Interview With Atlas Review
Author: Natalie Eilbert
How did you come up with the idea for the magazine? What makes Atlas Review a unique part of the publishing community?
The co-founder and editor, Jillian Kuzma, and I met at an NYC publishing house where we handle eBooks. We bonded over our obvious love of books, and frequently attended readings in the area together. I’m a poet, and have been doing the Let’s Go To A Reading dance for some time. There’s a lot of diversity in these ventures, and I’d say that through any pervading cynicism caused by my experiences there, I’ve gained such a rich and nuanced sense of literature’s multiverse. Along the way, Jillian and I discovered that we’d each worked on literary journals before we met. We thought we’d give it a shot, just to see what would happen. Happily, in the wake of its initial success, I’m constantly asking myself in wonderment now, what the fuck is happening.
The Atlas Review is unique in that it merges established writers with those of perhaps unknown backgrounds. We do this by accepting 80% of our submissions through blind reading system and the remaining 20% come from writers and artists who we solicit. This process gave us an adrenaline shot for our first issue: We had on one page an interview with the one and only George Saunders, and then on another page, a fabulous debut story by Judy Caldwell Midero. Names are important to draw readers in, and we adore these renowned writers with every atom in our bodies. But names become meaningless for us when we vet unsolicited submissions. When it comes to the manuscript, we are only concerned with the voice. This is the only identity we seek and trust, the one that will lie to us and knock the air out of us at any moment.
We have a monthly reading series in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn at 61 Local hosted by poet and Atlas reader Monica McClure. For each reading, writers are paired with artists and that artist responds to their work prior to the event, which gets projected behind the reader during the event. It’s a great time, and it helps us to demonstrate our need for such artful fusions and collaborative efforts inside and outside the journal.
How did you begin to gather materials for the first issue of Atlas Review? How did you go about the process of solicitation and advertising the journal?
I approached Eileen Myles first, shaking in my boots. When she said she would submit, I was beside myself. I thought, If Eileen Myles (whom I wholly believe changed and continues to change the entire focus and charge of poetry) is willing to give us work, I will wear this fact like oilskins in a rainstorm and no one can possibly break my heart with a No. From there, we emailed as many writers and artists we admired as possible. Dolan Morgan, another editor, accomplished the phenomenal task of getting George Saunders to agree. Writers were saying, “Yes.”. We had something to work with and had to do something about that now. And the support from established writers, friends and strangers gave us the energy to do so. We used Facebook and Twitter as social network platforms. Jillian created and brilliantly maintains our website; in the beginning, she improved it every step of the way the more we noticed actual traffic on our site.
We launched our Kickstarter for Issue 1, in which I recorded a janky video on iMovie of myself sharpening knives and wearing a babushka, and yes, funky text faded in and out of each scene with a background of Outer Space (Dolan’s hand made a cameo). We raised our goal of $3,000 within a week of having the Kickstarter up—I still don’t even know how that happened, but will admit that we were pretty annoying about posting about Kickstarter every single day, sometimes twice. At one point, I announced that if we made a certain amount by the end of the day, I would cut all my hair off. Suffice it to say, one of our backers increased his donation enough to make that so. I happily chopped it off.
We also asked organizations like The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, Dzanc Books, and YesYes Books to advertise our Kickstarter campaign, as well as our initial call for submissions. That was extremely helpful. We got as many people as humanly possible on board to promote us.
What reader do you hope will happen upon Atlas Review? What do you hope they’ll find there?
What a question! Well, we hope our reader is someone who has a desire to engage in writers they might not normally encounter. We hope they find a new piece to admire, and we hope they reach out to that writer to say “Hey, thanks for that.” Ideally, our readers have an equal appreciation of poetry and prose, or at least a drive to learn and appreciate the genre they might not normally read. What we want at The Atlas Review is for readers to sit down with a cup of coffee or tea and read the issue from beginning to end. We arranged Issue 1 so that it can be read from page one to the end in a way that aesthetically and emotionally makes sense. We want our readers to enter into the same kind of dazzled state we as a staff were in as we read and reread our final product. That would be the absolute best.
What do you look for in a publishable piece of writing?
Hooboy. Throughout our process, we’re looking for work that stops us dead in our tracks. We received about 1000 submissions for the first issue and the pieces that spoke to us were pieces that often challenged and even blurred genre, subverted language and decorum, took risks, spoke through a nuanced and contemporary colloquialism, gave us panache as well as the grotesque, but above all, performed this and more with clear intention. This is one of those questions where I hear ricocheted “But what do you mean by subversion, and what do you mean by risk, and what do you mean by nuance and panache, and what on earth do you mean by intention?” as I respond. Clearly, it’s all very subjective. We’ve recruited more readers this reading period in the hopes that we can provide even more focus on individual pieces from our readers’ sundry backgrounds, that there is even more diversity and reach.
What is the next exciting thing happening at Atlas Review?
We just opened up submissions for Issue 2, which is exciting for us. Without jinxing ourselves too much by naming names, we’ve solicited a handful of phenomenal writers for the next issue. We’re working on making the website more interactive, so we can do really cool things like spotlight previous contributors, as well as elevate the artists we work with for our monthly reading series. We’ll also have an area on the site specifically for book reviews, featuring various guest reviewers each month. There is no one next thing happening for us, which is possibly the most exciting factor of all.
Nothing seems to stop Atlas Review from publishing excellent work. Although it’s in its first issue, the magazine has featured excellent work from both unknown and popular writers, including Eileen Myles, Sam Allingham and Bianca Stone. The Atlas Review features poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and visual art. The amount of support they’ve received isn’t surprising given the great things they’re doing for the literary community, including hosting the Atlas Reading Series. Keep a good eye on the Atlas Review. It’s on the rise! – LitBridge