"Editing with Love and Openness is Activism." A Chat With Angie Cruz, Editor of Aster(ix)
Aster(ix) is a journal of art, literature, and criticism, founded and published by novelist Angie Cruz and nonfiction writer Adriana E. Ramírez in 2013. “It’s the censored and omitted. It’s footnotes and to be continued. (ix) honors Mayan heart knowing, the alignment with divine will, the torchbearer. We cast lines between the future and the past, the possible and the impossible.”
Interview by Ruby Hansen Murray
Aster(ix) feels like a rich conversation across borders and boundaries with its range of fiction, microeditorials, interviews, criticism, playlists, archives of the journal Vandal, its parentheticals. I’m struck by how collaborative Aster(ix) is and by how much conversation among women is taken for granted, present in ways absent from other publications. Please talk about how Aster(ix) was conceived and how it has developed.
In many ways Aster(ix) is a virtual mirror to an organization I co-founded with Marta Lucia Vargas and Adelina Anthony back in 1997. We met in Taxco, Mexico as students at a writers’ workshop and we became fast-close because we were interested and inspired by many of the same writers. Although we lived in different cities we committed to WILL: Women in Literature and Letters, a grassroots effort with a vision to gather women from all over the world who believed in the transformative powers of reading and writing. Many of the writers we met through our work with WILL (writing workshops, readings, shared meals, etc.) are now contributors and a part of Aster(ix). WILL thrived for many years but we had to let go of it so we could all prioritize on our writing. Many years later, I took an academic position at Texas A & M University. There, along with two undergraduates, I worked on Vandal. For me, editing was an opportunity for me to reconnect with writers I admired but had lost touch with, many of who had put writing on hold, post MFA or even publication.
When I moved to Pittsburgh to teach at the MFA program, I met Adriana Ramirez, and she was hooked on the idea to create a virtual space where women of colors’ voices could be at the center of the conversation. Our partnership is clear: I’m in charge of content, and she’s in charge of making sure it looks beautiful, both online and in print. Regarding content and mission, the roots are WILL, and we in many ways have picked up with Aster(ix) where we left off with WILL. Currently there are lots of discussions on the lack of diversity in publications and the tokenization of writers, etc. This kind of awareness is good for those who were blind to it. And I’m happy VIDA is counting the lack of publications by women but I/we didn’t need the count to know that (women) people of color are being left out of the mainstream conversation. Just turn on the television, or go to a bookstore, or to any faculty meeting or writing workshop at a university. In 1997, when we were doing WILL there were lots of conversations about diversity and inclusion. And in this way maybe the work we are doing with Aster(ix) is timely, but really, I personally feel that I’m tired of trying or complaining about spaces that didn’t dream us in them. I/we see Aster(ix) as proactive. We are creating a home for what interests us and what we love, without explanation or apology. We are trying to stay flexible in how the content is presented too. But mostly, we want to have fun!
Aster(ix)’s name and mission “was and continues to be fostered by our core council: Angie Cruz, Madhu Kaza, Sheila Maldonado, Marta Lucia Vargas, Emily Raboteau, Adriana E. Ramírez and Nelly Rosario.” Fostering is a great word, suggesting mothering and family. Would you talk about the collaborative process at work in Aster(ix) and the fostering work of the core council?
Everyone in the core council was and is important in fostering the name and vision. These women are all juggling family, teaching, giving back to their communities and also making the time and space to write. The collaboration is nurtured through conversations and those conversations happen all the time and everywhere, one on one, in groups, through texts. Usually this happens informally and without a plan. Some of us are more active in the journal than others, but I have a deep gratitude for the core because when the seed was planted back in 2012 they were there to help think up the name and to troubleshoot and dream with me. They are also the women I can count on when I need someone not to bullshit me.
Would you talk about the decision to solicit work, rather than accept open for submissions? What do you gain, are there tradeoffs? Do you intend to open for submissions for particular projects?
Initially, we started soliciting because we didn’t have sufficient staff to go through the slush pile. What we have learned is that many women writers, especially those committed to social justice, don’t have time or energy to submit their work, and/or are not ready or willing to face all the rejection that comes with submitting their work. In the MFA program, students are encouraged to submit and are told rejection is part of the process. But as a person of color we face rejection every time we are reminded that many spaces, literary, institutional, including the streets we walk on were not made for us. The ways we are underrepresented in just about every venue or space is a form of rejection. And not surprisingly the places we are not underrepresented in are usually spaces made by us, or led by us. Many writers we have published in Aster(ix) have also said to me that if I hadn’t solicited their work their work they may have never made the time to prioritize their writing.
The tradeoff of not having open submissions is that writers who may want to be published into the journal may feel there is no way in. For this reason we have done two things, we have expanded our collective of contributing and advisory editors who feed the journal and we also have two week long open submissions throughout the year. For example our most recent issue: Atravesando. Many of the contributors in that issue were from our open call. And it was great, because I was able to meet and get to know the works of many writers I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Print issues are sometimes curated by a guest editor. How are those persons chosen? What is your editorial process like?
Guest editors are usually admirers of the journal who have approached me with an idea for an issue and then we discuss if we can do it or not. We are interested in publishing works that may have a difficult time finding a place elsewhere. Some of the guest-edited issues are orchestrated like an event because they are actually archiving actual events, for example Girls in The Bedroom or Ra(i)ces, Black Feminist Encounters. Other issues, like Atravesando, work more like an anthology. It’s a book filled with poems and stories that engage borders. We hope that we can keep playing and pushing the form each particular issue takes honoring the needs and desires of the collective that is ever growing and shape-shifting.
Aster(ix) has a striking and rich visual presentation. The logo is genius and resonates (as if written in blood) with the social justice focus. An asterisk represents what is missing, or what is appended or needs to be added for understanding. How does the visual presentation of the journal happen?
