Dawn Major interviews Editor and Contributors of All night, All Day Anthology


Since becoming one of the Associate Editors at Southern Literary Review, Dawn Major has come to know several of the authors, poets, and artists from the cast of this exquisite anthology, All Night, All Day: life, death & angels. Clearly, each and every one of the talented women writers who contributed understood the value of the editor’s, Susan Cushman’s, vision because they absolutely poured their souls into each piece.

Review/ Interview Combination

DM: The toughest thing about reviewing anthologies is not being able to write about every single contributor, so I decided to focus on how this anthology came to be first and then share my thoughts about a few of the pieces. It starts with Susan Cushman, the editor of All Night, All Day, whom I applaud for finding the precious time and the where-with-all to bring this powerful collaboration together. And I can at least recognize the all-female cast of twenty-seven contributors—Christa Allan, Johnnie Bernard, Cathy Smith-Bowers, Sophy Burnham (Foreword), Lauren Camp, Julie Cantrell, Susan Cushman (Editor), Nancy-Dorman-Hickson, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Claire Fullerton, Lisa Gornick, Mandy Haynes, Suzanne Henley, Jennifer Horne, Angela Jackson-Brown, River Jordan, Averyell Kessler, Cassandra King, Sonja Livingston, Nancy Anne Mardis (Cover Artist), Frederica Mathewes-Green, Wendy Reed, Joanna Seibert, Sally Palmer Thomason, Natasha Trethewey, Jacqueline Allen Trimble, Renea Winchester who shared their unique and heartfelt perspectives on life, death, and angels. I asked Cushman why it was important to focus on female authors, poets, and artists with this anthology.

SC: I don’t think it was “important” to limit the book to women, but I know more female writers and poets than male, and I didn’t want the book to be one-sided. When I organized and edited my second anthology, Southern Writers on Writing, I invited an equal number of female and male authors and ended up with thirteen of each. I like balance.

Dawn Major

DM: Though I primarily directed my questions toward Cushman, books do not happen in a vacuum and anthologies present their own kind of special challenges like finding the right publisher and how to market the book. I wanted to acknowledge some of the other contributors, like Mandy Haynes, creator, editor, publisher of WELL READ Magazine and author of Sharp As A Serpent’s Tooth and Oliver. In addition to contributing, “ Rose’s Angels,” a touching true story about an angel finding adoptive parents for a baby who was born with a congenital heart defect, Haynes provided free advertising via WELL READ Magazine. I asked Haynes what that meant to her.

MH: One of the great things about being Editor-in-Chief of WELL READ Magazine is that I had a great platform to promote the All Night, All Day anthology as soon as it was ready. Advertising is expensive; it was rewarding by being able to donate ad space and market the anthology as well as the contributors. Also, the same old ads can get overlooked, so I made sure that I was creating different graphics each month. This is a fantastic anthology and giving all of the authors in the anthology a boost with live links to their websites and social sites is one of the perks of running an online journal.

DM: I asked Kimberly Davis, the publishing director of Madville Publishing, if she thought that anthologies were a tougher sell than novels or collections of essays or short stories and how she approached the marketing of All Night, All Day.

 KD: Yes, absolutely, anthologies are a tough sell, but done well, like Susan has done, building on her platform as well as on the online platforms of the contributors, they can also be a bonus. In fact, our two current bestsellers are anthologies, and that is totally down to the enthusiasm and marketing efforts of the editors. 

 We love anthologies like this as vehicles for newer writers, as well. They get to rub shoulders with better-known authors, and in the course of publishing anthologies, we’ve learned that it does help to have some work by well-known poets and writers. We have been honored to share the work of well-known authors in those same collections. All Night, All Day, for example has several pieces by authors we’ve all read or heard of before.

One other thing I will say that Susan has done well with marketing this book is that she has been right on top of all the submission dates for regional book festivals for which this book qualifies. And she’s landed spots at many of them. We haven’t heard about all of them, yet, but Susan and various contributors will be traveling all over the South speaking and reading from this beautiful book. And that’s what it takes with an anthology.

