“Bringing together diverse perspectives”: a Q&A with Apogee Journal
1) Can you tell us a little more about how Apogee came to be?
Apogee was founded in 2010 by members of a student group for writers of color and international writers in Columbia’s Graduate Writing Program. The idea for Apogee sprang from the group’s mission, to create a space for underrepresented writers to gather and discuss issues of race, class, and sexuality in writing and in society. The founders of Apogee (Zinzi Clemmons, Melody Nixon, Aaron Shin, and Jenny Ohrstrom) believed that this mission would be best served by producing an annual publication featuring writers of color and marginalized perspectives–a space to honor quality work that is often disregarded in mainstream publications.
In the three years since Apogee’s founding, the organization has taken on a life of its own that is much bigger than the journal itself. While our efforts are still heavily focused on the production of the publication (we released Issue Three in print in May 2014, and will release Issue Four, an online-only issue, in fall 2014), we’ve expanded our activities to regular readings, co-sponsorships with other organizations, and an active blog. It’s all about community building–finding ways to celebrate diverse voices, while making room for the often difficult conversations about social justice and identity politics. We’re currently in the process of becoming a nonprofit, which will expand our capacity for projects and events for the public benefit.
2) I was so pleased when I saw that Chinelo Okparanta had contributed to this issue (her Happiness, Like Water was one of my favorite books from last fall). I also loved the poetry of Christopher Soto and James Ducat. Issue 3 covers a wide variety of narratives across visual and written media. How is it organized, and how do the pieces work together?
We were incredibly excited to feature Chinelo’s work as well. Our fiction editor, Scott Dievendorf, recognized Chinelo’s work as special not only for her amazing narrative voice, but for her layering of small details in rich and important ways. To take an example from the story we published, “Ife Adigo Market–1978,” she allows the girl’s names to represent not only their characters, but the life of the characters before the ndi ochas came, and how the characters have changed since their arrival. This nuanced use of language, while nice on a technical level, also cleverly captures something about identity, especially in a colonial context, as it collects multiple meanings into a single subject. The multiplicity of identification, in self-perception, social perception, interpersonal perception, cultural representation, and so forth, is one of Apogee‘s many interests.
When crafting an issue, we try to create balance in both content and form–bringing together diverse perspectives and subjects, along with diverse structures. Christopher Soto’s and James Ducat’s poems both break the mold in diction and structure, which is something our editors seek in poetry. Ducat invokes jazz (“when ze says it, ze means it/shoulders to the sea”); Soto invokes hip-hop (“i hope that heaven got a gay ghetto/where my qpoc family don’t feel shame”)–both bring their original voices. The prose, poetry, and art in Apogee speak to each other through a shared interest in challenging or interrogating the status quo, and through an urgency to name something: colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, one’s own identity.
3) The remembrance of José Esteban Muñoz, with the Rebecca Sumner Burgos piece and the reprinting an excerpt from Cruising Utopia, created a very powerful moment to end the issue. Could you tell us more on how it came to be a part of the issue?
Originally, our Nonfiction Editor, Cecca Ochoa, had been planning to solicit an essay from José Esteban Muñoz himself for Issue 3. Muñoz passed away in December of 2013, just as solicitations were getting underway. Like many people who followed his work, Cecca was devastated by the loss of such a brilliant voice. Muñoz worked above the boundaries of disciplines by crossing the studies of queerness, gender, culture, performance, and art in his writing, and in doing so, created a new language of ideas to navigate all of them. Apogee approached New York University Press about the possibility of reprinting a selection from Muñoz’s book, Cruising Utopia, and they generously agreed. (Cecca wrote about the selection, “A Body: Approaching Aviance” in a blog post here.) A friend of Apogee, R. Erica Doyle, knew Muñoz personally, and passed the word along that we were reprinting his work in Issue 3. Rebecca Sumner Burgos, a performance artist and close friend of Muñoz, offered to take on what must have been a very painful task, and write an essay to accompany the selection. The entire staff was stunned by the power and incredible beauty of her essay.
4) At least from Issue 2 to Issue 3, there was a major design change from magazine size to something more like other lit journals. Is this negotiated with each issue, or is this the form readers should come to expect? What else can we look forward to in future issues?
We had a different designer for each of the first two issues, but for Issue 3 we’ve brought on Ingrid Pangandoyan, a talented print and web designer, who has worked on giving us a unified aesthetic across all media. Ingrid will continue working with us on future issues. Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s photography (featured on the front and back covers, as well as in the color insert of the journal) also has a big effect on Issue 3’s design. Her bold use of color and composition gave us a really strong aesthetic. While we can’t say we’ll never change our format, we do desire to fit in somewhat with the format of other literary journals on newsstands. Also, the format of our first two issues was very expensive to produce. We didn’t sell them in bookstores, so cost wasn’t as much of a consideration. The new format is more cost effective, and thus more affordable for our readers to buy.
5) Where can people find out more about Apogee?
Our website has a dynamic blog where we engage with issues of identity politics and social justice, not just in literature and the arts, but in the wider society. Copies of Issue Three are also available for $10 on our website. We’re currently accepting submissions for Issue Four, an online only issue. You can learn more about our submission guidelines here: http://www.apogeejournal.org/submit/. We have a Facebook page, as well as a profile (which can be found by searching “Apogee Journal”). Facebook is where you’ll learn about all our great events, and is generally the best place to stay posted about Apogee-related news. And we live on Twitter @ApogeeJournal. We love new friends and followers!
Questions by Cody
Don’t miss Apogee Journal’s Open Mic event at Book Culture’s 112th Street location on Friday, October 17!
Entry filed under: Q & A, Small Press Spotlight. Tags: Aaron Shin, Apogee Journal, Cecca Ochoa, Chinelo Okparanta, Christopher Soto, Columbia University, Cruising Utopia, Happiness, Ingrid Pangandoyan, James Ducat, Jenny Ohrstrom, José Esteban Muñoz, Like Water, Melody Nixon, R. Erica Doyle, Rebecca Sumner Burgos, Scott Dievendorf, Zinzi Clemmons.