Lit Mag Committed to Social Change is Intense, Provocative, and Simply Good Reading
Aster(ix) Journal is a beautiful online magazine that serves up intersectional voices, stories, cultural criticism, art, and more. Started in 2013 by novelist Angie Cruz and nonfiction writer Adriana E. Ramírez, Aster(ix) Journal invites guest editors to solicit submissions for each issue. According to their website, while “some guest editors may put out a call for specifically themed issues,” they “generally do not accept open submissions.” The result is a who's-who of excellent writers, poets, and artists from across the spectrum.
Aster(ix) Journal is a rare bird in today's literary magazine scene—diversity is presented as the norm, not the exception. And it is not announced, it is demonstrated. For example, the Fall 2015 issue, Tierra/Home, is comprised entirely of authors of color, most of whom are female and Latinx, and the LGBT community and various socioeconomic backgrounds are also represented. Throughout the website, different languages and cultures are embraced without comment or explanation, allowing the content to speak for itself. The honest commitment (not just lip-service) to promoting minority voices in the literary magazine scene is clear.
The About page states each issue is “a forum where invited guest editors curate new issues on a theme of their choosing.” The Fall 2015 issue, Tierra/Home, is guest-edited by Vanessa Mártir and explores the meaning of home, whether that be a place, a person, a culture, or an identity. Subjects range from the redlining of Paterson, New Jersey (“What the Bear Knows” by Rich Villar), to the streets of Cuba (“First Impressions of a Sister Home” by Nívea Castro), to the hills of Colombia (“Ghosts” by Tanya Pérez-Brennan). This issue takes its subject seriously and continually surprises, giving equal space to fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. The artwork that accompanies each piece is impressive.
There is strong New York representation in the Tierra/Home issue. Most of the authors included in this issue seem to have some past or present connection to New York, but while the state is often mentioned in different ways, the stories/essays are not limited to New York as a setting. The recurrence of New York makes sense: guest-editor Mártir is a NYC-based writer, and her introductory editor's note laments the gentrification and transformation of her childhood neighborhood of Bushwick in Brooklyn, NY.
Mártir's inclusions are varied but the issue feels cohesive, and every piece inspires confidence in the reader. There are no amateurs here. These writers know their craft. “Survival of Caguay,” by Gabrielle Rivera, which features the title character as a mythical creature that was both “the A and the O,” challenges the gender binary in a powerful, otherworldly allegory. The rhythm of the piece reads like poetry, and the last lines were killer: “Caguay, the A and the O, was greater than the universe itself. And from a distance immeasurable, the Elders watched, as they always did.”
Following this piece is “First Impressions of a Sister Home” by photographer and writer Nívea Castro, an essay centering on the author's first-time trip to Cuba. Her descriptions are lush, romantic; however, she contrasts the admiring tone of a wide-eyed traveler with the very real gender and racial politics she encountered while there, and discusses Cuba's cultural complexity. The essay was accompanied by a photographic spread of her visit.
The Tierra/Home issue is free to read online. Aster(ix)'s website is sleek and minimalist, allowing the photographs and artwork to take center-stage. There are also print versions of each issue available for a reasonable price, plus downloadable PDF files. From the preview images, the print issues look even lovelier than the online versions and offer full-page, full-color photos and simple formatting that echoes the website.
Beyond individual magazine issues, the website touts art, interviews with artists, philosophers, and writers, and cultural criticism/commentary on movies, music, and literature. All content is high-quality and gives the impression of being curated as mindfully as the magazine issues. In the most recent Aster(ix) newsletter, the editors say, “Aster(ix) is a work of puro amor devoted to writers, artists, thinkers and activists committed to social change,” and it shows.
All contributors are scholars, educators, and/or widely published. The editors do mention in their FAQ section that while the issues are guest-editor curations, “if you have been admiring our work and would like to participate in the conversation from time to time we will consider queries for our Asterisms section.” The Asterisms section is an un-themed heading on their website that includes a mix of every genre, from poetry to interviews.
For me—a cis-het white woman, believer in social progress, and regular reader of literary magazines—this journal feels refreshing and necessary. There is much talk of multiculturalism and inclusion in literary magazines today, but often it remains just that: talk. Aster(ix) Journal proves the importance and transformative power of intersectional reading and publishing. Once done it cannot be forgotten. Aster(ix) Journal sets a great example for other magazines, and provides an intense, provoking, and just plain enjoyable reading experience.