 Whether it’s self-published, published by an independent press like Madville Publishing, or a university press, times are hard. The margins are slim, and it takes planning and commitment to sell books, and that must come from the editor, the organizer of the anthology. We learn to spot the naturals, like the editors for our anthologies this year. They have a drive about them. Interestingly, they’re usually more work than some other folks we work with, but we’ve learned to recognize that cussedness, if you will, as a good indication of commitment to the project. They. Have. A. Vision. And if they have that “vision,” they have a pretty good idea of how to sell it.

DM: I must mention the very first angel that appears in this anthology and that is Nancy Anne Mardis’s “Rainbow Angel.” This vibrant multicolored watercolor is simply sublime and seems so fitting for this collaboration that features authors and artists from all walks of life. I asked Cushman what it was about this painting that spoke to her.

SC: I have a print of Nancy’s watercolor, “Rainbow Angel,” hanging in my office at home. I love it. When I was putting together this anthology, her angel kept calling out to me. Even before I had a book deal for the anthology, I began playing with her painting and some text for the cover design. I was so excited when she gave permission for me to use her beautiful artwork, and then my publisher, Kim Davis, agreed that it was the perfect illustration for the book.

DM: As for the inspiration for the painting, “Rainbow Angel,” itself, it comes with Nancy Anne Mardis’s story, though not in the anthology, is simply too fantastic not to share.

 NM: My personal belief in angels arose in 1986 during a terrifying experience in Boulder Creek, California. My now ex-husband Bill was a visiting law professor at Santa Clara University. We had leased the home of the professor who was on sabbatical. It was a charming, but old, split-level, surrounded by one hundred feet of redwoods and a creek.  Only six days after arriving at our new home, I placed one-year-old Rachel on a changing table below a window. She had recently learned to walk. As I turned back to put a clean shirt on her, I realized in horror that she must have stood up. All I saw were her tiny feet as she plunged, I thought headfirst, out of the window, falling sixteen feet onto the concrete driveway below. Rachel’s only injury was a black eye, caused by hitting her head on the screen after landing. I had taken for granted that it was a storm window, unaware that the screen was popped in only to keep the bugs out.

An ambulance raced us fifteen miles through the Santa Cruz Mountains to the nearest hospital. Tests showed no injuries, so we were allowed to take our baby home, waking her up throughout the night in case of concussion. We took her to the fire station for a pancake breakfast the following Saturday. The firemen who rescued Rachel, called her their “little second-story girl” and said that she had ridden down on the screen like on a magic carpet. My belief? I wrote a little story entitled “Rachel and the Rainbow Angel,” about her guardian angel who floated her down to safety, and in the process earned her rainbow wings. Whose theory do you believe—the magic carpet or the guardian angel? Rachel’s 38th birthday was yesterday, June 19.

My rainbow angel connection continued when in September 1991 my mother passed away at the age of seventy-one. On a visit to her home in December, I slept in her bed and had a visitation dream. I asked my mother (middle-aged in the dream) how she had come to visit me, and she said, “God sends us on rainbows.” That Christmas, a Lutheran church friend, learning of my dream, created an amazing satin wall hanging of a rainbow angel for the Christmas Eve service, truly a gift to me. I began collecting angels, including one of a middle-aged angel with rainbow wings. She looks remarkably like my mother!

In 1994 my new home church, St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, featured a visiting female priest. She spoke on angels, citing some passage in Revelation. I recently reread the Bible chapter but could not pinpoint what had inspired me. Something had for sure, because the next day, after hearing the sermon, I went to my watercolor class with Fred Rawlinson, sat down, took out my paints and brushes, and created the “Rainbow Angel” that Susan Cushman has now allowed to grace the cover of her wonderful book.

To read further, visit: Rainbow Angel – Author Susan Cushman

DM: At just under two hundred pages All Night, All Day is not a biblical-sized anthology, but as the saying goes big things come in small packages. The title was inspired by a lyric from the African American spiritual, “Angels Watching Over Me,” that Cushman found herself “frequently humming while working on this book.” Ironically, one of the other contributors, Johnnie Bernhard, wrote about that same spiritual, so perhaps something larger was at work here. New York Times and international best-selling author of Book of Angels, Sophy Burnham, wrote the forward and Cushman dedicated the collection to her “friend and mentor, Cassandra King Conroy,” who inspired her “to gather and share these beautiful pieces as we remembered together the angel that visited her home when her husband Pat Conroy was dying in 2016.”

