Forthcoming books Reflections

When Publishing is Sacred Stewardship

On editing the magical Naira Kuzmich

By Chelsey Shannon, editor

In June 2022, UNO Press will publish In Everything I See Your Hand, a posthumous collection of Naira Kuzmich’s short fiction. Lately I’ve been working on putting together a publicity packet that’s focused less on the collection than on the author herself. Through excerpts from her essays and interviews, through statements from editors and teachers, this packet is to give potential readers a sense of the person and writer that Naira was, offering context as to her biography and artistic prerogative.  

Introducing audiences to a writer whom I myself have only met through the work she left behind is a tenuous order. Even as I feel fortunate to have a part in bringing this evocative, passionately crafted collection to its due audience, I also feel a sense of loss whenever I turn to her manuscript. This book should have been her first of many, I can’t help but feel; it should have been followed soon after by a ranging, lyrical, sensitive novel (or whatever kind of novel Naira would’ve wanted to write); it should be the subject of a vivacious publicity campaign built on Naira speaking on her own artistry, background, and visions for future work. We should have had the chance to see Naira answer questions about In Everything I See Your Hand in person, or at least via streamed virtual events. I wish she’d had more years to live, and live again through writing, the shifts and stretches of her own story, its recursions and radical breaks.

I felt a similar gravitas when I executed a (very light) edit of In Everything I See Your Hand, contemplating each alteration or cut more carefully than ever, meanwhile wondering what it means to advocate for the beauty, clarity, and strength of a work when its creator is unavailable to respond. Generously, Vedran Husic, Naira’s fiancée at the time of her death, has made himself available to weigh in on the edit and also to lend support with the publicity packet. It was he who originally submitted her manuscript to UNO Press. Working with Vedran has only deepened my sense of sensitivity and significance around Naira’s project. I have come to see posthumous publishing as a sacred sort of stewardship.

This is not the first time I’ve worked on this type of project: my very first task at the Press was verifying the text of New Orleans Griot: The Tom Dent Reader, edited by Kalamu ya Salaam. This meant checking each word of the galley against the original documents in Dent’s archived papers at Tulane’s Amistad Research Center, a task of great romance, along with some eye-straining tedium. In the hours at Amistad broken up by treks up and down Carrollton Avenue to and from the lakefront, I’d feel close to Dent, would hope that somewhere, his spirit was reassured by the care we were taking with his work.

But there is something different about working with the material of a writer who passed in 1998 at age sixty-six, versus a writer who died at age twenty-nine just four years ago, in 2017. Generationally, Naira is my peer. We could’ve followed each other on Twitter. More to the point, I would love to have a real-time editorial relationship with her, instead of the refracted, speculative, one-sided one that we do—and my regret is a drop in the bucket, I am certain, compared to that of loved ones, colleagues, and fans who knew Naira and her work in life. 

In 2015, Naira won the O. Henry Award for her short story “The Kingsley Drive Chorus.” In a subsequent interview, she spoke of the tremulous potential of staring at the blank page before her: “It makes me feel like I have a power, a magic beyond just breathing.” 

She did then; she does still, her magic thriving in the stories of In Everything I See Your Hand.

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