Virtual Reading: “Two Flashes of Jorie” by Sidney Taiko
Written by: Katya Cummins

Sidney Taiko is the Editor-in-Chief of Storm Cellar, a literary Journal. She is the recipient of several creative writing awards including  the John L. Rainey Prize in fiction, the Junior Quinn Award in poetry, the Thatcher H. Guild American Academy of Poets Award, and the Florence L. Healy Scholarship. She graduated with an MA in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she was the recipient of the Ellen Hunnicut prize in fiction. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming in Sage Hill Press, CutBank,  PANK,  Comstock Review, and Montage.








NICHE: Welcome back to Niche. So I like starting at the beginning. Can you talk a little about what draws you to flash fiction or flash nonfiction?

SIDNEY TAIKO: Thank you so much for having me back! I think the root of what draws me to flash is the sheer challenge of such a compact form. The writer really has to get right at the heart of things and I think that’s extremely difficult to do with a restricted word count. I feel like getting at the heart of things (if I can just call it that and hope people know what I mean) is so difficult and usually takes a ton of words until a writer can arrive at the heart. Maybe all that writing is necessary to understand what the heart even is. Flash seems to just jump right in, which requires a specific skill. Though, flash can also be episodic when it’s part of a collection, which works a little differently – still compact, but you have more bursts of that compactness. The control of flash really appeals to me. It’s such a concentrated this-is-exactly-what-I-want-you-to-see media. It requires a hyper-focus, which is just hard. But when you can pull it off, it’s killer.

NICHE: The two shorts appearing in Niche, “Jorie Has a Head Injury” and “Jorie in the Hallway” are written about the same female protagonist. Are these shorts part of a collection?

SIDNEY TAIKO: These are part of a collection, yes, though I’ll admit that in the beginning, I had no real plan for them. The Jorie shorts in particular, were originally a product of blogging – or, rather, early-20s Sidney’s emo brain broadcasted on the net. Blogging was this accountability thing for me and I was trying to do the write-every-day thing at the time, because I wanted desperately to be a writer and because I was told that was the way to do it. (I don’t write every day now. It’s not for everyone.) So, I was young and earnest (naïve) and working on my degree at UIUC and trying to be a writer. (It’s so uncool to admit that, right? And I never would’ve at the time, but c’mon, it must be said.) I had my blog and was doing these little Jorie bits every day for a semester. They dropped off eventually, as graduation got closer and my attention was more divided, and they were basically put in a file on my computer and forgotten about. Flash (ha) forward a few years and I’m watching the TV show Girls. I know people have mixed feelings about the show, as do I, but what I absolutely love about it is the painfully honest portrayal of the young-20-something’s blundering psyche. Yes, the show is glammed up (that’s a very nice 2-bedroom apartment for a part time barista’s salary), but the shit these characters pull is incredibly real. The narcissism, the flailing, these are emotional trash people – and you know what? It made me feel so, so good. Who isn’t an emotional trash person at 23, etc? I have all this guilt for how I behaved and how I thought and felt when I was in my early 20s. People talk about how teenagers are shitty, emotional and hormonal nutbags, but I hadn’t heard squat about how that infiltrates your early 20s. You don’t wake up at 22 and leave all that behind. Watching Girls made me feel so much better for 20-something Sidney. Like, oh girl, you weren’t so bad. Millions of people watch this show and identify with it, so shelf your guilt and move on. You weren’t alone. At some point, the show made me think of the Jorie shorts and how they were written back when my life was basically a one-girl audition for Girls, but low-budget and in the Midwest. I went back to them and read them, cringing often. Some are just really, really bad. My initial thought was to close that file and leave it be, just as I had before. But the more I thought about them, the more I thought, why do I feel like I can’t explore this? Jorie is young and flailing. She’s melodramatic, fluctuates between sincere and glib, and wants desperately to be taken seriously. We’ve all been there. I took some of the Jorie shorts and patched them up a bit, and in the process, started to have vague ideas about a collection. Since then, I’ve added threads of three other girls/women. The pieces are episodic, can be tied together in different ways depending on the reader’s interpretation, and, of course, have yet to be finished! For me, these particular flashes have to happen when they happen, which I’m both cool with and completely frustrated with. Maybe I write four in a day, then none for months. That’s not very productive, right? Then again, what am I rushing toward? We all want to be published, absolutely – but when I’m writing about these women trying to navigate the varying degrees of mess in their lives, there’s no room for forced conclusions or wrapped bows. Or, you know, maybe that’s just what I’m telling myself to feel better about being a leisurely writer. Not sure yet. Probably both.

