By Cecilia Cress
Elm Staff Writer
Members of the Washington College community gathered via Zoom on March 2 for a live reading to celebrate the launch of the seventh issue of “Cherry Tree: A National Literary Journal @ Washington College.”
“Cherry Tree” was first founded seven years ago in 2014, with its debut issue released in February 2015.
The magazine filled a void in WC’s literary community, according to Editor in Chief of “Cherry Tree,” Associate Professor of English and Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House Dr. James Hall.
“It was time for WC to have a journal because other colleges have them, and our students are so strong in writing and editing…It was just time for us to have something here for our students to get involved with, but also just to make a vision more known,” Dr. Hall said.
Now in its seventh issue, the journal introduced new voices to its pages and a new format for its launch.
Unlike previous years, this launch event was held virtually.
According to Dr. Hall, while this transition posed some challenges, the staff and writers of “Cherry Tree” believe it did not negatively affect the launch or the newest publication.
“It in some ways forced us to get creative about how we create community with each other,” Dr. Hall said. “We’ve been scattered to the winds but that’s allowed us to talk from each different corner of the world.”
The seventh issue’s launch was also groundbreaking as it was the first in “Cherry Tree” history to include an ASL interpreter, making it more accessible.
“This journal is a labor of love, and I hope you all feel that love tonight,” Dr. Hall said.
The launch event hosted five writers whose works are present in the newest issue of the journal: fiction writer Anum Asi, nonfiction writer Tanya Grae, and literary shade poets Matthew Olzmann, Sandra Beasley, and Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello.
Grae read her nonfiction essay “
Gaslight,” about sexual assault and abuse. Her reading shed light on the pain of not being believed and the consequences of a ruined reputation as a sexual assault survivor.
“Every day, girls and women, as well as some boys and men and transgender people, box up and put away the sexual assault that threatens to implode them. I hope I’d be willing to testify like Dr. Blasey Ford and so many other brave women pre- and post- #MeToo and not expect anyone to believe me. I’m not sure I would believe me either. I hope I would, or at least that I’d listen. But I’m afraid I would not,” Grae said.
According to the “Cherry Tree” website, both the journal’s name and ethos come from the story of George Washington and his ax, a “self-serving story” that is artful and “transparently apocryphal.” This apocrypha opens the story to “critiques that might lead to useful truths.”
These kinds of critiques are commonly seen in the “Literary Shade” section of “Cherry Tree.”
Several works in this section of the seventh issue were read at the event, such as Beasly’s poem “Monticello Peaches,” which criticizes Thomas Jefferson as a historical figure, and Cancio-Bello’s “Marco Polo in America,” a poem about the many child victims of international conflict.
“You have forgotten how to weep, America. You only know how to blame,” Cancio-Bello said.
Dr. Hall believes the aesthetic of this issue of “Cherry Tree” represents the challenging year had by the WC community and beyond; this issue embodies “echoes of lamentation, elegy, family, memory, and identity.”
He describes the cover of this issue, which was created by Chicago artist Gerardo Villarreal, as a clear representation of this aesthetic.
“It’s dark but it has these very sweet butterflies. There’s this radiance in the darkness…and that’s how I was feeling last year, that these were dark times that needed a little bit of light,” Dr. Hall said.
Featured Photo caption: The front cover of the seventh issue of “Cherry Tree” was created by artist Gerardo Villarreal. It includes a black background, the image of a portrait composed of a pattern, and a glowing lantern with butterflies attached by angular lines flying from it and around the cover. Photo by Trish Rana.