blackness in the last couple months, during the protests and public murder of George Floyd. I’m biracial. I grew up in a predominantly white community. While some aspects of my upbringing were discriminatory, I still had a great childhood and adolescence. There’s a duality that exists here, in the danger of being a minority, but also this safety in racial ambiguity. That is challenging to write about, to straddle two cultures. So instead of steering away from that, I drive forward, push to the uncertainty, the in-between of my race, of where I fit in this American narrative.

SR: As an educator, what impact do you think or hope books like your own will have on younger generations?

DL: I hope books like mine will help students who have never read an author that looks like me to realize different authors do exist beyond what they’ve read since starting education. Different stories exist, ones that are similar or dissimilar from their own. I want my students to know that the writing community is incredibly diverse. I believe that if our Nation wants to rewrite its identity, it starts here, with books in schools. As an educator, I really hope, if anything, something I’ve said will inspire younger generations to tell their stories, and know, really know, their stories matter.

SR: One of the most notorious issues in English education is a lack of diversity in the voices and stories children experience in the classroom. Have you seen any indication of a change in this pattern? What steps do you think need to be taken to increase literary diversity in the classroom?

DL: Yes! Education is changing. We need to take some steps away from the Canon. Sure, continue to read and teach Shakespeare, of course, but syllabi and curriculums need to change and adjust the perimeters to what is literature. When I was a kid, my mother required me to read books by black authors, but in school, that rarely happened. So what do we say to the kid who has never read a book with a character similar to them? Do we tell them their stories don’t matter to us? To give an example, there’s a children’s book, Farah Rocks Fifth Grade by Susan Muaddi Darraj, who is a wonderful author, and Farah is the first Arab-American character I have ever seen in a children’s book. I think about that, and it makes me so sad and disappointed. I think about that kid who is Arab-American and has never, ever, read a book about them. I think about the kid who knows nothing about Arab-Americans besides the single narrative often depicted in the media, and that kid maybe needs a book like Susan’s more than the other. For our society to grow, the required-reading list needs to reflect our country. But to get there, for these stories to arrive on our students’ desk, we need education to change as much as publishing needs to change. We need diverse leadership like Lisa Lucas, the Vice President & Publisher of Pantheon and Schocken Books, who is reshaping the publishing industry.

SR: In “Thoughts On Hair,” you portray the plight of racially ambiguous and mixed race children attempting to fit in. You emphasize in particular how you have experienced the perception of your race changing based upon how you style your hair. What do you think experiences like that among others say about the way racially ambiguous people are perceived in our society? Do you think this perception has changed since you were a child, and if so, how?

DL: As a child, I struggled growing up in a black family where I was biracial while living in a white community where I was non-white. I was regularly in-between cultures. But I do believe the perception of racially ambiguous people has changed since I was a child. We have always been here; but I think through entertainment: television, movies, sports, books and other media, the focus has shifted toward people of mixed race rather than away from them. While this should not denounce people who are not racially ambiguous, I can barely think of any professional athletes who were biracial when I was a kid. Today, one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL is biracial; he is the face of the NFL. Though that has other implications, it also says something about our society, good or bad. On a personal note, I am interracially married and have a biracial daughter. My wife and I will raise her in a way where we celebrate all of her multitudes, rather than just focusing on her differences.

SR: The In-Betweens was first published in 2018. Now, in late 2020, we have seen a shift in the sociopolitical climate as more and more people are becoming aware of social justice issues and movements. Have you found that reactions to your work have changed now that the present context is so different than it was when you originally published?