Getting a book into the world involves multiple people and stages and has lots of working parts. For writers, it’s an exciting time, but not without stress. Publishing an anthology with twenty-seven contributors is another epic challenge. Cushman shared how the anthology came to life:

Susan Cushman, Anthology Editor

SC: It was two years ago, in 2021, when I was visiting Cassandra King (Conroy) in Beaufort, South Carolina. I was there on a book tour for my novel John and Mary Margaret, and Cassandra was introducing me at an event at the Pat Conroy Literary Center. Back at her house, we started talking about her book, Tell Me a Story: My Life With Pat Conroy, and I was especially interested in the part where an angel visits them during the final days of Pat’s life, and another mystical experience they had at the time. She encouraged me to do the anthology about angels and end-of-life and near-death mystical experiences and she agreed to write an essay for the collection.

DM: The anthology is organized into four parts—“Mystics and Messengers,” “Angels Watching Over Me,” “All in the Family: Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, and Grandfathers,” and “Friends,” and offers an eclectic array of essays, eulogies, journal entries, poems, and short stories from well-known, female authors. I was curious how Cushman chose the contributors as well as her approach to organizing it. Susan, was your approach more fluid, or did you have a clear idea about who and what you were looking for here? For instance, did you choose the themes i.e., “Mystics and Messengers,” or did the themes come about organically and on their own?

Lemuria Books, Jackson, Mississippi, June 24: Susan Cushman, Averyell Kessler, Christa Allan, Nancy Dolman-Hickson.

 SC: I always hand-pick the contributors to each anthology I edit and publish, rather than sending out a “call for manuscripts,” because I want to include authors I know personally or professionally, mostly published, and well-known, who have readers/followers, which will help sell the book. And depending on the overall theme, I invite authors I think have experiences in their lives that will enhance their essays. In the case of All Night, All Day, I did something new—I invited several poets to contribute, and also opened the door to fiction. Only one author sent me fiction. River Jordan’s short story, “Trouble Comes Around,” definitely adds a different layer to the book. And I love the poetry! I didn’t choose the themes for each section until I had all the manuscripts and could see how to group them and add quotes at the beginning of each section. This is my favorite part of organizing an anthology.

DM: I didn’t read the book in any particular order, and overall, it took me about a month to read, not because I am a slow reader (you must read quickly if you write reviews), but because this book reached down into my core. Memories of mine own experience with losing a loved one, whether a pet or a relative, resurfaced. I consider myself to be a fairly objective but reserved reader, but there were parts of this book that brought me to tears, and such is the case where I found myself weeping on a fully packed plane with my husband and son. I was thrilled when I boarded—finally, vacation— but for a solid twenty minutes I found myself weeping, literally grieving the loss of Claire Fullerton’s dog, Shadow, in “Eulogy for Shadow:”

“I roll to my right and see her toys strewn around her fleece covered bed. / I should get up and out her bear and balls away, / find some place to put that pine cone/ but I can’t bring myself to disrupt her last arrangement. / I want to leave everything as Shadow placed it, / I always marveled at the single-mindedness with which she / marked her place in the world. / I think I will lie here until her sprit comes wet-nosed to soothe me. / I lack the strength to rise to a world that exists without her”

Whoa. I grieved for all my pets that have passed and I grieved for my now-living pets that I know one day will leave me. And I grieved for Fullerton’s Shadow, who must have been the angel in her life to have that kind of impact on her. Even writing these words, I feel like crying. Somewhere out there, there’s another passenger on that plane who is still wondering what tragedy occurred to the lady that boarded with a smile and ended up in tears.

So, after collecting myself, I switched it up and moved onto a poem—I love that Cushman included poetry; we need more poems in our lives. Now, not all these pieces are about death. Frederica Mathewes-Green’s “A Choir of Angels,” set in Charleston, SC (everyone knows that city is haunted), is a solid ghost story and there’s Suzanne Henley’s “Road Trip,” that has a ghost with a sense of humor in it. But I knew what I was getting into when I read the dedication of Ann Fisher-Wirth’s “Poems For My Sister Jennifer.” I was fated to read all the tear-jerkers on that flight:

“I can’t tell you how I miss you. / I keep wanting to phone you, / ask you something you would know, / with your elephantine memory— / But one night, as I lay twitching, / trying to sleep, you came / through the shining membrane / between life and death, so that I saw you, / and was you, gaunt edifice, cage of bone, / and the clear, diminishing flame / that was still, in that second, my sister.”