So much of Aster(ix) has been magical in the way that when we need something it often finds its way to us. The logo was a drawing made by a friend Bekhyon Yim. We didn’t give him any specific directions. But it was perfect. He chose the red. And Adriana is to be credited with all things visual on the website. I help by choosing some of the photographs that are featured with the pieces published online. But keeping a website functioning technically and visually is a time suck and also something you need to feel passionate about, and she is both committed and passionate about the mission. We both want to make Aster(ix) as pretty as possible for writers so they can be proud of the home we are nurturing for their work. It also helps that Adriana is also an accomplished writer and intellectual, so her visual and digital work embody a deep understanding of the work in Aster(ix).
I have never felt more active and useful than since I started to dedicate time to nurture writers of color through my editorial work.
Who reads Aster(ix)? What are your goals for the magazine?
Up until this spring (2016) we were primarily an online journal. We would publish online with a print-on-demand option. This spring we partnered with Blue Sketch Press and are publishing a print issue, so our issues/books can be available at libraries and bookstores. For now, we will however keep publishing all of the issues online. If I look at FB analytics it says that the majority of people who have liked our page are between the ages of 30-50 and are women. But I also know a good number of people reach us through our newsletter that we send out monthly, or follow us on twitter or instagram.
I read that you published Vandal, starting in 2009 when you were in College Station, Texas. (I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin.) I’m curious about what process of publishing Vandal was like, and how it informs Aster(ix). What you learned, what you brought forward, what you left behind.
It was through Vandal that I first started editing and for this I am grateful for the opportunity it offered me. I honestly didn’t know what I was doing at first. I had taught writing for a long time, but in my teaching, I was more concerned with writers learning the tools necessary to be more independent as writers. As an editor, I look at a piece and think about publication.
One of the best parts of moving to Texas is that I met Sandra Cisneros who I LOVE, and she told me something that was essential in my thinking as an editor. (Or at least this is how I remember her saying it) She shared with me that one of the reasons she started Macondo was because she felt that some writers, even published writers still needed mentoring because from reading their works she could tell that their writing didn’t receive enough love. To edit with love means to try and empower a writer to write the story they want to write honoring their voice but also offering them the editorial suggestions that will strengthen what they want to say. In addition to Sandra’s sage words, I also often think of Toni Morrison’s words referring to her editing black women writers away from the gaze. As an editor I work toward offering love to the work and making sure writers are honoring themselves and the work they want to do, not the work they think they ought to do. Editing with love and openness is activism in my mind. And I encourage and hope everyone reading and editing Aster(ix) is doing the same.
What direction do you have in mind for the journal? What’s coming up?
This coming year 2016-2017 is filled with partnerships and support for Aster(ix). We have expanded our editorial collective with amazing people committed to nurturing the journal. Starting Fall 2016, University of Pittsburgh will support my editorial work at Aster(ix) and this will insure we can continue this work for many years to come. We are also partnering with City of Asylum and will have a series of readings and events in their new Literary Center in Pittsburgh. Readers for this coming year include Idra Novey, Irina Reyn, Helena Maria Viramontes and Maaza Megiste. In addition to two thematic print issues, Aster(ix) will continue to publish online microeditorials and asterisms, and also publish in the spirit of magazines spilling into other magazines we will re-print online, a curated selection of works to raise awareness of international women writers previously published in Sampsoniaway, a journal focused on free speech and social justice. We will also publish a print issue entirely dedicated to the best of Kwelijournal to celebrate the incredible work Laura Pegram is doing for writers of color.
How can writers who want to be published in Aster(ix) engage with the journal?
First and foremost read the journal, share with your friends the work we are doing. If you can, support our efforts by buying our latest issue. Attend our events. Come meet with us at AWP where we will have a table and possible an event. If you subscribe to our newsletter, like us on Fb, follow us on twitter. All of these avenues will keep writers in the loop when we have a call for submissions. We are aiming to have an open call in the Fall and one in the Spring.
What other publications do you admire?
I have been a great admirer of Guernica for many years and I think that The Boston Review consistently publishes some great short stories. Print magazines I admire are Transition Magazine and Huizache. They are both beautiful and publishing great work.
Aster(ix) reflects the vibrancy and challenge of contemporary issues. For example, “Rubbing Shoulders: A Collective Introduction to the Transnational Black Feminist Retreat” developed as a counterpoint to the media’s representation of the Dominican Republic’s anti-black racism, as a way to acknowledge a more complex reality. “Moyumba” describes a retreat for artist-activist-scholars led by Ana-Maurine Lara and Iya Abebbe Oshun, an Oshun priestess and journalist in the Dominican Republic. I read that your own love of literature is connected to, or grew out of, social activism. I’m interested in which is primary, or if you see them as distinct.
I have never felt more active and useful than since I started to dedicate time to nurture writers of color through my editorial work. If I didn’t think I was making some kind of difference in empowering, encouraging and developing the voices of writers who deserve to be published and also archiving conversations by them I would not find the energy to do this work.
You’re a novelist. What are you writing now?
Thank you for asking. I am finishing my third novel, Dominicana. It’s set in 1965 NYC and it’s about a teen who is married to a man twice her age against her will. Cross your fingers for me, it will be in the hands of editors soon! I hope.
Ruby Hansen Murray began MFA study at Warren Wilson College; she will graduate from the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2017. She teaches writing in tribal and community settings from her home in the lower Columbia River estuary. She’s a Hedgebrook Vortex and VONA fellow awarded residencies at VCCA, Jentel and the Sitka Island Institute. Her work appears in Yellow Medicine Review, About Place Journal and American Ghost: Poets on Life After Industry.