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Writer and cultural chronicler Joan Didion, who died on December 23, 2021, wrote in The White Album,  “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Didion had been observing  and recording since her mother handed her a Big Five notebook and told  her to write down her thoughts.

As we get ready to unveil our 34th issue of The Briar Cliff Review,  we celebrate the stories this magazine has always told. We need stories  to nourish us, to survive, especially in this age of political strife  and the coronavirus variants ravishing our world.


Welcome to the 33rd issue of The Briar Cliff Review. We survived 2020, and The Briar Cliff Review emerges stronger than ever. In times of turmoil, we turn to the arts to find solace and safety. As editors, we saw more submissions this year than ever before. People stayed home because of the pandemic, and they wrote, painted, sketched, and submitted their works to us. “Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity,” wrote artist Dorothea Tanning.


Welcome to our 32nd issue of The Briar Cliff Review. It is 2020, a new decade, and I feel an unsettledness around me.  It’s more than that.  It’s a feeling of being on the edge, awaiting something.  We have so much happening – wildfires in Australia, the coronavirus spreading, an impeachment trial, an assassination of an Iranian general, the shooting down of a plane, the bombing of our base in Iraq, fear of nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran, distress about lack of cyber security, anxiety about terrorism and mass shootings, the rise of white nativism, and nervousness about the caucuses.


Welcome to our 31st issue of The Briar Cliff Review.  We are living in a time of crisis, and with this crisis comes fear of losing everything.  Loss brings loneliness as people shut down inside and keep their fears, hurt and anger to themselves.  Fittingly, in this issue we see the themes of loss, grief, loneliness, and reminiscence.


Welcome to our 30th year. In this day of print venues folding up and closing their doors and of deciphering fake news from real news, we have kept going, telling the truths that literature and art can tell.


Every year we increasingly see why our mission is so important. As we live in a world of fake news, online publishing with a blink-of-an-eye shelf life, and short-short news cycles, we know our work has value. 


This year we witness not only our contest winners, but many of our other writers dealing with reminiscing and regretting. As Henry David Thoreau said, "To regret deeply is to live afresh."


The theme of loss and change is everywhere in our 27th edition. Change is inevitable in this fast-paced world, a truth we discovered — and embraced — as we accepted electronic entries for the first time in our history.


In this issue we go global. We have connections to Thailand, Peru, Dubai, Ehtiopia, Paraguay, Syria, France, Italy, Japan and Pakistan. Yet these works still have themes that we see on our own native soil.


Many of the works in this issue deal with reflection and reminiscence, appropriate for our 25th anniversary issue.


Our community came together during the summer's Great Flood. One of our themes is community: how we need it, feel adrift without it, long to be connected to it and sometimes lose it.


Our themes deal with the need for connection. "Perceiving the world as a web of connectedness helps us to overcome the feelings of separation that hold us back and cloud our visions," says Emma Restall Orr.


This year our stories, essays and poems have themes dealing with memory, mystery and the secrets of people and the universe.


One of our themes in this issue centers around relationships — dissolving, strained, betrayed, lost and sometimes regained.


The theme of war dominates this year's Review. When we are in a war, we think of war and write about war. Why does it seem we mark our lives according to war?


You'll find a thread throughout many of the works — the theme of letting go. "You don't need it anymore," Todd calls out to Lorraine in our prize-winning story. "Let it go."


A prominent theme in this issue is loss. "Loss is commonplace to the race," wrote Alfred Tennyson. But so are change, growth and new beginnings.


This year we expanded our contest to include creative nonfiction and the theme of lack of communication pervades many of our essays.


In this year's issue the theme of displacement — the act of moving from your usual place (homeland) to another place — is prevalent in many of the pieces.


In this issue you'll see the theme of fear surfacing in many works. As the threat of war with Iraq hangs over our heads, we all feel fear at the unspeakable loss that war brings.


Change stands out as the theme in this issue. Everything changes — in love, in relationships, in war, in nature, in families and in loss.


Much of the writing in this issue deals with remembering the past, whether it be romanticizing it or simply viewing it with new eyes.


This year the presence of the "running Missouri" in our lives dominates. The Big Muddy that runs through our center has been our atmosphere — our source of vitality and our conduit to others.


Life and death, beginnings and endings surround us. Look at the selections in this issue, and see the cycle of life. Poems, stories and essays show the themes of birth and death and the passion of relationships.


We moved away from our region in this issue, and a theme of our connectedness to other worlds emerged.We are always east or west or north or south of something. 


Our magazine this issue shows the diversity of Siouxland. We all know the stereotypes of this place — flat land and flat people. Yet we know this isn't true.


A thread forms between this year's submissions, like a web unifying the disparate points of view, the different genres. You'll sense a drift into memory, an attempt to re-evaluate and even redeem the past.


We have themes of Siouxland in many of our works. See the isolation and ruggedness of this "strange, troubled land" in Ron Johns' "Three Trees," "Ice Storm" and "Nevada" and the simple beauty in "Bailey's Sunflower."


Most of our writers in this issue are from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota. We welcome contributions from other places, too, but we build from the excellence we know is here in Siouxland and the Midwest.


This issue is dedicated to Sister Clo Weirich, who was with us from the beginning. She once said, "My poetry rises out of my love of life, my depth of feelings, and my reactions to what others experience."



The pride in Mom's home-grown, fresh, made-with-loving-hands strawberry preserves and Grandma's chicken dumplings seems to be disappearing … but it isn't. There are still people who take pride in their work, who give care and attention to things they make with their hands. 


"If we have to declare who we are, let us do it with art and not with bombs," says Poet Phil Hey. Thus, we continue on with a deeper sense of the importance of what we do.

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