DL: Thank you for asking this question. In 2018, my book was important to me, to the friends and family who supported my work, and the small group of writers and editors who valued this collection, some of whom even wrote reviews of The In-Betweens. For them, I am forever grateful. People like Chris Campanioni, Steve Burns, Yi Shun Lai, Roy G Guzmán, and Paul Lisicky, thank you. Now, in late 2020, the shift in the sociopolitical climate has given my memoir a new life, a resurgence. I have always believed these stories of race, identity, and culture were important, but it feels like a greater interest is stirring. I’m not sure what that means—more sales or more reviews or whatever; but I do know that it means my story can reach you and maybe before it could not. That is important and invaluable. I’m fortunate that literary journals and magazines have repurposed and republished chapters of my memoir. These literary spaces have offered a second home to my work. I am grateful for the reviews and interviews that are still happening in 2020, almost two years after publication. Yes, the context has absolutely changed, and my gratitude for the love and support of The In-Betweens is so immense.

SR: This book has much to do with several varieties of learning, from learning about yourself and your family to learning about your greater identity as part of a whole. What is the main take away you want your readers to gain after having experienced all this learning with you?

DL: The main take away I want readers to gain after experiencing this with me is to learn that we are more similar than we are different. I might be of another race, culture, or what have you, but the stories that make me who I am are just like the stories that shape you. My identity is rich, and I’ve learned to love who I am and all that I am through storytelling, through writing this memoir. In a way, we write our own memoirs every day—through photos, videos, posts, calls, and texts, we are forming our memories of life into an order of things. Writing The In-Betweens was my attempt to order my life, to order it with purpose, with an attention to cadence, image, and sentiment. I want you to experience that; I want you to read my book, but I’m okay if you don’t. I would rather you partake in your own memoir, in whatever form it will be, but do it, believe in it, and share it. You’ll realize just like I did that what connects us is stronger than what divides us. 

New Video: Tips for Submitting Work to Literary Magazines

Check out our latest YouTube video! Our Social Media Manager Roxanne Bingham took the time to sit down with Superstition Review Founding Editor Patricia Murphy and Hayden’s Ferry Review Supervising Editor Katherine Berta to give you some insider advice as the submission season begins.

Don’t miss the tips and tricks they discussed in this video, and don’t forget to submit your work to Superstition Review by August 31st for the chance to be featured in our 26th Issue!

Join the #LitMagPartyline on Twitter!

More than anything, it has been Superstition Review’s mission to bring gorgeous literature into the world, spectacular art from all over the planet, poetry that sings to you, and essays that speak their personal truth. We’ve been doing this since 2008 and will continue to do so well into the future.

We are, much like a lot of literary magazines, in a position to publish, but we’re also given the opportunity to be a lot of ASU students’ introduction to the world of literature. We’ve been thinking lately about what it means to cultivate this community with our interns and trainees. How do we set them on a path to go out into the world with vigor and ferocious kindness? The answer has always been there, lurking in the very heart of what we do: connection. It is through connection with the people writing and the people behind the scenes working tirelessly, often for little or no pay, to produce magazines because they love what they do.

Then, we must ask how to we lead our interns to connect with other people. Social media has its problems, but it’s also an unprecedented means to interact with a global community, with people who share interests and passions, the people who breathe the very life into the the thriving literary organism it is today. And in the spirit of this connection, we want to dedicate a week to showing our interns and trainees the beauty of kindness and connection.

Starting on Sept. 30th and ending on Oct. 7th we’ll be introducing the hashtag #LitMagPartyline. This is in celebration of the way technology has continually advanced with the very goal of connecting us to one another. We want to make a party line on Twitter, which our interns and trainees will use to amplify work that speaks to them and share a line, a phrase, an image from a poem or essay or story or a work of art. We’ll ask that they tag the magazine and share what it means to them. We want our interns and trainees to relish in the joy of telling these hard-working writers, poets, essayists, editors, readers, and artists that their work is valuable, that what they do reaches far and wide.

But there’s more! We want everyone to join in. Please, please, please join in! When you see the @SuperstitionRev thread, share with us and our students a piece of something special to you. And remember to use #LitMagPartyline. Let’s all take this week to and come together to bring unfettered joy into the world. Let’s show everyone that positivity wins.

