Meet our new poetry editor!

We’re thrilled to introduce the newest member of the editorial team, poetry co-editor Clara Burghelea. In this Q & A, Clara shares details about her poetry, her reading life, and how her work in translation might play a role at the museum.

• What led you to the museum of americana?

I knew of the magazine. I had traveled and studied in the US and my positive experience had always triggered different reactions in people. It made me wonder if somehow I harbored a distorted image of the society and culture. So finding a magazine that questioned this idea of celebrating and praising and inviting readers to take joy in the embarrassing and difficult aspects, drew my attention. Then I saw the call and decided to give it a shot. 

• In what ways do you think growing up outside the US has influenced your view of Americana?

Growing up in the communist Romania of the 1980s, we had no access to any other culture, though all of us were dreaming of freedom and the American dream seemed to fit that image. Traveling and studying on both coasts gave me a chance to explore and experience this dream. It made me more curious about whatever lay at the end of the touristic, glamorous landmarks. 

• Do you see your work in translation informing your editorial work at the museum?

I believe translation work is an exercise in empathy. It brings us closer to the fabric of other cultures and languages while at the same time, allowing us to accommodate the foreign and learn more about ourselves. I see my editorial work at the museum as an opportunity to bring the Romanian culture more into the light and at the same time, embrace further the language I write my poetry in, which is English.

• What are you currently reading, and what are you working on?

I am reading Stranger, Baby, by Emily Berry for my own taste and The Lonely Century, by Noreena Hertz for my reading club, both of which address loneliness and grief. I am also about to finish Trust, by Domenico Starnone, in Jhumpa Lahiri’s translation. Her ability to live in between languages and cultures, as well as her determination, is an inspiration. 

Clara Burghelea is a Romanian-born poet with an MFA in Poetry from Adelphi University. A recipient of the Robert Muroff Poetry Award, her poems and translations have appeared in Ambit, Waxwing, The Cortland Review, and elsewhere. She is the author of The Flavor of The Other, published in 2020 with Dos Madres Press, and Praise the Unburied, published with Chaffinch Press in 2021. She is the Review Editor of Ezra, An Online Journal of Translation.

You can keep up with the all museum’s news and opportunities by liking our page on Facebook, and following us on Twitter, at @museumofamerica, and on Instagram at @themuseumofamericana

Five Questions for Lillian Howan

In the fourth of our interviews with Issue 25 prose contributors, prose co-editor Lauren Alwan talks with Lillian Howan about her story, “The American House.” Set on the island of Taha’a, in Tahiti, the story centers on the mystery of a house in which stories converge and contradict each other and questions are not always answered. Here, Lillian sheds light on how the story came about, the allure and illusions of American culture, and how the term bookworm takes on a different meaning in a tropical climate.

We love the genre-bending mood in your story, “The American House.” Can you tell us how you came to write the story? 

On a journey in the islands visiting family with my husband, I visited Taha’a. The family who was driving us around the island stopped by the side of the road to show us a spectacular house, the grounds extending some distance below the road. It was described as “The American House.” When my husband asked for more information, everyone responded that an American had lived there, but now it was empty. More questions produced a small additional detail: it had been for sale for some time, two years maybe; the exact length of time remained vague. My husband spoke in French and in Tahitian, but the answer always stayed the same: it was the American House. It was empty.

This glimpse of the American House planted itself in my mind, eventually growing into this story.

There’s an inherent mystery in the house, in the conflicting stories that surround its history, as well as a cultural distance that comes from its American connections. Can you talk a bit about those contrasts?

A certain mystique about America exists in Tahiti where my family is from, an attitude fostered by American action movies. America retains a certain allure, mixed with violence, both attractive and repellent. There’s a masculine illusion to “America,” fostered by early Westerns, Clint Eastwood movies, the Die Hard series, Arnold Schwarzenegger…continuing on to this day.

This illusion isn’t real or connected to daily life, but it’s powerful.

