I’ve been asked why I decided to start a literary journal written exclusively by women, and I’ve found that it’s impossible to tell the story of how the Same came to be without also talking about my own story. This has made for some awkward, stammering responses when I haven’t really wanted to get into details of my personal history in a casual conversation. As a writer, I’m usually better at writing a story than speaking it out loud. It’s a pretty great story, though, and I want to share it with our readers as we kick off our Thursday content.
I started the Same in September 2017, and it has grown beyond my wildest imaginations since then. I started the journal as a labor of love with the desire to advance and celebrate the voices of women and girls. I grew up in a fundamentalist sect of Christianity that did not value women and girls outside of the realm of being wives and mothers. For this reason, despite being an excellent student, I did not see college or a career as something I could pursue, even though I had dreamed of being a writer since I was a little girl. I married my first husband when I was seventeen years old, and had my first child at eighteen. In my early twenties, I found myself discontented with my life and decided to go back to school.
I entered the local community college when I was twenty-three and the mother of three young children, the youngest of which was five months old. This was the first time I had been in a traditional classroom setting. I had attended a tiny, Christian school ran by my church from preschool to the middle of tenth grade and then was homeschooled until I graduated high school. Being in a secular educational environment changed my whole life. I read literature that had been off-limits to me growing up. I learned about psychology and sociology and the history of western civilization, and I realized for the first time the oppression I had lived under my whole life. My entire worldview evolved. I earned that two-year Associates Degree over the course of almost five years of doing online and evening classes. By the time I graduated in 2011, I had four children watching as I walked across the stage to receive my diploma. It was the proudest moment of my life.
To make a long story short(er), my marriage soon fell apart, I divorced, went back to school, remarried, and dropped out of a nursing program that I absolutely hated. My new husband told me to take a shot at my dreams, and I started writing again. I had the opportunity this past Fall to go back to school, and I’m now working toward a BFA in Creative Writing at Tennessee Wesleyan University. I’m now thirty-four years old, an Army wife, a mom of six (four by birth, two by marriage), a writer, a student, and now an editor. My ultimate career goal is to be a successful novelist.
So, in the midst of going back to school with the added responsibilities of being a wife and mother of six, why did I decide to start a literary journal at the same time? Well, to be honest, I didn’t. During the summer before my first semester of being a student again, I was working on my writing. I had had a series of publications in literary journals over the previous couple of years, had published a successful serial online and in print, and been offered a book contract from two different publishers for my first novel. I was contemplating ways of amplifying my online presence as a writer, and I was also trying to mentally focus on what my next big writing project should be.
As I was contemplating my next move—and as a person of faith—I prayed for direction one day last summer. I finished my prayer time and went to take a shower. As I was in the shower, I suddenly had a complete idea come to my mind. I would create a blog where I would share my writing and I would invite other women who I knew personally to write posts for me. We would write about the experience of being a woman. I would ask friends from various walks of life, different ethnicities, sexual identities, and religions, and different stages of life to contribute articles around the idea that, although we had many differences and we have been women during many different times and in many different places, we all share the commonality of being women in this world. I would call it “the Same” and have the tagline of “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I stepped out of the shower that day with a clear direction.
I immediately began to develop the idea and reach out to some of my writing friends as I continued to pray about the project. Over the course of just a couple of weeks, I felt the initial idea of a blog where I was the primary author morph into a literary journal where I wasn’t doing much of the writing at all. I had developed a burning desire in my heart to create a platform from which to amplify the voices of women and girls around the world. The rest, as they say, is history!
As I write and study and read and work toward my own personal and professional goals, I’m determined to do what I can to encourage other women and girls who, like me, have had their voices silenced. I started the Same because I wanted to create a platform that specifically spotlighted the voices of women and girls. Since September 2017, we have garnered a committed readership in 80+ countries around the world, and our contributors write from all over the world. Not every woman has a story like mine where people clearly told me my voice didn’t matter because I am a woman, but I believe all of us have had to overcome a bias toward male voices on some level. Some of the women who submit to the Same have to write under pseudonyms because they come from extremely patriarchal societies and they worry about the backlash. I’ve published work by a woman whose father has forbade her from using her family name. I’ve had the honor of being the first publication to accept the work of several new writers, both women and teenage girls. I’ve been so blessed to have a conversation via email with a woman in another country who shared with me that she was discouraged and planning to give up on writing when she received an acceptance from the Same. I published a gorgeous piece of prose and later a poem she wrote, and I’m so glad she decided not to give up on her gift. Every time I get to elevate the work of women like these I feel like I’m doing some good in the world.
So, that’s it! That’s how the Same came to be. It has been a labor of love and a beautiful journey so far. I’m deeply grateful for the support of so many of you who come back week after week and read and share the work we are publishing. I’m extremely grateful for the women who have joined our (all volunteer) team and work alongside me to create a vibrant and successful journal. Above all, I’m so thankful for the opportunity to share the work of so many talented women writers with the world!
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and various other literary journals. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.