I first met Michelle Renee Hoppe in 2009 when we were both teaching for the same company in South Korea. Though our contact with one another has been casual since then, we have managed to keep tabs on each other through various social media. I was excited when she reached out to ask me to help get the word out about her new literary magazine, Capable, and am very happy to share the following interview wherein we learn what Michelle has been up to these last 10 years.
Wow. It’s been a while since we last saw one another in person. Tell me what you have been up to since 2010.
Almost a decade! I have been teaching special education in NYC public schools, earning an MSED in special education, and, as of three days ago, really started to develop Capable. I’ve been to Hong Kong, fallen in love, almost gotten married, not gotten married, and even had my first online publication about it all. I’m now dating a wonderful Mexican engineer who supports my writing like no one else I know.
Tell me more about your current project, “Capable,” including the significance of the title. Do you have a mission statement?
Right now our mission is to raise awareness of the community of disabled and ill among universities and clinics so doctors, medical advocates, and professionals. We aim to help universities teach disability and illness through an arts lens. There is a substantial amount of research that supports that having empathy helps physicians practice better medicine, and that narrative medicine, including reading literature and viewing art, goes a long way in developing such empathy.
Years ago, I brainstormed Capable with some friends from undergrad and they thought it was the best way to describe a zine that was dedicated to stories of disability and illness.
We seek exceptional work, because people with disabilities make exceptional work. I don’t pull any punches about that.
What kind of work are you seeking and where can people send their submissions? How many pieces can a writer submit? How many pages or poems? Are there any submission fees?
I would say this is the best example I can muster about what we are looking for in nonfiction: https://magazine.nd.edu/stories/his-last-game/
No submission fees for now, though fter we launch, we’ll charge $3 to $5 per submission to cover the costs for Submittable. Until then, snyone can send me as much work as they like at email@example.com, but I cannot promise I’ll get through all of it in a month. I recommend sending two poems and up to 3,000 words of prose. I love long pieces of prose, but I do want to keep things tight for the launch. I have a soft spot for humor pieces. I think a lot of us use humor to cope and it’s its own art.
What are some of your favorite literary journals?
I’ve found a reading home at Catapult. I absolutely adore them. They have such a sense of community there, and it’s remarkable to be able to offer classes in addition to a publication. I’ve taken two amazing classes and I really recommend Allie Rowbottom as a teacher. I also read Luna Luna Magazine, as they have a section dedicated to stories of chronic illness, and their founder Lisa Marie really showed me by doing that a publication is possible. She’s a bright light, despite the fact that I think there is not any such thing as magic. She’s also built such as sense of community through her work. I really admire that.
And, of course, Zingara Poetry Review. I love that you are able to teach. I still remember you were so kind in Korea. You and Gary were so welcoming, and you really spoke to the emerging author in me. Your warmth meant a lot.
Are you the sole editor for this project or are you working with a team?
I am not the sole editor, but I am kind of a one-woman show at the moment, as my editorial team is just getting together. I’m so impressed with them. I have to remind myself that I’m the manager of the talent and not the talent to keep going. I receive a resumes that are so impressive that I don’t know what to say to that person except, “Congratulations, I probably cannot afford you right now. I’m sorry.” I’m going to have to put together a team of all stars for the VC funding pitch, because these investors want a team they can believe in, and I am fully confident we have that through the #Binders group and others.
There are also the wonderful emails from reeeeally established authors. They are like, “Call me when you can afford me. I’m in.”
Honestly, I appreciate all the emails right now. This has been my baby for about three years now, ever since I recovered from my own illness and learned to cope with my own disabilities.
What inspired you to start such a literary journal? Will this be solely online or do you plan to send out print copies as well?
I have been “sick” my whole life. I’ve been misdiagnosed with leukemia and thyroid disorders, and I have celiac disease. It’s frustrating to be told again and again that I am making these things up when they are very real. I also work with students with disabilities every day, and the disabled are the largest minority and the most underrepresented in the entertainment industry. I learned that from a friend of my cousin’s, Maysoon Zayid. Everyone should see her TED talk.
I would love for it to be a print publication, but that’s not something I can afford right now. We are just getting funding off the ground. Right now, I want to get everyone on my team and my authors paid as much as possible. They deserve it.
What other projects are you working on?
I’m working on Teach North Korean Refugees. TNKR is a nonprofit that doesn’t get enough attention in South Korea. They help rehabilitate North Korean refugees and teach them English. They also help them author their own lives for the first time, and it’s really inspiring work. Honestly, they’ve done more for my career than any other position I’ve taken. They’re that into advocacy that they even advocate for their team, and I’d like to be like that as a Founder. The founders are geniuses of the nonprofit world, and so kind.
I’m writing a collection of essays about growing up in an espionage family. I probably never told you about that, but, yeah, both my parents were raised with spies. It’s tentatively titled We Don’t Talk About the Family. It includes many scenes with pinatas. My mother insisted on pinatas at every birthday. Gotta love being (kind of) Puerto Rican and raised in Japan. My work–I Can Make You Immortal, My Rapist Told Me–was recently endorsed by Donna Kaz and earlier Brian Doyle told me one of my essays was, “Damn fine, searing and layered work.” His words are something I turn to when I feel less alone, and the world really misses him. Like you guys, he was so kind to everyone.