In the story “The American House,” there’s something strangely compelling about the commodity, The Package, but when our protagonists actually approach the American house, they find it enveloped in an eerie silence, devoid of any signs of everyday life.

Like “The American House,” your novel, The Charm Buyers, is set in Tahiti. Can you tell us a bit about the importance of place in your work?

Place is so important, it’s almost the main character. The tropics are hot and humid with a profusion of plants and trees, green fragrances, odors, and smells. The physical reality can be overwhelming. In a temperate climate, one can think for long periods of time without the physical world imposing itself into one’s musings. In a tropical climate like Tahiti, this is impossible. In The Charm Buyers, one of the characters, who has arrived in Tahiti from France, decides to create a chess set out of natural materials. The narrator who has lived in Tahiti all his life knows that this is a terrible idea, and, sure enough, the chess piece is devoured by insects after only a few weeks.

In California, I always thought that “bookworms” was a charming phrase, but in Tahiti, I learned that book worms are real and invasive. I’ve opened too many books in Tahiti to find that I’ve disturbed the squirming worms and larvae living within the pages. Having said this, I read The Great Gatsby and many of Carlos Castaneda’s books in the vast library that belonged to one of my uncles. In the silence as I read, I could sometimes hear the subtle rustlings of the insects who had made the library their home.

We love the voice in this piece, and the collective experience of the narrator’s point of view. How did you come to employ that stance in “The American House”?  

The family structure that I grew up with was a huge, extended family. This is changing in Tahiti, with families becoming smaller in size, but there’s still a sense of being connected and related to numerous family members. I have over 60 first cousins, with each person completely unique—no one even remotely resembling another—so that, in my age group, there are over 60 completely different opinions about any one subject. When I’m in Tahiti, it seems as if I’m always surrounded by a chorus of voices, the collective “we.”

I am also an only child, so, at the end of the day, I was always in a separate place, alone, with time for reflection. Perhaps that is why I write stories, especially novels. I remember visiting Tahiti the summer before I turned eleven and creating an entire massive, convoluted (and horribly clichéd), novel in my head.

When I wrote “The American House,” this collective voice, the “we,” emerged to recount this story.

We’d love to know a favorite recent read—and can you tell us what you’re working on now?

I’ve recently read the poetry of Angela Narciso Torres, author of What Happens Is Neither (Four Way Books). As I’ve reflected on my answers to your questions, my mind has turned to her poem “Self-Portrait As Rosary Beads” in To The Bone (Sundress Publications) which captures how the individual and the collective, the mystical and the everyday are interconnected: “…I am faithful as breadcrumbs / on barbed wire. Lose me to birds or to night’s / starred thicket. Touch and be splintered,  / sundered. Soothed, surrendered. / My scent on your fingertips.”

A few days ago, I read The Collected Breece D’J Pancake. I’m on the board of the Ms Aligned: Women Writing About Men series, and our last issue Ms. Aligned 3 featured a powerful interview with Ann Pancake, the brilliant author of Strange As This Weather Has Been and Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley: Novellas and Stories. Both Ann Pancake and her distant relative Breece D’J Pancake write about Appalachia. There’s a lot in their stories that resonate with my experience of being Hakka Chinese. After a long period of being itinerant, the Hakka settled in hilly regions, remaining isolated from the majority population, and then immigrating from China abroad to Tahiti (in the case of my grandparents), Hawai’i, Jamaica, Malaysia, and other countries throughout the world. Breece D’J Pancake’s “Trilobites,” a story that has achieved near-legendary acclaim, was difficult for me to understand at first, but the more I read, the more its reality drew me inside with an all-encompassing intensity.

Breece D’J Pancake’s characters in “Trilobites” could be distant cousins of some of the characters that I write about: geographically isolated, surrounded by limitations and immense beauty, and this includes MeiMei and the narrators of “The American House.”

