Interview With Aji Magazine

Logo of Aji Magazine

Author: Erin O’Neill Armendarez

How did you come up with the idea for Aji Magazine? What adjective would you personally use to describe your journal?

The inspiration for Aji stemmed from an impulse, an intuition almost, a desire to feed my own creative spirit. I’m a poet and have spent most of the last two years working mainly in academic administration. One day, I was in my office acutely aware that I was missing something essential. I missed the creative writing workshops, the open mics, the readings, the community of writers and artists—and it occurred to me that I knew several wonderful people who might be willing to work with me to create an online magazine. Part of the fun is having an ongoing excuse to work with those people—they are the best.

Naming the magazine was a true challenge. We settled on Aji because we wanted to create something that would stimulate, something with a little heat that would do for the mind what a bit of fresh, hot pepper will do for a dish.

One adjective that describes the magazine? I guess I’d simply say open. We are open to more than the professionally polished works of artists well-trained and well-skilled in their chosen crafts. We are open to a variety of voices, approaches, and aesthetics, including those that could be labeled novice. We don’t want to exclude a work simply because it breaks an obvious rule we’ve been taught not to break.

We know the rules of the day, sure. But no one is paying to read Aji, so we feel perfectly justified in publishing whatever we like. As artists, we all aim for true excellence, but it is also fun to see what happens along the way.

How did you begin to gather materials for the first issue of Aji Magazine? How did you go about the process of solicitation and advertising for the journal?

We just took a leap of faith—we knew there were already a bazillion magazines online. Once we had our basic concept and timelines in place, we emailed colleagues and various venues announcing our call for creative work. A staff member suggested I contact Louie Crew Clay at Rutgers to see if he would add us to his online list of poetry publishers accepting electronic submissions. He was exceptionally gracious, and was glad to list us so long as we were not requiring fees from writers or expecting them to purchase anything. More than likely, that initial listing was responsible for many of the submissions we received for our inaugural issue.

All our advertising has been viral, people sharing links and email addresses with others in the creative community. Last fall, after our first issue was published online, we received notice that we were also being listed on the New Pages Guide to Literary Magazines, again, for free. We were thrilled.

For now, Aji does not receive any money from anyone, nor do we charge anyone for listing links on our site. It costs us a little something to run the magazine, and in the future we may make hard copy issues available for purchase slightly above cost to help offset our overhead, but for now we are content to keep our operations streamlined and small so we can continue to offer a relationship with writers and artists that is more personal. At this point, everyone who submits receives a personal email from me on whether or not his or her submission has been accepted for publication.

What do you look for in a publishable piece of writing? What tips would you give to a submitter?

Aji editors are a very mixed group—we think that’s healthy. Early on, we decided we would publish work that is engaging, work that entices readers to keep reading and viewers to keep exploring. We do not censor, and we don’t mind publishing work that is a bit edgy or unorthodox if our editors like it.

We don’t want to get into the business of editing other writers’ work—to change even a punctuation mark might change meaning—so we depend upon writers to go over their own work again and again to be sure that every word is spelled correctly and every punctuation mark is in the right place.

We like for writers to be consistent in their approach to a particular piece, and to have carefully thought through their own stylistic choices. If we cannot understand why a writer has decided to use standard punctuation, for example, in one stanza but not the next, we are very hesitant to publish his or her work. We do not expect every piece to be easily paraphrased—in fact many of us like a piece that defies reduction—but what thrills us is a piece that is carefully crafted, deliberately created to communicate in some way.

We have some educated lay readers as editors because we believe that excellent creative work should fascinate literate readers outside of the academy. To us, that’s important.

We publish work from some emerging writers, those who may not have published anywhere before, so long as that work is crafted with care. A certain amount of error is acceptable, but not much, or we lose credibility, so those interested in submitting should send us polished pieces, their very best. And they should follow our submission guidelines—this is really the only way to get reviewed.

Submissions don’t have to relate to the theme of an upcoming issue, and much of what we publish (roughly half, at this point) is off the issue’s advertised theme.

Tell us about a piece you recently published that got you and the staff excited. Why did you love it? 

Because Aji’s editors are such a diverse group, it is rare when everyone gives a submission a clear, no- holds-barred thumbs up. But it happens, as it did when we read the opening lines of Mark Mitchell’s poem “Wild Parrots,” which will be published in our spring 2015 issue:

The parrot speaks Latin. His accent
is Chinese, blending scholar and sailor.
He drops verbs like sesame seeds.
Still, you listen, lean in close
For each squawked word. . . .

Those lines are evocative; the characterization fascinated us, pulled us deeper into the poem to contemplate its absurdities alongside the development of its ideas.

And I think I speak for us all in saying we felt excited about publishing Lazola Pambo’s poem “Compassion” in our fall 2014 issue—we believe his writing and commitment to his art hold much promise—but we honestly feel that way about every emerging artist whose creations we publish. We get so much joy from reading and viewing their work. We consider it a privilege to provide a forum for such disparate, fresh perspectives.

What is the next exciting thing happening at Aji Magazine?

Our spring 2015 issue will go online on or around May 1, 2015, and we are very excited about the graphic work and also the variety of short fiction we will be publishing—we are also thrilled to be publishing an international slate of writers and artists as well as two interviews.