Whenever I visit a new city, I seek out the local museums, usually an art museum. If I find myself in a room of portraits, I am left haunted by the subjects. Rows of people, some remembered in history, others obscure, stare back at me from their frames. Their skin glows and their eyes are never shy. Even when I have no idea who they were, they leave an impression. Similarly, literature allows a subject to live beyond their natural lifespan. How many figures of the Italian Renaissance would have gone unremembered if Dante Alighieri had not depicted their position in the afterlife, with either scorn or respect?
Halfway Down the Stairs received more submissions for our Portrait theme than for any other issue in its 17-year history. Many of our contributors, like me, connected the theme with artwork. Beneath, a poem by Tricia Knoll, examines the surprises that can be found under layers of oil paint. Meanwhile in Regina Higgins’ story, Portrait of a Woman of the Hofer Family, it is the young artist who holds the secrets, rather than the temperamental subject of the portrait. In his short story, Stills, Matthew Kasper focuses on art and family.
This issue contains self portraits like V.A. Bettencourt’s poem, Self, Refracted. Priscilla Davenport examines how disability shaped how she interacts with the world in her essay, The Things People Say. In Gail Braune Comorat’s Instructions for My Portrait, she instructs, “Paint me ageless, my hair the color of summer wind. / Give me teeth sharp enough to take bites from this world.” Other pieces are portraits of strong personalities. Eleanor Talbot and Patricia A. Nugent both write of the feisty grandmothers who shaped them. This issue offers portrayals of grief, such as the excellent essays of Mary Dittrich Orth and Danielle Dillon, both focusing on the loss of a parent, while Amy L. Eggert’s short story, Like Grief, explores the loss of a sibling.
Other portraits explore the relationship between people and places. In her short story, Up North, Lizzie Thompson writes about a small town whose tragedies shape the unnamed narrator’s generation. David Milley also writes of a place in his essay, Bats, and how it was transformed by a couple creating a home over the decades. Whether the issue contributors are portraying people or places, we hope that you will be as fascinated by these pieces as we were.
The theme of our March 2023 issue is Strange Bedfellows, and submissions will be open from December 1st through February 1st. Our submissions guidelines can be found here.
Thank you to our readers, our authors, and to everyone who submitted to our December issue.
Stacy Wennstrom is a nonfiction editor at Halfway Down the Stairs.
© 2022, Stacy Wennstrom