NICHE: You’re a published poet. Has your work with poetry influenced how you write longer works?

SIDNEY TAIKO: Poetry started it all. I was a bookworm as a kid, but it was just my preferred form of entertainment until I was 15, not much more than that. I’ll never forget walking into my English class on the first day of my sophomore year and the teacher had the ee cummings poem “l(a” written on the board. Once I read that, I was done for. That poem said everything my little 15 year old self could not articulate about my entire life up until that point. It’s almost embarrassingly sweet to think about, but don’t we all have one or two of those moments? I remember how tight my chest felt and how afraid I was that I’d cry in front of my classmates. That poem beat the shit out of my heart. Our teacher sent us home that day with a packet of CD Wright poems that I still have. After that, I was reading poetry constantly and trying to write it as best as I could.

Flash forward several years, and I’m transferring to UIUC from Columbia College. It was the summer before classes started and I was all set to write poetry, but I wanted to meet with a faculty member to learn a bit more about the program. All the poetry folks were gone for the summer, but John Griswold (a prose writing faculty member) was around and agreed to meet with me. He was incredibly informative and kind and mentioned that giving prose a shot might be a good idea. I was so intimidated by the idea of writing a short story, never mind anything longer. A poem felt feasible, good or bad, brevity was my friend. There’s so much more room to fuck up in a short story. And being green as I was, fucking up was like, the worst thing that could happen, right? I think on some level I felt indebted to Griswold for meeting with me and giving me the scoop on the program and maybe a bit like he had presented me with a challenge and ignoring it would prove some sort of weakness on my part. I had no idea how to write or critique a story. But I took Griswold’s class and by the time I got to grad school I was studying fiction instead of poetry. A lot of credit also goes to David Coyoca, another faculty member at UIUC. He gave me the right authors to read, asked the right questions, and assigned the best writing prompts. His classes were a glimpse of what grad school could be, which really pushed me to aim for getting into a good grad program.

For me, it’s necessary to write both poetry and prose. They do different things for me and I suppose you could say I feel more whole having them both. Eventually, poetry became something I did, and fiction became what I studied. This shouldn’t suggest that I felt like I didn’t need to study poetry, but for the purposes of my academic learning, I felt the need to use that space for prose. For me, poetry is an impulse. I write a poem and other than maybe a few minor tweaks, I’m done with it. That doesn’t mean it’s a successful poem – it just means that I’m shit with poetry revisions. Because, well, I can’t revise an impulse, right? I can only have another, one that maybe works better in terms of publishing. So, with this in mind, it made much more sense to me to study fiction when I went for my Master’s. Prose is much more of a process, where there’s a lot of room for error, where the tools are more concrete perhaps, and my objective as writer is perhaps more clear. I’m sure not everyone thinks of it that way, but this is how it’s worked out. Poetry and prose seem to fulfill two different but equally important aspects of what writing does for me and what I hope it does for readers. How the two come together is often a delightful surprise. I want to say that the intense focus on image in poetry is very helpful for prose. The language-play that I like to do in poetry can make for some exciting lines in a piece of fiction, though an exciting line that comes to me while I’m writing a story might be better placed in poem – might give way to a poem on its own. Most recently, I had a really badass experience where a prose poem I wrote actually turned into a short story. I could maybe say that while I felt that the prose poem was definitely finished, I wasn’t quite finished with those characters and the position they were in, so I gave them some more space and it turned into a short story. Each piece is still very much its own thing, but now I feel like one doesn’t exist without the other.

NICHE: This is somewhat related to the previous question. What’s imperative for a short piece that’s different in a longer piece?