I’ve recently completed a novella that adapts Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” to Tahiti where Christmas occurs in the sweltering Midsummer, and Scrooge becomes the Hakka Chinese miser S. C. Oong, transformed one night by the visit of three tupapa’u spirits.

I’m also on the eighth, or maybe the ninth draft, of a novel set in Tahiti. It’s not exactly a sequel to The Charm Buyers, which had the honor of receiving the biennial Ka Palapala Po’okela Award, but some characters reoccur in both novels. Themes overlap as well: the true nature of magic and the struggle for real identity. I’m not sure if my writings could be called magical realism—perhaps the inverse, realistic magic, is an accurate description. Reality is stranger than rationality might admit—more slippery and weird, in disturbing and enchanting ways.

Read “The American House,” here.


Lillian Howan spent her early childhood in Tahiti and later graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. Her writings have been published in Asian American Literary Review, Café Irreal, Calyx, Jellyfish Review, New England Review, South Dakota Review, Vice-Versa, and the anthologies Ms. Aligned 2 and Under Western Eyes. Her debut novel, The Charm Buyers (University of Hawai’i Press), received the Ka Palapala Po’okela Award for Excellence.

Five Questions for Keith Lesmeister

Keith Lesmeister’s work might be familiar to readers of the museum. His flash fiction, “Under the Cottonwood Tree” appeared in our Midwestern-themed Issue 5, and we’re thrilled to include Keith in our latest milestone Issue 25. In Keith’s story, “Oakes,” a mixed-race man traverses uncertain territory in a COVID-ravaged North Dakota town, and in this third installment of interviews with our Issue 25 prose contributors, Keith shares the uneasy cultural moment in which the story was written, how nature informs his settings, and the regional contradictions that have inspired his recent stories.

Your story, “Oakes,” captures a cultural moment of 2020: the devastating spread of COVID-19 in North Dakota, the anxiety around the presidential election, and the racism compounded by four years of a Trump presidency. We’re curious, was the story written during this period, or after, and could you tell us how it came about?

I was in rural Minnesota a week after the election of 2020. I’d been genuinely frightened by the anger on display by the Trump cult (from reading various news outlets), so I purchased an American flag hat because I knew I’d be traversing parts of rural America where the flag represents patriotism, and the Trump followers (along with most Republicans) value patriotism over most things. I knew I’d made the right decision after I was walking through a rural gas station sporting my new hat when I passed a guy wearing a red MAGA hat. He looked at me, looked at my hat, then looked back at me and nodded, said “Hello.” I smiled and returned his pleasantry. 

You portray the story’s North Dakota setting with an eerie beauty—its natural landscape, and the manufactured one—the minimarts, apartments, and gas stations. The contrast produces a mood that is highly particular. Can you tell us a bit about setting in your work? 

I’m enamored with settings of all kinds, but I’ve been particularly taken with North Dakota since first visiting there back in 2006. I’ve been to Fargo, but I’ve also been to some of the state’s rural areas, and they’re quite beautiful—large flocks of snow geese, swaths of prairie, a big sky—and the isolation of the place along with the wild elements are attractive to me. My hope is to develop a setting in a way that’s compelling enough for it to emerge as another character. If I can come close to that, then I feel as though I’m utilizing the setting to its fullest. 

The story looks at a contrast of cultures—one is stereotypically Midwestern, and white, and comes up against the speaker’s mixed-race experience. Can you tell us your thoughts about writing the Midwest in this cultural moment?

I’ve been exploring race relations more so in my writing now than ever before. I’m not sure if that’s a reaction to the previous president who, according to his own party, is a “race-baiting xenophobe,” and made racist remarks throughout his campaign and presidency, or if it’s simply because I’m interested in exploring these dynamics. I think it might be both, especially as we see the growing rural and urban divide with regard to politics (and race).

