Interview with T. Kira Madden of No Tokens
Interview by Sebastian H. Paramo
Can you tell me about the name No Tokens and why you started it?
The name No Tokens bloomed in a conversation with Anne-E. Wood and Evan Rehill a few years ago. Just three people, in a room, missing things – that was all. Subway tokens were one of those things. Print journals were another.
After some time, after the journal became a real thing, the name No Tokens gathered some new meaning. I’m not interested in getting too political in this interview because I think the work in our journal speaks for itself, but I will say that there was and is a need for more balance in publishing. There is a need for people to start paying attention, and I’m glad so many are. I admired what VIDA was doing; I admired many journals and publishers who said, “We’re here. Look.” It is unacceptable to ignore the numbers, and I wanted to be a part of that response.
You guys are a new print journal, could you talk about the choice to start as a print journal, rather than online in the current publishing world? Is it scary?
Scary, yes. Terrifying. That’s how we knew it was worth it. Our whole staff reads online journals, we support them, we love them, but it meant a great deal to us to make a physical object. Something one can keep. Me, I like to hold things.
Could you talk about your background as a writer and writers that you look up to as mentors?
My first writing class was with the exceptional talent, Anne-E. Wood, and she is still the person from whom I most crave approval. I studied with David Hollander and Rick Moody, two humans I love very deeply, who never stop pushing me (sometimes brutally) and who’ve opened my eyes to the possibilities of language and form. Evan Rehill, for setting the bar so high with his dazzling prose. I’ve never worked with George Saunders but he has sent me notes of encouragement when my heart most needed them, and his writing teaches me new lessons every time I read it. I feel tremendously lucky that almost all of these writers are in our first issue of No Tokens.
And, of course, I would never be able to answer this question without thinking of every single instructor at Sarah Lawrence College—including Mary Morris, Nelly Reifler, and Suzanne Hoover—who never give less than everything they have. Good teachers can truly change it all for a person. They changed it all for me.
What kind of work are you guys looking to publish?
Ah, this question. Natalie Eilbert of The Atlas Review answered this question so beautifully in their newest issue’s opening notes. She wrote about identity, and that is something I relate to. I guess you could say I'm interested in work that speaks to human beings on a gut level about what it means to be human. I don't want poetry that only speaks to poets. I don't want fiction that only speaks to fiction writers. You know, all of our staff members review and vote on every single genre. That was never the plan, but it just unfolded that way. We all care about the thing as a whole that much. And it's helpful to ask the non-fiction editor about what a poem says to her, or how the fiction editors feel about a drawing. We publish what all of us can feel. I'm able to read this issue and identify with so many things, and my mother, a chef, has read the issue and noticed all these other things, and a staff member's husband, who works in finance, read the issue and had even more things to say. I don't think our material excludes anyone, and that is something for which I feel proud. That's the kind of truth we’re looking for in art.
What do you see in the in the future for No Tokens?
We’re really interested in writers and artists bending the “rules” of genre. I would love to accept some collaborative work, multi-media work, comics, and more drama – definitely drama (Send us some plays! Send us some graphic novels!) I want what more traditional magazines might not consider. We have a category on our Submittable this time around that reads “Other,” because we don’t want the hard lines. Rick Moody recently said our magazine looks at “things that fall between the cracks,” and I think that’s a good way of phrasing our vision.
Could you recommend any must-read literary journals and why we should be reading them?
I feel really excited about The Austin Review, a brand new journal, for their high standards and extreme care. I love the people behind The Atlas Review and admire their unbiased submission process and unique product. Little Star is a standout with some of the finest language out there. For their good looks and killer words, McSweeney’s, Black Warrior Review, Tin House, and Fourteen Hills, all of whom take risks.
What advice would you give to writers looking to get published?
In order of importance:
1. Do not focus on getting published. I’ve seen too many writers, myself included, lose sight of their own voice, their own story, because they think too much about what a specific journal will like. It’s easy to give in to that pressure, but once you begin shaping your words for a specific journal or editor, once anything is forced, the writing becomes false.
2. Language matters. It matters, it matters, it matters. Every sentence should have a pulse.
3. Always write a damn good first page.
What other projects are you working on now?
I'm writing a novel right now. I just left the MacDowell Colony and now I feel sad that I can't spend every moment of my day with that world and those characters anymore, but I feel excited about the project. Other than that, just trying to be a good person in the world and continue making things.
What is a day-in-the-life like for the editors of No Tokens?
This can vary quite a bit. Usually they're receiving too many emails from me in the middle of the night when I'm worrying about something. Some days they're sitting me down telling me to stop worrying and writing too many emails in the middle of the night. Most days, though, we're just talking about what we've been reading, the ways in which a piece of art moved us, who our dream journal contributors might be and what our love letters to those writers or artists might sound like. We've all become quite close friends over the course of this process (some of us didn’t even not know each other in the beginning), so some days we'll go boxing together, or bake cookies, or attend readings, or, recently, attend a Prince cover band concert.
Is there any question you wish I asked about No Tokens? What is it and answer it here.
Our new submission period! We’ll accept SUBMISSIONS for two weeks only: April 1st - April 15th.
To submit, order, or find out more about No Tokens visit: http://notokensjournal.com/