Instead of the Clarion West Write-a-thon, I have a few things to say this evening about Glimmer Train, one of two litmags based in Portland, Oregon, that will not be with us when we enter 2020. The other is Tin House.
Glimmer Train began in 1990 when two sisters, Susan and Linda, decided they wanted to publish volumes of short stories. (I know their full names, but they always refer to themselves as Susan and Linda, so I will, too.) That they did, for 30 years, in 106 perfect-bound, digest-sized issues of 200+ pages, along with interviews, interesting comments from the writers on their stories, and a childhood photo of each writer.
The zine was never an art director’s delight – that was Tin House – and they never ran themes or led their readers down unexpected trails – again, Tin House – but the writing was usually solid, often inspired, and there was at least one year when the annual Best American Short Stories included more stories from Glimmer Train than from The New Yorker or, yes, Tin House.
When I found out late in 2018 that both zines were ending their runs, I knew I had to make a last-ditch attempt to sell them a story. I was too late for Tin House, which received more than 20,000 unsolicited fiction manuscripts a year until they finally barred the door. But Glimmer Train has always tried to make a home for the poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. They were running three last contests. I set myself a goal of writing two new stories and entering two contests.
I checked off that goal in April after writing one new story and rewriting an old one. Close enough. But Susan and Linda weren’t biting, and I will not be in that number when the literary gods go marching in. In my final rejection from them, number 14 lifetime (this includes an honorable mention in one of their contests), they called my story “a good read” and wrote:
Readers and writers have – through their writing and by their presence – deepened and enlivened our lives. The thousands and thousands of stories people have sent us over these last three decades have each revealed something significant about what it means to be human. As much as it really is time for us retire, we’ll always hold these many years, the stories and their authors – you – close to our hearts.
It’s been a great honor doing this work and one heck of an exciting experience for us.
With gratitude and warm wishes,
Susan & Linda
Glimmer Train Press
Glimmer Train is gone but Tin House rocks on – as a book publisher and as the sponsor of the Tin House Summer Workshop, held every summer at Reed College, barely a mile and a half from our house. I went to the workshop in 2008 (22 years after I went to Clarion West) and it was a wonderful week (for which I was prepared by having gone to Clarion West).
Good-bye just now, Susan and Linda, and thank you.