I’m also interested, culturally, in the lies we tell ourselves. In Iowa, where I live, we are good at believing our own lies or at least not living in reality. Iowa is, for instance, a huge beneficiary of government money (through the farm bill and other farm subsidies), but those same people who are taking that money to the bank are also the ones who spout off against “socialism”—whatever that means. This dynamic is endlessly fascinating, frustrating, and a mark of some kind of era we’re in whereby people’s thoughts don’t line up with the reality they’re living in. Again, this is a fascinating dynamic and one I’ve been exploring through writing fiction. 

You founded EastOver Press with Denton Loving (also a museum contributor!). What’s it been like launching an independent press during these last couple of years? 

Denton’s story in the museum is one of the best flash pieces I’ve ever read. It utilizes setting in sophisticated ways and it’s also humorous. And what a pure delight to laugh out loud while reading. Speaking of delight, that’s how I’d describe launching an independent press. It’s been nothing but invigorating and delightful. Along with Denton, I’d be remiss not to mention our co-conspirators Walter Robinson and Kelly March. I think I can safely speak for all of us when I say we’re all having fun. 

Can you share a favorite recent read, and tell us what you’re working on now? 

I’ve been re-reading My Antonia by Willa Cather. Speaking of setting. Wow, what a stark and desolate yet intensely beautiful landscape—the plains of Nebraska. Her writing is so fluid and rich. And like windbreaks, sloughs, and fencerows that organize parcels of land, I just love how the book is sectioned out into these tidy little chapters so rich with details and adventure. 

As far as what I’m working on: still writing short stories. I love to read them. I love to write them. 

Read “Oakes,” here.


Keith Lesmeister is the author of the story collection We Could’ve Been Happy Here. He’s an editor at Cutleaf, co-directs the Luther College Writers Festival, and teaches at Northeast Iowa Community College.

Five Questions for Marianne Villenueva

In the second of our interviews with Issue 25 prose contributors, museum prose co-editor Lauren Alwan talks with Marianne Villenueva about “The Walker.” The story is filled with contrasts—the bucolic remove of suburbia in Northern California, the national grief after the attacks of 9/11, the comforts of a middle class tract, the shock of  deaths both distant and close to home. These disparate realities inform the speaker’s consciousness in “The Walker,” and here, Marianne discusses the genesis of the story, the challenges of plot, and how she knows when she’s found the perfect reader.

“The Walker” looks at the tragedy of 9/11, the capture of Osama bin Laden, and suburbia in Northern California. It’s also a character study of a man who’s troubled by losses both nationally and close to home. Can you talk a bit about the genesis of the story? 

From the moment 9/11 happened, it was in me. But the memories were starting to fold into history and some detachment was beginning to settle into my memories of it. That’s why I found it so unexpected when Obama appeared on national TV and announced his death. I remember being so struck by the contrast between the president’s calm demeanor and the news he was announcing, which was momentous.

I don’t know if I started percolating the story right then, but I think the contrast between the public event and the quietness of the president’s demeanor led to me wanting to explore this contrast in some way. 9/11 profoundly changed the American psyche: it introduced despair and pessimism. These changes were small, almost unnoticeable—but no less momentous. The story was born out of me wanting to explore the sea changes that occur beneath the surface.

“The Walker” is set in fictional Sequoia, a suburban tract in Northern California, a setting that resembles areas outside San Francisco in its mix of old and new, of immigrants and longtime residents. Can you talk about the role of place in your work, and as it relates to the idea of insiders and outsiders?

This was a very interesting question. I always feel tentative when writing about place. My inner life is split: obviously I’m here, right now, in America, I became a naturalized citizen a long time ago. But there’s another part of me that belongs to the Philippines, and there’s also the insistent voice of my dear departed father, who said I should never become an American citizen, because I will never be treated as an equal. “I mean, just look at yourself,” my father said. And this was a man who graduated Georgetown Law.

Each of my stories is a balancing act between HERE and THERE. I am always, always aware of this disconnect, even though I seem, outwardly, to have assimilated. The place where I am now is a suburban neighborhood. I’ve lived in this same house since 1991. It is a predominantly white neighborhood. It is very much like the neighborhood in “The Walker.” But I began to wonder, what do my neighbors really know about me? Nothing, really. I don’t think they’re quite as accepting as I used to believe. Maybe that’s a result of 2016. There’s this sense of comfort, because the landscape is familiar and settled. But there’s also a wariness. 

