Quaint Magazine

Biting the Hand that Reads Us & a Call for Submissions

January 24, 20145 Comments

Coverage of female-identified writers and writers of color has become a hot topic recently. Who are we to complain? It’s important - vital, even - to address the imbalance, when it comes to publishing, reviewing and promoting writers of color, especially writers of color who identify as women. That’s why we started Quaint, and it’s why we’re so excited by literary journals like Room Magazine, Calyx, and Kalyani.

However, as hashtag activism and social justice on social media explode with support for people of color, women, trans* people and other communities typically excluded, not only from the literary sphere but from other, more essential and tangible spaces, the potential for the movement to be taken advantage of, to be used as a proverbial feather in one’s cap, increases.

Let’s all agree that we should not use diversity as a marketing tool. Let’s all agree that diversity isn’t something that we should pursue for a year, or a month; it isn’t something that should be pursued to fulfil a quota. And it isn’t something that we should attempt to capitalize off as a gimmick - not for internet brownie points, and most certainly not for money.

We’ve no doubt that writer/editor Ron Hogan was well-intentioned when he created this fundraiser, in order to make “a conscious commitment to covering more women, more writers of color, and more queer writers.” As someone who has worked in the on-line publishing industry since the early 1990s, Mr. Hogan is no doubt very well informed about the harrowing statistics regarding equal-opportunity publishing, and he evidently feels he’s in a unique position to help “right this imbalance.”

But here’s the thing: we don’t need Mr. Hogan. The entire point of pursuing a diversity of literature is to avoid having to answer to, having to get through to, having to seek approval from the people who hold racial, gendered, and classed privileges (especially not all three!). And as a white male, Mr. Hogan receives privileged status from that system, no matter how much he considers himself to be an ally. He’s asking readers to prove that they want diversity in book reviews by pledging money to the cause; we find that disrespectful. We’ve felt that need, that yearning in ourselves already, every time we’ve failed to find ourselves and our experiences reflected in publications that we respected and admired. Why do we have to prove our longing to anyone?

The premise of his column speaks to that position of privilege: he purports to use the column to his fundraising page starts with this horrifying premise: by doing this, he wants to "prove more diverse coverage won’t undermine meaningful literary discussions." If he is going to pursue this project with that attitude, doesn't that completely undermine the notion that these writers are even worth talking about in the first place?

That’s what really struck us. There are so many people making a conscious effort to bring greater attention to marginalized writers, and by and large, they are doing it because this is about community work, about privileging voices that matter. They are doing it because they genuinely believe it needs to be done, and if that means working off-the-clock to do it, so be it. While Quaint offers contributors the option to donate with submission, we distribute 100% of those funds back to contributors. And even still, we’re funding the magazine out of our own pockets. We are not alone in this.

By asking writers of marginalized identities to donate in order to create a space for reviews of our work, you’re essentially asking us to pay to be noticed. It’s not righting the imbalance, it’s tipping the scales with cash taken from the people you’re trying to support. While we agree wholeheartedly that writers, reviewers, and editors deserve to be paid for their work, we can’t ignore context here. Who are we paying, who is profiting, who will be making a name for themselves on the backs of other writers?

So. It wouldn’t do to whinge about such things if we weren’t planning to step up to the plate with a solution of our own, would it? In the spirit of righting wrongs and triumphing over evil, we’ve decided to start our own book review column. We’ll review books by female-identified writers of all stripes, and we’ll consciously commit to a 100% ratio in that regard. We can’t make promises yet on how many reviews we’ll do a month, and if we’re honest, we don’t know entirely where this project will go yet - maybe we’ll accept submitted reviews down the track, but for now they’ll be written by our staff, as and when we can, as often as possible.

So, if you have a book you’d like us to take a look at (poetry, prose, creative non-fiction and everything in-between), hit us up at quaintlitmag@gmail.com. We’re excited to read your work, and excited to review it: without a price tag.

(Image credit to Banksy, who probably doesn't care about image credit).

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5 comments on “Biting the Hand that Reads Us & a Call for Submissions”

  1. To clarify, though, I'm NOT asking writers to subscribe to Beacon for my column... save to the extent that those writers might ALSO be readers of book reviews, who are dissatisfied by the lack of inclusiveness and diversity in mainstream literary criticism, and would both like to see something better. I've never indicated in any way that I was hitting up WRITERS for support; my only interest is in producing a type of literary criticism I believe READERS want to see.

    I recognize your wider concerns; I gave them a LOT of consideration before deciding to push forward with this project, because I believe it's worth doing, and because I believe skepticism as to the sincerity of my intention, or the adequacy of my standing to tackle this problem, can and will be overcome by the quality of the work. For all my cultural and social privilege, however, I don't have the economic privilege to do this independently -- it is work, and I should like to receive fair economic value for it, no more and (knock wood) no less.

    I am NOT in a unique position to right this imbalance. I'm in the same position everybody else who engages in professional literary criticism is in, and this is the most viable way I've come up with to do something meaningful to address the problem.

