Meet Junto: Brianna Stallings, Literature Editor

Hey there. I’m Brianna. Nice to meet you. I’m excited to be lending a hand as a Genre Literary Editor for Junto Magazine.

Writing has been my passion for the majority of my life – 30+ years, to be precise. Given the fact that I’m still (just barely) under 40, that’s quite a while. But why do I write?

When someone asks me to share an experience from my life, I always give them a choice: “Do you want the polite answer, or the honest one?” I ask. Invariably they laugh it off, then ask for honesty. With that in mind, let’s assume that this question is in play, and you would prefer an honest answer about why I write.

The first word I remember writing on paper was “because”. Why? So many kids ask “why” in an attempt to better understand a new, strange world; “because” is often the start of an answer, if not the answer in total.

So why do I write? Because I have to. It’s all I know how to do. I can of course do lots of other things, just as I’m sure you can: dig a hole, answer phones, babysit kids, brew coffee, drive a large vehicle. But of all the things I know how to do, it feels like writing is the only thing I want to know how to do.

“Mama worked for the dollar; Daddy worked for the dead.”

That one sentence, written on a whim when I was eighteen, remains the simplest way I know to condense my upbringing in a way that makes sense. A less simple but more entertaining look at my life is found in my work-in-progress, a memoir in interconnected essays called Living Dead Girl: A Memoir on a Family Undertaking. I was raised in South Carolina in the 1980s, an only child from a working-class family, with a hotheaded undertaker at the head of the household. In addition to my macabre youth, I also grew up in a family of beauticians, machinists, and woodworkers, so I have all of those genetics, as well: where I want to swab-clean dying skin and glue silenced lips into a sly casket smile. Where I want to be Juanita Henry and count money as fast as a machine. Where I want to beautify myself and others with wax, bleach or scissors, pain always as the hidden ingredient. Where I want to mix dangerous chemicals and carve things into wood.

I worked for almost seven years as an Arts Reporter and Editorial Assistant with the Albuquerque Journal, New Mexico’s largest daily newspaper. In that time I had the privilege of interviewing some of my creative heroes, such as Lewis Black, Steve Earle, Dolly Parton, Henry Rollins, and John Waters. Upon leaving my position at the Journal in 2012 to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in English at the University of New Mexico, I took a job as a freelance Arts reporter with The Weekly Alibi, a free alternative newsweekly. While there I had five cover stories, including interviews with Carrie Brownstein, Augusten Burroughs, Ariel Gore, Kathleen Hanna, and Piper Kerman. I like talking to famous people. In particular, I like trying to see if I can pull an off-script answer from them as they trudge through a press junket. But whether my subjects are celebrities or my own kin, I’m always interested in the same thing: a human story, full of meat and viscera, substance, silliness, and sorrow. I love a casual yet engaging communication style… as I’m sure gathered based on this post’s informal greeting.

I love to help other writers create their best work. I thrive on editing and proofreading others almost as much as I do writing myself. I’ve worked as a weekly Writing Group Facilitator for OFFCenter Community Arts Project in Albuquerque, NM; my clientele ranged from teenagers to former drug addicts to ex-cons and homeless people, and every single one had amazing stories to tell in amazing, often unexpected ways. I earned my BA in English from the University of New Mexico in 2014, after which I took a position with ABQ Free Press from 2015 to 2016. In the last month of my time there (before moving to Vermont), I served as Associate Arts Editor. While in Vermont earning my MFA, I served as the office coordinator for Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF+), a national nonprofit organization offering emergency relief funds, education, and preparedness resources to U.S. artists and craftspeople in need. One of my many responsibilities was to provide writing and editing services for CERF+’s marketing and outreach materials. It was vitally important that my writing reflects our organization’s mission, vision, and current goals, and I did so with ease. I take great pride in having worked with an organization like CERF+. It’s great to write, but to me it’s even greater when those words can offer awareness, help, insight, compassion, support, and truth.

I then graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts in May 2018 with an MFA in Writing & Publishing. My time in Vermont proved both bitter-cold (I awoke to more than one morning temperature of -20 during winter), and bittersweet. I relocated there in 2016 from Albuquerque. My then wife, Ellen, drove us the whole way in a 34-foot RV she lovingly named The Century Spearow, a play on The Millennium Falcon and homage to Pokemon. Sadly, Ellen took her own life in front of me in that same RV on October 10th, 2017. Although my dad was an undertaker, I grew up in a world of the dead, and Ellen had a long storied history of physical and mental illness, I was still devastated by her loss. I remain indebted to my colleagues in the VCFA MFA program for helping to survive the agonizing loss and to somehow, miraculously, make it through my final school year. They taught me so much about the tremendous value of a writing community, and I love them still because of it.

I look forward to being a member of a new community now, too, with Junto