SIDNEY TAIKO: Oh man, that’s the question, isn’t it? This is what I’ve been thinking lately: let’s take character for example. You need to create the impression, in a very limited space, that this character has a great big life outside of this glimpse we’re getting in the flash. We even need to feel like we can see some of that life without being told exactly what it looks like. Or, maybe we have two characters in some sort of relationship. We need the right details, we need them to say the right words in the right way, to show us who they are and what they mean to each other. But it needs to be so carefully crafted – the right things told and untold – and done in such a condensed space that we give the reader room. It’s like that cummings poem. Four words and I know exactly what I need to know, but I also have the room to wonder and to interpret. Flash is like this exciting balance between showing us what we need to see and blasting interpretation wide open. It feels dangerous and I love it. Some of the pieces I love the most are of these incredibly odd, but real moments – like, take the literary out of literary realism. What you’re left with is this condensed piece of writing that makes so much sense, but also doesn’t, which just fills you with wonder. And you can’t stop thinking about it and trying to figure it out. There’s a difference between significance and meaning. And knowing is the word bubble that floats above the two. I think it’s imperative for a short piece to play with those three words, but with significance and meaning in particular. A longer piece needs to tell us a story and guide us through a change. A short piece presents the story, but the change is something that happens to us after we’re finished reading.

But, I feel like someone is bound to poke holes in everything I’m saying… I don’t think there are hard and fast rules that draw a firm line between short and long pieces. I think it’s about more subtle manipulations of the “rules” that apply to all prose in general.

NICHE: You’re very good at writing images that work toward layered meanings. What advice would you give writers seeking to craft images that are doing work on both the literal and the metaphorical level?

SIDNEY TAIKO: Simply put? Write poetry and prose. You don’t have to study both, you don’t have to publish both, but try writing both. Read both. Examine how a poem interprets a situation or a feeling and compare that to a piece of prose that does the same. You’ll find layers there. Be patient. It takes time. I’ll be working on this forever. Pay attention to the little things, which is increasingly difficult with screens and other distractions every where. Take a break from being plugged in for a day. Use that day to just think and write. Good readers can pick out forced or insincere meaning from a mile away, so take the time you need to come to a real conclusion. There are pages and pages in my various notebooks of me working out layered meanings – simple little exercises, like such-n-such is the image I’m literally looking at. Now here’s a list of metaphors for how I interpret what I’m seeing. Does that sound silly? It does real cognitive work, though. Ideally, it helps make your writing better. At the very least, you’re going to learn some shit about yourself.

NICHE: What do you look for in flashes when you’re reading for your own literary magazine, Storm Cellar?

SIDNEY TAIKO: In some way, big or small, I want to be surprised. There’s no singular way to explain how that works. It could be something as small as the imaginative repurposing of a single word. It could be as big as an entire plot that feels fresh and new to me. Maybe a character behaves in a way that’s exciting – let’s use character as an example again. Short stories and novels are full of characters looking at something or each other meaningfully. That’s not a bad thing per se, sometimes it’s necessary and we’re all likely guilty of doing it at one point or another. It has a time and a place. But in all the flash reading I’ve done, I notice less of the meaningful gaze. Again, I think brevity forces writers to get down to business. Lingering can be great – I’ve been reading novels of 600+ pages lately, which has been truly lovely – but it needn’t be the thing. Sometimes, though certainly not exclusively, longer pieces have this tendency to solve a character. I don’t always want that. Flash is a bit more like, here you go. Now deal. It makes the reader do more work, perhaps. So when reading for Storm Cellar, I want to be surprised and I want a piece of flash to inspire me to do some real cognitive work with it.

NICHE: What are you working on now?

SIDNEY TAIKO: Right now it feels like I’m being pulled in a few different directions. I work on the flash collection as ideas come to me. In some ways, the flash collection is like playtime. I don’t mean that to suggest that I don’t take it seriously. It’s just that I can’t force it, so waiting for things to reveal themselves to me can be a bit fun. Low pressure.

I’d also like to put together a chapbook of poetry relatively soon, but I have a lot to learn about putting together a cohesive collection. Right now, my shit is all over the place.

