"I Publish Things I Like." A Chat With Gabriel Blackwell, Editor of The Collagist
The Collagist published its first issue in August 2009 under the editorship of Matt Bell. New issues are published once every two months on the 15th. Work first published in The Collagist has been featured in the Pushcart Prize anthology, Best New Poets, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, the Wigleaf top 50, and by Longform and other publications. It is an imprint of Dzanc Books.
Interview by Annie Kim
In your letter kicking off the current issue of The Collagist you said something I liked a lot: “we are humbled, made human or at least returned to that state, by surprise.” What are a few recent examples of surprise you’ve felt (the good kind) while sifting through fiction and nonfiction subs?
There's a good chance that, if it appears in the magazine, it (the experience of reading the piece, not the fact of its appearance in the magazine) has come as a surprise to me. We are fortunate to get many more wonderful submissions than we could possibly publish, so the selection process usually turns on finding a story or an essay that does something new, or makes me feel something new, or makes me feel something so strongly that that feeling seems new.
Okay, so you probably saw this coming, but why is this journal called The Collagist?
That's a question for our founding editor, Matt Bell. I took over from Matt in 2013, and I (and my co-editor at the time, Matthew Olzmann) saw no reason to change the name—that is, even though I don't know why it was chosen, I do like it.
Are you a fan, foe, or indifferent to Walter Benjamin’s grandiose and unfinished work of archaeological collage, The Arcades Project?
I've only read parts of The Arcades Project, so I'm, at best, a flâneur when it comes to the subject. I think it's one of those books I would have long ago read if only I'd had the time to do so. Editing a magazine, especially one that was, for a long time, a monthly, does somewhat curtail one's (non-magazine) reading time.
As both a teacher and an editor, many pieces must come across your desk that are almost there, almost great. Do you see any trends among the subs you wish you could have supported 100%? What advice do you have for writers when they receive the inevitable three-line rejection email?
With regards to submissions that are almost there, I haven't read them. I'm not an arbiter in that sense, nor do I aspire to be. I publish things I like, things I think are doing something interesting. I don't have a measuring stick—not there, halfway there, almost there, there—and I don't especially want one. (I do, naturally, have a different understanding when it comes to my students' work. An editor's priorities are very different from those of an educator.)
It may be that you mean something else when you say "almost there," though, so forgive me if I've misunderstood.
I'm not much for giving advice, so I'll simply say that any magazine one loves almost certainly has a very small underpaid or unpaid staff reading many, many, many submissions in addition to editing the pieces accepted for publication, doing design and layout, publicity, finances, etc. Not that one should pity those reading submissions—it's a privilege, after all—simply that one should always remember there are only so many hours in a day for all of us, editors included, and the work leading up to the three-line rejection email is already, in many cases, substantial.
What role do you see The Collagist playing in the ever-shifting online literary scene?
I fear scenes.
How would you describe the editorial team at The Collagist? Feel free to use your favorite: (a) word for a group of animals; (b) 1980s movie; (c) office supply; or (d) none of the above.
Both Liz Morris Lakes (our interviews editor) and Michael Jauchen (our book reviews editor) have been with us for years. I am incredibly grateful to them both for all that they've done and all they continue to do for the magazine. Marielle Prince (our poetry editor) has only been with us since last spring, but she's done an amazing job in her first year. They are, all three, selfless, tireless, and worthy of adulation. I am indebted to them.
You’re a prolific writer, as well as a teacher and editor. Can you give us a taste of what you’re working on these days?
I spent some time rethinking how I write after I finished my last book (Madeleine E.)—it just seemed like the time to try something new. I guess like anything in which you haven't had a lot of practice, most of what I've done since then seems awkward and uncomfortable; even two years later, it still seems awkward and uncomfortable, and I'm still figuring out what works and whether it works. It probably doesn't help that I've been trying to write stories that unwrite themselves in the course of their telling.
Annie Kim is the author of Into the Cyclorama, winner of the 2015 Michael Waters Poetry Prize and a finalist for the 2016 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year for Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, Ninth Letter, Mudlark, Asian American Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, and elsewhere. A graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA Program and the recipient of fellowships from the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the Hambidge Center, Kim is an editor for DMQ Review and works at the University of Virginia School of Law as the Assistant Dean for Public Service.