This anthology’s story began in May 2000, when the National Storytelling Network (NSN) published Red Hot and Cool Cool Mamas, an issue of their bi-monthly publication, Storytelling Magazine. Guest-edited by Carol Birch, it featured stories by and about women of the storytelling revival community. I phoned the NSN and asked if anyone had volunteered to guest-edit an issue by men.
The voice on the line sounded surprised: “What a concept!”
I called it The Men’s Issue.
My call for submissions to the men of the storytelling revival movement asked each to send me a true story about something that had happened to him, could only have happened to a man, and showed who men are. I received 75 submissions and culled 11 for the issue, which had a cover date of March 2001. The NSN printed 4,000 copies and mailed them to the association’s 3,500 members. The remaining print overrun of 500 copies sold out in two months. They had to order another thousand to keep up with continuing demand.
Who was buying these copies? Who wanted to know who men are?
One woman called with an order saying, “I couldn’t put the issue down, my heart was beating so.” Another phoned to say, “I had to put the issue down after each story, my heart was racing.” A mother of two called to order ten copies: “Four for my nephews, three for my brothers, two for my sons, and one … for my lover.”
As The Men’s Issue was coming together, I knew that if women embraced it, I would expand the issue into an anthology of men’s stories. Heart of a Man is that embrace returned. In 2014, I sent calls for submissions to writers’ services websites that netted 500 stories, poems, essays, lyrics, and cartoons from around the world. Reading them was a waterslide of surprise. When I found a piece that was guy-insightful, I asked my wife to read it. If it was meaningful to her as well, it went into the “Maybe Yes” pile, one that was subsequently sifted many times.
I also placed a call to complete the phrase, “A man is .…” in one sentence. A hundred came in, the first from Ethiopian doctor, Elias Gebru. His entry is on the epigraph page, one leaf over. You can’t miss it. There’s another, by Haley Zilberberg, further on, and other quotations by men and women scattered throughout the book. Some are germane to the chapter they accompany, some to the drawing or quotation they share the page with, and all to the book at large.
The anthology’s plot took unexpected turns. One writers’ website hostess stood alone in refusing to publish the call for submissions, though I rewrote it twice to meet her changing specs. A blogger trolled the call for submissions: Does the literary canon need another book by men about men? she mused. She encouraged women writers to send submissions to me under male pseudonyms. Around this time, a social-media post I promoted, showing the Eugene Karlin cover drawing, was shut down. Insufficient clothing, as I recall, was the issue.
The accepted contributions suggested sections. The sections needed introductions, and the book, a preface and introduction, … or so I thought. The unattributed passages in these pages are probably mine.
Women friends volunteered to beta-read the anthology – to review the prepublication manuscript, red pencil in hand. And I read many of the book’s evolving intros and chapters to a writers’ workshop I attend, one of some two dozen women and six men.
The women’s feedback helped me see how they saw men, and how differently women and men perceived the same story. My beta-readers had diverse – in some cases changing – takes on individual chapters. The men’s feedback included coaching me, cheering me on, and calling me off base when they thought I was. I tried to learn from folks of both sexes and all genders. And on that subject, learning, it’s time to scroll on.