WHAT IT MEANS TO BE AN INCLUSIVE LITERARY JOURNAL

horizon-lineZINZI CLEMMONS ON THE IMPORTANCE OF EDITORS OF COLOR
From: 
Lit Hub

 

In 2010, I was part of a group of writers of color that founded Apogee Journal, the literary magazine that serves writers of marginalized identities—including race, gender, sexuality, class, and ability. At the time, there were no prominent magazines doing what we were doing. Literary journals that focused on identity were grouped in silos—there were outlets for African-Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ people… but no one publication that engaged each of these communities. We became that journal, first as a publication of Columbia’s MFA program, and then, the larger literary community. I no longer work for Apogee, but serve on its Advisory Board. (As such, the following represents my own opinion, not that of Apogee’s staff.)

In 2013, after two successful issues funded by university grants and an Indiegogo campaign, four key members, including myself, decided to move the journal out of Columbia and bring it to the larger public. Part of the reason was that our relationship to Columbia was contentious. After two issues, the administration still hesitated to be associated with us, and for a while, didn’t want us as an official university-sponsored publication. Predictably, when we eventually found success, that position changed, but by then we were resolved (and a bit resentful), and were motivated to cut ties.

Becoming independent entailed a huge amount of work in two key areas—first, we established a strong web presence, and then, most importantly, we raised funds. We spent many hours of unpaid time writing grant applications and undertaking a second crowdsource funding campaign. All of us were balancing work and writing—with the exception of me (I was living off a fellowship and inheritance in order to write my first novel)—with basically no support from our families. Apogee’s success in the literary world has been solid, not spectacular, but in view of our resources, our achievements amount to a small miracle.

In 2015, The Offing launched with a focus nearly identical to Apogee’s. As a channel of theLA Review of Books, The Offing benefited from the resources and reputation of its parent company. From the moment it arrived, it dominated the attention of the small group of literary magazines that cater to people of color. (In fact, around the time of its launch, as we were conducting an editor search, our top candidate had to be crossed of the list because she had already signed on with them).

Casey Rocheteau’s recent essay on her decision to leave the magazine brought to light issues behind the scenes that were shocking to many. A small group of white people in charge of a huge group of unpaid minorities has uncomfortable parallels. But the problem goes beyond what she mentioned in her article.

The Offing’s association with LARB meant that it diverted attention from smaller journals actually run by the people they are meant to serve, who—historically and pretty much across the board—lack resources, financial and otherwise. That attention is then directed back at the white-run enterprise, further benefiting them. This is how inequality prospers, within and without the literary landscape.

Although their mission statement claims, “The Offing actively seeks out and supports work by and about those often marginalized in the literary conversation,” it seems, in retrospect, and given Rocheteau’s essay, as well as the recent tone-deaf Hollywood Reporterprofile on LARB, that one of the reasons for the journal’s launch was to pre-empt criticisms of LARB’s lack of diversity, which was evident in the aforementioned article’s much-talked-about photo.

I spoke to Rocheteau last week, and she confirmed the inorganic nature of The Offing’s structure. She described a leadership group, editors and otherwise, out of sync and lacking a real connection to the magazine’s mission. In the wake of her resignation, she signed on to helm two independent journals with inclusive missions: Kinfolks Quarterly and Heart Journal Online. In both cases, she was offered the job by editors at those magazines, after they heard about the circumstances surrounding Rocheteau’s resignation, and—in some way—wanted to right the wrong that had been done. Read Rest of Article Here

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