Interview with burntdistrict
Interviewed by Kallie Falandays
Why did you start burntdistrict?
We started burntdistrict shortly after graduating from our MFA program. We felt a little broken and lost without the structure of the program, and we wanted to create something that would keep us tethered to the literary community.
How did you come up with the name burntdistrict?
Liz and I both felt strongly about picking a name that represented our aesthetic, as well as our location. burntdistrict is the name of an area of Northeast Omaha that was at one time infamous for its red light district and all around hedonistic goings-on. It is now experiencing an urban revival and is an attractive, upscale part of town. We love the idea of something so beautiful coming from something so dark and destructive.
What is the worst part about running a literary journal?
Probably finding the time to run it. Between family and work and our own poetry, it’s hard to justify the importance of the journal, but we do. Ultimately, at least for me, I find the journal enthuses the rest of my life. I am inspired by the work of our poets, and my love for this art is reignited when I come across beautiful poems.
What is the most memorable poem/prose/fiction piece you've published?
Wow. Good question. We have different favorites from each issue, but I’d have to say that Francesca Bell is a poet we that we both deeply adore and respect. We published her in our first issue, and we continue to admire her work.
Where do you see burntdistrict in 5 years?
I see burntdistrict moving forward and growing with the literary landscape, but I also see us remaining steady and consistent in our focus on publishing the best new contemporary work. That’s always been our intention.
What is a day-in-the-life like for the editors of burntdistrict?
Mostly, it is exactly like any other working/writing mother. We get up, we consume copious amounts of coffee, we check our emails, we get our kids to school, we go to work, we come home, make dinner, help with homework, go to bed and then start all over again. We squeeze the journal and press in wherever we have little breaks. Liz and I talk several times a week, and something related to the press always comes up. Even when we’re not working on it, we’re working on it.
What kind of work are you looking to publish?
We get that question a lot, and it’s a very difficult one to answer. We don’t have a specific aesthetic that is describable; instead we know what we appreciate, which is sharp, well-balanced imagery and focused, intentional language.
Name your five favorite contemporary poets/fiction writers.
I hate this question. Actually, I just hate the word favorite. It’s impossible for me to only pick five. How about if I go with writers that I’m enjoying right now? Books currently on my nightstand would be by Denis Johnson, Richard Siken, Anne Carson, Traci Brimhall, and CM Burroughs.
What is your literary background like? What got you interested in starting a literary journal?
I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t reading and writing, but I guess it was my high school literature courses that inspired me to consider a literary career. I remember reading the Romantics and really feeling it. I was an angsty kid, and those poets opened something for me, they helped let in a little light. I ultimately majored in creative writing in college and then focused more specifically on poetry in graduate school.
I think the intimacy of the editor/poet relationship was one of the reasons I was interested in starting a journal. It’s such a devastatingly vulnerable relationship, isn’t it? But it’s also so beautiful because we are all connected, either by the dejection or by the joy, and we are so incredibly resilient. I wanted to be a bigger part of this sweet, painful relationship.
What are your favorite literary journals? If you could only read one literary journal for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
I really like Sugar House Review. Their magazine is gorgeous thanks to the graphic genius of Natalie Young, and I know that when I flip through their pages, I’m going to find something wonderful. I’m also a fan of 32 Poems and Rattle for the same reasons: independent, gorgeous layout, gorgeous poems… wait… did you say only one? Impossible…
What is the best way for a small literary journal to get noticed? Or, rather, how do you guys market burntdistrict?
We advertise and market online, but we are very fortunate to have an incredibly large tribe of friends, writers, and artists. Not only are they generous with their support, but they have helped us tremendously by spreading our name across the country. I’m always surprised and pleased when I get a cover letter that includes the line “I heard about you through a friend/colleague/coworker…” It shows just how joined and encouraging our poetry world really is.
You also run Spark Wheel Press. How do you guys decide what to publish at Spark Wheel?
Spark Wheel is approached very differently than burntdistrict. For Spark Wheel, it isn’t just individual poems that knock our socks off. It’s more deliberate. Obviously, we are still looking for work we love, but we are also seeking collections that are beautifully fine tuned and clearly ready for publication, and we are looking very closely at the poet. How ready are they for the responsibility of marketing their book? How is their acknowledgment page? Usually that is a great representation of their energy toward publication. And do we feel they will be a good fit for the Press? We plan on creating long term relationships with our writers, so we want to know they are as committed to us as we are to them.
Many people are confused about how small presses and literary journals are funded. How do you guys support your journal? Is there a place where people can donate to burntdistrict or Spark Wheel?
burntdistrict and Spark Wheel Press are completely and totally funded by Liz and I. We had a launch party and fundraiser to celebrate our first issue, and that helped us tremendously, but we really rely on issue sales and our own pocketbooks to keep the journal afloat.
What are you working on in your own work right now?
I’m working on the same collection I’ve been working on for years. It has gone through a severe metamorphoses this last year though; it’s gone from being a singular and linear exploration of motherhood to a more complex range of female voices detailing global gender roles and sexual violence. I’m hoping to have it complete by the end of the year.
If you had to describe burntdistrict in one sentence, what would that sentence be?
Good question. I guess we are attempting to answer that question with every issue we publish. What is our aesthetic? Who are we? What do we stand for? The work itself is the answer.