Building an Inclusive Literary Journal
Recently Lithub Contributing Editor Zinzi Clemmons published an essay at Lithub about the importance of diversity in literary journals. Ostensibly seeking to promote journals that feature diverse voices, Zinzi used much of the piece to offer her thoughts on The Offing and to include the commentary of other editorial leaders about The Offing while choosing not to speak to anyone at The Offing.
Zinzi and her sources based their commentary entirely on hearsay and an essay — and extrapolations based on their reading of said essay — by one former editor, Casey Rocheteau. At no point did Zinzi reach out to anyone currently working with The Offing or who has any experience with The Offing as lead by the current Editor in Chief, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, who recently announced that changes are in The Offing. None of the editorial leaders quoted in the piece have ever had a direct conversation with Chanda either. As far as we can tell, there was no sincere effort at fact checking involved in the writing or editing of this piece.
The response in the literary community has made clear that this opinion piece masquerading as a journalistic listicle has mislead readers. Unfortunately, this means that we at The Offing have felt compelled to spend time preparing the following responses as well as others on Twitter instead of focusing on other work we have to do.
We would like to emphasize strongly the great import of making sure everyone has a place at the table. We continue to hold white supremacist heterocispatriarchy responsible for the withholding of resources, and we look forward to the day when corporate America, including corporate for-profit publications, pay their fair share of taxes so that those taxes can be used to fund, among other things, the arts.
As a channel of the LA Review of Books, The Offing benefited from the resources and reputation of its parent company. — Zinzi Clemmons
We wish to clarify that The Offing’s relationship with LARB involved being hosted on their server, receiving 501(c)3 umbrella status, and administrative support in exchange for a percentage of every donation we received. This percentage was higher than fiscal sponsors typically receive, according to our Editor in Chief’s research. In addition, we received advertising in their emails and on their website. At no point did LARB provide funds to The Offing to pay for anything. Funds were raised entirely by The Offing’s staff, with significant personal contributions by the founding Editor in Chief, Darcy Cosper. In fact, this has always been clear on our Submittable page, which stated until after the publication of Clemmons’s piece:
From the moment it arrived, it dominated the attention of the small group of literary magazines that cater to people of color. (In fact, around the time of its launch, as we were conducting an editor search, our top candidate had to be crossed of the list because she had already signed on with them).
It does seem to be the case that a lot of readers from diverse backgrounds were interested in The Offing, perhaps because of the amazing people on its masthead, for example Black feminist poet Airea Matthews, who in the last year has won multiple awards for her literary work. Many editors (including the current Editor in Chief) were drawn to the publication because of the opportunity to work with significant literary figures like her as well as others like Mahogany L. Browne. As far as we know, no editor has ever suggested that they wanted to join us in this work because of TO’s association with LARB.
The Offing’s association with LARB meant that it diverted attention from smaller journals actually run by the people they are meant to serve, who — historically and pretty much across the board — lack resources, financial and otherwise. That attention is then directed back at the white-run enterprise, further benefiting them. This is how inequality prospers, within and without the literary landscape.
Indeed it seems that Zinzi Clemmons’s Apogee also was confronted with a similar situation, although in their case they were associated with an Ivy League institution worth billions, an amount LARB will likely never be able to compete with. We of course think Apogee does great work, and their former affiliation with Columbia University doesn’t change this.
. . . one of the reasons for the journal’s launch was to pre-empt criticisms of LARB’s lack of diversity, which was evident in the aforementioned article’s much-talked-about photo.
With respect to this conjecture, we cannot speak to LARB’s intentions, but we do know that this does not reflect the intentions of former Executive Editors Airea Matthews and Michael Snediker, nor the majority POC editorial staff who have also been largely queer as well. This is relevant because these are the people who were largely responsible for what The Offing actually published. Darcy Cosper was indeed involved in curating publications, but perhaps her most lasting impact was agreeing with Airea and Michael’s extremely diverse and highly qualified staffing choices and making some herself.
I spoke to Rocheteau last week, and she confirmed the inorganic nature of The Offing’s structure.
We of course stand by our decision to publish Casey Rocheteau’s important essay about the problems she faced working under Darcy Cosper. However, Casey has not been working with The Offing since April and therefore knows little about how we currently collaborate together. Moreover, when she was on staff, she was never privy to the financial operations of the publication since her responsibilities were related to curating publications. We are currently doing our very best to raise funds to not only pay contributors more than we already do but to also provide honoraria to editors. From day one Editor in Chief Chanda Prescod-Weinstein has made clear to the editorial staff — the people to whom this information is most relevant — that this goal is one that is personally important to hir. As we are certain Zinzi knows very well herself, this is not easy, especially since The Offing is still only one-year-old.
