BRATTLEBORO — Rural communities can feel isolating, especially for underrepresented populations, like those who identify as LGBTQ+ or people of color.
After a five-year hiatus, a Brattleboro-based literary magazine has relaunched to give a voice to those identities and show they're not alone.
Mount Island, originally founded in 2014 by Brattleboro native Desmond Peeples, is devoted to publishing art and literature created by people of color and LGBTQ+ who live in, or are from, rural areas. There is a quarterly digital magazine, an annual print anthology and special letterpress projects, according to its website.
Submissions to the magazine can be about anything and from anywhere, according to Managing Editor Shanta Lee Gander, as long as the person has a rural area connection.
She added the focus of the magazine has remained the same since 2014, but the team took a step back to find more ways to make the magazine grow.
Now the publication is back at a perfect time, with a deepened political split and the rise of emboldened hate groups across the country. But this division goes beyond politics, Gander noted.
“We have a tendency to be divided — and maybe that is the understatement of the year — in America, especially when it comes to assumptions of rural versus city life,” Gander, of Brattleboro, said.
A recent report from the Movement Advancement Project — which provides independent research to help speed equality for all — estimates 2.9 to 3.8 million LGBTQ+ people live in rural America, accounting for roughly 20 percent of the population nationally. Many of those, the report states, are people of color.
And Vermont leads the country by having the greatest concentration of rural residents, with 93 percent of the counties majority rural, but also has the sixth highest proportion of LGBTQ+ adults, the report noted.
“I think there’s a misunderstanding of who is here and this magazine and small press gives exposure to that and demystifies some of the assumptions we have about rural America,” Gander said.
The Prince prize
This month, the online quarterly began accepting submissions for a new poetry prize that honors the “voice” from the past: Lucy Terry Prince, who is considered the first known African-American poet in English literature.
Prince was taken from Africa and enslaved in Deerfield, Mass., before her freedom was purchased by a successful freedman from Curacao. The two married and, in 1764, settled in Guilford, Vt.
Her work ”Bars Fights” is a ballad about an attack upon two white families by Native Americans in 1746, which occurred in an area of Deerfield called the bars. The poem was preserved orally and published in 1855 in the “History of Western Massachusetts.”
“The reason we are doing this is to honor the life of Lucy Terry Prince ... but also it helps us re-flame who played a role in early America,” Gander said. “She’s a huge figure and one of the many gems.”
The contest is open to poets of color who are currently in, or from, a rural place. Submissions through the magazine’s website will be accepted until Feb. 15.
The winner — to be announced in May — will receive a cash prize of $500, publication in Mount Island’s 2020 print anthology and an invitation to read at and participate in a panel on race, art and the rural in fall 2020.
Mount Island is located at 118 Elliot St. in Brattleboro. For full submission guidelines, eligibility information and more details on the contest, visit the contest’s homepage at mountisland.com/lucy-terry-prince-prize.