Literary Magazine Questionnaire Results

Prepared by Flavia Marin for The New Quarterly on June 29, 2017


Canadian literary magazines were emailed on February 9th of 2017, by Flavia Marin, with information about the project which The New Quarterly had undertaken, an explanation as to why their input was vital to the project, and a questionnaire on the subject of inclusivity. Several literary magazines responded, although not all, and the majority of those who did reply informed us that they would be unable to reply. Of those who agreed to participate, 4 magazines sent detailed answers to the questionnaire back to The New Quarterly. Those magazines are Brick Magazine, EVENT Magazine, Prairie Fire, and THIS Magazine. Geist Magazine also sent in a response, although they did not fill out the survey, and asked us to consider this email to be their contribution to the project:

“The politics of narrative—what stories are told and who gets to tell them—is our central editorial concern and has been since the magazine was founded in 1990. Tangled up in that discussion are questions around diversity, a complicated term that takes on new meaning each time we encounter it. As editors we deal with these concerns and the evolution of the term diversity through our editorial process, one piece at a time.”

The 4 responses to the first questions on the questionnaire (“Are you looking to diversify your writers and readers? Do you have a plan to make your magazine more diverse?”) informed us that Brick Magazine is in the process of developing a strategic plan toward becoming more inclusive. The other 3 answers, from EVENT Magazine, Prairie Fire, and This Magazine, stated that all 3 of those magazines are already actively looking to select pieces written by diverse writers, and are trying to attract a more diverse readership.

Next, we asked how each magazine made the decision to become more inclusive, and whether they used a survey to gauge the level of diversity in their writers and readers. Brick Magazine informed us that they had not used a survey, but that they might now do so (thanking us for the idea). Brick’s response also told us that while they have tried to solicit work from a variety of writers, they have thus far acted informally, and are now planning to act formally (using research, goals, and setting tasks). EVENT Magazine also has not used a survey, but inform us that they are aiming to increase diversity in part through the staffing at the magazine, so that there are a number of different voices discussing the submissions received by the magazine, and so as to “increase [their] contacts in different communities.” Prairie Fire stated that they would specifically like to reach out to the immigrant population, the Filipino community, Indigenous writers, as well as writers living with disabilities, and that they are actively doing so through the use of special issues (such as Queer, Suffrage, Franco-Manitoban, Jewish Canadian, Race Poetry, etc.). THIS Magazine also has not yet used a survey, but informed us that they are planning to send one out this year.

In order to understand and become more up to date with the terminology used by other literary magazines in Canada, the questionnaire’s next question was: “How do you define diversity? What sort of terminology do you use? Do you focus on one strand of diversity? Or all diversity?” Brick Magazine’s response informed us that determining terminology was still part of the planning process for them that they have not formally defined diversity for themselves yet. Brick also stated that they keep encountering the wording “wider representation,” meaning “[w]idening the field and providing a more accurate depiction of what the world looks like,” and specifying that they suppose that their goal is, therefore, to represent “all diversity,” (as it was worded in the questionnaire). Brick also made mention that when their managing editor, Liz Johnston, attended a panel at AWP earlier in 2017, titled “What Writers of Color Want White Editors to Know,” she liked that the presenters spoke of “inclusivity” rather than “diversity” because “the latter seemed more surface to them, a numbers game, rather than a deep, true interest in making voices from a wide range of backgrounds, abilities, etc. a part of the magazine.” EVENT Magazine’s response to this question also brought up the term “inclusivity” being used, rather than “diversity,” and they also specify that when they intend to make their magazine more inclusive, they mean that they are looking for “a mix of perspectives and worldviews.” EVENT also made it clear that they focus on all diversity rather than one particularly strand. When Prairie Fire was asked how they define diversity, they stated that they think of it as “inclusive of race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and age,” and that they would also like to add religion to that list. THIS Magazine stated that they define diversity in a loose manner, meaning “the inclusion of minority population—that is, any group of people that belong outside of the majority (i.e. straight, white, cisgender, male).” This Magazine also uses the term “diversity” quite loosely because they have recognized that it has become a buzzword in recent years and that to them, “diversifying their magazine” means more than just including photos which represent a wide range of people. For them diversifying means employing a wide range of people, celebrating them, and also giving them “a platform to be heard” as well as “recognizing the inherent privileges that” the majority holds. THIS Magazine also states that they do not focus on just one strand of diversity, but rather attempt to include as many populations in their publishing as possible.