On many levels, The Offing reads as a white person’s idea of what ‘other’ people might like, without much curation.
The majority POC staff of The Offing does not apologize for not publishing according to Zinzi Clemmons’s tastes but rather our own. We are however troubled to see this kind of attack on the work of editors of color on the pages of a publication that is largely run by white editors. The Offing’s editors spend hours upon hours of volunteer time reading voluminous submissions and carefully soliciting work that they would enjoy publishing.
And then, suddenly, The Offing launched, a magazine that had the resources to do what we all were doing but on a larger scale. To an extent, it felt almost like literary gentrification. — Yasmin Belkhyr
Unsure of what resources Yasmin is pointing to, we can only reiterate that LARB never provided funding to The Offing while acknowledging that we benefited significantly from the visibility of being associated with an already-known publication. It is also certainly the case that The Offing was founded and helmed by a white woman. However, it is not our view that she was solely responsible for the way readers responded to our content. That strong positive response is largely due to the magnificent writing of contributors and the mostly (QT)POC editors who had the foresight to select their work and publish it. Many of these contributors and editors are people who are in direct struggle against acts of gentrification in their home communities.
While I know many small presses just legitimately can’t pay their contributors, in a case like The Offing, a magazine backed by an institution with funds, it’s just exploitative. — Joanna Valente
Had Zinzi Clemmons or her editor at Lithub chosen to fact check her piece before publishing it, she would have learned that The Offing always pays contributors that it publishes. As described above, LARB never provided funding for this; a significant portion of the funds came out of the pocket of the founding editor in chief, as well as other editors, their families, friends, and supporters we do not personally know. We are also grateful to contributors who have occasionally donated their honoraria back to us without our invitation to do so.
We are happy that Joanna is trying to be conscious of her role as a white editor and hope that this response will help her to be better informed about the conditions for the majority POC staff at a self-funded publication like The Offing.
We also hope that everyone who is able will donate to The Offing. Money raised will go toward continuing to pay authors/artists and to raise funds to offer honoraria to editors. Support us online and/or join us in Brooklyn, New York for a fundraiser on July 11.
From Editor in Chief Chanda Prescod-Weinstein:
As Editor in Chief, I regret that this week The Offing’s editors wasted valuable time dealing with the psychological duress of being publicly put down by someone many of us viewed as a comrade and colleague in the work of promoting marginalized voices in the arts. While I don’t agree with how she communicated this, I share Zinzi’s view that there should be a multitude of venues and that each of the publications mentioned should be promoted, especially As/Us: A Space for Women of the World, which was co-founded by The Offing Executive Editor Casandra Lopez.
In tandem, I am against a neoliberal politics of scarcity that teaches us to pick at each other’s resources rather than targeting the very same white supremacist heterocispatriarchal structures that have often made us feel forced to do unpaid grassroots work in order to ensure that we saw ourselves reflected in the literature that we were reading. Regardless of Darcy Cosper’s social positioning, she helmed a publication that had other, real people working on it, most of whom were from marginalized communities, and the significant erasure of their existence and contributions by Zinzi’s essay is a powerful and deeply troubling statement. My sensibilities about this are strongly reflected in this response from Fiction Editor Geoff Mak, who has been around since the beginning:
I did not start this magazine as a corrective to white liberal culture, or to disrupt the publishing world, or to advance my career as a “gatekeeper,” a term that I always considered a bit obtuse (or at least not nuanced enough to describe what I think it wants to describe). I had never envisioned a large following for the magazine, because I did not think there was a market for the kinds of fiction I was publishing, and the following we did eventually gain came as a surprise to me. In fact, I had always been eluded by who exactly our reader was supposed to be outside of myself. Never once had I looked at the figures, the page views, or the performance of the work I published, because those were the very algorithms that kept this kind of work out of other publications, and I wanted to be free from that. I never looked at cover letters before reading submissions. I published writers of color, women, queer writers, and works in translation, not because I thought it’s what you needed to become a better liberal but because it’s what I wanted to read, plain and simple. And if I published you — Clarice Lispector, Tim Harding, Siouxzi Mernagh, Hervé Guibert, Joy Williams, Cory Tamler, LuLing Osofsky, Colin Winnette, James Hannaham, Saskia Vogel, Aria Curtis, and Austin Adams to name a few — it was because of your formal audacity and excesses in personality that refused to be converted into capital for corporations or labeled as a threat by our governing institutions. This is the fiction I gravitate to most today, and my hope is that other readers might also share these enthusiasms. If not, there are a lot of magazines out there, I’m confident you’ll find something for you.