Normalizing the Voices of Writers of Color
A Q&A with Origins Journal editor & publisher Dini Karasik
Latinidad readers and those who follow me on social media know I spotlight literary journals that are actively seeking submissions from writers of color. Over the years, I've noticed numerous journals want diverse voices, yet few seem to have staff who come from the communities they aim to represent. As such, Origins Journal--a litmag founded by a Latina--is by definition noteworthy.
Published on LatinoLA: June 9, 2016
Dini Karasik, Editor and Publisher of Origins Journal, has the goal to "normalize" the voices of writers of color and other artists who have been historically marginalized by the publishing industry. This is a goal I wholeheartedly support, which is part of the reason I agreed to be an Origins Journal Advisory Board member. I bet this is a goal you, dear reader, want to support, too. To learn how, read the Q&A below with Dini Karasik.
Dini Karasik is a Mexican-American lawyer and writer whose work has appeared in several literary journals, including The Más Tequila Review, Kweli Journal, Bartleby Snopes, and The Butter and Literal Magazine. Her story "Amalia on the Border" was a finalist in The Texas Observer's 2013 Short Story Contest judged by Dagoberto Gilb. She is also the recipient of a 2016 Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County Individual Artist Award. For more information, visit http://www.originsjournal.com.
Q: You have a very cool resume: you've worked on Capitol Hill for then-Senator Al Gore; co-founded the Latino Legal Assistance Project at the Public Justice Center in Baltimore, Maryland; and staffed the immigration desk at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, among other jobs. How does your background in politics and law inform your work as the editor and publisher of Origins?
A: You know, I've always been interested in advocacy, even long before I worked in politics or became a lawyer. I realize now that this has everything to do with my background. My mother was Mexican and immigrated to Laredo, Texas as a child, and my dad was born in Detroit, the son of an immigrant from Northern Ireland. This inheritance, being borne of two cultures, living with dual identities, really informs everything I do.
I think the need I have to advocate for others, whether as a lawyer or as a writer, is deeply connected to the ways in which I have never been able to help my mother and family overcome some very difficult challenges, mental illness and poverty among them. But I've also been influenced by a father and stepmother who were very politically astute and civic minded. All of this has left me with a skill set that drives my professional, personal, and artistic life, and more recently the launch of a literary magazine.
Origins is a journal that explores the narrative arts through the lens of identity. We want to "normalize" (to borrow a term from writer-director Shonda Rhimes) the voices of women, writers of color, LGBT artists and others who have been historically marginalized by the publishing industry or otherwise relegated to invisible literary corners. But it's not enough to cast a wide net and publish alone. I want the magazine to do more. I want to engage with writers who have never before accessed the literary world. I want to promote them in the process, as well as create opportunities to foster empathy--which is the power of storytelling.
For example, we are in the planning stages of a new initiative called Project Amplify. It will consist of specially curated online issues that showcase the work of writers and poets currently enrolled in literacy and other nonprofit arts programs here in the United States and abroad. Examples of such groups include at-risk youth, the mentally ill, refugees, veterans, and the elderly. The issues will also highlight the work of the collaborating nonprofit organization--one for each special issue--and feature essay introductions by well-known authors from the communities the nonprofit serves.
We will publish the first Project Amplify issue this summer in collaboration with Artworks for Youth in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, an educational program working with Xhosa youth who have endured poverty and, in some cases, physical abuse and emotional hardship. Project Amplify will be meaningful to these young artists and storytellers who have never before had the chance to express themselves on such a worldwide platform. It will also lend visibility to the Artworks for Youth program as well as promote empathy and awareness among Origins' readers and supporters.
Q: Now that you're on the other side of the desk, how does your experience as an award-winning writer who has been published in a number of literary journals influence how you run Origins?
A: Being a published writer has given me the self-confidence to keep writing, in spite of set-backs and rejections, and to commit myself to what is fast-becoming a second career. It's validating. When others you respect think there's something compelling about the stories you tell and the ways in which you tell them--well, it not only makes you feel competent but it also makes you feel as though you have something worthwhile to say. That's what I mean about how I want to do more with Origins; publishing the work of unknown and/or marginalized writers is but one way to let them know that their stories matter, that they are capable of telling them, and that the world needs to hear them.
Q: What specific kinds of pieces would you love to see submitted?
A: There's not a specific kind of piece, really. We want work that comes from an authentic place, illuminates some aspect of one's identity, upends stereotypes, transports us across abstract and tangible borders. Every single human being grapples with issues of identity. The story bank is infinite.
Q: What specific kinds of pieces would you prefer not be submitted?
A: We're not interested in reading stories that contain gratuitous violence or the harming of children or other vulnerable people. Or animals. We're not a venue for romance writing. If your work is experimental in some way, it has to really hit the mark or we are not likely to take it.
Q: Aside from submitting polished work, how can writers improve their chances of being published in Origins?
A: It's always a good idea to read past issues and online content. Follow us on social media so that you are aware of our leanings, interests, and organizational developments. I also highly recommend that writers pay close attention to the submission guidelines. It creates extra work for us to have to respond to or reject submissions because of a careless mistake, like sending in multiple submissions when our guidelines clearly state that we don't accept them.
Q: What's next for Origins?
A: We recently published a new print issue on the theme of Borders. It features some outstanding poetry and prose as well as the art of a very important Iraqi artist named Nazar Yahya.
Also, we recently became a fiscally sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a nonprofit arts service organization. This allows us to fundraise in a more strategic and robust way because individuals and funders are now able to make tax-deductible donations. We are at a pivotal stage in our development and in order to execute our vision, we need this support. There are a lot of expenses involved in publishing a literary magazine and, thus far, we are a 100% volunteer staff, each of us writers and artists in our own right. I'd like to change this. I want to compensate our staff but also pay the writers we publish. I want to build an organization that is sustainable, one that will demonstrate that a literary magazine can publish quality work and, at the same time, effect social change.
I invite your readers to learn more about us and support us either with a tax-deductible donation or an introduction to a potential funder.
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Excerpted from Latinidad® © 2003 by Marcela Landres
Marcela Landres is the author of the e-book How Editors Think. She is an Editorial Consultant who specializes in helping Latinos get published and was formerly an editor at Simon & Schuster.
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