“If you already consider your magazine to be diverse, do you have a particular process in place for thinking about and acting on diversity?” was the next question on the list, and Brick informed us that while they are still in the process of becoming more inclusive, they have already actively been soliciting work from more women, people of colour, and queer writers, etc. They are also in the process of making their editorial board more diverse, because they see this as an important step which will affect the magazine as well. Their current plan is to “replace [their] impromptu actions with a concrete process,” and point out that they claim “a porousness when it comes to borders” in that they “seek out international and Canadian writers with an equal verve.” Overall, Brick states that despite this conscious movement toward change, the magazine still does not reflect the diversity of our world as much as it could be, “which speaks to the incomplete effect of that ethos on fair representation in Brick.” EVENT’s answer explains that they also attempt to make their magazine more diverse through strategic hiring of staff and board members. The editor, Shashi Bhat, who completed the questionnaire for EVENT states that she and the poetry editor at the magazine are both women of colour from different backgrounds and that they “brought ties to communities that are now visible in [their] pages, and in the events [they] organize.” Prairie Fire stated that diversity is something which they are always thinking about, but that when they get together for their editorial visioning meeting, they “generally choose programming for the coming year based on many things, but not necessarily because [they] are considering diversity.” Prairie Fire then also states that for them diversity usually tends to happen, and that “diversity is not as intentional as it could be in [their] discussions and programming.” THIS Magazine responded that they see themselves as diverse, but that they can always become even more diverse than they already are.

The next question to other magazines was how they encourage submissions from diverse writers, as well as a more diverse readership. Brick states that they ask writers from different backgrounds to send in their work, always keeping in mind what is “perfect for the magazine” while also constantly considering what “perfect for the magazine” means to the staff. They also say that they have thus far operated on the principle that more diverse content will bring in more diverse readers, but now realize that they have to “take better measures to understand and widen the range of readers” they attract. EVENT’s answer informs us that they hope to draw in more diverse writers and readers by co-hosting an Aboriginal Voices reading this fall with Douglas College’s Aboriginal Student Services Office, featuring four writers which will have their work published in EVENT. With this event, they also hope to attract more young readers (who may in the future become writers themselves and will, when that time comes, hopefully remember that they are welcome to submit their work to EVENT). Prairie Fire encourages a more diverse readership through the use of special issues, as well as the hiring of a guest editors who are representative of the group which the magazine is working with at a given time. They state that they also discuss their special issues in their marketing and promotional materials. This Magazine’s answer explains that they also hope that their content itself will draw more diverse readers, as well as the fact that they are not mainstream, and that they are an independent magazine. This Magazine also states that they regularly seek out stories “about issues that matter to diverse populations” and that “writers who have personal connections to the communities they are writing about get assignments.” When it comes to a more diverse readership, This Magazine says that they hope that the content of the magazine will speak for itself, and when it comes to sourcing diverse writers, they say that they generally use word of mouth, as well as journalism schools (through which diverse writers are found when Erica Lenti speaks in classes and meets the students afterward). Diverse writers also pitch their work to This Magazine, which is another way in which the magazine sources diverse materials.

