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New Journal Series:
The Dawn Review

August 22, 2023

This interview with Ziyi Yan (闫梓祎), editor-in-chief of The Dawn Review, is the third in our series devoted to new journals. If you are the editor of a new journal (started during or after the pandemic), we’d love to talk. Send us an email at editor@smokelong.com. 

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Christopher Allen: First, I’m impressed by your offer to give free feedback upon request. This must keep your team busy. How do you manage this?

Ziyi Yan: When I founded the Dawn Review, I wanted to create a space where writers and artists would be valued above all else, and providing free feedback upon request was integral to this vision. It’s disheartening to receive cookie-cutter rejections, which is why we try to ensure that writers feel inspired and encouraged! Providing feedback is a lot of work, but we know that our work is important, so we keep doing it.

More broadly, I like to think of feedback as a mutual exchange– we help writers develop their voices, and in turn, we gain new experiences and perspectives on literature. It takes patience for each editor to respond to dozens of submissions with detailed feedback, which means that our editors are kind of a self-selecting group. In a more pragmatic sense, we also have a large staff to accommodate the feedback requests we receive. We’re constantly expanding, so our editor applications are open every few months.

As for keeping feedback free– there are definitely other magazines that offer feedback options, but they often do it as a form of fundraising. At Dawn, we don’t want cost to be a barrier, so we don’t charge fees for submissions or feedback. This means that we rely more on donations, but we think it’s totally worth it.

You consider various forms of written and visual work through your own form on your site, and you present work by author name instead of by categories like Poetry and Fiction. I love how this encourages the element of surprise, which is integral to your concept. Can you tell us more about your vision?

I’m so glad you asked this question. First and foremost, we don’t think that writing and art should be constrained by genre– it’s quite limiting to go into literature with preconceptions about what a “story” or a “poem” should look like. Often, work that strains against its own genre, or that defies categorization entirely, is the work that excites and inspires me most. With each new issue, we have been selecting more and more experimental work.

In Issue 3, for example, we published Edward Gunawan’s contrapuntal and Ivi Hua’s bingo-card piece, among many others. To clarify, we’re not solely seeking work that breaks formal boundaries– we’re also on the lookout for reinvented language, new ideas, and new ways of presenting ideas. For example, Muhammed Olowonjoyin’s “Sanctuary with the Burning Self” has a fairly conventional form, but uses language in a completely new way, with lines like “I oasis of my existence. I camouflage/ into fluorescence.” Meanwhile, Deryn Mierlak’s “metaverse” is special in the way that it weaves together disparate experiences and ideas to render today’s digital world in all its intimacy and its loneliness.

Of course, just as we love surprising writing, we also love surprising issues! I used to write mostly poetry, so whenever I’d browse through other literary magazines, I would only read the poetry section. With the Dawn Review, I hope to expose readers to a variety of different forms. Especially for people who generally read and write work in a single genre, it can be fun and inspiring to branch out.

Finally, as I stated before, everything we do is in service of writers and artists themselves, so it made sense to highlight contributors by presenting work under their names. I think it’s good for readers to remember that writing and art are ultimately human acts.

You read submissions blindly. At SmokeLong we do as well, but not everyone agrees with this approach to reading submissions. What do you think the pros and cons are of blind submissions?

By reading blindly, we hope to eliminate barriers for submitters. In the long run, I think that focusing on accolades and previous publications will only hurt our ability to present truly powerful writing. We also don’t necessarily want work that’s perfectly in tune with “contemporary standards,” because any set of standards used to judge “good” writing can be restrictive. At the Dawn Review, we approach work with an open mind and focus on inventiveness rather than conformity.

Admittedly, blind reading makes it a bit harder for us to gain the “prestige” that comes with more established writers. That said, even with blind reading, we have published some very cool, accomplished people. Ultimately, I think that blind reading allows us to curate fresher, more interesting issues, and to uplift developing voices.

I know it’s an unfair question, but who are some of the exciting emerging writers you’ve discovered over the last couple of years? A fair answer would be WE LOVE THEM ALL; JUST READ THE JOURNAL. Still.

