Editor’s Note: Waxwing After Five Years
Issue XVI marks the beginning of the next five years of Waxwing. The first five years were more incredible than I’d hoped.
When we started this magazine, we asked ourselves why — with so many incredible magazines that already exist, why create a new one?
The short answer is to join the conversation.
The longer answer is that we felt the literary landscape hadn’t been doing enough work to accomplish our goals, which are to “promote the tremendous cultural diversity of contemporary American literature, alongside voices in translation. Waxwing believes that American voices are, at their cores, both multicultural and multinational, and so the editors’ mission is to include American writers from all cultural identities — in terms of race, ethnicity, indigenous tribe, gender, class, sexuality, age, education, ability, language, religion, and region — alongside international voices, published bilingually.”
As VIDA has shown us, it’s bleak out there for women, and especially for women of color. It’s also bleak out there for gender nonconforming people, trans people, differently abled people, older writers, indigenous writers, especially indigenous women, queer writers, and those who challenge the aesthetic norms of the academy.
VIDA mostly counts the big magazines, and I admire them for the evidence they have given to a problem all of us have known about for a long time. The big guys are behemoths, and will forever be slow to change, but change can be radical and rapid at the local level, then have national and global impact. We hope. (I hope this is true in the academy as well.) Can we single-handedly overthrow the cis-heteronormative ableist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy? No. Can we try? Sure. And we can hope that change will percolate upwards. I was just idealistic enough, just punk rock enough, just DIY and riot grrrrl enough to believe that five years ago. And I believe so even more today.
Here are the rough Prose numbers for the first sixteen and a half issues, based on what I know about the authors, and in some cases what I assume about them (I may have mis-categorized some light-skinned Latinx folk as white, if I don’t know their heritage from their bios, for example):
30% of the authors chosen for publication have been not white, 70% white. 63% have been female, 37% male, and only one gender-nonconforming person. (Hi non-binary writers! We’d love to read your work.) 14% of our authors have some other kind of diverse background aside from race and gender, and 12% of our authors are women of color.
Some of these writers are writing about their identities, and some aren’t. The fact that these numbers aren’t that great, and that they’re better than the majority of literary magazines out there, is why I think Waxwing should keep existing. And many other magazines — I end this note on my shout-out list.
I haven’t counted, but I’m almost certain that the Poetry and Translation numbers are even better.
Do we check boxes? No. Are all women writers of color the same? No. Are all indigenous writers the same? No. Can we get better? Yes. For sure. We’re always trying. Please help.
Some editors say they simply publish the best writing that comes across their desk. And those writers just happen to be real white, and real male. Some magazines are worried that increasing diversity means lowering quality. We started Waxwing as a challenge. We publish the best writing that crosses our desk. That happens to include lots of kinds of voices. We have proven it’s possible — not just possible, but easy. If you advertise your mission — whatever your mission might be — writers will find you. And, if you uphold your mission, and prove you mean it, by having an increasingly diverse masthead and increasingly diverse contributors, authors will see that there really is a place for them in the literary landscape. They can join the conversation.
So, the big guys have no more excuses.
We’re getting bigger. In the past five years we’ve seen a poem go so viral it was read on television, we’ve had poems republished in Best American, we’ve had prose writers go on to republish their fiction and nonfiction in books, and we’ve been read in 195 countries, which is almost all of them, depending on who you ask.
As I’ve taken on the role of Editor of Hunger Mountain, I’ve stepped down as Prose Editor of Waxwing. I’m so grateful to Rose Skelton for taking over editing Fiction, and to Silas Hansen for taking over editing Nonfiction. There’s no way for me to quantify the aesthetic diversity of the work we’ve published. I wanted the Prose section to be a home for writers like me: particular and peculiar. We’ve made space for the weird and the wonderful — especially in this issue, which Rose and I built together. The magazine is in good hands for the next five years, and beyond.
I’ll stay on as a Co-Editor, so while I’ll no longer be solely responsible for the prose selected for publication, I will continue to try to help Waxwing achieve its mission, and continue to help dream up what we can accomplish next. Our dreams for the next five years include, maybe, publishing a print anthology of the Editors’ favorite pieces, finding a way to pay our contributors and our staff, publishing more international authors writing in English, increasing the range of voices we publish and the diversity of our Masthead. I’m grateful to Bojan Louis and Sara Sams for co-founding Waxwing with Justin Bigos and myself, to W. Todd Kaneko for joining us as Co-Editor, to Curtis Bauer for growing the Translations section, to Rajiv Mohabir for taking it over, and to all of our Contributing Editors, Assistants, and interns. I can’t wait to see what we’ll do next.
The risk of this mini-essay is that it is too self-congratulatory. That’s not my intention. I aim to celebrate this thing a community built, and that is about to get even better. (This paragraph wasn’t in the first version. That’s the benefit of being the one who puts Waxwing on the internet — I can revise whenever I wish.)
Much of this note started as an AWP panel, so love to our siblings out there: Kenzie Allen, Founder of Anthropoid; Levis Keltner, Editor-in-Chief of Newfound; and Gabriel Blackwell, Editor-in-Chief of The Collagist. Love also to all the journals out there fighting the good fight and celebrating every small victory — we’re not in this alone: As/Us, Red Ink, Yellow Medicine Review, Mud City, Nepantla, James Franco Review (about to be reimagined!), Hinchas de Poesía, Guernica, and all the other magazines I don’t yet know about but should, and all the big guys who are working to expand their definition of what’s important for us to pay attention to. I am grateful to all of you, all of you, for being part of my community. Thanks.
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