Interview With Banango Street
Author: Rachel Hyman
1. How did you come up with the idea for the magazine? What was the inspiration for Banango Street?
In everything that we do–especially as pertains to putting out work on the net, in a public sphere, where there’s so much already making demands on people’s attention–we’ve tried to be thoughtful, pouring our effort into things we can fully stand behind. We take a lot of pride in our work. Creating Banango Street, the lit mag, was the second careful step in a progression that started with Banango Lit, the blog publishing essays, reviews, interviews, and other literary miscellanea that we started together in summer of 2011.
I remember waking up at some strange time of the night sometime in winter 2011-2012 to a text from Justin with the beginnings of the idea for Banango Street. It was just something that seemed to make sense: through the blog, and our general involvement, we had been immersed in a literary scene, and were constantly reading and discovering contemporary poetry and fiction. The blog that we built was one sort of creative (and critical) platform; the journal would be another sort of creative venue, one where we could publish original creative pieces (which people were already sending us, thinking the blog was some kind of outlet for that work). We wanted to take advantage of the audience we’ve managed to build up around our enterprises to help creative work be seen. I like to think the blog helped legitimate us as editors and curators; the journal has us trading on that trusted reputation to create and sustain another sort of creative publication.
2. What have you gained from working for Banango Street? How has this experience changed your perspective of reading literature and the process of creating a literary magazine?
I think first of all, I’ve gained a lot more appreciation for how much work goes into putting out a quality literary magazine. We’re basically always working on something–plenty of reading submissions; looking for artwork for the next issue; keeping up with contemporary poets so we can decide who to solicit; tweaking the website; promoting something or other. When people are talking about the rise of online journals, I see a lot of disparaging comments about how anyone can throw up a WordPress site, how now everyone’s a curator, etc….well, that’s simply not accurate to the amount of effort we put into producing Banango Street. So I have an even greater appreciation of how much work a journal takes, now that I’m on the other side of the table.
Reading submissions in such a wide variety of styles and voices has also given me more respect for the art form of poetry itself. People put themselves into their work, and I continue to marvel at this and find beauty in it, regardless of whether it’s work we incline to publish or not. Additionally, running a journal has taught me to think more critically about the poetry and literature that I’m drawn to myself. It has made me a better reader, and, I think, a better writer.
3. What do you hope the reader will find with Banango Street?
This is partially answered by the question below about what we’re looking for, much of which pertains to the sort of feeling and emotional resonance we believe the best poems create. As I mentioned, I see this common presumption that online journals are somehow worth less than their print counterparts. We hope Banango Street proves this to be false, shows itself (and the format of online lit journals in general) to be worthy in their own respect. I hope that the reader finds poetry and prose that is accessible, important, moving, and worth returning to.
4. What do you look for in a publishable piece of writing?
This is so hard to define. For as much faith as I place in words, they always seem to fall short when it comes to describing what we look for, or our general aesthetic. Here’s a couple things that seem to evoke the right feeling though, hazy as it might be: poetry that is powerful, that draws you inside of the atmosphere it creates, that sticks with you long after the reading. I know that the most important poems to me do. Can poetry change people’s life, teach them something about themselves and the world they inhabit? We have faith that it can, and we want the poems we publish to do these things. We are not particularly wedded to any particular form or style. We read with our guts and with our hearts.
5. How has Banango Street changed since its inception about a year or so ago?
If you look at what we published in Issue 1 and Issue 5, you can see a pretty big change as we’re refining our own sense of what we like. And I think we still are. The first issue, I’ll be honest–we published mostly people who were in our online community, and that was pretty much all lit at the time. Since then, we’ve just encountered a whole host of contemporary poetry peripheral to and outside of that scene, and our own tastes have shifted. We continue to look for poetry that is engaging, takes risks, makes us feel and stays with us–I mean, isn’t everyone? I think as we have continued to work on improving the quality of each successive issue and the audience for it has grown, we’ve gotten more serious about it as a curatorial and editorial enterprise.
6. How do you see Banango Street evolving in the next several years?
I think we will continue to refine our idea of what kind of work we’re looking for. Right now it feels like that is so much in flux, slippery and hard to pin down–which I don’t think is bad! We’d be a pretty boring journal, and eventually a dead one, if we weren’t changing for the better. One of the big decisions we’re toying around with is our relationship with fiction–we mostly publish poetry, and that’s where the bulk of our experience and passion lies. We’ve had two guest prose editors and we’re thinking of trying out some fiction readers–ways to ensure that the quality of the fiction we’re publishing matches up to the poetry. I wouldn’t be surprised if we change the way we do fiction. We’ve tossed around the idea of axing fiction altogether, or making it by solicitation only. Also, we started accepting artwork in Issue 5 and I’d love to see us getting and publishing more of those submissions. It creates a nice mix with the poetry and fiction. I guess what all this adds up to is that though it’s hard to project the direction it will take, Banango Street will continue to evolve. I hope for it to get a better sense of itself, and for us to get a better sense of it.
7. What is the next exciting thing happening at Banango Street?
The biggest piece of news is that we’re launching an echapbook arm in 2014 called Banango Editions. This feels like the next logical progression in the Banango story, and we’re very excited for the chance to publish longer works that are in line with the material we put out in the journal. This is the work that continues to impel us to do any of this. We think it’s an appropriate time to use our influence to support excellent writing and get that writing out in front of a broader audience, the same way we did from the blog to the journal. One of the questions I ask myself when I’m evaluating submissions for the journal is, “does this demand being seen by more people?” It may be small by, I don’t know, Paris Review standards, but there is some audience out there who will pay attention to work that Banango puts out. I am grateful for this audience and I look forward to building on the quality output they already know us for with this latest expansion into the chapbook realm.
Rachel Hyman was born in Chicago and currently writes and bikes in Detroit. She is the founder and head editor of Anthology of Chicago and co-editor of Banango Street. Rachel is the author of two chapbooks, Such Phantom and Until All The Blues And Greens Reveal Themselves Each Dawn (NAP). Other writing has been published or is forthcoming in Illuminati Girl Gang,The Bakery, and HOUSEFIRE.