My main focus is a novella I turned in as my graduate thesis back in April. If I’m being brutally honest here, I wrote a novella because I was afraid to write a novel. Afraid and just not sure how to do it (as if there was some way I could possibly know ahead of time??). I mean, I had just barely managed to make my way around a short story. I was intimidated by the scope of that kind of project, so I tried to put things in terms that were easier to stomach. 80-120 pages isn’t so bad, right? My advisor, Liam Callanan, was so supportive and helpful through that process. I think he knew, the whole time, that I was afraid. He fully supported the novella idea and worked with me accordingly, but looking back, I know he knew what was up. He very subtly pushed me forward, though he nodded along with me the whole time I was chanting novella novella novella. Then I defended and my whole committee was incredibly positive about the work, each of them asking if I had plans to turn it into a novel. That was my duh moment. The whole time, this was the beginning of a novel. I knew it and was lying to myself. Liam knew it and was letting me figure it out on my own, which was necessary. So, that’s my real focus now, finishing this novel. Even just saying that now makes me squirm a little, because I have a lot of nerves about it. But, I’m still riding the small confidence high of my success in grad school. It feels a bit like now or never, even if that’s just what I tell myself so that I’ll get to work.

Virtual Reading: “Lebanon on a Map” by Stephanie Papa
Written by: Katya Cummins

As some of you might know, we usually conduct brief interviews with our Niche contributors  after an issue as been released. This year, we’re doing something a little different. As a way to “preview” the next issue of Niche, I’ve asked our forthcoming contributors to conduct “virtual readings,” so to speak, to record themselves reading their work either on audio or video. Our contributors have very kindly agreed. Therefore, I am so excited to be posting our first virtual reading in this series. Please click below to hear Niche contributor, Stephanie Papa reading her poem ‘Lebanon on a Map,” which is forthcoming in Niche No. 6 due out in September/October of this year.

Stephanie Papa is a poet and translator living Paris, France. She is completing an MFA degree in Poetry from the Pan European program at Cedar Crest College. She is poetry co-editor of Paris Lit Up magazine. Her work has been published in NOON, great weather for media, Four Chambers Press, Paris/Atlantic, Literary Bohemian, 5×5, Rumpus, Cleaver Magazine, Cerise Press, The Prose Poetry Project. She organizes anglophone writing workshops in Paris.






NICHE:  I always like to start at the beginning. When did you begin writing poetry and why?

STEPHANIE PAPA: I must have been about 8 years old, at least I remember writing  poems at that age. The question “why” I was writing didn’t occur to me, but because my mother is a writer, books were everywhere. My mother insisted on a building bookshelf that reached the ceiling, so we were surrounded. Exposure to poetry was unavoidable. As a child I fell in love with writers like Maurice Sendak, A.A.Milne, Edward Lear, Roald Dahl.  I started writing poetry a bit more seriously–or badly–as a teenager. Then in college, I had a wonderful professor, Peter Sharpe, who introduced me to some of my favorite writers today.

NICHE: We’re thrilled to be publishing “Lebanon on a Map” in the next issue of Niche. I found your poem very accessible.  As a poet, how accessible do you believe poetry should be? Do you believe readers should work hard at “solving a poem?”

STEPHANIE PAPA: Thank you, I’m very flattered to see it in Niche. I think poetry should be accessible in a way that it allows the reader to access it’s many dimensions. Paul Muldoon was quoted to say that he’s writing “difficult poetry for a difficult age.” We don’t live in simple times. In fact, things are more complex in so many ways.  I think poetry should reflect the complexity of reality, even if the poem seems very obvious and straight forward on the surface. No good poem is handed over too easily. A strong poem for me has a force, or forces, driving it, and you may have to feel around in the dark for the light switch a bit. I love sparse poems that feel accessible, as long as they have multi-dimensional qualities, just like a living thing.  I gravitate towards Asian poetry–Han Shan, Tu fu, Li Po, Issa–because they tend to master this. So, it’s not so much solving the problem of the poem, maybe there’s nothing to solve. It’s more about how many dimensions it has, “parting the grasses,” as Jane Hirshfield puts it; exploring the expansiveness of a poem.

NICHE: One aspect I admired about “Lebanon on a Map” is how effortlessly you seem  to portray, not just one state of mind, but three minds. As a reader, I’m given a sense of what each person in this restaurant wants from all the others. As readers, are we meant to fill in the narrative there?

STEPHANIE PAPA: I suppose the other characters present in the poem act as flags or signposts. Even if they’re not aware, I think they’re both trying to reveal something to the narrator, trying to tell her something. They almost urge her to realize the present moment she occupies.

