Quaint Magazine is a new online literary magazine based out of New Orleans, that, like Room, only publishes work by female-identified authors. Founding editor / poetry editor Kia Groom and creative non-fiction editor Soleil Ho were kind enough to answer a few questions about Quaint, and how women-only publications can help combat sexism in the literary world.
ROOM: What inspired you to found Quaint Magazine?
KIA: Sometime in 2013 I read an article by author/publicist/international poet of mystery Monica Lita Storss about the gender divide in publishing, specifically with a view to hiring and publication in the world of poetry. The article is an explanation and defense of what is known as "Broetry" (Storss describes it as "a gorgeous male tribalism that reaches deep through shared history and experience, to a place beyond the snap of a hot August cross-breeze and tilted beers"). Her eventual conclusion is that men have the upper hand in the literary world because they "tribe" in a way that women do not, and that if only we tried a little harder we'd clearly all be as happy and professionally successful as she is. She also implied that few women were really trying. This pissed me off for a number of reasons (the author makes numerous assumptions about women and women in publishing/literature that I find to be either blatantly untrue or downright offensive), but ironically, it also motivated me to do exactly what she suggested. I started my own goddamn magazine, as a sort of reactionary middle-finger response both to this woman's article, and to the VIDA stats that bear out what most women already knew/felt in their bones: that there's nowhere near an equal representation of women in the publishing world. It wasn't really a revolutionary act - many, many people are working hard to represent literary women. But I figured one more magazine couldn't hurt (plus I like to think Quaint is developing a kind of unique aesthetic)!
SOLEIL: tl;dr: fuck broets
ROOM: What do you think the recent influx of new women-only publications and other creative spaces says about the literary world's attitudes (or shifting attitudes) towards female authors?
KIA: I think more people are becoming aware that there really is a huge gender divide in publishing. Organizations like VIDA are making this really hard to ignore (because we can see those statistics in black and white, as it were - it's no longer a suspicion, it's confirmed). This makes people angry and frustrated, understandably. But it also makes people passionate. It's the impetus to take action. I also think the internet and the rise of digital feminism are making it easier to link up with people who are on the same wave length as you, the people who can help you make these publications and creative spaces a reality. People deride twitter and tumblr feminism a lot (and in some instances, maybe that's justified), but these are spaces where people can instantly access a network of similarly minded people who they can build and create with. That's so cool! And of course digital media, e-publishing - all these things make actually bringing your project to life so much easier than it would have been ten, twenty, thirty years ago. That the wider literary community is embracing these publications I think speaks volumes to how we are, as a creative community, beginning to embrace the diversity that has always been present (but often silenced and dismissed) in the literary community. There's a long way to go, but things are slowly changing, which is awesome.
SOLEIL: In a sense, it seems like we fell into the "Lean In" trap. Not satisfied with the lack of publishing opportunities out there for women? Then start your own magazine and force the boys to pay attention to you! What I mean is that I have a lot of problems with the idea that we keep having to sit at the feet of the hegemonic literary machine in order to gobble up the scraps it deems fit to throw at us. It certainly isn't a relationship that makes me, as a cis woman writer of colour, feel welcome in the industry. On one hand, I'm personally excited by the prospect of having opened up a space for female-identified writers, queer writers, writers of colour. And yet we're aware that there are big problems of representation and institutional oppressions within the literary world that our little magazine cannot even begin to address. Gearing up to do our own thing is great, but changing the industry as a whole is a much more challenging prospect. The Internet has begun to democratize reading and writing, sure, but for whom? I think, despite it all, there are lingering issues of access and exclusion within the web-based publication paradigm that we still haven't been able to shake off. It's an uphill battle.
ROOM: It says on your website that: "Sometimes you have to be exclusionary to foster a more inclusive literary environment, overall." What do you mean by this statement and why do you think these "exclusive" spaces are needed?
