“Home felt a bit threatened”: an interview with the editors of Prufrock Magazine
Can you tell us a little more about the history of Prufrock? What was the motivation in starting a magazine of writing?
Well, back home in South Africa we don’t have many. So there seemed to be a space for it on the shelf. James, Annie, Nic and I had graduated not too long before, and seen many of our peers (and ourselves), go into jobs in social media – we knew there were good writers there, and guessed that there must be many more. Not only that, but South Africans who’d grown up after apartheid were going to graduate soon, and it seemed that this was a whole generation who needed a space to write too. These were the lofty ideals. The practical side of it is that we were young enough to take the risk, and wanted to do something that would be fun, satisfying, and meaningful. So we climbed up on stage at the end of events at a literary festival, and spoke to these big crowds of people, and tried charming them into buying the first issue. And they did!
As mentioned in the Editorial at the beginning, Volume 2, Issue 1: Magic Lantern has an “inky” feel to it. I really loved the piece in the middle, “Quarter-century, or, The Year I Was 25” by Rosa Lyster, and found myself devastated while reading the Diane Awerbuck, “Harvest”. It is suggested that this inkiness may be a result of the idea of “feeling at home at the moment”. Could you elaborate on this feeling, and how it informed the selection and organization of the pieces?
It’s eerie how an issue comes together with one feeling. Rosa writes for each issue – she’s written about picnics in books and dogs in books, and Narnia, and this piece came in and it was sadder, darker (though it ends happily, in summertime). The strange thing was that all of the best pieces submitted for that issue had been – we shy away generally from anything violent or horribly sad (overrepresented things in young writing), unless it’s very very good. At the time, Jacob Zuma had just been re-elected as our president (his first term was marred by corruption, violence, indifference). One of our big media companies had been sold a few months earlier to someone who seems to have scarily deep sympathies with the ANC, the ruling party. So home felt a bit under threat. There was frenzy over the Oscar Pistorius trial, and the Marikana massacre’s Farlam commission is ongoing. When the best nonfiction pieces we got centered on violence, it seemed linked. Many of the pieces reflected on the past, all of the fiction is told by child narrators. So that inkiness is the darkness, weight, permanence, of things that shape us.
You have a small staff, but it seems like you’re building a large following and distribution. What is your role, and what is it like to work on a magazine like Prufrock?
Oh it’s the best thing in the world! It’s also overwhelming at times, and it’s scary to feel so attached to something. We all do everything at the moment – distribution, social media, editing, though James is the design whizz. Our following is growing partly because we’ve had the support of some big guns back home – that’s been due to persistence, but a bit of luck too. This year Cape Town is the “World Design Capital,” and we were named one of the official projects, which meant we could crowd fund with the promise of having what we raised matched – and we did, we reached our top goal last week! Then, Exclusive Books, the country’s biggest bookstore chain has recently been sold, so there’s new energy and blood there. That’s helped, as well as the unwavering support of smaller independents. So there’s been plenty of good news to go around, which helps us get through deliveries and late late nights – though these have their appeal too. I came to New York in January to intern at Harper’s Magazine, and that’s how Prufrock met Book Culture.
What can we expect from the next issues? And where would you like to see the magazine go in the future?
Lots! More non-fiction we hope – as the magazine grows, we hope to be able to commission more pieces. One of the pieces that was written just for us has just won an award back home – “Vida Loves You,” from issue 3, by Nic Mulgrew, which is about drag kings and queens in Cape Town. We’ll also be bi-monthly from August. Perhaps we’ll add more regular features. We’re all mad about cooking, so maybe something there.
Where can people find out more about Prufrock?
This piece is a good place to start, but otherwise our website is www.prufrock.co.za (and we do offer international subscriptions for those of you who can’t make it to Book Culture), tweet @PrufrockMag, and facebook.com/PrufrockMagazine.
Entry filed under: Periodicals, Q & A. Tags: Anneke Rautenbach, Cape Town, Diane Awerbuck, Helen Sullivan, Jacob Zuma, James King, Literary Magazine, Nick Mulgrew, Oscar Pistorius, Prufrock, Rosa Lyster, South Africa.