NICHE: Your poem seems to convey a sense of removal or distance. For instance, the “you” quotes an idea that isn’t his/her own. The narrator doesn’t share  his/her thoughts with her companion, and the waiter shows the diners where Lebanon is on a map even though the restaurant is in another country. I  guess, “displacement” is the word I’m looking for. It is an interesting feeling to get from this poem since all the “mysterious” items the narrator thinks of are so concrete. As a writer, I know that we often write from a place of emotion and figure out what we’ve written afterwards, but in this case, was displacement a feeling you wanted to convey?

STEPHANIE PAPA: In a way, yes. This poem for me was describing these moments when you might ask yourself, how did I end up here? Could it have been any other way? In the poem, it was a seemingly banal circumstance, but being in this nondescript situation makes perfect sense, that it’s necessary even. The narrator has to accept that, without rationalizing it. The list in the poem is simple and complex at once, a contradiction I think we face all the time.

NICHE: Lately, certain genre lines have been blurred. In your opinion, what distinguishes poems from prose-poetry, or even micros that rely heavily on imagistic techniques?

STEPHANIE PAPA: I tend not to be too worried about splitting the two cleanly. It’s like sexuality, ethnicity or…insert your own ‘ity’. The borders aren’t clear at all,  and it would be boring if they were. It reminds me of an early Frank O’Hara poem, “Oranges.” He talks about a poem he starts to write: “It is even in/prose, I am a real poet. My poem/is finished and I haven’t mentioned/orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call/it ORANGES.” Many other New York School poets blurred the line between prose and poetry, and it’s vibrant, I think. However, form would certainly be an indicator as to what genre a piece would fall into, if you want to plunk it somewhere. Poetry can be more exact in this way, the line and form helps the poet be more precise

NICHE: What can you tell us about the teen workshop that you conducted this past April at the American Library in Paris?

STEPHANIE PAPA: I learned so much from the students at that workshop,  both the younger children and teens. The children were so sensitive and imaginative, and it came out in their writing. When I asked them what their idea of poetry was, for instance, one of the girls said, “you can do what you want.” That might be my new motto. We did lots of hands on exercises with things in nature; texture, smell, shape. Some of them couldn’t stop writing, and they’d thrust their arms up to share their poems. But I especially liked working with children of various learning paces and individual difficulties. Sometimes this made for the most interesting writing. It taught me to be more patient, to listen. Also, there was popcorn.

NICHE: Along those same lines, do you have any advice for aspiring poets out there?

STEPHANIE PAPA:  I’ll steal a line from my mentor: “Marry someone rich.” He was kidding…I think. As I’m also learning and looking for advice, I can only offer the same constructive nudges I give myself.  For example, I try to remember to  stay curious, and enjoy it. Even if the writing is dark or difficult, I should be compelled to write it. If I’m not compelled or enjoying it, I might have taken a wrong turn.  I also have different readers who I trust and respect, I always learn a lot from a fresh eye. Also believe in your work, don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t be afraid, period.

NICHE: What are you working on now?

STEPHANIE PAPA: I’ve finished a collection of poems that I hope to publish. I’m also enjoying translation, especially films, from French to English. In September, I’ll be travelling to the Philippines for a music project. I find that travel really inspires me to write. I’m also looking forward to collaborating with new writers and artists.

NICHE: What about translation in particular interests you?  What films are you interested in translating?

STEPHANIE PAPA:  I’d say that everything about translation interests me. I wrote a series of poems about a trip to Brazil, and I asked a Brazilian poet to translate them into Portuguese for me. He was so attentive to convey not the same word but the same feeling in Portuguese, so that the poem’s natural ethos came through. In the end, it’s probably better than my original. Poetry itself is translation in a way, from thoughts to the page. So translation is just another way to reinterpret the beauty of the original, to transfer the meaning. With film, the screenplays are very varied. But it happens that for the most part, I’ve translated scripts with bold, forceful subject matter, that push the boundaries in some way.