KIA: This is a tricky one. It borders, I guess, on separatist feminism (because it utilizes the idea that woman-only spaces are beneficial), but there are aspects of separatist feminism that I don't entirely agree with. Quaint has been accused of being anti-men (as well as anti-white, interestingly), and I don't feel that we are that way at all. I think you can be exclusionary without being 'anti', but I understand that for some people that statement comes across as paradoxical. Here's the thing: there are "x-only" spaces and publications across all kinds of different groups. Long running magazines like Cosmo and Esquire are pretty clearly by and for women and men (respectively), they just aren't perhaps as blatant about it as we are. In the literary world, there are plenty of magazines that cater only to women, only to people of colour, only to the queer community. When, as a group, you are so under-represented and so marginalized, I think the reaction of making a safe space just for your group (and really, the Quaint 'group' is pretty broad, since we accept and encourage submissions from all female-identified people, regardless of race, orientation, and so on) is understandable and warranted. The imbalance in the publishing world is there for all to see: men are published more. Men are reviewed more. This is a statistical fact. So if we have a few corners of the literary world where women are published exclusively, I see that as a balancing of the scales. If men are upset by this, well...that's unfortunate. But it strikes me as odd that they would be, since the publishing world is pretty much their oyster.
SOLEIL: I've heard from multiple female-identified writers and submitters that working with a cis male editor can be an incredibly frustrating process. Within creative nonfiction, that's been a huge issue. It can be difficult to reconcile writing about one's own experiences with an editor whose identity is based on the marginalization or pathologizing of said experiences. It can be scary and even emotionally violent at times. So when we talk about being inclusive, we mean that in terms of editing as well; this is a space where we work to be fully aware of the intersections of our privileges and how they inform our perspectives. That is to say, we are not objective and we do not pretend to be, and that puts us leagues ahead of the editorial boards of other publications that claim that idea for themselves.
ROOM: How do you think women-only publications (and other publications that only feature marginalized groups such as LGBT writers and writers of colour) and movements such as the VIDA / CWILA counts and #readwomen2014 affect change?
KIA: It goes back to that balancing of the scales. It's a drop in the bucket, for now - we're still far from being the majority. But it draws attention to the cause. VIDA makes it impossible to write off the imbalance as just sour grapes, on the part of minority groups. We now have more than just anecdotal evidence to suggest that men receive more attention in the literary world. Magazines like Room, like Quaint, like Calyx, like Kalyani put the work of minorities center stage, which proves to the skeptical folk in our community that no, actually, it's not that fewer women, people of colour and queer-identified people are writing. It's not that fewer people from these groups are submitting. And it's definitely not that their writing is "less good." If you read an issue of any of these magazines, you come across some totally breath-taking work, and my hope is that this will bring attention to writers who have long deserved it. So it's a two-pronged thing: you bring attention to the imbalance, and then you put the work of those under-represented writers in the spotlight so that, hopefully, other publications begin to notice, begin to affect change. And I think you can see that borne out in the VIDA stats, where some magazines (like Tin House and Paris Review) are making a conscious effort to publish more women.
SOLEIL: Honestly, I think being a force for changing discourses around writing and writers is our most important role as a magazine. On a personal and philosophical level, I don't believe that fighting for a seat at the table makes sense, if we're talking about creating lasting change. The table itself is made of rotten wood. Why would we want to sit there in the first place? Let's look beyond that and foster discussions of what it means to be a writer, what it means to have something to say, what it means to "be published." Let's talk about what and whom this is all for. Is it useful for Quaint and its sister publications to exist if they're only read and accessed by people of a certain social class? Can writers exist without being chained to the approval of publishing houses and magazines? How do we help our female-identified writers get the resources they need to do the work they must do, without having to pare down the less consumable parts of themselves and their work? Let's go from there.
ROOM: For our #readwomen2014 reading list - name your five favourite female authors!
Dude, this is hard! I'm going to give you a list from Kia and a list from Soleil, and you can combine them or publish both – haha. [Ed. Note: Kept both lists. Too awesome to cut.]
KIA (poetry & prose)
* Lara Glenum - poetry
* Grace Krilanovich - prose (her first novel The Orange Eats Creeps is possibly the best book I've ever read)
* Catherynne Valente - prose with a speculative fiction bent. So weird, so lyrical, so amazing.
* Mara Wilson - (yes, of child-actor fame) now a playwright and blogger and contributor to Cracked.com. She's hilarious. I love her. I stayed up all night reading her blog and then twitter fangirled her.
* Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz - poetry
SOLEIL (creative non-fiction)
* Zadie Smith
* Mallory Ortberg
* Assata Shakur
* Janet Mock