“What is the Molehill?”
People ask me the question all the time. I usually tell them it’s the Rabbit Room’s literary journal, and then I find myself wanting to apologize for calling it something as highfalutin as “literary.” But at the very least it’s a bound collection of writing that aspires to literature. So maybe the question I really want to answer is this: “Why is the Molehill?” Why this when the literary world is already filled with more fine journals than most of us have time to read? Good question.
Early this year I sent an email to the Rabbit Room contributors inviting them to submit work for this second volume. Over the following months, their stories, poems, essays, and illustrations began trickling into my inbox. I’d read through each one, I’d talk it over with the writer and we’d decide whether it was the right piece, and then we’d begin editorial work—which is as much like a WWF match as anything you are likely to encounter in an email. There were a few pieces that didn’t make the cut, and I was sad about each one of those, but what I found in the process was that two things were happening.
First, our small community was being drawn closer together. The Rabbit Room office stands at a sort of Nashville lunchtime nexus where, on any given day, just about anyone could walk through the door to say hello. Often Russ Ramsey would stop in to chew the fat, or Jonathan Rogers would camp out and grade papers, or Eric Peters would park himself in a corner to write songs. And more often than not, those unannounced drop-ins would lead to conversations between friends about a Molehill piece, or a new album, or a new book. But the conversations ran through deeper territories as well, wastelands of personal struggle, sin, and heartache. Little by little, the tiny connections made at that noonday crossroads produced real fruit, namely accountability and encouragement, both in creativity and in day-to-day life.
It’s hard to create in a vacuum. So when a friend asks about your work, that vacuum is filled for a time and hopefully the creative act gets a little easier. That’s one of the things I’ve appreciated about working on this volume. It hasn’t been made in a vacuum. It’s been assembled in the life-giving air of a community of writers and artists who know one another, trust one another, and are willing to give their time not only to The Molehill, but to their fellow writers.
Second, we were sharpening each other. If I were to submit an essay to a contest or a magazine (or another literary journal), I’d do my best to write it well, and then I’d send it off to be judged by a nameless committee that would either accept or reject it for reasons I’d most likely never know. The Molehill contributors, however, know me (the editor) and they know one another, and that changes the game. There’s a bit of amiable rivalry. Some feel they want to up their game to match Jonathan Rogers’ “The Flintknapper” or Andrew Peterson’s poetry. Others are anxious to experiment in new methods and media. There’s a feeling that we’re all in this together and no one wants to be left behind. There’s a sense of fun, of play, of creating for the sake of creation. And as a result, I think we write a little better, we edit a little longer, and we dig a little deeper into the creative mine in search of the rare gem worth the work of polishing. Those are good, healthy things for a writer when practiced in the midst of a gracious community.
I’m proud of each of the writers involved, proud of their work, and proud to call them my friends. In addition to a lot of familiar names from last year (including Walter Wangerin, Jr.), we’ve invited a few new folks along for the fun—gifted writers like Jeffrey Overstreet and Rebecca Reynolds as well as illustrators Jonny Jimison and Zach Franzen. The works of Volume 2 range from a cartoon about pride and stubbornness, to poems that—like Jacob—wrestle with God, to the strange shores of a Georgia swamp where an alligator and an “angel” contend for the soul of a drunkard. There’s no overarching theme, but for the perceptive reader, trends will certainly emerge, trends such as familial remembrance, the tension of creativity, and the extravagance of grace; they are by turns universal and personal, painful and joyful, abstract and plain as the day.
Through the shared work of editing and revision, all of the pieces in this collection have been changed, some of them drastically. And that’s what community is all about. Change. We change one another, sharpen one another, hopefully for the better, and sometimes drastically. We learn to trust one another, to see with clearer eyes, to speak with wiser tongues, to write with deeper insight. Within community we become better versions of ourselves, and that goes for craft as well as for character. The Molehill is not a collection of works solicited from disparate literary sources. The Molehill is a gathering of the works of a unique, living community, a community whose members are invested in the refining of one another.
So why is the Molehill? Here’s my answer: It is because we need each other. It is because the writers who contribute to it lean on one another for encouragement, for accountability, and for friendship. And they also need you, dear reader, because the act of creation isn’t finished until the creation itself is given away. I don’t know, but I like to think that in some mysterious way only the Spirit can know, maybe you need them as well, and through these tenuous connections between us, we are all, by grace, a community in via to a better version of itself.
E collibus montes. Amen.