This year, City Paper decided to do something different with its Fiction and Poetry issue. Instead of soliciting reader submissions, we invited local fiction writer Susan Muaddi Darraj to guest edit our feature well of stories and poems.

Darraj, fiction editor of Barrelhouse Magazine and former editor of The Baltimore Review, is the author of several books including, most recently her 2015 collection of short stories, "A Curious Land: Stories from Home," which won the American Association of Writers and Writing Programs Grace Paley Award for short fiction. She is also the recipient of two Maryland State Arts Council individual artist awards and this summer won the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation and was short-listed for the Palestine Book Awards. As one of the organizers of an occasional reading series, Raising Our Voices: Womyn Out Loud, she has deep connections in the arts community in Baltimore and reached out to a range of local authors to curate this collection of diverse voices, styles, perspectives, and topics.


To accompany the short stories and poems, City Paper art director Athena Towery looked for inspiration to a series of photographs housed in the U.S. National Archives called "Documerica." In the 70s, the fledgling Environmental Protection Agency took a page from the Farm Security Administration's book—during the depression, the FSA famously hired artists and writers to document ordinary American life and readers likely recall photographers like Dorthea Lange who chronicled the Dust Bowl, Gordon Parks who recorded the Jim Crow South, and Walker Evans who looked at rural poverty in America. The EPA, a brand new agency in the seventies, similarly hired professional photographers to document the impact of environmental devastation but gave them a broad mandate to also capture the essence American daily life in the cities, suburbs, and farmlands.

From 1971 to 1977, more than 70 freelance photographers fanned out across every state in the U.S. ultimately producing 22,000 photographs now preserved in the National Archives. Assigned approximately 115 different geographical locations, paid $150 a day plus film, the photographers worked under the direction of Gifford Hampshire.


In 2013, as the National Archives prepared an exhibition of the photographs, senior curator Bruce Bustard described the impetus behind the project in an email to Slate: "Giff Hampshire, who directed DOCUMERICA, was interested in what he called 'the human connection' to the environment," Bustard wrote. "He realized that limiting his photographers to a narrow definition of 'environment' would result in lots of photographs of smog, waste treatment plants and dead fish, and he wanted to encourage them to have a wider vision … He took Barry Commoner's law of ecology as the project's motto: 'Everything is connected to everything else.' That made for lots of photo possibilities."

In the following collection of poems and stories, City Paper similarly saw writers focused on connection—connections between family members, communities, and nations. Indeed, one could argue that all writers are obsessed with this subject, whether it is reporters chronicling a city's community connections or lack thereof—and the attendant problems that ensue—or poets exploring their deep connections to distant homelands. The theme, connection, rises to the surface and spills out into guilt, blame, recriminations, and sometimes forgiveness, curiosity, and joy. (Karen Houppert)

'The Tour Guide' and 'The Scientist'

The Tour Guide

'Arab Men I Have Loved in Passing' and 'City Animals'

Arab Men I Have Loved in Passing

'Forty Years Later: What I Know' and 'From Bombay to Baltimore'

Forty Years Later: What I Know


It was early October and I still had no friends to present to my father, who was coming up for my eighteenth birthday and a National Dairy Board Conference in

Napoleonic Poem

It can happen that one night


I will take the way you folded the towels and looped the toilet paper under and the way you made eggs, not because I believe in the rightness or wrongness of

Childhood in the South

An excerpt from the forthcoming novel, "Where the Spirit Meets the Bone"

Ghost Hunters

My mother liked to tell us ghost stories at supper. A long time ago, she said, in that yellow

Mother's Dresser

In the evening, after dinner, the grownups drink espresso laced with Sambuca or anisette, the aromas of licorice, of anise, of coffee rising up like extended

Like Bees Wanting Out the Terrible Hive

It was Thursday already, and anyway you knew he was itching by the way he tapped his feet double time.