Interview With Kalyani Magazine

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How did you come up with the idea for the magazine? What was the inspiration for Kalyani?

A couple of years ago, I decided to take a writing class, led by the nurturing Sister Bisi, that just happened to be for women of color.  I adamantly was not taking it to “be a writer”, but just to get comfortable in my own skin.  Well, in the class, I was surrounded by other “non-writers” that had incredible voices.  I realized how so many of them didn’t know how to carve out a space for their voices to be heard. Coincidentally, at work I was doing a project researching ways to self-publish literary magazines, so I realized I could help carve that space out.

I also quickly realized, after starting Kalyani, that not only did people not know how to carve out spaces, but many women of color, including myself, don’t feel we are deserving of it.  As Kalyani, our job became not just to offer a space, but to lead people up to it and encourage them to realize that they deserve to be in it just as much as the next person.

In fact, as Sister Bisi says, if women of color remain under-represented in literature, what will history have to say about us? We need to allow ourselves to take that space.

How did you begin to gather materials for Kalyani? How did you go about the process of solicitation and advertising for the journal?

I started out by contacting people I knew – friends, organizations, writing groups.  Some of the writing came from seemingly unrelated places, such as my meditation centre. I did use social media, of course, and posted classified ads on most of the writers websites, but during that first issue I learned that it’s incredibly important not to underestimate the power of your in-person community.

Since then word has begun to spread. Submitters have told us that they heard about the magazine through a friend, writing group, or even professors (in addition to the professors themselves submitting).  We’ve tried our best to attend literary conferences that are within our budget as well.

What have you gained from working for Kalyani? How has this experience changed your perspective of reading literature and the process of creating a literary magazine?

Well, what I expected to gain by starting Kalyani was simply an understanding of the literary magazine world, and maybe to help a few people. But the biggest impact on me has been connection and a felt sense of each person’s humanity. Some of the e-mails people sent me, especially for our first theme “Victim”, hit me with the experience of every piece of writing someone creates – published or not, fiction or not – being a piece of their humanity.  I learned that as readers, and especially as gatekeepers, our job is to handle each piece with the priceless value it holds.  I have fallen in love with people through their writing – whether they have made it into the magazine or not.  And it has been a lesson to see how something can move me, but nobody else on the team. That has been an eye-opening experience for the budding writer-side of me.

Practically, one of my lessons learned is around the financial structures of the literary world. I naively went into this magazine thinking that funds would come, and only later found out that most magazines have a source of funding through its founders or an educational institution. Many grants don’t allow using money for paying contributors or marketing costs – our two biggest capacity-building needs. It sometimes feels like we—both the editors and authors– have to choose between using our time to make a magazine or find grants. We pride ourselves on our low operating costs and independence from mainstream funding but struggle with this balance, especially as one of our highest priorities is to be able to recognize our authors time and effort with financial contributions.

What do you hope the reader will find with Kalyani?

We set out to make a magazine that everyone can appreciate no matter how so-called “literary” they think they are.  I think we achieve this by creating a literary collage that allows readers to experience pieces of other people’s humanity and souls.  We want readers to find themselves sometimes pieces that reflected them in a way that they may not in other writing – whether they are a woman of color or not.  But we also want readers to experience life through a lens completely different than their own.  Not a lens which is filtered for a white American audience. We help keep voices authentic by providing glossaries at the end of each piece.  We want readers to open Kalyani and connect to diverse writing, writing which was intended, perhaps, for the writer themselves.

I notice each of your issues have different themes. How are these themes inspired? How do you come up with the ideas for a themed issue?

We feel pretty unique in how we create our themes.  All of our past Kalyani writers form part of our author community and they stay connected through a listserv.  So for themes, we ask them for their suggestions and preferences. Ultimately, we look for themes that are broad enough to speak to all the different communities of women of color, and communities of humans, and can be interpreted in diverse ways.

What do you look for in a publishable piece of writing?

Our selection team is from all over the world, different ethnicities, some are writers, some are readers, some have MFAs and edit other literary magazines and some have never taken a writing course. Therefore, we end up with diverse writing that resonated with at least some of us: it touches us, makes us learn something new, makes us look at something in a new way, makes us smile or laugh or feel warm, makes us feel afraid or scared.  Personally, I think the pieces make me feel a little less lonely – whatever that means.  On a practical note, the author needs to articulate how their writing fits in with the theme, and a bonus for that which takes a unique vantage point.

How do you see Kalyani evolving in the next several years?

A major evolution we hope to undertake is being more transparent in how we choose our writing.  Soon, we plan to have guest editors, who of course will incorporate the feedback from our diverse selection team.  We’re excited to be community-based by recruiting past authors of Kalyani to be future guest editors, and to make up the selection committee as well!

Also, we have had some amazing events in New York and we plan to continue to have more.  Perhaps in a few years time, we will expand our events to cities beyond New York as well.

What is the next exciting thing happening at Kalyani?

Well, we’re in the throes of preparing for our fourth issue, themed “Private Out Loud” – submissions are due at the end of January.  We are incredibly excited that it will feature an interview and poetry by the writer, educator and activist Cheryl Clarke!

We have also recently asked our past Kalyani authors to join our selection committee and the response has been overwhelming!

Finally, we are re-organizing our internal structure with a plan to have more room for volunteers to help Kalyani grow and be more and more amazing.