Interview with 39.4 Editor, Chelene Knight

Interview by 
Rebecca Russell

The Room Collective is very excited to have you on board as the new Managing Editor. How are you adjusting to the new role?

I was super excited when I was asked to step up as Managing Editor at Room. The mentoring I received from the previous Managing Editor, Rachel Thompson, has been the most amazing experience. She is one talented woman, and has done a lot to make Room such a great place for women to raise their voices. The entire Room Collective has been super supportive and I can honestly finally say I am doing what I love. This transition isn’t easy, that’s for sure! It’s been a big learning curve for me but there are also certain aspects of the job that are pretty darn rewarding, like working with such a talented group of women who all share a passion for the literary arts. The role itself is all encompassing and I feel like a huge tree with a million branches shooting out in multiple directions, and I am finally being challenged—this is a good thing.

How has your experience with the Collective influenced your own writing?

When I read incoming Room submissions, I notice right away how other people’s work will trigger or tug at something within my own writing. Working within a collective has also made me extremely aware of different styles, and genres. There’s always learning taking place for me whether I am reading submitted work or just discussing writing in general within the Collective. 

What can you tell us about the collection you're currently working on, Dear Current Occupant?

It seems as though Dear Current Occupant has been in the works all my life. I had what you could call a “tough childhood,” and I wanted to write about it as a way of healing and as a way of setting things free into the world. It turned out to be a mixed-genre compilation of sonnets, prose, short story, erasure, and more. My first book, Braided Skin (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2015), told a story of race and the struggles of being of mixed-ethnicity, and focused on belonging and place in the racial/family sense, whereas Dear Current Occupant tackles the need for “home” and “place” in terms of the physical house. In the book, the narrator is a young adult looking back on the thirty homes she’s lived in as a child. She writes to the “current occupants” of these places to reflect on her own experiences when she was living there. She learns a lot about her “self” through this process. She opens doors, she unlocks and digs up things that were buried. The book also includes photos of the actual houses in various perspectives. The photography was done by Jade Melnychuk, and Rich Riordan. I am happy to say the manuscript is in my publishers' hands as we speak.

What are some favourite things you've read recently?

I am reading Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye for the second time. It is one of my favourite books of all time. You just CANNOT get any better than the poetic and rhythmic language Morrison manages to infuse into her prose. I am also reading Jennifer Zilm’s Waiting Room, and so far, this is my favourite book of poetry in 2016. 

What do you think makes a good Room submission?

This is a tough question because we editors at Room are all looking for different things. For me, I need to be hooked right away. I need to connect with something, be it the story, the character, a line, or an image. Hook me. This is, of course, no easy task, but in terms of poetry, first and last lines are important. Sometimes I am reading a piece and it’s amazing, and then the ending just falls flat. Most times, a poem should have ended sooner, but the writer for some reason, kept writing.  I have a knack for spotting this!

39.4 is your first time editing an issue of Room. How does your experience as a writer inform the editing process for you?

I am apprehensive about editing my first issue, but I know that I have a ton of support and that compiling an entire issue of Room from front to back will be a fantastic experience. I am also going to be working with stellar poet, and Room collective member, Jónína Kirton, who is the assistant editor for 39.4. Both Jónína and I are really focused and ready to put together a ground-breaking issue.

Settling on a theme for an open issue can be a complex process. How are you navigating that process for 39.4?

Such a good question. 39.4 will publish the creative non-fiction contest winners so yes, it is hard to put together a theme when I don’t yet know what that winning piece will be like. But what Jónína and I have done early on, is secure our interview and commissioned writer and sort of loosely base a theme on what we know about their writing style. I also selected a few absolutely amazing pieces (much earlier than I expected) and incorporated those into the overall vision for 39.4. I will say, it is going to be a very unique issue. We will not disappoint.

“It's Canadian, feminist, and one of my favourite things ever.”

—bucketofrhymes, "29 Amazing Literary Magazines You Need To Be Reading", Buzzfeed Books

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Currently on Newsstands

  • Migration Cover
    Room 40.3, Migration
    Edited by Nav Nagra

    In this issue:

    Rasha Abdulhadi, Juliane Okot Bitek, Ariane Both, Aimee Henny Brown, Leonarda Carranza, Rose-Anne Chabot, Karla Comanda, Marita Dachsel, Stacy Gardner, Branwyn Holroyd, Sandeep Johal, Sharon Kirsch, Katherine Koller, Lydia Kwa, Emily McKibbon, Amanda Merpaw, Shelley Marie Motz, Dorothy Nielsen, Rita O’Grady, Kimberly Peterson, Claire Polders, Ramna Safeer, Nilofar Shidmehr, Arielle Spence, Chanda Stallman, Catherine J. Stewart, Florence Treadwell, Sarah Wolfson, Annie Wong

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