Conducted by Elena Fite, PD Poetry Editor, Newsletter Curator, and Social Media Assistant.
Meggie Royer is the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Persephone's Daughters.
1. With the release of our seventh issue also comes our fifth anniversary. When Persephone’s Daughters was founded in 2015, what vision did you have in mind for it? Have we reached or surpassed those goals?
When I founded Persephone’s Daughters in 2015, I was pretty lost in life, to put it mildly. The year prior I had experienced intimate partner sexual violence and it was devastating. Writing had for several years at that point been a significant passion of mine, and I turned to writing again to cope with the trauma. At the time, writing felt like one of the only constants in my life and I firmly believe it was one of the mechanisms I used to save my life. When I was writing about my trauma, though, I was unable to find any journals or literary spaces specifically for abuse survivors - there was a gap, and almost on a whim I decided to fill it. I honestly am not sure what I envisioned when I created the journal; it was something almost impulsive, an instinct. I wanted to feel safe and I wanted that safety for others. Surviving abuse is terribly, terribly lonely in so many ways. It is so full of grief.
I think we have surpassed that early vision of having one or two issues; I thought it would be a short-lived project. It wasn’t and I’m so glad for that. We have an entire film division, we’ve published seven issues in print and online, we held our first virtual event, we’ve connected with so many other literary agencies, and we’ve held and felt held by hundreds of survivors. As I work on this journal and in this community, I’m reminded of the quote “Be who you needed when you were younger.” I had a wonderful childhood, but after my trauma I felt like a child - lost, confused, floundering. I feel like with this journal I’ve been able to become who I needed when I was 19 and just entering that abusive relationship, and I hope that the many other writers and artists we’ve worked with have been able to become those people for themselves too.
2. What are your plans for the future, both for yourself and Persephone's Daughters?
I am planning to attend graduate school and obtain my Masters in Social Work and possibly a PhD; I’d love to focus on clinical practice with intimate partner violence survivors with mental health disorders and/or substance use disorder diagnoses. I’d also like to publish original research on a topic related to intimate partner violence. One day I’d love to teach writing workshops for survivors as well, and even create a garden or nature center specifically for survivors. In terms of Persephone’s Daughters, I want us to reach a decade! I’d love to hold in-person writing workshops and film festivals and work with school English classes, in clinics and hospitals, and in community centers to reach those who want to write and create about their trauma but haven’t been given the opportunity yet.
3. At only 26, you've one more than many accomplish in a lifetime - published multiple poetry collections, founded a literary journal, and became an inspiration to a large community of fellow survivors and authors alike. How does it feel, looking back on everything?
Thank you so much for your kind words! I often hear people say various iterations of the following to survivors: “Everything happens for a reason.” I, perhaps strangely enough, don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that no reason could ever be adequate to explain the experience of domestic violence, sexual violence, or child abuse. I often oscillate back and forth between being able to see that “silver lining” of what I’ve experienced, and wishing I had never experienced it at all. I don’t believe what was done to me was done for a reason, or at least any sufficient one. I don’t know if I will ever reach a point where I become grateful for my trauma, but I do know that I am grateful for the many wonderful people my trauma led me to.
I often find that the experience of time and chronology is so fraught when you are a trauma survivor. I am missing whole gaps of memories from my time in college during and after the abuse. There are a lot of memories missing for me during the time that I founded Persephone’s Daughters in 2015. I don’t think I will ever be able to recover them; those years often feel like a dream state or moving through life underwater. So sometimes, when I look back on everything, I feel so deeply what is missing. But those missing pieces also help bring into focus so much more clearly what is still here. These last few years have been a whirlwind. I often feel that I am suspended in time as 19-year-old me, still lost and floundering, because trauma took those years away from me. But from the community we have built at Persephone’s Daughters, I find some of the softness and joy filling in those empty spaces.
4. In your own words, what does it mean to be a survivor?
To me, being a survivor means that something was done to you that mattered. It altered your life in some way, perhaps in small gradual ways, or perhaps in large irrevocable ways. I know many people define “survivor” as someone who is able to move past their trauma, but to me a survivor is simply someone who experienced something painful that changed them, whether or not they were able to find peace after that change. This reminds me of the Stephen King quote “No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just come out the other side. Or you don’t.”
He’s right. Survival is often hell, and it’s blue and lonely. I often hear people call survivors “brave” or “courageous.” But what does that say about people who choose to end their lives because of the abuse? To me, there is a limit to what each person feels they can hold. Not being able to hold your pain anymore doesn’t mean you aren’t brave. It means something was done to you that mattered very, very much.
5. For some, trauma and abuse is a dominating force in our daily lives, even years after the source of our trauma has left the picture. Would you say that trauma is a defining feature in your personality, or anyone else's? What advice would you give to someone who feels they cannot define themselves past their trauma?
I would say that yes, trauma is a defining feature in my personality. And I say that with some embarrassment but also with great certainty. We often hear “You are not your trauma.” And no one is their trauma. It’s not possible to be a trauma. But when I think of who I am, first and foremost my trauma comes to mind. It isn’t me, but it is a defining feature of me. It dictates what I do professionally, what I do personally, how I interact with others, what I read, where I go, how I feel, and how I think. I mentioned Stephen King’s quote previously - he talks about “who you were.” It reminds me of when I saw Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, speak in person in 2019. She said that the most common question that anyone ever asks her, by far, is “When will I go back to the person I was?” And she said, “You can’t. No one can.” And so there is almost a sort of relief for me in admitting that I can’t return to the person I was before my trauma. There is almost a relief in letting go of what I can’t control.
To someone who feels that their trauma is all they are, I would tell them it’s only a fraction of who they are. It may be a fraction that dominates all the others, but they should know that it is their choice how to rearrange the pieces.
Meggie Royer is a Midwestern writer, domestic violence advocate, and the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Persephone’s Daughters, a literary and arts journal for abuse survivors. She has won numerous awards for her work and has been nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize. She thinks there is nothing better in this world than a finished poem.