Interview with Alisha Sommer of BLACKBERRY
Interview by Sebastian Paramo


One thing I'd like to ask you about is your mission statement. "BLACKBERRY: a magazine is an online literary magazine featuring black women writers and artists." Could you elaborate more on this and why you felt it was important to start this magazine?

If you ask the majority of people to name he black female writers they have read, you will hear the more familiar names: Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston. And then, if you ask a feminist, she'll throw out bell hooks and Audre Lorde. This is great, but it's not enough.

With BLACKBERRY: a magazine, I felt it was important to give a newer generation of black female writers a platform for their stories. It is no secret that the literary and publishing communities are struggling with diversity. Creating this magazine was an answer to that struggle. As one of my fellow editors, Ramona Pina shared, "A black woman's experience is not well known. Even in the 21st century we are still seen as a curiosity. I agreed to be an active contributor/editor for BLACKBERRY because I hope that the black woman's experience can eventually be recognized as another American experience and not a side note." 

We know that by giving black literature and art more exposure, we will enrich the entire creative community.

Your website and the work featured are all really beautiful. You started your journal with Kickstarter. How important do you think it is now to not only be able to start a journal and make it unique? Do you think you could've done it without the campaign?

Thank you so much! What makes our journal unique is that it serves a very specific purpose. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of literary magazines and journals, but none that focused specifically on work by black women. The response we received via Kickstarter was proof to me that I was not the only person who saw a void. That's what I believe is crucial in starting a crowdfunding campaign these days: You have to fill a real need.

I do believe that the magazine could have formed itself without a campaign, however, having a little bit of seed money helped. Every dollar raised went into creating the framework needed to create the magazine. Ultimately, as any lit mag editor will tell you, we run mostly off the love for what we do.

What are the best and worst parts of editing a literary journal?

One of the worst parts of editing a journal is sending out rejections. It sounds cliché, but it's true. I want to encourage new and young writers to get themselves and their work out there, but quality is most important to me. Since we are a small staff with busy lives outside of the magazine, there isn't a lot of time available to sit, edit and rework pieces.

The best part of editing a literary journal is being able to touch great work. The editors and I are voracious readers and writers and always looking for those words that leave a mark on us the same way in which we hope our work impresses upon others. There is nothing greater than a piece that makes your stomach jump with excitement.

Could you talk a little bit about your background as writers/editors? How do you feel this informs your editorial roles?

All of us are lovers of the written word and have published work in various places such as Crab Orchard Review, Ninth Letter, Farrago Magazine, Boston Review and Word Riot. One of poetry editors is a Ph.D. candidate and a Cave Canem fellow, our nonfiction editor holds an M.F.A. and our fiction editor is a lawyer who is also extremely active in the writing community. We are West Coast, East Coast, and Midwestern. I believe that our diverse background as readers and writers keeps us honest. We know good writing when we see it, but most importantly, we all believe in the mission to find and share literature by black women. We know that in order to be taken seriously as a literary magazine  and in order to fulfill our mission to enrich the creative community, we look for the best of the best from the submissions we receive. Our experience and talents allow us to do that. 

Could you give me your top five list of literary journals everyone should be reading right now and why?

Everyone already knows the major players so I'm going to push your readers a bit and give them more magazines who place an importance upon sharing diverse voices: 

1. Kweli Journal
2. Arroyo Literary Review
3. Spook: a literary arts mashup
4. The Believer
5. PANK magazine 

What advice would you give to writers looking to be published?

Submit. Submit. Submit. Rejections can be hard to move through but they are a necessary and important part of the writer's life. But before you submit, read the submissions guidelines. Before I started BLACKBERRY: a magazine I used to notice how editors complained about writers who neglected to read their guidelines before sending in work. Now that I'm on the other side, I can tell you that I reject about 1/3 submissions simply based upon the submitters lack of attention to details. Your chances of publication increase significantly if you simply take a few extra minutes to read about the publication and follow their guidelines. Also: be open to feedback! Sometimes an editor's job is to help you continue to grow your craft. We artists get stubborn with our work, but sometimes it takes a new eye from an editor and you can open up your writing to the next level. 


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