Bird’s Thumb co-founder Anita Dellaria in conversation with Abby Sheaffer

Bird’s Thumb co-founder Anita Dellaria in conversation with Abby Sheaffer
(Art by Krista MacDonald, image courtesy of Bird's Thumb)

It’s tough out there for a novice author. It can be heartbreaking, pouring yourself into multiple drafts of a poem or story only to have it rejected. Anita Dellaria and Sahar Mustafah know the plight of the rookie writer and it’s the reason why they founded Bird’s Thumb.

Bird’s Thumb is a new online literary journal that encourages young writers to “keep evolving”, a welcome message in the intimidating world of literature. I took the time to speak with co-founder Anita Dellaria about her aspirations for this exciting new literary journal and what kind of work she and and Sahar Mustafah are itching to publish. (Interview after the jump)


(Image courtesy of Anita Dellaria)

(Image courtesy of Anita Dellaria)


What inspired you to create Bird’s Thumb?

 I’ve had previous experience serving as editor of literary magazines, and I am a poet myself, but there were two things that pushed me to move forward with Bird’s Thumb.  First, I found myself reading more work – poetry, fiction, and non-fiction --published online and started thinking about the creative possibilities with launching an online journal devoted to emerging writers.  Second, I quit teaching about four years ago and desperately missed it, especially teaching writing and the relationships that are built around pursuing a literary life. It was March of this year when I contacted Sahar Mustafah, my dear friend, co-founder, and very talented fiction writer, and proposed that we undertake this venture together.  She said yes, and I’m so thankful that she did.

What are some words you’d use to describe Bird’s Thumb and why?

The first thing that comes to mind is our subtitle -- “keep evolving” -- and our logo is, well, a bird with a thumb.  I like the play with form and the development of form that the two suggest, as well as the idea of adaptation to circumstance.

 You’re presently taking submissions, what sort of work appeals to you?

I deeply admire poets who take risks with form as well as those who write free verse.  In either case, there has to be something happening with the language, some remarkable metaphor, an image that gets in my brain and won’t leave, or a rhythm I can walk to.  I keep a cache of lines in my head and they are my constant companions.  Right now it’s May Swenson’s lines, “How will I know/ in thicket ahead/ is danger or treasure/ when Body my good/ bright dog is dead” from her poem “Question.” I love how those six monosyllabic words bring that galloping rhythm to a stop.  I feel as though the poet has grabbed me by the collar and caught me up short.  Plus, now I think of my body as my dog.  And I love dogs.

I love fiction that loves the world, writing that somehow says this is a great big fragile place full of everything, writing that wraps its really big arms around me and starts coloring in the picture. I seek fiction that pushes out all other narratives and images and thoughts from my brain.  A spare style can do it.  Doesn’t have to be overwritten.  In deciding whether or not I want to read something, I do what we all do, and that is read the opening paragraphs or pages of a novel or story. If something clicks within the first two paragraphs, I’ll definitely buy the book.  For instance, I recently bought The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers.   I haven’t read it yet, but I got no further than the second sentence before I knew I wanted to read it: “We moved over them [low-slung hills] and through the tall grass on faith, kneeling paths into the windswept growth like prisoners. While we slept, the war rubbed its thousand ribs against the ground in prayer.” I hope I like it.  The last novel I read that knocked me out was Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.  It was filled with intrigue and horror but punctuated with extreme beauty compacted into poetic sentences, like this one: “The shutters are closed, and the stars are struggling to get in, working themselves with steel points into the splinters of the wood.” Or this one: “A weak sun blinked at them as they crossed into Hertfordshire, and here and there a ragged blackthorn blossomed, waving at him a petition against the length of winter.”

What is your favorite quote and why? How does this particular quote reflect your mission with Bird’s Thumb?

I don’t have a favorite quotation for all time. Right now I’m fond of a line from Thoreau’s essay “Walking.”  “Any sportiveness in cattle is unexpected.”  If I were to say how this reflects upon our mission, I would say that it speaks to the surprising element we seek in the familiar and the new.

Where do you go to seek inspiration?

I don’t necessarily seek inspiration, but I have developed habits that invite it.  I sit in the early morning when it’s quiet and dark.  Or, I walk.  No headphones. No earbuds. Just the pace and my brain.  Also, reading good writing always summons the muse.

What do you hope to see happen in the future with Bird’s Thumb?

My hope is that we succeed and I would count success as bringing more writers and readers together with each issue.   However, we do envision writing workshops, readings, and assorted literary festivities under the aegis of Bird’s Thumb Press.  Mostly, we are excited that we don’t know what Bird’s Thumb will become.


Anita Dellaria is co-founder and editor of Bird's Thumb, an online literary journal devoted to discovering and publishing poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction from emerging writers.  She is also a poet and former educator and lawyer.



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