    As to your revulsion to my proposal that "more diverse coverage won’t undermine meaningful literary discussions," that's in response to specific claims from mainstream media professionals who reject attempts to create balanced book review sections as "affirmative action," claiming that literary criticism should produce "a well-rounded meritocracy." Well, you and I both know how short they've fallen on the "well-rounded" front. What I'm saying is that the books and writers they're not discussing are just as significant as the ones they ARE discussing, and the most effective way to prove that is to read those writers, discuss them, and share what I've learned from them.

    In that spirit, it's great to see that you're joining The Critical Flame in articulating a firmly progressive editorial focus for your book reviews. I wish you great success, and I hope there'll come a day when you feel the same way about what I'm attempting at Beacon.

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    1. I guess the point we were trying to make is that the community who are going to be most interested in seeing a diversity of reviews is probably the same community who are producing the work for review (and/or people who belong to social movements and minority groups that include those writers). In other words, it's pretty unlikely that you're going to get funding from the mainstream lit community. Your funding will come from people who are already receptive to reading the work of marginalized groups. For that reason, it starts to seem a bit like asking for hand-outs from the group/s you're trying to uphold. Perhaps that's overly cynical, but it's hard not to be cynical when mainstream media is forever exploiting the trends of hashtag activism and social media/social justice.

      We absolutely hear you on not having the economic privilege to undertake unpaid projects. But the thing is, there are many, many people doing exactly what you propose to do for little-to-no pay, or on a volunteer basis. Magazines like the ones we mention, or like our own, do this because we believe it's the right thing to do. We incorporate the ideology of diversity into our day-to-day work, paid or unpaid, because that's what you do as a decent human. We don't ask for special funds to make it happen.

      So in other words, is it problematic for you to want to be paid for the work you do? Absolutely not! But the phrasing of this particular campaign is problematic because it makes it sound like you're asking for money not for the work you will do, but for making the effort of considering the work of marginalized groups. Which is something you should be doing anyway, if you truly believe in shining the light on work that is otherwise overlooked by mainstream media. I would hope that you, having worked as a lit critic for many years, would have been making a conscious effort to consider work from women, POC and queer writers anyway, without needing a special column to do it in.

      And of course, we at Quaint aren't in the same position to elevate the work of women, POC and LGBT writers as you are. Because of your experience, because of your position in the industry, and because of your privilege. But it's for that reason that we, respectfully, still think you should re-consider the tone/phrasing of your campaign, if nothing else. Sometimes you have to give the communities you're aiming to support the chance to speak for themselves, to do their own work, not act as a literary patriarchy holding the golden ticket to publication/review/publicity. Does that make sense? There are journals that have been around for 10 or 20+ years that are doing the same 'revolutionary' work you're undertaking with this campaign. Maybe your readers' time and money would be better spent supporting those grass-roots organizations, you know?

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  2. Thanks for the thoughtful response! I'll politely (and optimistically) disagree with you about the potential audience for these reviews; I concede that it often feels like writers are the only ones concerned about what's going on in book review sections, but I think that's primarily because they're very vocal about it AND already have an audience paying attention to them. But I firmly believe that readers care about these issues as well; it's why many of them began drifting towards alternative venues where they could find discussions about books and writers they actually care about.

    Beyond that, I'd distinguish between asking for subscribers to support doing something AT ALL and asking for subscribers to support doing something AT A CERTAIN SCALE. Folks who are familiar with my writing, especially over the last few years, know that I've spent a lot of time grappling with these issues, including the effort to remove the beam in my own eye. I do what I can in my freelance work, I do what I can on my own website, I do what I can in social media. If for some reason the Beacon project didn't succeed, I'd go back to that state of affairs.

    But, to circle back to something I said in the first comment, this is the most viable way I've come up with to do something more than that. In the wider scheme of things, as you point out, it's not revolutionary... save to the VERY LIMITED extent that, rather than creating another specialty publication, I'm aiming this diverse, inclusive content squarely at a general-interest readership. The first readers will almost certainly be those who are most passionate about the issue, absolutely! In the long run, though, I'm hoping to create a book review column that will appeal to anyone who wants informative, engaging literary criticism. (Although "literary criticism" is a term I'm not 100% thrilled with myself; google "being a book critic is nothing special" for more background.)

    Thanks for clarifying your thoughts on the aspects of the campaign that struck you as problematic. I'll be giving them further consideration, and weighing feedback from other sources, as I figure out how to see the campaign through!

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    1. I totally understand and appreciate your perspective, Ron. Thank you for listening, and for taking the time to clarify your own perspective. I hadn't personally considered the idea of specialty publication VS more mainstream/broader audience publication. It's good food for thought. But mostly, I greatly appreciate your coming here and engaging with us politely and thoughtfully. That makes absolutely all the difference. Thanks again.

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  3. "he community who are going to be most interested in seeing a diversity of reviews is probably the same community who are producing the work for review"

    That might be a recipe for failure and an underestimation of those of us who, like myself, do not necessarily belong to these communities but who do want to see and read more books by people of colour/women/anybody who isn't a straight white male.

    If you can use your privilege to amplify the messages sent by those without, shouldn't you do it? Providing you can do this without patronising or usurping the people you're trying to help?

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