Editorial Preferences in Fiction: Spencer Litman

One of the most important realizations of my life was that people are not one way, that they often do and say conflicting things not out of malice or to deceit, but because it a necessary part of the ever-changing human condition. There is a sort of dialectic behavioral therapy that must take place within all of our minds when we consider that good people can do very bad things and bad people can do very good things. This is the dynamic nature of humanity. It is unavoidable. It might be the only unchanging and shared characteristic of humanity.

And it is for this reason that I am drawn to literary fiction. There often isn’t a clear line between good and bad. The characters in literary fiction make terrible choices and deal with the repercussions. As a reader and editor, I want to read stories that sink deep into these chasms between right and wrong, stories that teach us something about what it means to be fallible and imperfect. I want to read stories that challenge me, that make me so angry I hold my breath until the final sentence, so sad that I think of the characters long after I finish the stories. I want to see myself and my flaws laid out before me. I want to read narratives that do not pass judgement but present a situation and ask me to consider a point of view I may never have arrived at myself.

Literary fiction is a conversation between all of the writers in the world, constantly arriving at theses only to have them blown up and reordered by the next. Show me a side of humanity only you can construct, the things that make your perception unique.

But above everything, I want to feel something. I want to finish a story, let take root in my brain and change my long-held beliefs. Whether it is characters, setting, plot, language, form, it doesn’t matter. The stories that stick with me are the ones that make me think about life in a way I couldn’t or wouldn’t. This is the goal of fiction, and this is the fiction I want to see adding to the literary conversation.  

Spencer Litman is the fiction editor for Issue 23. He is a fiction writer and essayist living in Phoenix with his wife, Kristine, and his two children, Jayden and Aubrey. He is finishing his undergraduate degree in English with a creative writing concentration and hopes to attend an MFA program somewhere cold, with pine needles and snow.

Editorial Preferences in Nonfiction: Ellen O’Brien

There are two qualities that every good nonfiction story – every story that stands out to me, every story that I can’t stop thinking about, that I enjoy rereading again and again – shares, and those qualities are intentionality and subjectivity.

Intentionality is about construction. I want to read stories that are expressed with clarity and ease, stories in which each scene serves a purpose in the narrative and each word perfectly captures the scene the author wants to convey. Intentional writing is simple and unforced. An intentional story has everything it needs to feel complete, nothing excessive, unresolved or unnecessary.

I come from a background in journalism, and the newsroom is where I’ve gotten some of the best writing advice for news articles and for creative nonfiction alike. An editor recently told me: I don’t want obvious details, I want poignant details. Tell me what moved you, what caught your attention: those are the details I want to read. Another editor’s advice: don’t be afraid to declutter a story. Cut scenes or details that don’t serve a purpose or that don’t ‘spark joy’, in the parlance of Marie Kondo.

The second quality, subjectivity, is about content. I don’t just want to know what happened, but how it affected the author. No two people see the same event or person or place the same way, and I want to feel a writer’s unique perspective. I want to know: how was she affected by the events in the story? What relationship does she have with the people and places in the story? Where do they fit in her personal narrative?

Our relationships make us human. We change and define ourselves in relation to them, and we seek connection with and acceptance from them. Our subjectivity makes us human, too. We can never experience what it’s like to be anyone other than ourselves, but stories allow us to imagine and to empathize. That’s what I want out of a good story: not just to know that something happened, but to feel how it affected the person who experienced it.

Ellen O’Brien is the nonfiction editor for Issue 23. She’s a senior at Arizona State University pursuing a double major in journalism and philosophy with a minor in Arabic. She’s passionate about photography, literature, foreign policy and epistemology. After graduation, she plans to pursue a job in photojournalism or news editing and to attend law school.

Editorial Preferences in Art: Shalanndra Benally

Through the process of curating art, I would say that I have gained new eyes for looking at different pieces of work. I can admit that I was never one to look at art in the manner of color, context, and composition before. I mainly base what I like on no other context other than just liking the way things look.

I think art as a medium can be something over saturated with the sheer number of artists, but I believe that I have learned so much. Through this journey I was also able to differentiate an artist from a hobbyist.