In this story, the precarious balancing act is there. Mr. Flores is like myself, seemingly assimilated. But the narrator is very aware of where Mr. Flores is from: “He’s from the Philippines.” Mr. Flores and the narrator don’t speak, they’re not really “friends.” But it’s the jumbotron that finally elevates Mr. Flores into someone the narrator thinks he would like to visit. It also shows the divide: it was there, for many years. Maybe it was the result of a mutual reticence. But it took something as huge as 9/11 and its aftermath to bring Mr. Flores front and center in the narrator’s awareness. 

During the reading for Issue 25’s launch, you mentioned you felt the story doesn’t quite go anywhere, but we find there’s a lot happening in “The Walker,” though much of it is taking place in the speaker’s consciousness. Some writers find plotting more of a challenge compared to working with character or language. How do you view narrative arc and making things happen?

Ah! I say that because it’s a very introspective piece. In fact, as I was writing it, and putting all the pieces (the details) together, I felt tremendous emotion. So quite a lot was happening inside. It’s just that I didn’t know how to make a corresponding something happen on the outside. But then, I always trust that readers will “get it,” I’m not sure where this confidence comes from, when I’ve actually had readers comment, in the past: What the hell was THAT I just read? LOL

One thing that made me absolutely happy when my piece was selected by you was knowing that I had found someone who gets me! I don’t plot, ever. I trust that a plot will emerge. If it doesn’t, then I know the story didn’t need one. Ha! I’m so disingenuous. Truly, my short stories are born of flashes of insight, thought, memory, or emotion. They’re impulses, like lightning in a bottle, that I try to capture on a page. I want the readers to feel what I feel, and for me that’s enough of a purpose for a story. 

With this one, there were so many overlapping layers of emotion, it’s actually quite complex. But it takes a patient reader to burrow down. THANK YOU, MUSEUM OF AMERICANA, for taking the time and effort. I know my stories are not the easiest to understand. But I really felt I’d jumped the shark with this one. 

Writing, for me, even after all these years, still remains an essentially mysterious process. Nothing I write is complete. I always leave one or more parts hanging. I send my work out with the hope that somewhere out there is a perfect reader who will take the time to respond and say (like in the Jerry Maguire movie, how cheesy): “You complete me!” When I find that perfect reader, I know I’ve landed my punches. And I always experience a very intense feeling of fulfillment—even joy—as a result. Which is priceless.

Central to “The Walker” are themes of time and grief, and trauma and its aftermath. Can you tell us a bit about writing in this vein? 

I am comfortable in my melancholy. It’s part of my personality? I’ve had a lot of unexpected grief: my only sister died, my father followed a year later. A sister-in-law I was close to died. Everyone dies, so why is my grief special? I don’t feel able to deal with my grief in my real life, I don’t see a therapist or anything, I wait to “deal” when I’m writing. And then it just bleeds out. But I’m honest with it: there are people who run away from it, but I seem unable to. 

That said, I had a very, very happy childhood. But I was still the child who was sensitive about…everything? When I was five, my exasperated father said (I was crying over something, I forget what): “You are the only five-year-old in the world who is holding an ice cream cone and still crying.” LOL

Can you share a recent favorite read—and tell us what you’re working on now? 

A favorite read: okay, that’s easy. It’s—unexpectedly—not fiction. It’s Anne Sebba’s Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy. I read a review of it in The Economist, and thought I’d give it a try. I did not expect that I would relate. But the biography keeps the trial and execution way out of the picture in the first half. And I was fascinated by the life the author was able to excavate for her subject—who was just a very, very ordinary woman. Who was in love with this man three years younger, who gave up everything for him. By the time it came to the trial, I was a complete basket case. The cold mother, the brother who betrayed her (he perjured himself to get his wife off, laid all the blame on his sister), the cruelty of Roy Cohn and the like, and her final moments. Aaah, I could begin crying right now. 

