A Conversation with Gabriel Blackwell

By Kira Homsher

This is the fourth in a series of blogs written by the editorial staff of the minnesota review interviewing editors and folks in publishing. We hope that these will shed some light on the industry and help you learn more about how, where, and why to submit your work. 

Gabriel Blackwell works as the Editor-in-Chief and Nonfiction Editor for The Rupture, formerly known as The Collagist. The Rupture published its first issue in August of 2009 and has since published over 100 issues, featuring work included in Best American Poetry, the Pushcart Prize anthology, Best New Poets, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, the Wigleaf top 50, and other publications. Gabriel is the author of four books, the most recent of which is Madeleine E. (Outpost19, 2016), and his writing has appeared in numerous publications, such as Conjunctions, Tin House, and Puerto de Sol.

Kira Homsher (KH): How did The Rupture (formerly The Collagist) originally come about? 

Gabriel Blackwell (GB): The Collagist published its first issue in 2009. Our founding editor, Matt Bell, was working at Dzanc Books at the time. He has described the magazine as an outgrowth of his work at the press; the idea was that the magazine would help extend the press’s mission, bringing the work of writers who deserved more attention before a wider audience. (The “wider audience” thing is why we’ve always been an online-only magazine, by the way, and why we have no paywall, and won’t.)

KH: How many submissions do you get on average during submission periods? 

GB: Across all three genres (poetry, fiction, and nonfiction), we got a little over 4000 submissions last reading period. We have a very small staff—and only publish 0.01% of those submissions—so that’s plenty to read and consider.

KH: I know The Rupture places an emphasis on welcoming unsolicited submissions. How does your team approach the ‘first round’ of readings in the slush pile? What kind of writing tends to get chosen for further rounds of review, in terms of length, style, content, etc.? 

GB: I don’t think we have that kind of reading/selection process. All submissions are read by the section editors, and we don’t have any staff who work solely as readers, so there isn’t a need to do the kind of culling I think you’re describing. I mean there isn’t a rigid system by which one group of people pass along a selection of submissions to the next group of people and decline the rest, and then that next group of people pass along a selection from that selection, etc. I’ve worked at other magazines with that kind of process and I always thought the end result was . . . not very interesting. As a reader, I tend to gravitate more toward things that a few people think are exceptional than towards things a lot of people think are pretty okay, and so I try to replicate that as an editor.

KH: When (and if) you do choose to solicit submissions, what is the process? 

GB: As you note, it’s rare that we solicit submissions. We’ve done it for a couple of special issues, most recently our 100th, but, otherwise, very rarely. With the 100th, I wanted to publish new work from a mix of our former contributors—a few from our first few years, a few from the next few years, etc.—and I didn’t think we’d get that in the regular (i.e., unsolicited) queue. (That said, we still published work from our submissions queue in that issue, both because it was worth publishing and because we didn’t want the whole issue to be solicited work.)

The mechanics of those solicitations are pretty straightforward: send an email with plenty of lead time, giving a deadline for the submission and an idea of why we particularly want work from that writer, then hope for the best.

KH: Do you charge a submission fee? If so, what does the magazine do with these fees? Where does the magazine’s funding come from?

GB: We don’t charge for submissions. We never have. Our (all-volunteer) staff are incredibly generous with their time and we intentionally keep overhead very low. What funding there is—we’re really not an expensive outfit—comes to us via our similarly generous publisher. We’ve been lucky now to have had two publishers who were both willing to allow us complete freedom to do what we want with the magazine and not ask for any sort of financial return or editorial control. I am grateful to them for that.

KH: As the nonfiction editor, what are you looking for in submissions? Does the magazine tend to get more creative nonfiction than journalistic nonfiction?

GB: We don’t publish journalistic nonfiction, although we do occasionally get submissions that could conceivably fall into that category. We’ve published a few analytical/critical pieces, all before my tenure as nonfiction editor, but, with those few exceptions, we publish creative nonfiction. We were asked—by our former publisher—to run stuff I would classify as commentary, but we declined. We’re a literary journal, and, to me, anyway, that means we publish “news that stays news,” per Pound.

As for what I’m looking for in a submission, that’s a question I typically resist answering. To say something true, like “I’m looking for nonfiction I’d like to read as a reader,” rarely seems to satisfy the person asking the question, but, really, what more is there to say? We’ve published over a hundred issues. Our tastes, if they are knowable, should by now be a known quantity. I don’t mean that as a rebuke, I just mean what we’ve published is a better, more accurate measure of what we publish than anything I could possibly say.

But maybe there is one more thing I can say: If I can’t understand how the thing operates at some level, I’m not going to be an effective editor for it. There are times when I read something really exciting and eminently worth publishing, but I have to pass on it simply because I wouldn’t know where to begin as an editor. So, maybe I can say what I’m looking for has to make me excited to be a reader but it also has to be something I’m competent to handle as an editor. I mean, I’ve edited almost everything in the magazine—I started as the book reviews editor, then edited the fiction for a long time, and now I’m editing nonfiction—but I haven’t and almost certainly won’t edit the poetry we publish simply because, while I love to read it, I’m not competent to edit it.

 

Gabriel Blackwell is the author of four books, the most recent of which is Madeleine E. (Outpost19, 2016). His fictions and essays have appeared in many issues of Conjunctions, in Tin House, DIAGRAM, Puerto del Sol, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere. His next book, CORRECTION, a collection of 101 short pieces written under constraint, was Rescue Press’s 2019 Open Prose Selection and will be published in spring 2021. He is the editor of The Rupture.

A Philadelphia native, Kira Homsher is currently an MFA candidate at Virginia Tech, where she serves as Fiction Editor for the minnesota review. Her writing can be found in Bedfellows Magazine, Ghost City Review, and Unbroken Journal, and is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly and Middle House Review.

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