Next, magazines were asked where they look for guidance, which voices they listen to, and who they look at as change-makers. Brick states that they are constantly researching and looking for panels to attend, and that they look to other magazines such as The Malahat Review (and their Indigenous voices issue), Room Magazine (and their diversity issue), The New Quarterly’s “strategic moves to become more diverse, such as holding focus groups with writers of colour,” and that they also look at other magazines “whose entire mandate is to showcase underrepresented voices, like The Deaf Poet’s Society or Plenitude.” Brick is also interested in the work of Jael Richardson with the Festival of Literary Diversity, and state that they are “still taking the time to figure out what the best approach for Brick is.” EVENT Magazine also keeps an eye on Room Magazine when it comes to seeking guidance, and consider them “exceptional in achieving their mandate of diversity.” They state that Room Magazine has many people on their board whom EVENT considers to be change-makers, such as Amber Dawn, Jonina Kirton, and Chelene Knight for example. Prairie Fire stated that they look to their peers for guidance through discussions with other literary magazines about certain topics. They also informed us that they look at currently issues, to other disciplines (such as theatre and art for example), and state that “young people are definitely change-makers, as are the writers and readers themselves.” THIS Magazine said that they are “lucky that [they] have such a diverse range of regular contributors to the magazine, and that [these contributors are] not shy about telling [them] what [they are] doing wrong.” THIS Magazine also uses social media, the news, and other magazine to stay up to date on current matters.

When asked whether there was a spark which got the magazines started on wanting to become more diverse, Prairie Fire stated that “if you live on Earth and you’re somewhat aware and awake, you will be more inclusive,” and also that being a literary magazine comes with its own struggles, which thereby made Prairie Fire “lean towards being more inclusive.” THIS Magazine’s spark came from a more personal place, as Erica Lenti explains herself to be a young gay woman “who has experienced being tokenized in mainstream newsrooms,” and also brings up that her friends who are women of colour are constantly having their pitches rejected from mainstream publications. Lenti, and THIS Magazine, recognize that there needs to be space for diverse voices and that THIS Magazine can be a platform for these voices, due to being an independent magazine.

When asked about the importance of geographical location and how that may have affected the type of diversity each magazine, and their readership, would prefer to see on their pages, EVENT Magazine, Prairie Fire, and THIS Magazine answered as follows. EVENT stated that they appreciate being in as diverse a location as Vancouver, and that even if they were located somewhere else, that they would still strive to be as diverse as possible with their publication. Prairie Fire made a comment on how geographic location would make a difference in the case of any province, and that they were able to publish two Indigenous issues, and one Mennonite issue, due to their location. THIS Magazine stated that their geographical location both helps and hinders them. Due to being based in Toronto, a location which THIS Magazine describes as wealthy with diversity, the magazine fears that they may become “too Toronto-centric.” They therefore seek stories from outside of Toronto in order to keep things balanced (with a particular focus on Indigenous populations, as well as artists to the far west and east of the country, which tend to get overlooked).

Regarding any obstacles which each magazine may be facing in their struggle for more inclusivity, EVENT Magazine made the statement that rather than having issues with funding or playing it safe, they are “unsure of concrete steps to take to ensure diversity.” EVENT Magazine says that despite their efforts, the writers they print are “disproportionately white,” and that they have not established target numbers for minority writers. Prairie Fire informs us that their greatest obstacle is lack of material, and lack of support from the community and funders. THIS Magazine on the other hand points out that being an independent magazine is an obstacle for them due to their dependency on grants and donors, and the issue this causes with being unable to pay diverse writers what mainstream magazines can afford (while mainstream magazines would overlook diverse writers, or turn them away). THIS Magazine states that they have never “played it safe,” and that they rely on a lot of fact-checking in order to ensure that their stories are as accurate as possible.

Finally, in answer to our question about the statistics regarding the employment at each magazine, Brick informed us that they have 1 full-time managing editor, 1 part-time publisher, 1 contract designer, and 2 volunteers who mainly read unsolicited submissions on a part-time basis. EVENT Magazine employs 2 salaried employees, 5 contact staff (who receive honorariums), and 5 volunteers. Prairie Fire informs us that they have 3 employees, 3 paid staff, 3-5 contract staff (editors/proofers), and 15-18 volunteers (board, students, and friends of the magazine). And THIS Magazine employs 1 editor, 1 publisher, 6 contract staff (section editors), a number of freelance workers (since they fill 44 pages of their magazine with freelance work), 3-12 volunteers per issue (proofing, fact-checking, etc.), and that they also typically host 2-8 interns per year.