Other than that book, I’ve been enjoying noir. And have been reading true masters of the genre: Thomas Perry and Chris Offutt, whose The Killing Hills was the last book I finished.

What am I working on now? I have two historical novels: one on World War II in my father’s home province in the central Philippines. My grandfather’s house was the tallest house on the island, so of course it was appropriated by the Japanese High Command. And my father’s entire family shared accommodation with the Japanese High Command for the duration of the occupation. I’m full of family stories.

The other novel-in-progress, which is over 400 pages, (I should just stop adding to it), is about a 16th century Spanish priest who is sent to the Philippines to fight demons. I tell it mostly in epistolary fashion. Don’t ask me why I always have to choose the hardest way. But I’m having fun writing in florid 16th century epistolary style. That’s the thing for me: if it’s not fun, I’m not writing it.

FINALLY, I have a very spare, taut horror novel about ALIEN INVASION in, of all places, the Bering Sea. It is so spare, I only add a few pages a month. It’s over 70 pages, but the language has remained satisfyingly laconic. I love it! I love reading it over. Two characters fall in love, which is rare for me to write about.

Read The Walker in Issue 25, here.


Marianne Villaneuva’s work has been published in Chattahoochee Review, Crab Orchard Review, Western Humanities Review, Juked, Pembroke Magazine, Vice-Versa, and many other print and online magazines. Born and raised in Manila, she received a creative writing fellowship from Stanford University and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Currently, she teaches writing through UCLA Extension’s Writers Program. Her three published collections of short fiction are: Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila, Mayor of the Roses, and The Lost Language. She writes a humorous book and travel blog, Kanlaon, and can be found on Instagram @iblieveindragons.

Five Questions for Jay Ruben Dayrit

Jay’s short story, “Neck Bone,” appears in our just-released Issue 25, a milestone achievement that features authors and artists in conversation with the theme “My Americana.” Though brief in length, at just under 1500 words, “Neck Bone” mines the complexity of a young man’s life as he grapples with loss and his future, finding grace in unlikely relationships. In this interview with prose co-editor Lauren Alwan, Jay shares thoughts on the story, on writing, how his college theater studies influences his characters’ dialog, and why Alien is one of his favorite films.

In “Neck Bone,” the narrator is navigating loss and disillusionment, and in the course of a few paragraphs, we learn much about his outer and inner life. You mentioned the character was inspired by someone you know—could you talk about how you came to write the story?

The narrator of “Neck Bone” is an amalgamation of myself and my nephew, who is biracial. He once confessed he struggles with what to mention first when people inquire about his ethnicity, as if he must prioritize one parent over the other. I was never a bartender, but I did spend a few years working as a go-go dancer in my early 20s, none of which made it into the story except for the one detail about how tips are better if you show more skin. Regarding loss and disillusionment in the story, when I was 24, my mother died of an autoimmune disorder that took her within two months of diagnosis. She was 52, the age I am now. Aftershock settled into grief and grief gave way to depression, I spent a few years feeling rudderless. That person, who I was then, is who narrates “Neck Bone.” As for Neck Bone himself, he’s entirely fictional. When I was in grad school, I wrote a character exploration on the kind of person who might enjoy driving for a living. It was not good­. I put it away. Decades later it resurfaced as I was going through my files. I reread it, cringing throughout, but there was one line that held the weight of an entire story, a speculation that repo men must maintain a dispassion that borders on cruelty. The lesson here is to keep everything you write, no matter how awful. Even the bad stuff might eventually yield something good.

The story looks unflinchingly at loss and class divide. The speaker, for one, is navigating his way toward college in the wake of his mother’s death, while the titular character repossesses cars—and one in particular, from an electrician, Stan Dembrowski, who’s trying to support a family. Can you tell us a bit about portraying economic class and struggle in your work?

