Ani, you head Syntax & Salt, an online journal of magical realist fiction. What drew you to magical realism as a method of storytelling?
Magical realism is clever. Which is not the sexy answer, but it’s something I find deeply appealing. The trick of magical realism is making the extraordinary as notable as any “normal” thing that might stand out a bit. The best writers in magical realism present the oddities therein so well that it doesn’t occur to the reader that magic is happening. So this lends a terrific ability to represent, as a metaphor, nearly anything, particularly the strange and different.
In particular, as a writer, this tends to be the method by which I have explored my own issues with religion, gender, and sexuality. When I was very young my father was a Charismatic Christian minister and the evangelical type of faith I grew up with does not lend itself to acceptance of a number of things I am: bisexual, liberal, and ultimately, atheist at the core. Even as my thirties are winding down I still find myself impacted by those formative years and exposure to doctrine and opinions stating that I was wrong: female to start, interested in other girls, and even to a larger extent individualism on the whole.
Magical realism, for the storyteller, opens hidden doorways, subtly covered windows, allowing a break with the limitations of realist fiction, without relying on the purely fantastical to tell tales.
Outside of your publication, you have a family and a career. How does your passion for writing connect with these important aspects of your life?
Lately, it doesn’t connect as frequently as I would like, but it definitely allows me to explore my own difficulties or complicated feelings in a safe space where the bizarre is welcome, and that further lets me encourage my children to explore and create as a response to their own experiences. It also, I think, lets me help them connect lines from sometimes difficult realities to fantastical ways of processing. My daughter for example struggles with feeling her own uniqueness makes her a target for other kids, but being able to create stories and comics where she can really translate herself in anyway she likes also helps her celebrate who she is when it can be so hard to love who she is and aim for who she wants to be.
On a very practical level, which I tend towards, I find that working at being a better writer, i.e. more clear, more concise, more convincing and so on, means that I can translate those skills into my everyday, even when the satisfaction of completing a story is out of reach.
Of course, you don’t run Syntax & Salt alone. You have quite an extensive team of women helping you. In a society that continues to marginalize women’s voices, what does it mean to you to have assembled such a team, and how does it direct the vision of your publication?
I am so fortunate to work with a veritable dream team. As writers, each of the women I work with is tremendously gifted. Being totally honest, there are times when I wish I was publishing as much of their work as anyone else’s. I also think that having these wonderful women to work with allows for greater representation in literature of women’s voices, which is particularly dear to me. There’s always someone, even today, saying women should be quieter, they should “act like ladies,” but l want Syntax & Salt to be an amplifier, a megaphone, that contributes to the ideal that ladies can act however the hell they want.
In October 2016 you announced a special submissions call, #pussywritesback, in response to rape culture. Can you elaborate on what inspired this call, and why you thought it was necessary to deviate from your typical guidelines that usually prohibit such content?
Very simply, Donald Trump being a bar which anyone, particularly women, might have to measure themselves against, with his rhetoric promoting or dismissing violence against women, is deeply offensive to me, and the wonderful women I work with, not mention so many others. The idea that grabbing women by the pussy was even uttered, and then subsequently ignored by so many people, in an election just blows my mind. Stories have power, and we need to make space for stories that push back against power taken from people without their consent.
I also think it’s reasonable to say art pushes boundaries, sometimes it shatters them, and I firmly believe that literature holds responsibility in participating in changing the landscape of the way people think. While this was a difficult call, mostly because of how earnest the stories received were, and how much pain and struggle and anger lived in them, it is my responsibility as someone with the privileges I have to create a place for real discussion and thought to happen. Being a part of the conversations that need to take place, providing a space for people to share their stories was a logical choice. We can’t change anything if we don’t look at the problem and admit that it is a very real monster in the room. Playing it safe doesn’t help us do that.
What do you hope to see in the future for women’s voices and those of other marginalized groups? How do you hope you and/or Syntax & Salt can contribute to this vision?
I would love to see an outpouring of support and opportunity for writers from all walks of life to tell their stories, not have stories written about them, not see their differentness fetishized or used as a device to create yet another opportunity for a hero to rise out of the ashes and save them. At Syntax & Salt we very much are seeking more work from people of color, from the LGBTQIA community, and absolutely from even more women. We would love to be more and more a part of supporting more diverse stories and writers, and helping them be successful.