Interview with Banango Street
Interviewed by Kallie Falandays
Why did you start Banango Street?
Banango: In 2011, Rachel & I started a blog, Banango Lit, where we wrote reviews & essays about contemporary literature. At some point, we were like let’s start a journal, because we felt like our background with the blog and being part of a literary community made us capable of running a lit journal. We also believed we had built up a decent audience around the blog who would read, submit, and support to a journal that we started.
I’d also been an editorial assistant at Gulf Coast for a little over a year at the time. I don’t think I’d have been as apt to start a journal if I didn’t have the experience of working there for a couple of hours a week.
What is the worst part about running a literary journal?
It’ll sound cliche, but rejections. I hate sending them. So often it’s just a case of fit--the work that we evaluate would do well at another journal, but it’s simply not what we’re looking for.
Also, hard coding the site in HTML. That gets really, really annoying sometimes.
What is the most memorable poem/prose/fiction piece you've published?
Do I have to answer this? If I had to pick my favorite things, I’d probably say the Theadora Siranian poems from our fourth issue are up there. I loved Sal Pane’s story about Latrell Spreewell from issue three. Jess Jenkins had a very interesting poem in our second issue. We’ve also got some great poems coming out in issue six that I love. Two by Christopher Kempf that are just killer, plus some poems by a very new voice, a guy named Lorenzo Conte. Rachel’s favorites are Melissa Broder’s poems in Issue 4 and Nate Pritts’ in Issue 5. It feels like every issues has gotten better (and we love all of them). It’s a good direction to go.
Where do you see Banango Street in 5 years?
I’d love to be doing something with print media. Chapbooks, or something. It seems like the next logical step in our progression. I think the journal will always stay online, but there’s something in the physicality of a book that I just really like, & I hope Banango can find a way to incorporate print.
What is a day-in-the-life like for the editors of Banango Street?
During the times submissions are open, wake up & check them. During the times they aren’t, send Rachel emails about the crazy ideas for future issues that I’ve had. One thing to understand is that even though we’re on a quarterly schedule, we’re always working on something--reading submissions, figuring out artwork and design, thinking about who we want to solicit for the next issue. And then slotting that all into a life where we’re in a full-time MFA program/have a full-time job, plus all our other projects and all the other life things.
What kind of work are you looking to publish?
Exciting work? Well-crafted work? I’m not a fan of questions like this, because I don’t want to force us into some kind of hole, especially this early on in the journal’s life. If a poem is good, I want to publish it. I don’t care if the poem is highly narrative, highly lyrical, highly experimental. Why would anyone reject a good poem just because it isn’t x-enough for their predetermined idea of the kind of work they want to publish?
An attempt at describing what we’re looking for though--I think some of it is poems that light some kind of emotional fire inside readers, poems that create microatmospheres unto themselves and tug you into them. Poems that tilt the way you view the world, maybe just for the time you’re reading it, but hopefully beyond that, too. We keenly believe poetry can change the world, and we’re looking for the poems that feel essential. All of these are different ways at approximating the poetry we seek to publish, but none of them can quite capture it.
What advice do you have for people looking to publish?
Believe in the work you’re sending. Believe it’s the best work you could possibly send. Also, being familiar with the journal you’re submitting to goes a long way. As I mentioned before, a lot of submissions that we get just aren’t right for our aesthetic and a simple perusal of an issue or two would inform the submitter of that. Be mindful of where you’re sending your work. And yes, be persistent. It really is a numbers game.
Name your five favorite contemporary poets and fiction writers.
Favorite is so hard to define. I’m currently working on my MFA thesis, so here are five poets whose books have had a big influence on my recent work: Martha Serpas, Zachary Schomburg, Kara Candito, Wayne Miller, & Kevin Prufer. But there are also so many others that don’t have books out yet, some of whom we’ve been so lucky to publish work by. Weston Cutter, Christopher Kempf. As for fiction, lately I’ve been really digging Scott McClanahan’s stuff. Ian Stansel’s new book is really great. For the other three spots, I’ll go with Brock Clarke, Lorrie Moore, & Jeanette Winterson, unless the last two are too old, in which case I’d throw Matt Bell & Ryan Call in.
What is your literary background like? What got you interested in starting a literary journal?
I have a B.A. in English & Creative Writing from the University of Houston & am currently in the MFA program at Bowling Green State University. I’ve been working on journals since 2009, when I started at Gulf Coast. I’m an assistant editor & the reviews editor of Mid-American Review.
So, I’ve been able to attack editing from three different perspectives. Gulf Coast is a lot different than Mid-Am, & having both of those experiences makes me (I hope) a better reader of the work we get at Banango.
What are your favorite literary journals?
Print: Bat City, Black Warrior, Indiana Review. I should add Mid-Am in, since I’m on the staff there & have a hand in picking the work for it. For online journals, well--- Ilk, iO, Birdfeast, Revolution House. I love The Journal, & thankfully they’re both online & offline. I love Kenyon Online. I love PANK. I love Hobart & Stymie because they publish things about sports.
If you could only read one literary journal for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
DIAGRAM. Why? Six issues a year & each issue is filled with great poems, stories, & cross-genre works.
What is the best way for a small literary journal to get noticed?
By publishing strong work and by being as visible as possible. I think the work is the most important part, but you can’t just throw good poems into a forest & expect them to be discovered. You need some social media skills. You need editors that are willing to be like hey, read the stuff my journal published & also submit stuff. Having a nicely-designed website goes far in legitimating your journal. Being active participants in various literary communities has helped us to spread the word about Banango Street--we’re not just doing this in isolation.
If you could take over and run any literary journal, which would you take over and why?
Gulf Coast. I worked there in undergrad & would love to get my hands completely on it. It’s a beautiful journal (plus it just merged with an arts journal so it will get even more beautiful) that publishes great work.