July 24, 2015
Dear Intrepid Readers,
If you’re a follower of Rattle magazine, chances are, you’ve already heard about the conflict this week. There’s a larger question at hand that affects ALL editors of independent literary publications—the core of the original question posed to Rattle is this: Why isn’t there more diversity in your magazine?
Not even a little bit close, Ron.
This is a question that every editor should be asking themselves, whether or not their journal has come under scrutiny. In our peer group of editors, it’s a question that we’ve run into over and over again. As you may know, prior to the genesis of Zoetic Press, Editor-in-Chief Lise Quintana and I managed Lunch Ticket, Antioch University of Los Angeles’ literary journal. Antioch and Lunch Ticket are specifically dedicated to social justice as a core principle of the program and its publication. Even with a commitment to diversity and equal representation, we often found ourselves looking at the issue taking shape and noticing that there was a disconnect between the balance of authors we wanted to publish and the work that was actually being submitted. How does this imbalance happen, and more importantly, how can we ensure that writers from all kinds of backgrounds feel that our publications are safe spaces where there is room for their voices, their stories, their experiences?
The problem of academic programs, and literary journals lacking in diversity is not new, and we could go on and on about patriarchy, racial bias, and the Triple P Trifecta (power/privilege/positionality), but those problems, too, are nothing new. We all understand that this system is broken.
Diversifying our publications and reaching out to authors whose backgrounds, identities and stories are different from our own is everybody’s job. Our first step in bringing balance to our pages is that as editors, this is our quiet listening time: if a reader identifies a problem in our publication, or notices a lack of representation in our pages, though it is uncomfortable, we must sit with that discomfort and acknowledge an imbalance as a real problem, one we’re responsible for, and most importantly, one that can be corrected with a little more effort on our part. As editors, we must understand that we are gatekeepers, and to be a gatekeeper is to be in a position of power, and by extension, privilege. As Voltaire said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
We need to knock it off with this elitist Gandalf shit, editors.
“Quality,” like “mastery of craft,” is a subjective term, and most gatekeepers who have been through the academic system have been trained to identify both “quality” and “mastery of craft” by a system that is inherently flawed. It means that as editors, we should expand our definitions of what we call “mastery of craft” and educate ourselves about the kinds of literature that exist outside the binary borders of “the canon.” It is our job to teach ourselves these things. This also means that even when we have lofty ideals of reading blind, and “letting the work speak for itself,” we should be performing self-audits to ensure that we’re not unintentionally accepting work that demonstrates a bias, and checking our rosters before we publish to make sure that our pages represent the diversity of writers. We should be making sure that if we do discover an imbalance, we correct for it before we feel compelled to defend our errors or our oversights.
There’s not an easy answer or a quick fix for this problem. It’s one we have to address day by day, submission by submission, issue by issue. And we have to understand that on occasion, we’re going to fail. When we fail, if our audience calls on us to account for it, we must listen to the criticism, acknowledge the problem, and then look for a way to solve it. We’ll need to ask for help. To reach out to communities that are unfamiliar to us. To think about the makeup of our editorial teams – their backgrounds, their influences, and their tastes. To show ourselves as editors who are eager to learn from both other people’s stories and from our own mistakes.
Here’s to fucking up and learning from it!
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Until next week,