Welcome back to Editor’s Corner, a VIDAWeb feature in which editors and publishers explore complex issues regarding sex, gender, race and sexuality as they relate to their presses and projects. In our 16th installment, we speak with JD Scott of Moonshot Magazine. Scott candidly explores unconscious bias, jelly beans and the power of dissent, reminding readers of their own authority. Scott is the author of two chapbooks. His latest is available at Birds of Lace, a feminist press.
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On his magazine, role and publishing philosophy:
Moonshot publishes diverse, powerful voices across traditional and digital platforms. As an independent magazine with no allegiance to any single aesthetic, we celebrate all forms of storytelling from both emerging and established talent. Moonshot encourages narratives from the experimental to the traditional. We create an equal opportunity space by championing our bold writers and adventurous readers. We want work that astounds. We want work that levitates. We want luminaries brighter than the moon.
Other than that—we were founded in Brooklyn, NY in 2009.
We’ve tried to do our best to create an environment that welcomes a myriad of writing/comics/art, whether that means marginalized creators or those whose work has been ghettoized for stylistic reasons. Part of being an editor means making an attempt to constantly read and learn—to widen your vision and your personal canon. The number of living writers whose work I know first-hand has quadrupled since I began the magazine four years ago. We’ve begun soliciting more as we’ve grown, but we’re very dedicated to publishing emerging writers that come out of our submissions.
On the current publishing climate:
It’s getting better, but we have a long way to go. We—the editors who try to do positive work and be inclusive—operate in a bubble sometimes, where it feels like we’re moving towards something…and then you login into social media where someone is pointing out that X major magazine exclusively published men for an issue, or published a white supremacist poem—and you’re like, wow, okay, let’s talk about how we can do better (and follow through!).
At Moonshot, gender doesn’t play an overt role in determining what we publish. I personally always read the work [in the slush] first—even before the cover letter. We still take a lot of work from the submissions pile—and a lot of the time I don’t know who those writers are. This is never easy—I’m not going to Google-stalk writers we accept in hopes that they check a box of marginalization. But at the same time, if all the work we accepted from the slush ended up being, say, written mostly by white men, this would mean we’ve failed to convey to writers that Moonshot is a safe space where all work is valued and considered equally no matter what the content or writer’s identity. We, as editors, should always be asking ourselves why certain groups are not sending us work if we feel we’re not seeing a representative variety. That falls on us. It’s all too easy to point the finger outward and say, oh, we’re just counting jelly beans here. But the point isn’t to say, “I have 13 grape jellybeans and 77 lime jellybeans,”—it’s to say, “Shit, there are a lot more lime jellybeans; can we make a better effort to have other flavors?” Not to reduce human beings to candy—but the point is that this is more than just a ‘number’s game’.
You hear rumors from other people such as “I worked for a lit mag who said, ‘Oh, we already have one gay story for this issue, we can’t have two,'” and you think, fuck, is that real? I can’t even wrap my brain around that logic. Publishing two gay stories is shaking things up too much for you? That’s fine if you don’t want it—send it our way. We’re currently wrapping up our fifth issue, and I always sit down and wonder if the work we’re compiling is varied—I don’t ever want to tell one person’s (or group’s) story. We consider all these factors when we solicit work as well—but we can always do better.
This can get so complicated because on one hand, I have no problem waving goodbye to all the print dinosaurs who represent a passing generation that features predominantly men in its publications. But! At the same time—these are publications that people still pay attention to—perhaps the most attention—and it’s scary to think that sends a message to writers about their worth.
We should hold the bitter old dudes in sweater vests accountable—but at the same time—we should stop giving them our time and money. There are people who exist outside the academy who are doing a great job & we should focus on lifting these projects up. Most of the most famous, venerable magazines are only that way because they’ve been around decades and run off the same tricks. If we shift focus—hopefully the curmudgeons will fade away and the magazines that are doing quality work will begin to enter the public eye instead.
On VIDA’s Count:
It’s so important that someone is out there counting the tallies and holding publications accountable. I love that this is happening and that, at the very least, we get to have this conversation annually to try to track ‘progress’. I feel conflicted about making an issue for one group, sometimes, as it feels reductive to keep our vision that myopic. One of Moonshot‘s contributors, Niina Pollari, actually touched on this very topic when reflecting on the 2011 VIDA count—”…statistics are not, themselves, the point–the point is the discussion.” The internet continuously gives us new ways to cross boundaries, shatter barriers, and have conversations about what we can do better to be inclusive. It’s as important as ever, to know who is making an effort. We, the consumers of literature, have the power to deny these publications’ ad clicks and purchased copies if we feel they’re not doing a good job representing more than a singular, majority voice. The Count is important because it reminds us of the power of capital and dissent.
On A+ Lit People:
Birds of Lace, Dancing Girl Press, Belladonna*, Guernica, Coconut, Octopus Books, Bone Bouquet, Action Books, PANK Magazine, Union Station, Blackberry, Weave Magazine, BLOOM, Sibling Rivalry, Diverse Voices Quarterly, The Rumpus
JD Scott’s chapbook Night Errands (Yellow Jacket Press) was selected as the winner of the 2012 Peter Meinke Prize for Poetry. His second chapbook, Funerals & Thrones, was released from Birds of Lace press in August 2013. He edits Moonshot, a magazine of the literary and fine arts, from his home in Brooklyn, New York.