An Interview with Yasmin Belkhyr, Editor-in-Chief of Winter Tangerine Review

Interviewed by Anuradha Bhowmik

Winter Tangerine Review is a literary & arts magazine dedicated to disrupting the status quo and providing visibility to unheard narratives that often face erasure. Yasmin Belkhyr is the founder and editor-in-chief of Winter Tangerine Review.

INTERVIEWER

How did you start Winter Tangerine Review?

BELKHYR

I started Winter Tangerine when I was 16. I had been writing and submitting for a few years and realized that the journals at the helm of the literary world werent publishing perspectives that I related to. I didnt see youth poets or poets of color or women poets celebrated. I made a post on Tumblr with a call for staff and within a week, I had received over a hundred applications from such a wildly diverse group of people. After another week, we were a fledgling magazine with a full staff and a fundraiser and an open call for submissions. It was a really incredible time in my life, and a very sudden and monumental change.

INTERVIEWER

How would you describe the main goals and intentions for Winter Tangerine Review?

BELKHYR

The main goal of Winter Tangerine is to amplify the voices of the unheard. We are especially interested in writing and art from marginalized communities. We aim to create space that celebrates unsung voices.

INTERVIEWER

How do you choose which poets and writers to solicit as guest editors for upcoming issues? Do you use a certain method when contacting them?

BELKHYR

Our main thoughts when choosing which writers and artists to guest-edit features is whether their creative work fits what were trying to do with the feature. Shira Erlichmans work dives deep into the complexities of bipolar disorder and shes an amazing writer and activist, so we knew that shed lend a really important perspective to “Reshaping the Bell Jar,” our feature on mental illness. Its similar with our Workshop Guest Seminars. We generally just send out an email.

INTERVIEWER

How do you determine the themes for the Spitfire Series and Spotlight Series features? What distinguishes the two features?

BELKHYR

In the past, the themes for Spotlights have really been spur-of-the moment decisions. The decision to do “Hands Up Dont Shoot,” our first conscious Spotlight, was the result of nights I spent educating myself on police brutality in America after the death of Michael Brown. I was shocked and horrified about the true depth of systemic racism, embarrassed that I was only just researching and learning about it then, and desperate to help. Spotlights are now scheduled in advance, but the sense of responsibility and urgency still holds. Spotlights largely focus on specific social issues, but were moving to structure Spotlights to focus on the communities themselves. Our Spotlights for 2017 will focus on the Latinx community, the disabled community, and the queer community. We chose these three because we feel connected to these communities and want to uplift them, want to give them space to voice their own narratives, to rewrite our history and our present and our future. We want Spotlights to absolutely shed light on systems of oppression that plague marginalized communities, but we also want the Spotlights to be a place of beauty and joy, of celebration and love.

The Spitfire features are less about social community and more about the deeply personal, the universal. Our first Spitfire, “Mythology of Childhood,” is set to be released mid-November. Spitfires are newer to Winter Tangerine, and the ones in queue so far were formed from long conversations between various staff members about what worries us, what enthralls us, what scares us, what we are obsessed with. In 2017, we hope to put out Spitfires on religion, fairy tales, and fame.

INTERVIEWER

Are there any risks that you consider when selecting submissions for certain themed issues, such as the “Hands Up Dont Shoot feature”? How do you determine which content is suitable for each issue?

BELKHYR

One of the risks of producing features centered on social activism and community-building is the guarantee that the other side will push back against our work. For “Hands Up Dont Shoot” specifically, we received horrible and disgusting submissions from hateful, violent racists. Weve also received work for various Spotlight Series features from people who they have nothing to do with. Most of these people are well-meaning but that doesnt detract from the violence of a privileged person taking space from the marginalized. The most efficient way weve found to tell if work is suitable for a feature is to put the decision-making in the hands of people we trust. Our guest editors and creative directors are all a part of the communities they are shining a light on those choosing work for a feature on mental illness are all directly affected by mental illness, those choosing work for a feature on queer history are all queer.

We dont use trigger warnings for any of our projects and that was a conscious choice. The Spotlight Series really focuses on making room for the narratives that are ignored as a result of oppression, and oppression is inherently triggering for most people. Though trigger warnings are valid, necessary, and immeasurably helpful in many places, in this context, we would end up flagging nearly everything we publish as triggering. I also dont believe it is my place as an editor to flag someones work with an intention that may not be there however, there is space for discussion if a contributor specifically asks us to tag their work with a trigger warning.

INTERVIEWER

What type of response is often received from these themed features?

BELKHYR

Our Spotlight Series features have been received with love and support from the communities they celebrate, as well as the larger literary sphere. Im extraordinarily grateful for all the hard work that goes into all of the Spotlights and so, so proud when we finally release the final collections to be read and shared by the WT community.

