Behind The Editor’s Desk: Muriel Leung

by Lauren Eggert-Crowe

Our main priority at Women Who Submit is uplifting the voices of writers who are historically marginalized in arts and letters. We believe in practicing Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality, which means we look beyond gender discrimination and work for the liberation of women who are at the intersections of various oppressive systems of power, such as white supremacy & anti-Black racism, homophobia, classism and ableism. We value racial justice and economic justice as an essential part of our mission to center the art and literature of the most underserved and overlooked writers.

That’s why we love journals like Apogee, a beautiful online/print magazine that prioritizes writers of color. From their Mission Statement:

Apogee is a journal of literature and art that engages with identity politics, including but not limited to: race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, and intersectional identities. We are a biannual print publication featuring fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and visual art. Our goals are twofold: to publish fresh work that interrogates the status quo, and to provide a platform for underrepresented voices, prioritizing artists and writers of color.

The word “apogee” denotes the point in an object’s orbit that is farthest from the center. Our mission combines literary aesthetic with political activism. We believe that by elevating underrepresented literary voices we can effect real change: change in readers’ attitudes, change in writers’ positions in literature, and broader change in society.

Muriel Leung is the poetry editor at Apogee, and also a member of Women Who Submit who has read at our various events, such as LitCrawl and the L.A. Times Festival of Books. We interviewed her about her work at Apogee:

Tell us about the mission statement of Apogee. What are the journal’s values and aesthetic?


Apogee Journal is a literary journal dedicated to uplifting the voices of marginalized writers and artists. It was originally founded by students of color and international students at Columbia University’s Graduate Program in Creative Writing, and then grew out of it to become an independent journal outside of the university. The decision to become an independent journal emerged out of a desire for autonomy over creative content.


As a journal, we do our best to be politically vigilant in our aesthetics as well as our organizational structure, which includes being intentional about the projects we take on, who we partner with, and how we engage in literary politics as a collective. We believe that aesthetics and politics go hand in hand, that you cannot divorce one from the other. We also work closely with our writers and do our best to advocate for their work even long after they have published with us.


In the next few months, we will be transitioning from a bi-annual print journal to an all-online platform. As we make this shift, we stay true to the values above, and hope that the journal in web format will permit us to advocate for our contributors in such a way that print alone cannot. We hope you stick with us while we prep for this transition!


What is unique about the last print issue of Apogee?


For this most recent Issue 10 (and last ever print issue!) of Apogee Journal, the theme is “Towards a more certain survival,” which draws from some of the reemerging focuses of the poems, essays, stories, and visual art in the issue. In the issue, Amber Atiya’s piece, “how to survive (for Black grrls),” opens, “i’m not sure how i’ve survived, though certainly i have…” I’ve thought of this opening line a lot, about the perpetuity of survival, the daily task of it. Survival isn’t about glory nor is it a final, accomplished step. I think much of the work in this issue very much understands this. There is no glamorous notion of what it means to be alive in these times, and there’s some great unease about what it means to aestheticize it. Yet I think it’s precisely this unease, this suspicion of language, that makes the work of Issue 10 so powerful. I’m proud of this last print issue, and hope that the spirit of moving “Towards a more certain survival” echoes through our work as a journal in the years to come.


I’m happy to share that Issue 10 just launched! You can purchase your copy here:


As poetry editor, what are you looking for in a submission? What makes the really great submissions stand out?


Our poetry team consists of Joey De Jesus and Zef Lisowski with the recent addition of readers, Crystal Yeung and Anya Lewis-Meeks. In our recent discussions about moving Apogee Journal into an all-online platform, we’ve been working a lot in collaboration with Apogee’s Perigee’s blog editor, Mina Seckin, about what a full web platform can do in terms of representing and promoting an artist’s work. Between all of us, there’s a shared political sensibility that underlies our reading process. I think we understand that oftentimes marginalized writers experience intense pressure to operate in such a way that panders to a white, male, straight, and cis gaze in order to become immediately “legible.” The work that draws us in are those that refuse that layer of translation that the normative gaze desires in order to fully consume a poem — we trust marginalized writers to represent their experiences, languages, and histories in their most complex and inventive fashion.