Novel Books, Memphis launch, June 20: Sally Thomason, Jacqueline Trimble, Nancy Mardis, Susan Cushman, Joanna Seibert.

I’m the youngest of three sisters and the past few years have been a struggle for them, for all of us. When I returned from a fabulous trip to Savannah with my eldest sister, Aleea, my mom, and my aunt and uncle from California who hadn’t visited Savannah, when we returned Aleea was struck with an illness, ended up in the ER, and it turned out she had Stage Four Lymphoma. So, not just a little sick, here. She’s still getting chemo treatments, but the tumors are almost gone…almost. I was scared. As the youngest, you always worry you will be left alone. I saw it happen to my uncle; he didn’t last long after the last of his siblings passed, who happened to be my dad. My sister, Julia, spent a month in the hospital when COVID broke out. We weren’t allowed to see her. After finally being released, she returned to the ER within hours, and ended up coding on the table. She survived…just barely. Reading Fisher-Wirth’s verse, “I can’t tell you how much I miss you,” brought up memories of not being able to see Julia, or the horrid but realistic thought that one day I may think those same words about my own sisters, brought on another torrid display of tears. Perhaps, don’t read All Night, All Day on a plane…or in public.

This book captures the range of emotions you go through when facing the death of a loved one. Anger was a big one for me when my dad was dying. Cushman’s piece, “Hitting the Wall,” really hit home. Finally, someone expressed exactly how I felt about my father’s medical treatment at the end of his life:

“The notes did not indicate that any end-of life discussion took place with my parents on that visit. Instead, they mentioned TB skin tests, steroid therapy and testosterone shots. While I was grateful that the physician seemed to be treating Dad’s physical condition as a whole, I was disturbed by his apparent lack of directness concerning Dad’s prognosis.”

Amen! I don’t know if it’s just the American medical system that’s at fault here, but I’m thankful Cushman pointed out the lack of transparency around death. There’s no cure for death. It’s part of life. So, why can’t physicians and caregivers be transparent about it? When is treatment simply torture? I was so frustrated with the doctors who kept doing tests and treating my father’s disease when everyone, except for him, knew he was dying. Right before he passed, he went back into the ER yet again, but this time my mom asked me to tell him the truth. God, that was hard. I told him he was dying, and he agreed with me. His voice was shaking, and he was totally panicked, but he agreed, and he said he’d come home. I got off the phone and fifteen minutes later the doctor told him he had some type of infection and he called me back and told me he wasn’t dying; he just had an infection, and they were giving him meds to treat it. He never left the hospital that day. He went into a diabetic coma and passed the day after Easter. Even though Cushman’s experience with her father’s passing was completely different than my own, it gave me some peace. Yes, it was heart wrenching, but it was also therapeutic because I saw a better way to deal with death and in my mind, I imagined that my father got to come home, like hers did, and die with some dignity surrounded by those he loved.

Mississippi Book Festival Panel: Jackson, Mississippi, August 19: Johnnie Bernhard, Averyell Kessler, Susan Cushman, Nancy Dolman-Hickson.

I can easily imagine this book finding homes at book clubs and definitely this is the book to gift to friends and family. It’s meant to create discourse. I couldn’t possibly write or talk about this book without sharing my experiences. I think that’s the point. Yet, when I posted a comment on Facebook announcing that I would be reviewing All Night, All Day for Southern Literary Review, an individual commented on my post and mentioned she never felt comfortable admitting she has had experiences with angels and would only talk about angels with close friends. So, I asked Cushman why she thought, if she did agree, that it is taboo to openly discuss experiences with angels and spirits. She responded with some really funny feedback.