A central conceit to the story is that higher education guarantees greater lifetime income which directly correlates with happiness. This is terribly reductive, despite what my immigrant parents so staunchly believed. In America, there are many factors that contribute to contentment, not the least of which is the family one happens to be born into and their values around education, work ethic, and materialism. I’d hoped to avoid sounding judgmental about blue-collar jobs; My father got his Ph.D. in vocational education, and my father-in-law was a sheet-metal worker. But I felt the arc of the story necessitated shedding an unflattering light on the working class: the narrator’s father is a philandering alcoholic, Stan Dembrowski lives beyond his means, and Neck Bone lacks a moral compass. In fiction, making a character ignoble simply to shape an antagonist is lazy writing. Every character, virtuous or dishonorable, needs relatable motivations.

The speaker in “Neck Bone” is a young, mixed-race gay man who works at a bar, “J.C. Pumps,” while attending community college part-time. Through his eyes, we see the world of the bar, of Neck Bone’s apartment, and other carefully detailed scenes—including the glove compartment of a repossessed car. Can you talk about using detail, and how you make those choices?

I am of the German Expressionists school of thought; Exteriority should reflect interiority. All the spaces the narrator describes are confining and static. The glove compartments literally contain problems no one wants to address. J.C. Pump’s hasn’t changed since the 70s. Neck Bone’s apartment doesn’t have a bathroom and overlooks a Wendy’s. That little detail comes from my husband. Once when he was traveling for work, he asked the hotel clerk for a room with a nice view. The clerk said, “This is the Central Valley, sir. Every room overlooks the Wendy’s across the street.” My husband sent me a picture of his view of the Wendy’s parking lot. It seemed a distinctly American tragedy. The only space in the story that isn’t confining is the yard when the narrator and his father finish raking the leaves, which is meant to offer a sense of liberation. It’s still melancholy but no longer hopeless.

The voice in “Neck Bone” is another way the piece looks at class divide. There’s a difference between how the various characters speak, and the speaker’s narration of the story, which makes for wonderful textures of tone and voice. Can you tell us a bit about how you see the role of voice in your work?

How a character says something is as important as what they’re saying. I majored in Theatre Studies at Yale, with a concentration in Playwriting. In my first playwriting class, the professor told me, “All your characters sound alike, and they all sound like you. I suggest you talk less and listen more.” Brutal but honest advice. So I started paying careful attention to how people spoke. Did they speak in long, languid sentences or in short, incomplete bursts? Do they speak from the diaphragm or do they swallow their words? Cadence, pace, jargon, accent, directness, or circuitousness all help a character sound distinct. I tend not to rely too heavily on dialogue in my stories, just enough to add dimensionality to the characters, but I make a habit of reading aloud what little dialogue I do write. If the lines don’t feel right in my mouth or I stumble, I change them so they come out smoothly and align with the character. If the story is first-person limited, I basically treat it like a monologue, as if it were meant to be performed on stage.

Can you share a recent favorite read? And what are you working on now?

Nic Pizzolatto’s collection of short stories Between Here and the Yellow Sea is stunning. The eponymous story is perhaps the best I’ve read in a long time, one of those rare narratives that pull you in completely unexpected directions, and yet, in the end, every choice turns out to be perfectly logical. It’s kind of mystifying.

I am currently working on a short screenplay about two gay friends who get high and go see an exhibit on human deformities, and I am rewriting a personal essay about the year I lived with my father while he pursued his Ph.D. at Oklahoma State University. I was nine years old and largely left to my own devices. Having been born and raised in Micronesia, I felt completely alien in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In fact, Alien was released that year, and to this day, it remains one of my favorite films.

Read “Neck Bone,” in the museum’s Issue 25, here.


