Next week, a new literary magazine, the Offing, will premiere online. Based (for the most part) in Los Angeles, where it is affiliated with the Los Angeles Review of Books Channels project, it is really a national, or even international, effort, which aspires to break down boundaries, to level the playing field.
Editor in chief Darcy Cosper (who is also an editor at LARB, although the Offing is editorially and financially independent) and executive editors Airea D. Matthews and Michael D. Snediker head up an editorial team that also includes Danez Smith, Leslie Parry and Margaret Wappler; the magazine, its website tells us, "is a place for new and emerging artists to test their voices, and for established artists to test their limits."
Among these limits are those of diversity, which is a key part of the Offing's focus, to break down barriers, to blur — or even more, to eclipse — the lines that keep certain writers, certain communities, on the edges of the conversation, to redefine the mainstream by willfully stepping outside the bounds.
The Offing will publish fiction, poetry and nonfiction. It will feature humor, writing about place, annotated lists, visual art — in short, a grab bag of approaches to a world that has increasingly become a landscape of its own. As for what this means, I recently corresponded, via email, with Matthews, Snediker and Cosper about their intentions for the magazine.
Let's start with the Offing's mission of diversity: "to seek out work by and about those often marginalized in the literary conversation, including people of color, women and gender non-conformists, and members of the LGBTQ and differently abled communities."
Airea D. Matthews: We want to broaden the literary conversation. The making of art often happens in insularity — inside of our thoughts and bodies. But while social media and technology offer an alternative discourse, we unfortunately discover that we are farther apart than we ever suspected. Cultural fragmentation persists, privilege persists, belief systems garnered in the familiar isolation of our singular experiences persist.
The sharing of art, then, must necessarily be democratic and encourage plurality — a simple recognition that valuable work is being made in the center and on the periphery; and there's space for all. We aren't asking artists to migrate to the center to be heard; we're providing a platform for those working in circumferential spaces, by choice, circumstance or experiment.
Editorially, this means we are growing — exploring our predilections and interrogating them under the white-hot light of fierce work. Ultimately, in order to clear a path for marginalized, or divergent, voices, we have to value ”openness to otherness,” and hold space for those placed beyond the pale.
Given this intention — to embody a mix of sensibilities, genres, communities — what is the center, the through line, that unites these parts?
ADM: The definition of "offing" is the most distant part of the ocean that can be seen from the shore. We are guided by that idea. We are looking past the breakers to the vanishing line, the point where the sky and earth merge. We honor the work of farsight and imagination. If we look, we see. As such, the through line is vision.
How does the editor help push that vision? As facilitator, advocate, but also curator?
ADM: The role of the editor morphs over time. In these initial stages, we are at once organizers and curators, trying to make sure the work that gets chosen aligns with our goals for the magazine. To that end, the executive editors are in frequent talks with the department editors. We have conversations about submissions: What does the work aspire to? What questions does it raise or leave unasked? I suppose in this way we are in a constant state of complex advocacy — for our readers, for the authors and for our editors. We're a tribe of risk-loving craftsfolk who desire, above all else, artistic provision for the writer who insists on correspondence rather than closure.
The Offing encourages writers to test their boundaries — in terms of both perspective and style. What does such a sensibility look like?
Michael D. Snediker: The sensibility for me is in the testing: I think of Thoreau's account of "Walden" as an experiment, or Dickinson's "crumbling's not an instant's act." Breaking down boundaries (whether literal, figurative, political, epistemological) is easier said than done; testing boundaries involves more finesse than chucking them altogether. Intellectually, this testing of boundaries — whether for the sake of dismantling or recalibrating — is a form of attention. In that spirit, it's hard to paraphrase what this might look like, since the testing of boundaries has as much to do with honing habits of perception as it does altering what we see.
You're looking for writers who understand conventions but are also willing to rearrange them. What role models do you have in mind?
MDS: Off the top of my head: Brian Teare, Dara Wier, Natalie Diaz, Hilton Als, Rob Halpern. Claudia Rankine, Aaron Apps, Susan Howe, Fanny Howe. Earlier writers include Henry James and Dickinson. My gauge is embarrassingly old-fashioned, but at its most general, these writers move me. That there's a relationship between being moved and the felt experience of shifting limits seems maybe to go without saying …
The Offing will feature works of various lengths: 100 words to novella-size. What are the challenges of dealing with that sort of range?
Darcy Cosper: It's an intuitive response to how people seem to be reading right now: long-form pieces and 140-character salvos; interconnectivity and online flaneuring, but also Long Reads. So we have a department that runs tweet-length works in any genre, and one that features lists, but we're also looking at novellas for the fiction section, and novella-length personal essays. (Though as Tom Lutz says, "The longer it is, the better it has to be.")
We're still so new that it's difficult to say what exactly the editorial challenges will be. I can say that it has been difficult and delightful, in a way that feels central to the work, to be seeking consensus on what to publish with editors who are all over the country, working in different genres, coming to this from an array of backgrounds, with utterly, richly different perspectives. It's hard and it's humbling, but it doesn't feel like a challenge, in the sense of an obstacle to be overcome; it feels like our reward.
The first issue launches March 16. What should we expect to see?
DC: In the inaugural issue: new work by a poet laureate, and by a television writer who made headlines at the end of last year, and became a hero of mine, for speaking out when it would have been much easier to keep quiet. A mind-bendingly great excerpt from a forthcoming novel that people have been talking about. A gallery of paintings by one of my favorite young artists, who's already in the permanent collection at MOCA. And we'll be introducing one of the most diverse, accomplished, lavishly gifted advisory boards in publishing — my jaw drops every time I look at the list.
If you could do anything with the magazine, what would it be?
DC: Open the gates wider. Open up the conversation to more voices. Share and carry on and advance the work being done by folks like Tin House and Pank, Full Stop and The Morning News and Entropy, Guernica and Bidoun, The Common and The Believer and The Paris Review and LARB, Lambda Literary and VONA Voices and VIDA, New Directions and Graywolf and Kaya Press and Soft Skull and Fence and Dzanc and City Lights and and and …