SC: This is funny. Cassandra (King) wrote this in her essay for the book: “Whenever I mention my interest in the paranormal, my family tends to respond by exchanging glances behind my back and rolling their eyes. Even my former husband, a writer who had his own fascination with mystical experiences, cautioned me not to go off the deep end. I’m not sure, but I think he was saying that exploring the possibilities is fine and dandy, but if you want to be taken seriously as a writer, make sure you don’t stray beyond intellectual exploration. And for God’s sake, don’t write about it.” And yet here we are, writing about it! So far, I’ve gotten only positive feedback, especially at the in-person launch events at two bookstores in June—one in Memphis and one in Jackson, Mississippi—where we sold out of books.

DM: I hope I haven’t made readers think this book is nothing but a tear-jerker, because that’s simply not the case. Life is a series of comedies and tragedies, and this anthology covers the full spectrum. In fact, many of the pieces are quite humorous; the first stanza of Jacqueline Allen Trimble’s poem, “The Truth About Angels,” made me roar with laughter: “If I have entertained angels unaware, / I hope I made pot roast. / And served the good wine. / And used the good china. / They deserve this / and much more given the centuries of unpaid labor”

With a title like Nancy Dorman-Hickson’s, “A Brother Dying,” you wouldn’t expect to chuckle, but Dorman-Hickson’s depiction of her gay brother dying of AIDS was so poignant I felt like he was in the same room with me: “When Dennis was first diagnosed, his search for painless cures ran parallel to the various painkillers he sought all of his life. EST, recreational drug use, and the path to reincarnation via Shirley MacLaine were replaced over time with visualization, positive energy, and a macrobiotic diet. To be young, male, gay, and Mississippian requires looking for salvation in unlikely places.” Dennis’s story, his life, and the humor and joy he brought to Dorman-Hickson breaths life back into his memory though her words.

Renea Winchester’s “Waiting for her Angel” made me think beyond the last moments I had with my dad: “The brain has a way of capturing last moments and replacing everything else with the most recent, the “last” moment. We may not remember childhood memories, but few can forget loved one’s final moments, for they remain with us until we draw our own final breath.” That “last” moment always flashes in my mind when I think about dad, but I stuffed it down like I pretended he hadn’t really died. So, it wasn’t until maybe nine months later when I realized he was truly gone. Everyone thought I was doing so well with it. To admit he died was to remember that final moment and that’s pure trauma. But reading Winchester’s words and writing my own here, feels cathartic. I can move past the “last” moment and relish the lifetime of moments I had with him.

All Night, All Day is a beautifully crafted anthology that acknowledges the fleeting nature of life and, therefore, encourages us to recognize this and celebrate the time we have here. Though Cushman dedicated this anthology to Cassandra Conroy-King, it feels like it’s dedicated to anyone who has lost and mourned a loved one, and anyone who has found hope and peace in the messages and visitations of angels and the spirits of the deceased.

DM: Is this going to be an ongoing publication? Meaning, should we expect another anthology inspired by angels in the future? What are you working on now?

SC: You are the second person who has asked me that, but I think I’ve taken this topic as far as I want to. I’m actually putting together a new anthology right now. It’s a project inspired by my volunteer work with homeless people in Memphis, and some personal involvement with mental health issues, incarceration, and food insecurity. I’ve invited about twenty people who are the heads of organizations in Memphis who serve individuals struggling with those issues to contribute to the book, along with a number of volunteers and even an incarcerated woman. All the contributors live and/or work in Memphis, and many of them are not authors, but they have great stories to tell. I’m hoping to enlighten my readers to these issues and also inspire them to volunteer with some of the organizations that will be represented in the book.

DM: We are Southern Literary Review, thoroughly enjoyed reading All Night, All Day and appreciate the arduous work it takes to put such a powerful collection together. We wish you and those who contributed to the anthology much success.

BIO: Susan Cushman (Editor)This is the fourth anthology Susan Cushman edited. Previous collections include Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, Southern Writers on Writing, and The Pulpwood Queens Celebrate 20 Years! She is also the author of two novels: John and Mary Margaret and Cherry Bomb; two memoirs: Pilgrim Interrupted and Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s; and a short story collection: Friends of the Library. A native of Jackson, Mississippi, Susan lives in Memphis, Tennessee. You can read about all of her writing and subscribe to her blog at www.susancushman.com.




Leave a Reply