And then again, there are many of us with our own aesthetic sensibilities and predilections too, which we try to account for when we read. When guest editor, Sarah Clark joined us, we noticed that much of the content we were collectively drawn to was very witchy, which I guess (if you’re familiar with any one of us personally) makes a lot of sense. There’s a lot of love for corporeal magic and strangeness, ghosts, unconventional forms, multilingual texts, fangs (a lot of fangs in Issue 10), and of course, you know, the dissolution and utter collapse of the U.S. empire.


Interestingly, we’ve had long conversations about moving away from using the term “submissions” to talk about the work that people share with us, if only because it feels like it exacerbates the power differential already inherent in the editor-author relationship. So that’s something we’re looking to revise in our own language as well!


What trends are you seeing in poetry these days? What do you like and what is not so much your cup of tea?


I don’t know if “trend” is the right word, but I think the 2016 U.S. presidential election has made a certain impact on poetry. People who did not identify as political before then were suddenly galvanized. There is this urgency for language that would fully encapsulate the totality of harms done, a desire for summation, a catch-up for all that went wrong in this country. For many marginalized people in this country, we know that the U.S.’ extended legacy of harms did not suddenly start in 2016, but in the swarm of this pressure for identification of violence and harms, the burden of definition unfortunately falls upon us to speak.


In this politics of representational trauma, I’m noticing that we’re expected to produce work that would make something as complicated and nuanced as historical violence suddenly palatable. While such work was gritty and vulnerable beforehand, there’s now an expectation of an even wider wound. This desire for writers to retraumatize themselves over and over again for the brutal poem, the gutted poem, the poem that is most bloodied, is almost fetishistic. I want to be careful to make the distinction between writers who produce work in this way consistently (who perhaps identify with this mode of writing) and the commodification of these efforts. If the economy of poetry demands that writing of trauma can only appear in one flat valence, then can we truly call it a trauma discourse? How do we do a disservice to marginalized communities if this is the only mode in which one’s work can be published and celebrated? And what does this do to a marginalized writer if we foster the belief that this is the only kind of work that people want to see?


I don’t believe I have the authority to say how people should write or not write, but I hope that there is an awareness of what we unconsciously covet or desire in poetry about violence and identity. I hope we permit for ourselves work that enters into this conversation through unexpected modes, that don’t always need us to excavate ourselves in order to be remade whole. I hope we read for our sustainability as much as our devastation — let it be known that as much as it hurts, we intend upon thriving.


Does your writing practice influence your work as an editor and vice versa?


My work as an editor has certainly taught me a lot about patience and kindness towards my own writing. From my time at Apogee Journal, I’ve learned to read with care, and to offer feedback in this same spirit. I try to do the same for myself, to acknowledge when some work just needs more time to incubate when it has really gone through too many revisions. I try not to self-admonish or internalize the failure. I certainly wouldn’t want someone who shared work with Apogee Journal to feel that way if their work was not selected for publication. All the editors and readers read and give extensive feedback when we can, and even so, our feedback is not the final word. Everyone has permission to pick and choose feedback that feels useful and decide what to discard. I take that back with me for my own writing as well.

To be a responsible editor and writer, it’s so crucial to read widely, broadly as well as closely, such that you can speak to the larger traditions in which the work emerges or draws from, but also can identify the parts that make the work unique. This is mutual practice, I think.


muriel-leungMuriel Leung is the author of Bone Confettiwinner of the 2015 Noemi Press Book Award. A Pushcart Prize nominated writer, her writing can be found or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Drunken Boat, The Collagist, Fairy Tale Review, and others. She is a recipient of fellowships to Kundiman, VONA/Voices Workshop and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She is a contributing editor to the Bettering American Poetry anthology and is also Poetry Co-Editor of Apogee Journal. Currently, she is a Dornsife Fellow in the PhD in Creative Writing and Literature program at University of Southern California. She is from Queens, NY. She tweets (@murmurshewrote).


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