"An Ever-Widening Circle of Readers and Writers"
"An Ever-Widening Circle of Readers and Writers"
A chat with Janice Weizman—Editor of Ilanot Review
Janice Weizman was born in Toronto, Canada, but has lived for over thirty years in Israel. She is founder and managing editor of the online literary journal The Ilanot Review, an Israeli journal of creative writing in English. Affiliated with the Creative Writing program at Bar-Ilan University, the journal publishes fiction, poetry, hybrid writing, creative non-fiction, graphic stories, and translations.
Weizman is the author of the novel, The Wayward Moon, which was awarded a Gold Medal in Historical Fiction in both the 2013 Independent Publishers Book Awards and in the Midwest Book Awards.
Interview by Stanley Trice
You decided to make The Ilanot Review a themed journal. The previous themes were Passing Through, Food! Food! Food!, Translation/Transformation, Foreign Bodies, and Sentences. How are the themes chosen? Why do you have a theme?
Our aim in creating a themed journal is to produce a collection of writing which creates something more than the sum of its parts. For example, our upcoming edition, which is coming out at the end of January, is on the theme of “Sacred Words.” Each piece we chose is wonderful in its own right, but all of the selections are taken together to create a choir of many voices, all illuminating a personal and unique aspect of the notion of “sacred.” Each writer takes the theme to a different place, and the result is a complex totality of variations on the theme.
Choosing the theme is part of our own creative process. We try to pick topics that leave a lot of room for personal interpretation and play.
Along with the upcoming theme of "Sacred Words,” you announced #SacredPosts: a Facebook challenge limited to 140 characters where readers and writers can state what "sacred" means to them. Is this another level of writing that you plan to expand on for future issues?
We are very much an internet entity, and one of our aims is to interest and attract new readers and writers. The internet opens up so many ways to create a community of writers and readers, and we are interested in exploring the possibilities. The #SacredPosts challenge was a way of inviting readers to get to know us, and to consider our “Sacred Words” theme.
Each issue has at least two guest editors. How are the guest editors selected? Are they chosen to go along with the theme?
Actually, our use of guest editors varies from issue to issue. A guest editor is in fact a guest reader, and brings to the task a fresh world of experience and expertise. Our choice of guest editors is based on our understanding of their writing styles and interests, and, as you suggest, on what they can bring to the theme.
Being an online journal, do you envision producing a print version one day?
We did produce a print version of Passing Through, and this spring we will be putting out a print version of Sentences, which is made up entirely of hybrid writing. Print and electronic formats each have their own very different advantages. Because we are an entirely volunteer staff, we don’t have the resources or the time to put out and distribute each edition in print.
Living in a Jewish country surrounded by Muslim cultures can provide contrast and comparison in many ways. Does the Jewish and Muslim world influence the selections for the journal? Do you also look at the influence of Christian cultures? How much does religion and Middle Eastern influence affect what is generally selected, not only by you but by the other editors?
Yes, our position is unique. We are an island of Jews in a sea of Muslims, and an island of English writers in a sea of Hebrew. When we first began, our aim was to provide a place where writers and poets from the Creative Writing program at Bar-Ilan could publish their work. Then we expanded to include work by all writers living in Israel. Finally, we decided that we wanted to evolve into a journal of international writing. Having said that, we still have a soft spot for Bar-Ilan grads and Israeli writers; we read with a deep awareness of Middle Eastern and Jewish history. Altogether, we want The Ilanot Review to be a journal of many voices, a multi-faceted tapestry. We make our selections with an eye to giving a platform to writers of all religions and backgrounds.
You said that, “Though we are surrounded by Islamic and Arabic languages, norms, beliefs, cultures, and histories, we have very little contact with them.” Do you see The Ilanot Review as a means to link the different cultures and religions under an umbrella of literature?
In many ways, yes. What is wonderful about being an internet journal is that we have the ability to reach people with whom we have no other kind of contact. Writers and readers know that literature offers a space to perceive and understand the “other,” to break down stereotypes, and to embrace complexity.
What is the selection process for the writings? Do you make the final selection, or is it a group decision?
We work with Submittable, a program which enables us to read submissions, make comments, and cast votes. The final selection is a group decision, meaning that not all decisions are unanimous ones. We all have different tastes as readers; when we have to make decisions, personal taste definitely plays a role. We do make a point of encouraging writers whose work was enjoyed and appreciated, but not chosen, to submit to us again.
One style of writing you accept is hybrid writing, which you define as, "a fine line between innovative and indulgent, while managing to express old truths in surprising ways.” Can you explain more about what you mean by hybrid writing? Also, do you look for this type of writing over other types and structures?
By hybrid, we mean writing that doesn’t easily fit into just one genre, and doesn’t follow traditional structural “rules.” This type of writing, when done well, can be extraordinarily powerful. In selecting material for publication, our motto is “Good is good” – meaning that ultimately we don’t favor one genre over another, but rather, stronger quality writing over weaker.
You started writing about ten years ago. What prompted you to start writing then?
I had always wanted to write fiction, but I suppose you could say that my life was too demanding for me to pursue anything imaginary. I was focused on my education, and then career and my young children. The trigger to write happened when I became interested in Islam. I enrolled in a course about the roots and history of Islam, and it evoked an urge to explore the Golden Age of Islam, and the nature of life in the Middle East, through a fictional character.
Do you plan any changes for The Ilanot Review in the next year or two?
We are still in the midst of establishing ourselves – finding a reader base, playing with structure, and reaching out to the local and international literary community. We very much enjoy the process of creating and shaping each edition, as each one involves new and interesting modes of expression and interaction with an ever-widening circle of readers and writers.
More than a dozen of Stanley Trice's short stories have been published in national and international literary journals. He is a member of the Riverside Writers, the Virginia Writers' Club, and the North Carolina Writers' Network. You can find him listed in Poet and Writers’ “Directory for Writers.” He grew up on a dairy farm in Spotsylvania, VA, and has lived most of his life in the Fredericksburg, VA, area where he currently commutes by train to work on budgets and legislative issues in Northern Virginia. He is presently looking for publication of his novel where a lonely, unemployed chemist has too much time on his hands.