In Conversation with the Editors of Room's December 2018 Issue

Interview by 
Alissa McArthur

Spring may not have sprung wherever you are, but at least we have Room 41.4 to look forward to. This is your chance to be published alongside Kim Fu, author of For Today I Am a Boy and The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore and an interview with Ayana Mathis, whose novel The Twelve Tribes of Hattie was selected for Oprah’s Book Club.

Don’t forget to submit your best writing on any theme before April 30, 2018! Underrepresented writers—including but not limited to women and nonbinary writers who are Black, Indigenous, people of colour, queer and/or disabled—are especially encouraged to submit. With a couple weeks to go until the submission deadline, let’s see what the editorial team is thinking.

ROOM: What excites you about working on this issue of Room?

Geffen Semach: What excites me the most is the fact that I am now living in London, England. Roomies are located all over the place, which I think allows the mag to involve a lot of different voices.

Alissa McArthur: This is my first issue as editor, so it’s an exciting opportunity to work on an issue from start to finish—from submissions call to launch party. I’m lucky to have a great team in Geffen and Yvonne. I’m looking forward to seeing how we’ll work together to choose a unique collection of work.

I can’t wait to read all the great new pieces by writers across the country. Please submit! There’s still time!

Yvonne Robertson: As a Room reader, I’m always so excited to see the wide range of fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry we receive from new and established Canadian writers. This issue is no different. I love being able to witness first-hand the wealth of talent that exists in the Canadian literary landscape.

In particular, it’s wonderful to see the courage that comes with a young, emerging, or underrepresented writer submitting their work for the first time. I’m happy to be part of a publication that supports this. With an open call, it will be great to see this talent unbounded by theme or topic.

This is also my first issue as a shadow editor, so I’m very excited to see the behind-the-scenes process of putting a Room issue together, and testing my skills in a more editorial role!

ROOM: What do you hope to see in the submissions for issue 41.4?

AM: I know everyone who submits to Room is giving us their lovingly honed pieces—that part’s a given. What will make a piece stand out for me is specificity. When a writer really digs in, whether it’s into a setting, a detail, an idea, or whatever, that’s what captures my attention. Don’t be afraid that your story might not be considered “universal” or “relatable” or your form is unconventional.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do a unique take on an oft-told story. But in that case, the way you tell the story (or write the poem) will matter all the more.

GS: It’s easy to say I’m hoping to be surprised by exciting forms and narratives, and I am! I am so open to the different and fresh and weird-but-great. But what I think I’m really interested in these days is the idea. I want to see a strong idea be pried open and examined, thought through, and executed. Whether that form is more traditional or flipped on its head is up to the author, but I want to see agency and intention.

ROOM: Do you have a favourite issue of Room?

GS: One issue?! Way too hard! I am still pretty obsessed with 40.2—Our Rubble, Our Loss. It had Carleigh Baker’s short story, Midwives, in it which is one of my favourite fiction pieces I’ve seen in Room.

AM: Like Geffen says, it’s hard to choose just one. 39.1, Women of Colour, is outstanding and it was long overdue for Room. Nailah, Christina, and Kayi did a tremendous job. And the cover art by Apanaki Temitayo Minerve is stunning.

I also loved Doretta Lau’s commission in 38.3, Trespass. Taryn Hubbard’s interview with Eden Robinson in 39.3, Canadian Gothic, sticks in my mind as well.

ROOM: In the current Canadian publishing landscape, how do you see the role of a lit mag like Room?

AM: I hope that Room inspires emerging writers who feel discouraged by the ongoing disasters of CanLit (which Alicia Elliott, among others, has painstakingly chronicled). Room exists to showcase new writing and art by creators who haven’t established their careers. I want those writers to know we’re here to listen to and amplify what you have to say.

YR: Room provides an opportunity and a platform for emerging, underrepresented, and marginalized writers. The current Canadian publishing scene often gives preference to established writers and “safer bets.” As a feminist literary magazine, Room provides an important voice and a space for people who might not otherwise be heard. Room also creates a safe space and fosters a sense of community that transcends geographical boundaries, against a larger, somewhat intimidating publishing scene, which can be invaluable to emerging and underrepresented writers.

GS: I love lit mags. Room, having been around for quite some time, has grown and shaped the Roomies who work on it as well as the folks who are published in it. Throughout this whole time, authors have grown with it, starting off as blossoming writers submitting for the first time, and later being printed among the pages again. Lit mags offer a great opportunity to showcase new, exciting, diverse voices alongside Canada’s more known ones. That’s pretty special and I hope lit mags keep making choices to expand and grow with their writers.

ROOM: Can you recommend any good books you've read lately?

YR: One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter [by Scaachi Koul], You Can’t Touch My Hair [by Phoebe Robinson], and The Inconvenient Indian [by Thomas King]. I loved how each of these books used humour to convey difficult, but important subject matter.

GS: Just finished Carmen Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties which was so fantastic. So many surprising narratives. Also, The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa, and Pajtim Statovci’s My Cat Yugoslavia—starting to see a trend here?

AM: 2018 has blown me away with amazing reads. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi is unlike anything I’ve ever read before and completely brilliant. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline was such a powerful, hopeful read. Djamila Ibrahim’s debut short story collection Things are Good Now was an exciting discovery. It’s moving, dark, and emotional.

Right now I’m reading the captivating Sodom Road Exit by Room’s own Amber Dawn. Next up, I’m dying to read our managing editor Chelene Knight’s Dear Current Occupant.

Alissa is a former Vancouverite now based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Ricepaper Magazinecanlit.ca24 Hours Vancouver, and Room 37.3. She worked at Canadian Literature, a quarterly academic journal, where she helped research, write, edit, and code HTML for CanLit Guides, an online teaching resource for literature instructors.

After completing a Master of Journalism at UBC, Yvonne Robertson worked as a journalist and editor in Vancouver, writing and editing long-form feature pieces as well as short news stories. She’s since switched gears slightly, returning to Toronto and taking a position as a communications coordinator at a non-profit. An avid reader, passionate about arts and culture, arts activism, and social justice, Yvonne looks to find ways to expose and subvert systemic injustices, particularly through writing and artistic expression. She also love dancing and cats.

Geffen graduated from Dalhousie University with a Bachelor of Arts, with a double major in English and Creative Writing and a minor in Russian studies. At Dalhousie, she took part in workshops with Carole Langille, Sue Goyette, Jamie Forester, and Alexander MacLeod at Saint Mary’s University. While in university, she joined the editorial board of Dalhousie’s literary magazine, Fathom, and became Dr. Yuri Leving’s editorial assistant for The Nabokov Online Journal. Since graduating, she has worked as an online editor for Momentum magazine. She is currently working as a copy writer and social media specialist at a marketing agency called Y5 Creative.

“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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