We Want Your Writing.

Q&A with Co-Editor Chelsea Jackson

I was recently delighted to catch up with Chelsea Jackson, author of All Things Holy and Heathen, whom we’re thrilled to welcome as Co-Editor of The Maine Review. Here’s a bit of our chat. – A.J.B.
AJ Bermudez: So, Chelsea, what books are on your nightstand right now?

Chelsea Jackson: Honestly, I’m in a season of restlessness, and that’s evident in the way I’ve been oscillating between books. I’m usually a “read one or two books at a time” person, but right now, I’m reading four or five. I have Jose Hernandez Diaz’s poetry collection, Bad Mexican, Bad American, and Sharon Olds’ collection, Satan Says. I’m also reading The Ends of the World by Peter Brannon, which follows the Earth’s five mass extinction events. And I’m almost done with Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty (because I have to read the book before watching any movie or show adaptation inspired by that book). 

Additionally, I have The Ice Pick Surgeon by Sam Kean, which explores moments in history where science (and scientists) have gone too far in the pursuit of knowledge. I’m also finishing Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, a collection of surreal and dystopian stories centered on Black identity and social issues. So far, I’m enjoying all these books, but yeah, this many simultaneous reads are out of the ordinary for me, and I definitely need to finish a few. 
AJ Bermudez: What do you love about editing?

Chelsea Jackson: I love those moments when a piece, section, or sentence becomes a puzzle to solve—those moments when you know there is a way to revise something that will just click everything into place. While being in the midst of it can feel frustrating for writer and editor alike, it is the best feeling when things fall together. 

I also love working one-on-one with writers, which I often have the privilege of doing as a professional editor. I never take for granted the fact that writers are letting me into their work and their vision, and I try to bring a spirit of collaboration, communication, and respect to the editing process as a whole. I want the writers I work with to know that I am rooting for them; I’m in their corner.
AJ Bermudez: What’s a piece of advice you can share with writers?

Chelsea Jackson: I’ve gotten so much good advice as a writer, and of course, the tried and true ones come to mind, like (carefully) pushing yourself to places of discomfort, looking out for reflex words you over-rely on, or streamlining language to increase its potency.

Still, my biggest advice is to ensure you’re giving your readers what they need to access the piece on some level. One of the primary roles of an editor is to read as a reader might, with fresh eyes and often limited information. It’s easy for writers to forget that readers aren’t seeing what they’re seeing when they put something onto the page. Our readers are not in our heads, and a reader who feels like they’re missing something or like they don’t have all the information needed to enjoy a piece often becomes distracted or self-conscious, which can leave them uninterested and frustrated. 

I had to learn this lesson in my own poetry as I realized that big themes and abstract concepts rarely meant complex or difficult-to-follow writing. However, there is, of course, an art to it. Supporting the reader should be carefully balanced with not summarizing or over-explaining for the readers; just as they trust us to guide them through a piece, we need to trust them to (at least partially) guide themselves. I love helping writers find that balance and hone their writing in ways that strengthen their reader-writer relationships.
AJ Bermudez: What would you love to see more of in contemporary literature?

Chelsea Jackson: really connect to literature that feels rooted in the moment and realities we find ourselves within. That’s not to say setting, world-building, scope, themes, etc, have to be limited, but rather that the work feels like it is aware of and even engaging in a conversation with our larger context. For me, that could look like realistic characters or themes that feel relevant to this moment in time or something else entirely.

Learning that the personal is often the universal and the individual is often the collective has been one of the most freeing lessons of my writing career. There is power in sharing our own stories because they so often connect to the stories and experiences of others. Our society, and by extension the literary community, can feel very individualistic and isolating, so I want poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and hybrid writing that make us feel less alone and more empowered and hopeful, even as we acknowledge and navigate the very real pain, injustices, and dehumanizations of this world.
AJ Bermudez: What are you working on right now?

Chelsea Jackson: Well, my debut poetry collection was just released through April Gloaming Publishing, so much of my creative writing has been put on pause as I bring that collection into the world well. That being said, I have another poetry collection I am working on. I think I have almost all of the poems for it, but everything is still very much in draft form. I also have a novel that I desperately need to revise, and I have the beginnings of a short story horror collection that I am adding to as the stories come to me. 

It’s nice to explore and write in different genres because when I’m feeling uninspired in one area, I can shift to another. Still, similar to the amount of books I have on my nightstand, I think I’ve hit a point where I just need to sit down and choose one of these projects to prioritize for a little while. 
AJ Bermudez: Yes, congratulations on your debut collection! What can you tell us about the book?

Chelsea Jackson: Thanks! Yes, All Things Holy and Heathen just released on April 30. The collection cycles through our personal, collective, and ecological realities of life, death, violation, and reclamation and blurs the lines between what we consider sacred and profane. 

I’m really proud of it, and it’s cool to think that quite a few of these pieces were drafted in my MFA program; it’s been meaningful to see how my work and I have grown over the last six or seven years. I’m also so excited to have worked with April Gloaming. As a Southern, it felt important to work with a Southern-based press that’s focused on building an equitable, just, eco-conscious “New South.” 
AJ Bermudez: What do you most love about The Maine Review?

Chelsea Jackson: I’ve been with the journal since 2021, and throughout that time, I’ve been lucky enough to work with many of our authors and submitters. One thing folks will often say is how collaborative and kind The Maine Review is, which is always really meaningful to hear. As someone who’s published with journals and presses and who’s worked on the backend of a journal, both sides of the process can feel isolating, and both require a lot of hard work and a certain amount of vulnerability. I appreciate the care and connection The Maine Review demonstrates to make that gap feel a little less wide

I also really value the culture of The Maine Review and its commitment to community, accessibility, and the environment. The work we publish feels so connected to the human condition as it is rooted in place, relationships, and the earth. I think it makes for a special journal, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.

Chelsea C. Jackson

Chelsea C. Jackson (they/she) is a writer, editor, consultant, and the author of the poetry collection All Things Holy and Heathen (April Gloaming, 2024). Their work asks hard questions, interrogates social narratives, and explores what it means to be human. Chelsea has an MFA from Drew University and is published in Passengers Journal, Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine, Hearth and Coffin Literary Journal, and Beyond Queer Words, among other publications, and was a finalist in the 2020 Driftwood Press In-House Poetry Contest and the 2022 Animal Heart Poetry Collection Contest. After moving around for more than a decade, they recently returned to their home state of Virginia and now live in Richmond with their partner and cuddly pitbull. You can connect with them at chelsea-jackson.com, via social media @sea_c_j, or via email at chelsea@mainereview.com.

A. J. Bermudez

AJ Bermudez, Editor

AJ (she/her) is the author of Stories No One Hopes Are About Them, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award and current Lambda Award Finalist. Her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Chicago Quarterly ReviewMcSweeney’s, Electric Literature, BoulevardThe Masters ReviewCreative NonfictionStory, and elsewhere. More of her work can be found at amandajbermudez.com. You can reach her at aj@mainereview.com.