INTERVIEWER

Winter Tangerine has several contests throughout the year, including the Winter Tangerine Awards. What is the process like for this?

BELKHYR

The Winter Tangerine Awards is the result of our belief that writers, especially emerging writers, deserve to be honored and deserve to be paid. Beginning in April, we accept free submissions from any writer who hasnt yet published a full-length collection of poems or stories, or a novel. We read all the entries and forward the pieces we connect with most to our judges, who then pick the winners. We just published the results of the second annual WTA and I couldnt be more proud of the work that our judges (Aracelis Girmay and Chris Abani) chose to honor. The final line-up offers a pretty honest representation of the work we love and the communities we are dedicated to.

INTERVIEWER

How and where do you solicit for submissions?  Whats been effective in getting quality submissions, rather than just volume?

BELKHYR

We send out tons and tons of solicitations. Its never been a conscious set of choices; we dont make a staff-wide decision to solicit someone. As a staff, we solicit anyone who has ever created anything we liked. We solicit people who have published their work in really popular magazines and we solicit our friends and we solicit people whose work we read in zines and we solicit writers on Tumblr and visual artists we find on random corners of the internet and on and on. I really dont fuck with the weird pretentious attitude towards solicitations that I see often in the literary world this idea that if a magazine solicits you, theyre obliged to publish your work, this idea that a solicitation is a guaranteed acceptance. Its just weird; weve gotten a few angry responses from writers we solicited who were really surprised when we declined their work. Honestly, our solicitations and the decisions we make on solicited submissions are rarely personal and rarely universal. Our method has been pretty effective, I think! We just reach out to anyone who has made cool stuff and ask them to send other work our way. Its a pretty simple system, I think.

INTERVIEWER

How do you approach a writer or poet when you want them to make edits to their piece?

BELKHYR

Depends on how well I know them personally, to be honest. If its someone the editors and I arent familiar with, we send them an email letting them know were interested in the piece and want to send over some suggested edits. If its someone I know or Jake Stone (our managing editor) knows well, we might just reach out to them directly.

INTERVIEWER

Have you noticed any emerging literary trends (whether with form or subject matter) over the last few years?

BELKHYR

Haha, Sarah Maria Medina (WTs poetry editor) and I were recently talking about how so many poets are using ghost imagery lately. I dont think any other trends come to mind, really. Ive noticed prose poetry is becoming more popular, which Im grateful for because prose poetry is the only form Ive written in for years, haha.

INTERVIEWER

How has your editorial work impacted your own writing?

BELKHYR

Im much harder on my writing and also much more forgiving of my writing. I definitely look at poetry differently, which is not something I expected, and this new editorial sight makes me view my own writing really strangely sometimes. Im much more focused when I write, much more deliberate about specific words and images. I rarely edit my own writing though. I really stopped editing my own work once Winter Tangerine became a large part of my day-to-day life, because I noticed I would just attack my work. Im kind of a mean editor and that doesnt transfer well to my own work. I would end up deleting entire poems, entire pages of work, and I found that constant fear and tension exhausting. Its been incredible though, overall. I read thousands of poems every year, poems about everything, in every different form, poems that talk about the same thing in remarkably different ways. Ive learned more about this craft than I ever thought I could.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any advice for emerging poets and authors who are submitting their work?

BELKHYR

Read a magazine before you submit your work there. Its really important to feel connected to the mission of a magazine that is publishing your work. If you dont know where to submit your work, think of writers whose work you admire and read the magazines theyre publishing their work in. Ultimately though, the work is more important than where its published its a cliche, the whole high school be yourself!pep talk, but seriously, write your own goddamn truth. Youre the only person who can.

Check out the current special issue at Winter Tangerine Review, Love Letters to Spooks, dedicated for Black writers by Black writers. It is edited by Xandria Phillips, Associate Poetry Editor of Winter Tangerine Review and an MFA candidate at Virginia Tech.


Anuradha Bhowmik is a Bangladeshi-American poet and writer from South Jersey. She is an MFA candidate at Virginia Tech, the poetry editor for the minnesota review, and a reader for Winter Tangerine Review. She is a Pushcart nominee and has received scholarships from the New York State Summer Writers Institute, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Frost Place, the Indiana University Writers’ Conference, and the Juniper Summer Writing Institute. Her poetry and prose are forthcoming or have appeared in Bayou Magazine, Crab Orchard Review, Slice Magazine, Zone 3, The Normal School, Copper Nickel, Ninth Letter Online, Word Riot, and elsewhere. Anuradha can be found at www.anuradhabhowmik.com.  

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