As of May 2023, Guernica is currently open for no-fee submissions here (follow their link to create a free Submittable account). Founded in 2004, Guernica publishes poetry, essays, fiction, criticism, and journalism online. Unlike most magazines, it pays contributors rather than staff; in fact, its staff are entirely volunteers. Rather than a university affiliation, the magazine is partnered with The Los Angeles Review of Books. Its roster of past contributors includes writers such as Jesmyn Ward, Alexander Chee, Ha Jin, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Guest editors have been just as prestigious with the likes of Roxane Gay, George Saunders, and Claire Messud helping craft issues.
As far as their masthead goes, the names behind the scenes are equally impressive. The editor-in-chief is Jina Moore who was the East Africa bureau chief at The New York Times, has covered global women’s rights and trauma at multiple publications, and has taught trauma-informed journalism—among other things—in the Ivies, including Princeton and NYU. This is an unusual CV for someone heading a literary magazine, indicating Guernica’s commitment to journalism and cultural engagement.
A little closer to home for us fiction writers, the fiction editors are also scary if you look too closely. Adam Dalva has written for The New Yorker and The Paris Review, and in his spare time, he came out with a graphic novel Olivia Twist in 2019. Autumn Watts has been published in AGNI, The Indiana Review, and Best American Essays. Aram Mrjoian also is an editor at The Chicago Review of Books and teaches at various universities while editing an essay collection about the Armenian diaspora. Miriam Ho is a Hong Konger who has lived pretty much everywhere, works in architecture, puts together installation art, and writes fiction. Renaissance woman much? So yeah, those are the people deciding whether your work makes the cut.
Perhaps because of its global slant, the masthead and the list of contributors looks pretty diverse. Still, a cursory examination of the first 35 names on the masthead turns up only 3 or 4 Black women and no Black men. This is better than some magazines, but still. Not a lot of queerness is visible, either.
After reading two pieces, “Lakshmi” by Sarmista Das and “D Day” by Rachel Khong, I can tentatively say that Guernica editors are A-okay with lots of exposition and interiority if a story is compelling and unique.
In “Lakshmi,” Das (check out more of her work here) centers a family rift, the search for identity, and a reunion with a grandmother. A violent sexual assault is in the mix but only just. My only criticism of the story was the narrator’s naïve belief that she need only “look her perpetrator in the eye” and he would be convicted, trusting that her memories would be taken as reliable and sufficient in court, particularly as a woman of color. It’s not that this is an uncommon belief; it’s that the story itself seems unaware of just how rare and difficult it is to bring a rapist to justice. Still, there’s something dreamlike about the story (the narrator does keep sleepwalking into the sea), and as an assault survivor myself, I found it unexpectedly empowering to have a woman writer directly addressing assault—while positioning it far from the center of the narrative.
Khong’s “D Day” is also dreamlike but effervescent and humorous (check out her two novels: Goodbye, Vitamin and Real Americans, coming out next year). The story’s delightful premise is that God has sent an alert to everyone’s phone announcing that all of humanity will be transformed into animals in one month. We follow two young women, friends since kindergarten, who spend that month trying to decide which animal to turn into. Unfortunately for the story, it’s impossible to avoid comparing it to the 2015 film The Lobster by Yorgos Lanthimos, and the story does suffer for it. Lanthimos uses a similar premise to criticize heterosexual society’s imperative of couplehood. While Khong uses it to explore the consequences of ecological disaster, any irony is placed squarely on the surface: characters find leather “wrong” but then gobble up rare beef. There is no escalation in character hypocrisy or a movement of one character towards darkness. The central conflict in the story is that both women don’t want to be the same animal, which feels dull against the epic context of God and extinction.
All in all, Guernica fiction seems to lean towards originality and experimentation while going easy on society. It’s a good option if you’re looking to place a longer story or if you have a piece with a tidy ending. But then again, it probably depends on who’s the editor (or guest editor) at the moment.
Guernica pays $150 for fiction between 2,000 and 7,000 words, and while they allow simultaneous submissions, they only want you to submit one piece, so choose your best. I did not see a deadline on their Submittable page, so if you’re going to take a shot with your best piece, Guernica is a solid choice.
Featured Photo by Calvin Hanson