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Good Endings: A Farewell From Editor-in-Chief Timothy Johnson

Timothy Johnson

In storytelling, endings are essential. I’m aware of the school of thought that stories aren’t about the endings but the journey; however, as a writer, I usually don’t even begin a story until I know how it ends. (I’m also aware of the school of thought that a story is dead the minute you know your ending, and I don’t agree with that either.) It’s the ending that compels me, that keeps me writing forward into the dark, knowing there’s a beacon some indefinable distance ahead. As a reader and consumer of stories, endings drive me. It’s a paradox, to be sure. As much as I don’t want a good story to be over, I do want to see the whole picture. Endings grant meaning to everything that comes before. Is the story a statement? A question? An exclamation? An introduction? A cause with the effect soon to follow? An inevitable result of something that came before? 

My predecessor, Melissa Wade, wrote about endings when she departed, too. Her sentiment, I think, was what makes an ending inherently not-sad is the thought that nothing really ends. Stories ebb and flow, rise and fall, peak and trough. You get it. 

Endings are, by matter of course, change. They are inflection points. The periods between sentences. Pull back enough, and we see the continuing flow of words, the next clause, the next paragraph, the next page, the next book and the next, their covers pressed together and together and together. 

My three years working on phoebe have made for a great and complete story, one that I will revisit from time to time. The journey has had its share of triumphs and failures—that ebb and flow. Some days, I wondered why in the world I committed to work on this thing, but most days, I remembered what I knew the day I signed up to be a reader for the journal:

I did it to raise up and celebrate some extraordinary literary and visual art. I did it for the personal growth and learning. I did it for the fun times. And I did it for the colleagues who have now become friends. I knew all of that would happen. The journey was about making it real, and the end has to happen for it to be so.

As a university-affiliated MFA-student-run journal, phoebe’s organizational structure necessarily promotes advancement. Those of us who want to work on this journal begin as readers, become staff, and ascend to leadership. The succession plan and redundancy ensure that when new leaders take over, they are familiar with the job they have to do. As those of us leaving phoebe write our endings, phoebe carries on her own story. That is to say, while I am leaving, it is not the end for this journal. 

During my time, phoebe thrived because of the efforts of her staff. For volume 51, this staff published ten amazing works of fiction, nine works of nonfiction and one craft essay (that influenced my own approach to this post), eighteen works of poetry, and eighteen Views, all with grace, style, and professionalism. I hope every person who contributed to phoebe’s volume 51 is proud and knows the time, dedication, and love they put into this journal created something beautiful and valuable—from beginning to end. The journey was a good one, and it was worth it.

I have a deep appreciation for every journey, and when the end comes, it inevitably pierces my heart. So sorry for leaking all over the place. But, I have so much love today for everyone who has been a part of phoebe, whether past, present, or future readers, staff, or contributors. Expressing my thanks is how I deal with the transformation and change. Thank you to the genre editors—Kevin Binder, Bareerah Ghani, Lena Crown, Emilie Knudsen, Chris Stanzione, and Lloyd Wallace—for two amazing issues. Thank you to the media team—Kate Keeney, Leah Sumrall, and Jihoon Park—for extending the reach of the journal to all corners of the internet. And thank you to my managing editor, Kayla Hare, for stitching it all together and taking up the mantle as you lead your own team into volume 52. I’m sure it will be a good one, too.

As we transition, as we change, phoebe will be off for the summer, but rest assured she’ll return in the fall. Look for next year’s staff to do great things and to invite us all in for the continued celebration of exceptional literary art. I know I’ll be there as an eager reader. I hope you’ll all join me.

A final thought on closings as punctuation, one that perhaps both eases the sadness of a farewell and makes an ending good: I think that if we pull back enough, we find the period does not require true finality, but instead offers a connection, the closing chain link that binds one loop to the next. We are all of us in this nexus that is the literary community, and phoebe has its own corner of that web where we came to rest for a time before continuing on. Now, it’s my time to place that final period and exit through the door. I don’t know if I’m ready to do it, but … here I go.

My very best,


Timothy Johnson

is a writer and editor living outside Washington, D.C., where he recently earned an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University. His published writing includes short fiction from Gamut, Deracine Magazine, Crystal Lake Publishing, and Inked in Gray Press. He was editor-in-chief of phoebe journal, and in 2021, he was an Alan Cheuse Center Fellow and a Pushcart Award nominee. Tweet at him @tim_the_writer. He will be delighted.

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