From John B. Edgar
Towards the bottom there is an offer to contributors and educators for free issues, so be sure to read the last part if the rest of this bores you.
First of all, I’d like to thank the world of writers who found us, submitted, trusted, and published work in Opossum. It was the greatest pleasure of my life to read and select from the innumerable prose submissions we received and to participate in the editing and publishing of the lot (poetry exclusive—Becky, Ashton, Maya, and Gerrard did all of that). Jon Ross focused on nonfiction but also was invaluable as a fiction co-editor and was a terrific Managing Editor, and Rima Rhuman did a great job of editing flash for the last issue and the one that never came to pass. It was a group effort, and it was a fine group of people with whom to work.
Cutting checks to new writers was the best part of it for me. Though sometimes painful, and though we never figured out how to make it a break-even business, we got closer and closer with every issue (but still far from sustainability) and validating so many first published artists through an albeit meager payment was really gratifying. Part of the perpetual problem was the sales model. Paying $500-700 to have a venue to sell our wares at conferences negated most of the progress. Online sales were mainly to contributors and family, and barely made a dent in the $3-5K per-issue overhead, most of which was paying writers. We had some very generous donors, and a nice grant from Oregon Literary Arts, and they helped attenuate the losses, but even then Opossum’s every publication cost me thousands of dollars on average. Even without the social media reports that have recently surfaced, this venture would not have gone on much longer. Opossum rose from the ashes of my father’s death, the money from his auctioned off antiques, and I still believe that this was a fine way to turn that tragedy into something artful and living. I was optimistically (in my dreams) planning on calling it quits at the five year mark of its inception, late next year or the next, going out in a blaze of glory with a 12×12” anthology and accompanying 12” LP (dream: picture disc) of readings and music. Sadly, that will never happen now.
But onwards to the elephant in the room. I have been accused of abusing my position of power for friendship, making some of our contributors feel uncomfortable. I looked at any communication with writers after publication as voluntary, but failed to realize that there could be a power differential still at play that affected those relationships. While the Facebook calling-out has been specific to women, I looked at male writers previously published as friends too, and could have offended them as well, though they have not been a part of the FB discussion. All I can say is that I perceived these interactions to be with friends. I never so much as asked any person I met through Opossum out for coffee. If anyone ever told me to lay off the texting or just “ghosted’ me, I would have disappeared. In my old-man mind, I had just met friends and went about taking to them as if I’d met them at a party or any other open social setting. But that was not the case. I met them under a dynamic that favored my privilege as an editor. I never felt that I had any power, and now I really feel dirt small, but that is a point of privilege too, the fall is evidence of my privileged position.
Part of the problem is that, in addition to its primary mission, I saw Opossum as a more personal alternative to social media networks like Facebook– a way to meet far-off, exotic friends with whom I had a real connection. The problem with this was that I didn’t see that I was in effect buying friends, at least in some instances it appears. While I like to think of myself as personable guy and capable of striking up real-world friendships, I had newfound power by accepting and publishing work from virtual strangers. I certainly never asked for anything in return other than platonic friendship, and nothing to the contrary has been claimed. Everything I bought and that we published was either solicited from “established” writers, or, most of the time, chosen from the “slush pile.” Never did I personally contact or interact with anyone before acceptance of work other than the established writers who’s work I actively sought out, and after that fact, I thought of the publisher/writer relationship as finalized. I sometimes continued to communicate with writers in a more personal way than the initial relationship dictated, it has been revealed. I was unaware of any impropriety and thought that the personal interest and desire to communicate was mutual. I think that I had some illusion of intimacy and real personal connection, but that could have always been one-sided.
I apologize to anyone who I made feel uncomfortable during our years of publication and I sincerely regret that anyone was made to feel anything but my gratitude and sincere professional and human/personal appreciation. Opossum gave me a way to talk to people that I never would have had the gumption or access to talk to without that professional connection. It was way easier to talk to someone about a lit journal than about my own work, as many of you can imagine. Part of the success of Opossum came from the very thing that became its demise– I was actively networking, hustling, pitching, and trying to form relationships with talented writers that might make us more viable going forward. In most of these interactions, I was acting in the spirit of mutual interest and shared ambition. In rarer times, I have come to see, I was lonely and looking for friendship along with the above goals. Never did I feel as if I was using or abusing anyone. I was oftentimes bewildered by the thrill new connections, new people, and as a fairly isolated person, I reveled in these interactions. But that was wrong, I now see.
In the ashes of this debacle, I have a garage full of records and journals that I need to find a home for. I can’t bring myself to take it all to the landfill but it breaks my heart to see the hills of journals, the wreckage of this quake haunting me in my garage, which is also my writing room. Our print run was forward-looking, and we still have a ton (literally) of back issues that will never be sold. I’d like to send any (domestic) past contributor, at my shipping expense, a box of the issue in which their work appeared. This varies between 18-25 issues per box and records for the issues that entailed the 7”. They make great presents and look nice on a coffee table, as ya’ll know by now.
If we published your work or you are an educator and you want a box of Opossums, send me (email@example.com) your address and I will ship it out to you via media mail in the coming weeks. Opossum was used in at least two university classes as an example of a literary journal and of mixed media in literature, so if you want issues for a class, let me know and they will come. After this first round, I will open it up to the general public.
On a last note, I want to sincerely apologize to the writers who we selected for the Spring 2019 issue that will not come to fruition. I hate to have dashed your hopes and betrayed your trust, but I did not see this coming and was committed to publishing your work when our team accepted it.
And on a last, last note, if anyone with whom I’ve been affiliated through Opossum wants to take me to task, please let me know. I stand with my tail between my legs ready to apologize and be held to accountability. I will do this via email but not on social media, yet you’re always able to post my interactions there if you choose to. Right now, I am just in survival mode. Every day I wake up to the new reality, one where I’ve lost a large part of my identity, a large part of my profession, some really good friends, and social media just reminds me of my failures and the bleakness of this new normal. I write this as a humbled, destroyed man. A man who is confronting his problems and dealing with his issues. Please have hope and empathy for me, and for everyone you meet.
And if anyone knows of a cheap tattoo removal service, let me know. I have a giant, pink-nosed, opossum on my shoulder that needs exterminating.
John B. Edgar
Former Publisher & Editor