Looking at art now, I am finding myself drawn to artists that have a lot of work and specifically work that contains the three C’s. The first aspect I like to look for is composition. I really like to take composition into consideration and make sure that it matches the Superstition Review and what the audience would engage with. Secondly, I like to look into the context of the piece. Not simply understanding what the piece looks like, but taking the time to understand what the underlying theme is or what the piece is trying to say. And of course, taking color into consideration with each piece. All of these elements have helped me understand on a different level of viewing and appreciating art.

With that being said, I don’t particularly have a specific type of art I enjoy, I can look at any piece of work from any medium and still be able to apply what I have learned.

Overall, I am very grateful and pleased that I am able to see art differently. And I will continue to utilize what I have learned as I flourish throughout the art community.

Shalanndra Benally is the art editor for issue 23. She is currently in her first semester of her Senior year at Arizona State University studying Digital Culture with a concentration in Design. Currently she is working on the design team for TEDx at ASU, as well as being the sole designer for the 40th annual Ms. and Mr. Indian ASU. She is always looking for new opportunities to show off her artistic abilities and demonstrate her extensive design experience. After graduation she hopes to work in digital media or another creative field.

Editorial Preferences in Poetry: Alyssa Lindsey

One of my first professors of poetry was Dr. Henry Quintero. While his lectures were full of intensity and a passion for what he did, it was how he ended his classes that taught me the most. While his students packed up their backpacks and filed out the door, Dr. Q would stand up and in that wonderful, warm, booming voice of his he would tell us to take care of ourselves because you are the most important piece of poetry you will write.

Dr. Quintero taught me that poetry is less of an art form, strict and unforgiving then it is an action. The actions we go through each day and the experiences that we share with other people in our lives. When reading poetry, I am looking for action and reaction. For a truly strong voice to jump out through the pages, making it impossible not to give that voice the space and attention it craves. Consider the work of Lorna Dee Cervantes, a proud Chicana whose works include “Emplumada” and “Sueño”. Cervantes knows how to use her actions to get the reader to pay attention, implementing line break and rhythm like just another tool in her toolbox. She writes about immigration and Chicano heritage but refuses to let her words stand alone. Her poetry is presented with action, purposeful line breaks and meaningful rhythmic and repeating phrases. These are some things that I read for in a poem for publication, mechanisms that work to expand the main idea and a speaker who is not afraid to use them. This is the poetry that brought me to creative writing; poems that speak through their actions and the people who read them.

Alyssa Lindsey is the poetry editor for issue 22. She is a Junior at Arizona State University. She is majoring in both creative writing and global health with a pre-health emphasis. After graduation, she plans to attend medical school and go on to work in pediatrics.

Editorial Preferences in Fiction: Brynn Kowalski

In the past few months or so my perception on literature has shifted. My reading has become more active and aware, but even with this new-found sight I find it hard to be terse with literary fiction. I empathize easily, become lost in a good story, but I am also aware of the nuances of the genre.

Stories have to take me somewhere, whether it’s from the subway to the ocean or from one dream to the next. Even thoughts flow, and if I am locked within a character’s mind and privy to their hopes and fears then let me see how their nightmare fades in the light of realization, or how their past has come to shape their future. That being said, the theme and plot can be cast aside in the light of a strong character. When the characters feel organic I am their willing audience. They can guide me through their worlds, but we must take that first step.

Every good character needs a stage, and what I look for in a story is its description. When done well it elevates everything in a narrative, creating a rich and vibrant scape that entices the readers to continue to the next page. On that vein, something that I can truly appreciate as a reader are stories that challenge convention, but I admit that it, like all things, comes with a caveat. Stephen King says a writer can play around with any trick of the trade… so long as they do it well. I think the same applies for challenging conventional writing. I love stories that aren’t afraid to try something new and color outside the lines, but it’s a delicate dance to perform. When someone does it well, especially in literary fiction, I am often left sitting at the end of the final sentence turning the story over in my mind, feeling like I just got to experience something entirely new that no one else has witnessed before.