Jay Ruben Dayrit’s short stories have appeared in Jellyfish Review, Minnesota Review, Santa Clara Review, Sycamore Review, WIRED, and The Yale Quarterly. He is a recipient of the Individual Artist Grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission and an Artist-in-Residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts. He has taught creative writing at Kearny Street Workshop and San Quentin State Prison. Originally from the Federated States of Micronesia, he now lives in San Francisco.

Issue 25: My Americana

During August, 2021, we will accept submissions for Issue 25, a milestone achievement. With our theme “My Americana,” we seek to highlight work from writers and artists who are traditionally marginalized in publishing. We will prioritize work from writers and artists of color; specifically, we are interested in intersectionality. By modifying Americana, we hope writers and artists will expand the definition of the concept.

Click here to review our full submission guidelines.

Seeking Poetry Co-Editor

the museum of americana is seeking a new Poetry Co-Editor, responsible for reading and responding to submissions for three reading periods annually, attending virtual staff meetings, and building relationships with other publications and poets.

This is a virtually-based volunteer position. We are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in our work and particularly interested in applicants who are traditionally underrepresented in publishing.

If interested, please send a cover letter and CV to Executive Editor Allison Blevins, exec.ed.americana (at)

Q & A with New Executive Editor Allison Blevins

Executive Editor Alison Blevins

This month, the museum welcomes a new Executive Editor, Allison Blevins. We’re thrilled to introduce her with this brief questionnaire about her work, reading life, and thoughts on the museum’s mission, as well as what’s in store for this exciting new chapter.

How did you find your way to the museum of americana?
the museum of americana published my poem “Everyone Waits at the DMV” in issue seventeen and also nominated the work for the Best of the Net. I found the magazine because my dear friend Josh Davis received his MFA at the same school as our Poetry Editor, Karrie Waarala. Josh and I went to Pitt State together years earlier while working on our MA’s. He is my writing partner and suggested I submit a few years ago.

When I saw the job announcement, I knew I had to apply. I wasn’t looking for a new position, but the museum feels like me. Justin’s vision of celebrating American culture while also acknowledging that “not all aspects of Americana ought to be praised or celebrated” but that “there is still great value in holding even that which is embarrassing or difficult up to the light to see what it is made of—and what could possibly be made of it,” feels reminiscent of my life. I am an Army wife, and I live in the bible belt. I’m also queer, disabled, and neurodivergent. I want to help bring voices to the world that both praise us and hold us up to the light.

What are you reading right now?
This is a difficult question! I’m almost always reading a few things at a time. I’m finishing Disability Aesthetics by Tobin Siebers. I’m also always reading a poetry book. Right now, I’m reading Wound from the Mouth of a Wound by torrin a. greathouse. In the car, I’m reading Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness. I love a good vampire/witch book. I read Anne Rice all through grade school and middle school, and she clearly shaped my reading and viewing habits!

What was the most interesting thing you did during COVID?
We didn’t do anything during COVID! I am immunocompromised, so we were and still are quarantined. I did finish my third full length book of poems. This is more of a miracle than something interesting. The most interesting thing we did was homeschool our 3rd and 5th graders while trying to keep our toddler from killing us all!

Allison Blevins is the author of the chapbooks Susurration (Blue Lyra Press, 2019), Letters to Joan (Lithic Press, 2019), and A Season for Speaking (Seven Kitchens Press, 2019). Her books Slowly/Suddenly (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2021) and Cataloging Pain (YesYes Books, 2022) are forthcoming. Her collaborative chapbook Chorus for the Kill (Seven Kitchens Press, 2020) is also forthcoming. She is the Director of Small Harbor Publishing and lives in Missouri with her spouse and three children. For more information about Alison’s work, visit her website.

Watch for the museum’s Issue 24, coming in June, which will include Allison’s introductory foreword as Executive Editor. You can keep up with the all museum’s news and opportunities on Facebook with a page like, and on Twitter, follow us at @museumofamerica.

Best of the Net Nominations for 2019

the museum is delighted to share our Best of the Net anthology nominations. Best of luck to these amazing writers!