Write Like a Girl: Nelle


Though women have made great strides in the literary world there is still work to be done.

By Javacia Harris Bowser

In 2016 just 36 percent of the writers for The Atlantic were women. Only 26 percent of the books reviewed by the London Review of Books were by women. And while Harper’s published 50 percent of both male and female book reviewers, only 36 percent of books reviewed were by women. Numbers like these, compiled by the non-profit feminist organization VIDA, prove that though women have made great strides in the literary world there is still work to be done.

Lauren Slaughter is poised to do her part in bringing about change.

Slaughter is an assistant professor of English at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and an acclaimed poet. She’s a recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and her poetry collection, a lesson in smallness, was a finalist for the Rousseau Prize for Literature and the Eric Hoffer Award in poetry.

Slaughter is also the editor of NELLE, a UAB publication dedicated to publishing the work of women writers. Founded by Linda Frost in 2001 under the title poemmemoirstory or P.M.S., the journal was edited by Kerry Madden from 2010-2017. Slaughter came on as editor for the 2018 issue, which was released in January, and the staff decided to rename the journal NELLE.

I had a chat with Slaughter recently about the journal’s name change, the importance of publications like NELLE in today’s literary landscape and why budding writers should submit their work to literary journals.

What was the thinking behind the journal’s name change and is it named for Harper Lee?

When I came on as editor it seemed the right time to reconsider the name of the journal.  I continue to admire the kind of subversive sentiment of the previous title, which was knowingly abbreviated as P.M.S., but it seemed important to contemporize in some ways that I felt were important. I talked to slews of women writers before making the change and most agreed it was time for a reboot. While a kind of attention to the body seems important in a lot of writing by women, I didn’t want the title to suggest that kind of subject matter was preferred. Also, I wanted to steer clear of the anatomical, which might dissuade women in the trans community and others from feeling included. I also wanted to encourage writers to send along forms that don’t fall easily within the categories of poetry, memoir, and stories. We’re interested in all genres and all in-betweens at NELLE.

As for choosing NELLE as the title, yes, it’s an homage to Harper Lee, whom her friends called, Nelle. Also, the title just felt right. Kerry Madden and I worked through so many possible titles, and when she suggested NELLE we both knew we’d found the right fit.

Will the type of content in the journal change?

Yes and no. The mission of the journal has always been to publish the best writing by women, and that certainly remains our goal. I think a kind of change is inevitable any time a new editor comes in, though, and perhaps my tastes are a bit more idiosyncratic and interested in hybrid and experimental forms along with the traditional.

Why do you think it’s important to have a journal exclusively for women?

I think it’s important not only for writers but also for readers to have a journal exclusively for women. I know that as a reader I naturally gravitate toward writing by women—it just seems to be where I want to spend my time. While we don’t have themed issues—at least we haven’t so far—we find that the pieces in the journal naturally fall into a conversation that is a distinctly female.

The journal came along before the VIDA count, but we all know that men continue to be more widely published than women and there are staggeringly more male editors. So, a journal operated primarily by women (some of my male students are also editors) and that publishes only women is important for those reasons, too.

What kind of work are you looking for and what advice would you give to women looking to submit their work to NELLE?

More than anything else, I want to see something I haven’t seen before. A new voice, a different perspective, something that delights or upsets or changes me. I want to be challenged, learn, understand. Writing can do that. Also, the writing itself is going to be on point—no clichés, image-driven, smart.

Why is it important for writers to submit their work to literary journals? Any tips for getting over fear or imposter syndrome that may keep women from submitting their work?

I write as well as edit, so I know how hard it is to put yourself out there. Rejection is always a possibility. But your voice is important. Go for it.

 For more information on NELLE visit www.uab.edu/cas/englishpublications/nelle.

Leave a Reply