Writing is a balancing act, and an author should take care not to throw in a surprise format or twist the narrative only for shock and awe. Everything in a story should work in tandem, each aspect keeping in tone with the rest until the narrative rings a single note, signaling to the reader that it is time to delve into the story.

 

Brynn Kowalski is a fiction editor for Issue 22. She is pursuing her BA in Creative writing with a minor in French. Passionate about literature of all types, Brynn is working to become an editor and publish YA novels. She is currently an active member of several online writing communities and regularly publishes real-time interactive narratives on her media platform.

Editorial Preferences in Nonfiction: Anahí Herrera

Let me be honest here, growing up I greatly disliked nonfiction. My reasoning? Well, I never once thought you could be creative with the real. Reality to me was boring, so utterly mundane. I couldn’t seem to fathom the appeal to it. Fiction, on the other hand, held all the mysteries in the world. But gradually, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that the real is so beautiful and heartbreaking. Becoming the Nonfiction Editor for Superstition Review has truly given me the space to appreciate the craft behind what is real. What is that I want out of nonfiction? Feeling. Make me feel something. The strongest of essays not only open your eyes to new perspectives, but they suspend you in time and bring you right back down to reflect upon your own life. I’m looking for raw connection between the reader and the writer. Like my Advanced Fiction professor states: Tell me your truth. Remind me of something I’ve forgotten, or something I’ve never known. When you write, allow me to enter your space and experience a snippet of your life with you. Tear at my heart with something so deeply personal that I am left breathless and disrupted. I want to see lyricism, musicality, and strong attention to detail. I want all of my senses to be activated. Construct sentences that sing off the page and paint me right into your life. I want stories to linger in my mind for days to come.

Anahi Herrera

Nonfiction Editor Anahí Herrera is a junior majoring in Creative Writing and minoring in Film & Media Studies. She is also the current Fiction Editor at Lux Undergraduate Creative Review, a student run literary magazine funded by Barrett, The Honors College. It’s Anahí’s dream to one day write with the same fervor as Ray Bradbury and to pursue a passionate life of writing, book editing, and prose experimentation with film.

Editorial Preferences in Fiction: Alexandra Myers

I have learned, through two short years of examining literature, that there are so many different stories out there and those stories are told in so many more different ways. There are even more definitions in the world on “what a story is.” As much as I would like to rattle off which definition is more right than another, I simply can’t. A story is whatever we make it. It can be shared or it can be kept for oneself. But if a story is shared, it communicates something to the readers. As Gertrude Stein says, “If the communication is perfect, the words have life, and that is all there is to good writing, putting down on the paper words which dance and weep and make love and fight and kiss and perform miracles.” 

When I read fiction, I look for the raw and the real. Stories that go deeper than the stereotypes and examine life on a constructive level are the ones I remember, connect with, and share. Within the stories themselves, I want to be able to relate to the characters. I want to see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel. Stories that are character driven, surrounded by sensory details and imagery, evoke emotion enough in me to keep me reading until the very end. When a writer shares something that displays the human condition in a way that makes tears form in the corner of my eyes (whether from laughter, anger, sadness, or a mixture of all three), I know that I will remember that story above all others. Combinations of words and ideas have power enough to execute a story that does “dance and weep and make love and fight…” and I look for that in the stories I read.

As a writer myself, I am inspired by every submission. The courage authors have to share their work with the world is something I admire, as mundane and every day as that may sound. Each submission leaves a lasting impression that I learn from and go back to whenever I need. This constant communication between art and people and people and art is what motivates me to keep reading. Share with me the stories that don’t just push characters over the edge, but stories that push the readers too.

 

Alexandra Myers is a fiction editor for issue 22 of Superstition Review. She is a senior at Arizona State University majoring in creative writing, with a minor in film. After graduation, she plans to become a volunteer for the Peace Corps and upon return to the states will continue her passion for writing by completing an MFA.