Interview With Terrain.org

Logo of Terrain.org

Author: Simmons B. Buntin

Picture of Simmons BuntinWhat makes Terrain.org a unique part of the publishing community?

History and context: Terrain.org was the first online environmental magazine, making our debut in 1997. And because we’ve expanded our offerings, I think we’re still the most comprehensive journal that brings together literary and technical work online around the built and natural environments. Last fall we began our quarterly run after publishing two theme-based issues annually for 15 years. Now we publish two open plus two theme-based issues per year in a mix of contributions, ranging from poetry, essays, fiction, and hybrid forms to articles and the Unsprawl case study. Each issue also includes a guest editorial, columns, an interview, the ARTerrain gallery, and reviews. Our blog publishes at least weekly, with reviews, essays, commentary, guest blog entries, and the like. We also have an annual, theme-based contest in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. This year’s theme is “Elemental” and submissions are due by September 1.

And while we prefer previously unpublished work, we do consider previously published work—including book excerpts—as long as it’s not already available online elsewhere (note that contest submissions must be previously unpublished).

We’re also ad-free, and there’s no cost to read our magazine, which aligns nicely with our small goal of changing the world—or at least helping to eloquently educate it.

What sort of qualities do you look for in a manuscript or piece of work that you are considering for publication? 

Surprise, delight, tone, voice—you know, excellence. What we seek is place-based work that sings (sometimes literally). That’s broad, I realize, but if you look at Terrain.org, you’ll find we like a variety of work in a variety of styles. In nearly every case, however, the work is eloquent, concise, and questioning. It has a sense of place, or a yearning to find that sense. What we don’t want is the stuff everyone has read before, or that feels like that—the nature walk, the suburbs are bad, the end of the world. Unless it knocks are socks off, which sometimes it does. And we don’t like typos.

Do you have a specific aesthetic preference? How would you describe that aesthetic? 

Because we publish such a broad range of work, including hybrid forms, photo essays, online slideshows, audio, and videos, it’s hard to identify a single aesthetic preference. In general, you’ll find more narrative work (whether poetry or prose) and fewer experimental contributions—though that doesn’t mean less lyrical. Our aesthetic is place, which when you think about it is a human construct.

What is the readership like for Terrain.org?  What do you imagine your typical reader is like?

Right now we’re averaging just over 100,000 visits per issue. My sense is our readers are broader than most journals because of our literary and technical overlap. Many of our readers are architects, urban designers, planners, city and county decision-makers, landscape architects, gardeners, and environmental advocates. Many of our readers are lovers of good literature, whether student or worker bee or executive or entrepreneur or whatever. We get much traffic from the spectrum of issues published over the last 15 years because our contributions are archived indefinitely (or until the Internets go down, and then I suppose we have larger issues at hand).

Also, our typical reader is educated, passionate about culture and place, and dashingly good-looking—much like you.

What is the next exciting thing happening at Terrain.org?

Our next issue, with the theme of “Craft”, publishes at the end of April. Then I get to breathe and maybe even sleep again. Seriously, though, it’s going to be a fantastic issue that includes an interview with the godfather of New Urbanism Andres Duany; columns by Elizabeth Dodd and Lauret Savoy; poetry by the likes of David Wagoner, Julie Lein, and Maureen Kingston plus an online chapbook by a new, young poet; a long Utah poem sequence by Christopher Cokinos with photographs by Stephen Trimble; quite amazing fiction by Katie Rogin, Steve Edwards, and David Rose; watery essays by Tamie Marie Fields and Mark Spitzer plus a canyon-y essay by Nathaniel Brodie; urban paintings by Kate Protage; and Massachusetts’ fascinating BioMap 2 project as the Unsprawl case study.

Organizationally, we’re pursuing nonprofit incorporation so we can (somehow, any volunteers?) fundraise to offset what now are predominantly personal expenses funded by me and the editorial board. Once we cover our costs, we’ll begin paying contributors, which I think is important for all kinds of reasons.

Otherwise, Terrain.org editorial board member Ken Pirie and I just published a book of comprehensively updated Terrain.org Unsprawl case studies, plus one new project, titled Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places (Planetizen Press). Details at https://www.planetizen.com/store/unsprawl. 

And we have these nifty new oval Terrain.org stickers now, too. May I send you one?