Briana Y. Gwin is the editor & storyteller at Milkweed Editions. She embraces multitudes as a hybrid creative, and a bilingual, multicultural Citizen. Prior to joining Milkweed in 2022, she lived in New York, and worked as a freelance editor, a communications manager in the food advocacy nonprofit space, and as Managing Editor of Prose for the social issues-based digital community and literary magazine, The Seventh Wave. She holds a BFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and a dual MFA in fiction and nonfiction from The New School. As a life-long lover and dedicated learner of all things language, literature, and the natural world, she considers herself a perpetual student. Her words can be found in Midnight & Indigo, The Seventh Wave, Guernica, and elsewhere.
What excites you about writing? How has it affected your life?
Despite what many outdated attitudes will work to make us believe, I’ve come to understand that writing is far from a solitary act; nothing is produced in a vacuum. The very conception of an idea, for a writer, is the product of a rich network of conversations and happenings around them. As that idea is transformed into story, it becomes a detailed response to that stimuli, addressed to a future, unseen audience we can’t possibly conceive of, to beget its own web of conversations and happenings, propelling us ever forward in a cycle of action, art, and reaction…To me, there is nothing more exciting than imagining that: the intricate tapestry of collaborations leading up to (and resulting from) the moment when I discover a new work of writing—be it a poem, an essay, or a book.
It’s easy enough to imagine how, in a world teeming with chaos and uncertainty, writing should function first and foremost for the creative mind as a place of refuge. But that idea has become a bit more complicated for me these days, which is not a bad thing. I tend to think of “refuge” as a place of shelter or removal from the ever-present harms of the world, but in my work, I’m attempting to actively confront those harms, so it becomes less about escaping it all, and more about searching for a way to dismantle the storm from positioning my lens squarely in the center of its eye. Because of that, I’ve been thinking about the ways in which writing is, for me, more like a stringent form of self-care. Exhausted and weary though I may be from this world’s tireless attempts to tell me who I am and should be, where I belong and where I don’t, what I deserve and what I’m not entitled to, I am compelled to still care for myself by addressing these burdens on my own terms. This same compulsion to write is what ultimately anchors me to this world, and I remind myself as often as I can that writing as self-care provides me ample opportunities to discover and connect with different, unseen facets of myself, to renew my sense of urgency and purpose, to reach out to others who may be facing these same burdens and more, and to view the connections (to myself and others) that words inspire as a gift beyond measure.
What mindset does a writer need to continue to grow and learn?
I think the most invaluable tool any writer can possess is a deep sense of curiosity. When a writer approaches a collaboration from the mindset that their work is already finished, it’s as if they are conducting a transaction from the other side of a closed door, inhibiting new realizations and discoveries from passing through. If the writer were to engage instead from a place of curiosity, they’d be pleasantly surprised, I think, by the endless number of ways their piece could be deconstructed and put back together to make new meaning. I believe that each new set of eyes can add new depth and dimension to our work in ways that will inspire the stories we tell ourselves about the stories we tell others long after they’re published.
What makes a good writing mentor?
Just as I believe writers should aspire to be infinitely curious, so, too, should their mentors—in leading with genuine curiosity, a mentor leaves room to allow themselves to learn and grow while they teach. When their mentee’s curiosity is mutual, the often limited dynamic of a teacher and a student is subverted. We engage, instead, in a reciprocal relationship of learning and developing that is profoundly enriching for both parties, and extends as good will and willingness towards others in our future interactions.
What is your style of feedback?
When it comes to providing feedback, I’m interested in sitting with the way a work has changed me before making suggestions on how to change the work. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for me, as I’ve learned that some writers can find success in breaking their own (or others’) rules, and others might benefit more from a sense of increased structure. In this way, I think of my approach as more intuitive than instructional.
Through my own trials and tribulations as a writer, I’ve found that the point-blank, assertive “do this, cut that” approach can often feel alienating and unnecessarily critical, so as an editor and mentor, I aim to guide from a place of openness and generative questioning. I won’t tell you what I think I know about your work; I’ll treat our time together as an ongoing conversation rife with discovery. I’ll get to know you through your words on and off the page, and help you examine where the pulse of your piece is. Through these gentle interrogations, I hope to push you outside of your comfort zone, and to reaffirm your belief in this process—but most importantly, I hope to remind you that you are always in control of your own story, and you will have the ultimate say in the final shape of your work.
Everything from the way that I read, to the way that I write, to the way I talk about reading and writing has been largely informed by the culmination of my experiences working for various literary magazines, working with a handful of freelance clients across genres, and most recently, working as an editor and storyteller at a leading independent publishing press. If there is any confidence in my ways of being and doing, it comes from my unwavering belief in the skills, strengths, and passion of my own mentors, who have generously allowed me to shadow them in their work, ask unending questions, and try, and fail, and try again, to answer those unending questions. Though I haven’t prioritized prolific publication in my journey as a hybrid creative, I hope to provide you with an approach that is equal measures an exploration of craft and its multiverse of possibilities, and an in-depth look behind the curtains of the elusive publishing landscape in ways that will inform the ways you think about, speak about, and submit your work in the future.
I’m thrilled to work with all kinds of writing, but I’m especially interested in work that functions as connective tissue: between genres, between languages, between organisms, between the micro and the macro, between the individual and the collective; I’m interested in exploring the ways we can step outside of ourselves even while interrogating our own interiorities; I’m interested in telling the same story a hundred different ways; I’m interested in beginning with the fifth paragraph; I’m interested in work that sways the heart and tugs at the mind; I’m interested in writing like a glass frog: a living, breathing organism that reveals every machination throughout the body. If you believe working with me will be nourishing and beneficial to your creative process, I’m interested in working with you.