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A decade into the 21st century, the world of books, the world of the arts, the world of criticism have all been caught up in violent, unpredictable change. A large part of this change has been unleashed by a continual stream of technological innovations that impact our daily lives and even our personal as well as professional relationships. Technology is changing how we read and what we read, is challenging the very forms and genres in which we write, and is making criticism and reflection more valuable and necessary than it's ever been.
Despite the many and continual changes reshaping the world of books and the arts, one factor remains constant: work by women writers is always assigned a marginal status in critical venues (except, of course, in venues that focus exclusively on work by women writers).
The CSZ aims to treat work by women as vital and central rather than marginal. What we see, what we talk about, and how we talk about it matters. Seeing, recognizing, and understanding is what makes the world we live in. And the world we live in is, itself, a sort of subduction zone writ large.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we live in the Cascadia subduction zone. Massive, almost unimaginable earthquakes lurk in our past and loom in our future. Frequently we experience “slow earthquakes” that move the earth beneath us, imperceptible except through technology. Occasionally a mountaintop blows, awing us with its power. The denser plate of oceanic crust—the Juan de Fuca Plate—is being forced deep into the Earth's interior beneath the North American continental plate in a process known as subduction, and as the plate encounters high temperatures and pressures that partially melt solid rock, some of this newly formed magma rises toward the Earth's surface to erupt, forming a chain of volcanoes above the subduction zone (Brantley,1994, Volcanoes of the United States).Humans like to think of the earth as the ultimate symbol of stability: hence the cliché “down-to-earth.” But in the Cascadia subduction zone, “down-to-earth” necessarily means something else. To be grounded, here, is to be ever mindful of the plates shifting below us, slipping and striking and moving magma, of sloping fault lines that separate and yet merge, of one plate being inexorably pushed beneath another, with enormous consequences.
The Cascadia Subduction Zone aims to bring reviews, criticism, interviews, intelligent essays, and flashes of creative artwork (visual and written) to a readership hungry for discussion of work by not only men but also women. Work by women continually receives short shrift in most review publications. And yet the majority of readers are women. Ron Hogan writes in an August 2010 post on Beatrice.com, “[Jennifer] Weiner and [Jodi] Picoult, among others, are giving us a valuable critique of a serious problem with the way the [New York] Times [Book Review]—and, frankly, most of the so-called literary establishment—treats contemporary fiction. Which is to say: They ignore most of it, and when it comes to the narrow bandwidth of literature they do cover, their performance is underwhelming, ‘not only meager but shockingly mediocre,’ as former LA Times Book Review director Steve Wasserman said three years ago. And it hasn’t gotten any better since then, leaving us with what Jennifer Weiner describes as “a disease that’s rotting the relationship between readers and reviewers.”
The relationship between readers and reviewers interests us. We want to bring attention to work critics largely ignore and offer a wider, less narrowly conceived view of the literary sphere. In short, we will review work that interests us, regardless of its genre or the gender of its author. We will blur the boundaries between critical analysis, review, poetry, fiction, and visual arts. And we will do our best to offer our readers a forum for discussion that takes the work of women as vital and central rather than marginal. What we see, what we talk about, and how we talk about it matters. Seeing, recognizing, and understanding is what makes the world we live in. And the world we live in is, itself, a sort of subduction zone writ large. Pretending that the literary world has not changed and is not changing is like telling oneself that Earth is a solid, eternally stable ball of rock.