Be sure to check out Stephanie Papa’s other work at


Tips On How to Write a Professional Bio
Written by: Katya Cummins

With another cycle of submissions read, I figured it was about time that I write up a quick note regarding author bios. Niche is not the type of literary magazine to judge writers on the basis of where they’ve published previously. Generally, I read an author’s bio after I’ve read a submission. This is because I believe that where a writer has previously published rarely correlates with whether a writer possesses talent or will continue on to ‘make it.” Though it is true that bios that list previous publications make us go, ‘oh, okay,’  they generally aren’t the first things we look at. With that being said, however, we do eventually look at the bios, and whether or not we like to admit it, how a bio reads tells us a lot about  a contributor’s level of professionalism. Please let me emphasize that I do not dismiss submissions from writers who have sent us unprofessional bios because I’ve been there. When I was nineteen or so, I may or may not have sent a very known literary magazine a bio that may or may not have stated that I was really, really, really, really hoping to be accepted into the Iowa Workshop. Don’t do that. Follow these simple guidelines instead.


  • Place personal information in bios that doesn’t directly pertain to your professional career as a writer. We do not want to know that you dropped out of college to write full time. We do not want to know that you’re a recovering alcoholic or drug addict. We do not want to know that you live with twenty cats. We do not want to know that you’re currently living in a basement. These insights into a writer’s life are intriguing but we rather read fictional or nonfictional pieces about these particular aspects of your life. This is an example of the kind of bio we mean:

 Arnold Kenny cannot wait to graduate, mostly because he is out of groceries and is far too lazy to buy some more. His favorite woman in history is Martha Washington, and his favorite historical man is Johnnie Walker. 

  • Place 10-50 publications in a bio. If you’ve published well, congratulations, truly, but we don’t need to know about all of them. Generally, all you need to do is summarize your most recent publications or accomplishments. Alternatively, you can simply list the publications in magazines that we’ll most likely recognize. Here are examples of what what we mean:


Amber McAlester has been published in several literary magazines. Most recently, she’s been published in The Sycamore Review, The Sun, and the Hayden-Ferry Review.


Dan Hay graduated from the Iowa Workshop. He has been published in [list three to five recognizable literary magazines you’ve been published in]: Tin House, Ninth Letter, and N+1. His memoir “How I Managed to Publish So Well” is forthcoming from W. W. Norton. 

  • DO NOT lie about your publications. I cannot believe people do this but they do. We’ll say this again. Most literary magazines I know do not base their decisions on whether or not you’ve been published previously so please do not lie. It is okay to say that you haven’t published previously. We, and other editors of literary magazines we know, love discovering and publishing new voices. Therefore, a cover letter to us could look like this:

 Dear [Genre Editor]:

Please consider “[name of piece]” for inclusion in the next issue of Niche.

If accepted, this will be my first publication.

Thank you for your time, and consideration.


[Your name)


If your piece is accepted, and you’re asked to send an updated bio then it is okay to send something like this:

Anna Dubrov lives and writes from California. She graduated with degrees in Psychology and Philosophy from UC Berkley. This is her first publication.


Mary Stewart writes from Scotland. This is her first publication.


As an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, Elise Cohen was the recipient of the Junior Quinn Scholarship, and Charles and Susan Shattuck Prize in Poetry. She was also awarded entrance into the Juniper Writing Institute at UMass-Amherst. This is her first publication.



Publishing under a different name. In my opinion, it is better to write a bio under your actual name. If the piece is later accepted, let the literary magazine know that you rather publish under a pseudonym. This way, if you DO have a list of publications, they can work for you.

Of course there are exceptions. There are some literary magazines that like fun and more personal bios. Usually these magazines will say, “in your bio, tell us something fun about yourself,” or they’ll say, “We don’t like boring bios. Make it fun.”  If you’re ever in doubt as to whether you should or could submit a “fun” bio then read the types of bios that previous contributors have submitted.

With us, it is totally okay to ask. If your work is accepted and we ask for a bio and you don’t know what to write then please ask. We won’t think less of you. We’re cool. We get it. Just send us a bio, and say, “I wasn’t sure what to write. Feel free to edit.” We will revise the bio, send it back, and ask if our revision is okay. After all, it is your bio. It represents who you are and your accomplishments.

Do you have other questions about how to construct a professional bio? If so, leave your questions in the comment section and we’ll respond!