#FemaleGaze is a new literary nonfiction online review exploring the intersections of femininity and society. I am delighted to be featured on their site in their second issue with an interview by Alicia Montellanos. We talk feminism, publishing, and the moon.
Do literary reviews, magazines, journals, etc. have a responsibility to check their content and make sure their selections present a diverse selection of writers? Does such a responsibility outweigh the limits it might place on organizations, and how might it be enforced or influenced?
McMullin: Any publishing venue that purports to publish “The Best” or the “Leading Voices Of,” yes, has the responsibility to check their content. “Best” implies a scouring, and if what that venue relies on for work is a singular, privileged demographic of people, it seems that they really haven’t scoured. You can look to the forthcoming Bettering American Poetry anthology for even more on this.
If we’re talking about the journals we count at VIDA, these are the gatekeeper publications that have influence over how one’s writing career is legitimized by the academy and literary business, which leads to jobs and further publication. Talking about using the academy as a litmus test for the legitimacy of writing is problematic in its own ways and deserves more attention than I’m giving here. But publishing work and providing platforms for authors has social implications and is part of an on-going cultural dialogue of what we chose to value and listen to.
While some may be classified with tastes more refined than others, “the best” is always subjective. It’s rooted in patriarchal and capitalist ideas that there is limited space and for a small group of people. “The best” is personal and often heavily influenced by that person’s individual and unique upbringing. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something to take into account when you’re a publisher.
Framing the conversation of intentionally including a diverse representation of writers within a publication as a potential limitation to that organization is problematic. Checking content is taking inventory which is a crucial aspect to any well managed group or org. I just don’t believe it when people suggest that taking inventory is a limitation or puts stresses on their resources. Knowing and understanding who you publish is the work. That is the job.
I’ve written about a few literary publications in my Spotlight On! column celebrating them for publishing exemplary work and including within their pages a diverse representation of writers. A pattern I have noticed between all of them is that they are transparent and have strong mission statements that specifically call for writing by women, people of color, non-binary individuals, writers with disabilities, veterans, people outside of academia–the list continues. They are active in seeking writing that is not of their own experience, and from it we all learn more about ourselves. And that’s part of the point, at least for me and my writing and reading, learning more about myself through knowing others, becoming more empathetic and perfecting my ability to love. We don’t exist in a vacuum, we are always contributing, and there’s always opportunity.