A Pathway to Greater Empathy and Understanding: Mensah Demary on A Map Is Only One Story

A great essay collection is more than the sum of its parts, and A Map Is Only One Story is a great essay collection. Pulled together from Catapult magazine’s trove of writing, A Map Is Only One Story coalesces around its central theme — migration and the meaning of home — while also providing an expansive field of view. From Victoria Blanco’s “Why We Cross the Border in El Paso” to Nina Li Coomes “What Miyazaki’s Heroines Taught Me,” from Natalia Sylvester’s “Mourning My Birthplace” to Cinelle Barnes’ “Carefree White Girls, Careful Brown Girls,” these essays surprise, perplex, delight, and challenge. Musing editor Steve Haruch spoke with co-editor Mensah Demary via email. Enjoy!

Steve Haruch: First off, I’d just like to say that Catapult is one of my absolute favorite places for creative nonfiction, and I’m so glad to see this book in the world. For people who might not be familiar with Catapult magazine, can you talk a bit about your editorial vision?

Mensah Demary: Since its launch five years ago, Catapult magazine publishes personal narratives from writers all over the world, in hopes of realizing a central tenet of the magazine’s mission and Catapult’s overall company vision: through writing that seeks to bridge rather than widen the rifts between people, literature can provide a pathway to greater empathy and understanding.

SH: How did the idea come about for grouping these essays together as a collection, and what was your approach in selecting them?

MD: Having established a robust archive over a five-year period, we had plenty of material to choose from; nonetheless, Nicole and I decided rather early in the process to choose one central theme for the anthology, as opposed to a “best of” collection covering a wide range of topics. Eventually, we decided to focus on immigration, and to select work from the “Migrations” section of our magazine. From there, over multiple discussions between us and other members of the magazine editorial staff, we narrowed down our selections to the twenty contributors.

SH: An editor’s not supposed to have favorites, but are there any pieces that you feel a special connection to?

Mensah Demary

MD: I think each contributor brings their own individual and unique experience to the theme of immigration and the meaning of home. I’d prefer to leave it to the readers to establish for themselves that special connection without any prompting by me.

SH: There’s been considerable debate lately about who gets to write about immigrant experiences. While this is certainly not a new question, how do you see this book contributing to that conversation?

MD: Again, the contributors bring their own experiences to this anthology. Each writer here share a lived experience, brought to life by memory, by conversation, by photos, articulated and honed with craft and care, not to turn a lived experience into meaningful art, but to use art to express for themselves a deeply complicated and personal part of the human experience.

SH: As I understand it, this is the first in a series. What can we expect in the future?

MD: While we don’t envision this as an annual series, at least for now, we do plan to publish future anthologies from the magazine. We publish essays on pop culture, sports, marriage, motherhood, food, as well as regular columns, and even fiction. Any one of these could yield an anthology, so I’m looking forward to having that discussion with Nicole and the rest of the team when it’s time.

SH: We always ask: What’s your favorite thing about bookstores?

MD: The experience of the physical space itself. Whenever I travel to a new city, I try to visit at least one local bookstore, knowing that I’m going to walk into a space that has its own vibe, its own regular customers walking up and down the aisles, and every time I visit a local bookstore, I end up finding a title I didn’t know I was looking for, but know it on sight that it’s something I should read, and to be able to get it there in support of a local business makes the experience a little more meaningful, a little more active than just buying the book online.