We have a tendency, here at Witness, to choose issue themes that are multi-dimensional: words that hold complex (even contradictory) meanings, and themes that ask readers to engage with the conceptual and the dynamic simultaneously. This year is no exception. “Disarm,” as a command, is a call to lay our weapons down. Besides the literal implications, though, this idea can also be read as a prompt to remove the figurative “armor” that keeps us from realizing our more authentic selves, our deeper truths. That armor comes in different forms: fear, grief, duty, passivity. So while, traditionally, to “disarm” someone/something is to render them powerless, a shift of the definition highlights the empowerment that comes when we let go of that which doesn’t truly protect us.

The poems, stories, and essays in this issue ask important questions: how does the wielding of a weapon change a life? How has violence shaped our history and current cultural context? And also: What does it take for a person to let their guard down? How do we disarm each other, daily?

In this issue you’ll also find a special section featuring the winners of the first-ever Witness Literary Awards, held in partnership with Black Mountain Institute’s fellowship program. Poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib, and fiction writer Lesley Nneka Arimah, who are BMI’s 2018-2019 Shearing Fellows, selected a first-place winner and runner-up from an incredibly diverse and exciting pool of work. Submissions for our inaugural year far exceeded our expectations both in number and in quality, and we’re thrilled to share the winning work by emerging talents Sophia Stid, Renia White, Jane Pek, and John Tait in these pages.

As the magazine evolves and continues to seek out writing that embodies the “modern writer as witness to their times,” we really want to thank you, readers, for watching along with us.