Meet PN's new managing editor Krys Malcolm Belc
Passages North is back in the office today, and our first happy task is to introduce readers to our new managing editor, Krys Malcolm Belc. Get a sense of why we’re so lucky to have him at the control panel below (a smart editorial eye, the inherent generosity of the best kind of teacher, the possibility of baked goods and tiny child visits), and keep an eye out for his chapbook of short prose, In Transit, forthcoming (soon!) from The Cupboard Pamphlet.
Passages North: How did you end up in the managing editor chair? In the UP? How did any of this happen?
Krys Malcolm Belc: Before I came to the Upper Peninsula for grad school, I was a Philadelphia public school teacher. In 2015, my partner pregnant with our third kid and I was feeling a little stuck in this endless grind we’d been in of having grueling jobs, paying bills, and raising tiny kids in a major city.
In early October we took a long weekend away to go to a friend’s wedding. We met one of my partner’s friends from college at a bookstore in Chicago before the wedding. She’d left teaching to get an MFA. Now she had one and had a novel coming out. I walked around the store while Anna and her friend chatted and as I leafed through books I was suddenly overwhelmed with this, why can’t I also do that? kind of feeling. I hadn’t read a book for pleasure literally in years, which is almost embarrassing to admit. I was blogging when I could, but I was losing steam even with that. Somehow by the time we’d left the wedding and were flying home to our kids and regular life, I’d decided to apply to writing school. I only had a few months to get it together. I didn’t think I’d get in, but making the decision that I was going to take writing seriously again was big. I started taking one day every few weeks to bum around in coffee shops working and walk around Philly with my headphones in thinking. About whatever I wanted to think about! My third son was born on November 22, and that gave me just enough time to dash off some applications while I was on Dad leave. Here I am.
Northern was kind of a great fit because I knew I needed to really step away from a major metro area to take my writing seriously. I’m not going to lie. Living here…it’s been an adjustment. Not just because of the snow. This is just really far from my family and friends. The distance and the sacrifices my family made to move here have motivated me to try really hard at this MFA program. Not a lot of people get to be in their thirties have a family ok with the fact that their life’s course changed so much and that they moved 1,000 away to immerse themselves in writing. I’m lucky.
I feel especially lucky to be somewhere with a great journal. What I love about Passages is that it’s this big fat annual full of such a wide variety of ideas and styles. Everything is welcome. Reading it is a wonderful literary roller coaster. Working on Passages has made me feel a lot of excitement and freedom stylistically because our submitters are amazing, and the wide variety of submissions is exciting. The last year and a half I have had so much fun running the meetings for Team Short-Shorts, which got kind of raucous sometimes, in a wonderful way. I am looking forward to having even more involvement and getting to increase my skills and knowledge and work with everyone on the staff. I also pride myself on my baking and now have a whole new audience of Passages readers and editors to experiment on.
PN: What do you read and write? What journals do you admire? If you could recommend a book/story for the Passages interns this fall, what would it be?
KMB: After years in really time-consuming jobs the earth-shattering gift of time to read is not lost on me. I try to read widely – stuff that I love, stuff that’s good for me as a writer, stuff that’s good for me as a person in this world, and stuff that crosses those boundaries. Let’s talk about now! So right now, I’m audiobooking Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning because every Philly teacher I know was reading it this summer. The last essay collection I read was Alexander Chee’s Autobiography of a Novel, which was gorgeous. Dads of three tiny kids do not stay up til 2am reading for just any old book. The combination of craft/language and plain old storytelling really taught me a lot. And today, while my kids were in childcare and I was supposed to be working on an essay, I devoured Jenny Offill’s Dept of Speculation in one sitting. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this novel in 2014? I guess I need it as much now as I did then, but still. Dang.
In the literary journal world, I think more than reading particular journals, I follow writers I love (especially ones we publish at Passages!) and keep up on what they’re publishing. Twitter can be an amazing thing. When our writers get published somewhere, I often start reading that journal regularly. I like to read online a lot; I read some print journals, but I love that online platforms can do some pretty experimental things. I also am that person who gets obsessed with a writer and watches every single interview they’ve ever done on YouTube. That time someone videotaped you on an obscure panel and put it online? I’ve seen it.
From the Passages North archives, I recommend looking back to Issue 38, my introduction to working on Passages North, to Paige Lewis’s “When They Find the Ark” and Ingrid Jendrzejewski’s “The Middle Ground.” I think their speculative natures pair them well together but they go in wildly different directions. They’re also writers I found through their work in Passages North and now read regularly.
PN: What’s the best part of reading submissions at PN? Does a particular story selection stick out to you? What appeals to you that other editors don’t latch onto? And/or the flip side: what fails to grab you even when a story gets lots of love from other readers?
KMB: The best part of reading submissions at Passages North is never knowing what writers will think up next. For real. People are so creative. They can tell the “same old story” in completely inventive ways, or invent completely new stories in a familiar form. They can make me understand incredible, unusual experiences I have no connection with, or make me re-see something I see every day. And sometimes months after we publish something, I’m still wondering: how did they do it? How did Mary Jones and Emily Geminder write in these condensed forms? How did Angie Ellis make us laugh so hard in a meeting? My experiences with the Passages North editors has been that they’re really generous readers. I like being a part of a group of people who take care of writers’ work and who try to be good literary citizens. I feel comfortable advocating for writing that is subtle and quiet or writing that is totally out there and experimental and I know that everyone will try to see what I see.
As a reader I am game for anything and like all kinds of writing, really. I especially like image/text work and unusual forms that might give other readers pause. Other readers seem to love to laugh; I do love funny writing, but I’m very much attuned to types of humor that put people down for laughs. I have my own biases and do make sure to ask myself whether my laughter is a result of those biases. I don’t like cheap, lazy humor. I see this especially with characters who are disabled, old, or fat, or some intersection of those things. Also, I am so glad people love to read and write queer work, but just having queer characters isn’t going to catch my eye. We queers are fully formed, fully alive people and must be just as developed as any other character in your piece!
PN: Do you have a dream submitter? Whose work would make you most excited to publish?
KMB: A lot of what the Short-Shorts team especially has chosen the last two years at Passages is funky fresh and/or experimental stuff, which has been opening for me. But my dream fictioneer is actually a writer of more traditional long short stories. It’s Lori Ostlund, and ever since I read her story “All Boy” in a Best American collection, I’ve been pretty obsessed with her work, which is so deliberate and masterful. She is so good at slowly building tension. Her depictions of small town life really hit me at the right time, just as I moved to the Midwest and was trying to ground my queer life here. At the same time much of her work faces out into the wider world. I don’t know. It’s amazing. How writers do what they do.
Morgan Parker is my dream poet to publish. I read There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce last summer and. Wow. I’ve recommended it to so many people and have since then been that annoying friend who checks up on them to see if they actually read it. Sorry not sorry, friends! I think about the opening poem regularly, no matter how many more things I read.
I’ve never taught an essay in one of my own classes that sparked as much insightful discussion as Carmen Maria Machado’s “The Trash Heap Has Spoken” from Guernica. Her fiction is super great but I also love her essays and would freak if we ever got to publish her. Plus, Passages North doesn’t see nearly enough writing from Philadelphians ☺.