Diary of a Slush Reader: Reading the Slush

Before I went back to school, when I was still making a living waiting tables and writing on my days off, I used to daydream about what kind of job I’d like to have if I could choose anything I wanted. I imagined a job where I could read all day, where I could help shape the work that gets published, where I could be part of the careers of other writers. Now I have that job: I read slush.

It’s often the case that when we get what we think we want, we find that we don’t want it anymore, or that it isn’t what we thought it would be. For me, with slush, this is not the case. I love reading submissions. I’ve been doing it for three years now, and I feel like it’s been as interesting and instructive as any class I’ve taken in grad school.

Here’s why my job is great:

  • I get to be among the first people to read work by new and undiscovered writers. Most of us only get to read stories once they’re published, but I get to help choose what gets published. I get to help New South become part of someone’s career, and I get to help someone’s career become part of New South. I get to help kick-start what could go on to become an exciting career.
  • Because my job is to read whatever goes in front of me, I am pushed to read lots of different styles, voices, and aesthetics – sometimes things that I would not normally choose to read for myself. I am made to broaden my own literary horizons in ways that my classes – with their focus on what has already been established by others as being important and worthwhile – cannot manage. And because the literary world can sometimes feel homogenized, the slush can offer what is truly cutting-edge and exciting. Sometimes I see ideas and situations I’d never thought of, concepts and techniques that are brand-new.
  • I get to test my own theories and boundaries, work out what makes a story successful and what (sorry, guys) makes it unsuccessful. Reading slush also allows me to become familiar with what makes readers of the slush (to which I, too, contribute regularly) tic. This is useful to me both as a writer and as a member of the publishing world.

Because I have found this job so useful, and because people who are happy wish to share their joy with as many people as possible, I submit to you my slush diary. Enjoy!


Rachel Wright is a PhD student in Creative Writing at Georgia State University. She has also studied at University College Dublin. Her work has appeared in The Stinging Fly and she was a semi-finalist for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in 2009.

Photo by Brendan DeBrincat

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