Hear Ukrainian women’s voices in special issue of NELLE literary journal

In addition to NELLE’s usual annual compilation of diverse, risky, smart writing from women writers, the new edition features a special folio by writers who are Ukrainian, Ukrainian American or who live in Ukraine.
Stream NelleIn addition to NELLE’s usual annual compilation of diverse, risky, smart writing from women writers, the new edition features a special folio of writing by Ukrainian and Ukrainian American writers.

The annual literary journal NELLE will feature women writers who are Ukrainian, Ukrainian American or who live in Ukraine in its issue publishing in January.

NELLE is an annual compilation that celebrates and publishes the best, most innovative writing by women, from fiction and poetry to creative nonfiction. Submissions to NELLE come from all over the United States and even internationally. The journal is a University of Alabama at Birmingham publication funded by the UAB College of Arts and Sciences and Department of English, with an editorial/design team of UAB faculty, UAB students and other editors with a connection to the journal.

The NELLE 2023 special edition features a folio of writing by Ukrainian women and their translators and is co-edited by poet Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach. The cover image, by artist Olga Morozova of Kyiv, depicts a city park dug up by trenches close to the artist’s home. For the glazing, she used trench sand.

Kolchinsky Dasbach came to the United States as a Jewish refugee in 1993, from Dnipro, Ukraine. She has been a tireless advocate for her native Ukraine and, when approached by Lauren Slaughter, NELLE editor-in-chief, was able to reach out to her network for potential contributors. Kolchinsky Dasbach also connected Slaughter with Morodova.

“The response was phenomenal,” Slaughter said. “There is nothing more exciting for an editor than reading a piece that just crackles off the page. You connect instantly, and you realize that you are going to have the privilege of helping to share this work with the world. At the same time, especially with the work in this folio, what you are reading comes as the result of violence and desperation.”

But there is also beauty to be found there too, Slaughter says.

Anna Malihon’s poem “Don’t Go Out for Water,” translated by Olena Jennings, speaks from the perspective of someone trapped in their shelter. They warn, “Don’t go out for water/ Drink drops from the wall of your underground shelter.” With the line “You become lighter almost like a hummingbird,” the poem underscores the speaker’s vulnerability by comparing it to one of the tiniest, most beautiful of creatures, hummingbirds, “Though hummingbirds drink a hundred times a day,” the poem continues. The speaker, trapped in the shelter, is decreasing in size and strength.

“As readers, we have no choice but to understand in that moment the enormous danger the speaker is in,” Slaughter said. “Have you ever had to drink water from the side of an underground wall? There are so many moments in the poems like this, where we are asked to connect to the experiences being lived by the people in Ukraine in ways that a news article or broadcast could not. Ultimately, what stands out in this folio, most of all, is the essential function of creativity and art in even the darkest moments of human experience.”

In more practical ways, Kolchinsky Dasbach’s insights about the predicament of Ukrainian writers in their homeland or elsewhere abroad was invaluable. Outside of its annual Three Sisters Awards, NELLE does not budget funding to pay contributors, which is typical for literary journals and small literary operations, even those sponsored and published by universities, Slaughter says. For Kolchinsky Dasbach, securing funding for these writers was crucial for NELLE to move forward with the idea. UAB Department of English Chair Alison Chapman, Ph.D., championed NELLE and worked with Slaughter to make sure they could compensate contributors to the folio.  

Visit NELLE online to read selected works, order individual issues or subscribe

NELLE was founded by Linda Frost in 2001 under the title poemmemoirstory and edited by Kerry Madden from 2010-2017. The journal was renamed NELLE for its 2018 issue edited by Slaughter. Recent contributors include Ashley Jones, Francesca Bell, Caitlin Horrocks, Jessica Jacobs, Jenny Molberg, Joan Kwon Glass, Juliana Gray, Alina Stefanescu, Mary Moore, Karen Harryman, Jane Satterfield, Erica Dawson and Maria Hummel.