It was Thursday morning, the first full day of #AWP2023 in Seattle, and the conference was already buzzing with the hunt for coffee, frantic connections to the Wi-Fi, and the excitement of tote bags at check-in. Expo’s panel, “Meant to Last: Maintaining Longevity as an Independent Lit Journal,” was a part of the first block of panels bright and early at 9 a.m. This would be our second time with a featured panel at AWP, our first taking place in San Antonio back in 2020 (find that recap here).
Our Co-Editor-in-Chief Mellinda Hensley moderated the discussion alongside panelists CD Eskilson, Anya Maria Johnson, and Viva Padilla. CD serves on the Editorial Board of Expo and is an Associate Poetry Editor with Split Lip. Anya is the Poetry Editor for Expo and Assistant Editor at Fonograf Editions. Viva is the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of the journal sin cesar and owns Re/Arte Centro Literario, a bookstore in Boyle Heights.
The conversation kicked off with introducing our panelists and their experiences with independent literary journals, and the editorial structures and staff sizes built to help maintain sustainability year over year. CD and Anya shared how they each had gotten involved in a variety of different journals as readers (including Exposition Review!) and worked their way up to editor positions. Viva discussed the journey of starting her own press—including the very beginnings when she launched a website years ago before transitioning to print.
So, what should you do if you are starting an indie lit journal or are currently on staff of an existing one?
Without a doubt, CD expressed the resounding message of the panel: “There isn’t a lit journal that exists without a community attached. A journal is a series of relationships between people.”
It’s important to consider the “why” of your publication. Is there a mission? Something not just your staff, but your writers can connect to? Anya also recommended doing one thing well: “Start small and have your point of view.”
Even if you have a community, that doesn’t mean you always have the same group of people year over year. Turnover can be challenging when working with a volunteer staff or with limited funding, but sometimes turnover can be a good thing. When life happens, it is nice to know you can step back if you need to and it’s important to recognize the value of each person on the team.
Remember, trust that whatever you build will grow. If you care passionately about the work, others will too. As Viva stated proudly on the reading, decision-making, and publishing process: “This is as close as one could get to a magical existence.”
We had an absolute blast in Seattle—after our panel, our editors were off to enjoy the rest of the conference. We loved getting to meet our contributors at book signings and readings. Not only that, we got to meet each other! Our editorial staff is spread across the globe, and it was a rare opportunity to get to meet with our Expo family all in one space.
Thank you, #AWP2023!