WE LOVE THEM ALL; JUST READ THE JOURNAL! But in the spirit of the question, I’ll mention a few of the amazing emerging writers that have been published in the Dawn Review. This is by no means a value judgment on anyone we’ve published– if I could, I would sing the praises of every single writer. Nonetheless…

In our first issue, Munira Alimire, who had never been published before, absolutely blew us away. Her piece, “The Unfinished Pilot,” was an intricately layered narrative with an incredibly poignant sense of wonder and connection at its core– Munira was actually one of our first Pushcart Prize nominees. Likewise, LeeAnn Perry’s first publication was in our third issue, and her story, “Yes, No, Goodbye” uses adolescence as a vessel to explore the heartbreaking ways in which people create and destroy their identities and realities.

There isn’t an objective way to define an “emerging” writer, but for the sake of our contest, we defined emerging writers as writers yet to publish a collection of work. Under this definition, Karen Schnurstein, one of our Issue 2 contributors, is an emerging writer who uses deceptive simplicity in “Safely Tonight, or Every Woman’s Blues,” to grate against the edges of repressive order. Karen told us how she created her poem in her university’s computer labs while she was still a student, and I think it’s awesome that we were able to capture her voice from a different period of her life. Abby Comey, a high school English teacher who we featured in Issue 3, also astounded us with her piece, “Grand, Otherworldly,” which uses the unsparing topography of Alaska as a canvas for violence, betrayal, and reconciliation.

I think that the definition of “emerging writer” should be fluid– an emerging writer does not have to be a young writer, or someone who dedicates their entire life to creative writing. An emerging writer can be a scientist and musician like LeeAnn Perry, a teacher like Abby Comey, or a student of biochemistry, like Muhammed Olowonjoyin. Writing and publishing should never be gatekept, so I’m happy that these writers chose to send us their work, and that we were able to give them a platform.

Again, I have so much admiration for all of the writers in our issues, and I’m excited to see all that they accomplish in the coming years.

Tell us about the moment you conceived the journal. What was going through your mind? And what’s in store for The Dawn Review?

When I founded the Dawn Review, I wanted to create a space where striking, original work could flourish– a space that wasn’t constrained by preconceived standards or contemporary norms. At the same time, I wanted to truly uplift submitters and provide accessible editorial support to anyone in need of it. As I mentioned before, our free feedback and our genreless issues are a big part of this. As a young writer myself, I also wanted to promote emerging voices, but I felt that the best way to do this wasn’t to create a youth-only magazine. Instead, it seemed more effective to publish all demographics, in order to show that emerging writers can produce work that is just as valuable– and should be taken just as seriously– as that of more established writers.

We have a lot in store for the coming months! Our reading period for Issue 4 is open from 8/15-10/31, with a 24 hour response event on 8/19. We just accepted a new group of editors, which is exciting. We will also be releasing interviews with featured contributors from Issue 3 throughout the fall, and we’re making a guide for young writers that we’ll post on our blog. We’ll be announcing our Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominees then as well. Later in the fall, we’re looking to provide some kind of contest for younger writers, possibly in collaboration with other journals. Next winter, we will be launching our poetry prize for the second time.

Thank you so much for including the Dawn Review in this interview series, and thank you for all of your thoughtful questions!

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Ziyi Yan (闫梓祎) is a young Chinese writer living in Connecticut. She is published or forthcoming in Poetry NorthwestRust and MothKissing Dynamite, Peach Mag, and others.  She is also an alumna of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship, and the Kenyon Young Writers Workshop. Her work has received an American Voices Nomination and a National Gold Medal through the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She is the winner of the Piedmont Institution Communications Contest, the Marymount Manhattan Poetry Prize, and the Lillian Butler Davies Communications Contest for poetry. She has also been recognized by the Young Poets’ Network, the Poetry Society of Virginia, Rider University, the Claudia Ann Seaman Awards, Frontier Poetry, and BreakBread Literacy Project. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @Ziyiyan___ or visit her website at ziyiyan.carrd.co

Christopher Allen is the editor-in-chief and publisher of SmokeLong Quarterly.

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