A Conversation with Joanna Valente

By Mirna Palacio Ornelas

This is the ninth and final blog 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. 

Joanna Valente, the nonbinary queer witch (she/them), is the founder of Yes, Poetry and the Senior Managing Editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Both publications, Joanna tells us, align with the occult and witches, creating a safe space for those inhabiting liminality. In fact, Yes, Poetry and Luna Luna Magazine make it very clear that they encourage and prioritize works from women, queer people, non-binary folks, and people of color.

This interview has been edited for length. To view the full-length version, click here.

Mirna Palacio Ornelas (MPO) What is your advice for starting a literary journal? Could you talk about how Yes, Poetry started and how you got involved with Luna Luna Magazine?

Joanna Valente: To start a magazine of any kind, do it because you love it, not because you want to get famous or seem important or because you want some kind of power – or you think you’ll make money. Do it because you love it, because you love helping others, because you want to create space for a passion and a lifestyle that you believe in. All that other stuff, either doesn’t matter, isn’t healthy, or will come as a result (like making some kind of revenue).

I started YP back when I was a college student at SUNY Purchase in my dorm. I was sad, isolated, and alone. I had just been sexually assaulted and had no one to talk to, or felt like I had no one in my corner. This isn’t to say I didn’t have close friends or family, but like many survivors, actually opening up and confiding in others, not to mention admitting it even happened, felt like an impossibility. So instead, I created a magazine where I could give other people voices, trauma-related or not. I wanted to put something beautiful in the world, and to let others contribute to this platform of beauty and honesty and connectedness.

With LL, I got involved when I had seen a call for essays for a new magazine. I had just written an essay about sexual assault (the first time I ever addressed it in nonfiction), and submitted. From there, I just ended up doing more—and the rest is history.

MPO: What is the story behind the style of pieces you’ve chosen for Yes, Poetry? Do themes develop organically?

JV: Since we’re a magazine focused on promoting queer and diverse voices, I tend to focus on giving space to people writing about their identities or experiences that have shaped them. While YP isn’t explicitly an occult magazine, since I myself work within the occult community (as a tarot reader and practicing witch), there are definitely huge elements and aesthetic to that, especially considering I often write music and book roundups, and also largely provide the cover art for each piece (as I’m also a photographer).

In a funny way, YP’s aesthetic is largely embedded in my own aesthetic, probably unintentionally, but because I run it as a labor of love, it’s run purely as an art project. So because of that, the aesthetic, the meaning, and the beauty are the priorities.

I love being in a community and providing a space for people to be themselves, whatever that means. I’m obsessed with all things occult, with voices that are often seen as “other,” with “alternative” lifestyles, and generally just with people’s experiences. I, of course, don’t actually see anyone’s voice or lifestyle as other, everyone is and should be the norm when it comes to identity and lifestyle choices, but I tend to veer toward giving a place for people whose work and sensibility isn’t seen as conventional – or doesn’t necessarily fit into the mainstream mold.

MPO: When do you know that a piece must be in either YP or LL? Is it a moment or a feeling? Or is the process more deliberate?

JV: The process is actually rather deliberate. I tend to accept multiple pieces by the same person and separate them, since the magazines are quite similar in a lot of ways (they both deal with magic and the occult), as a way to bolster both magazines and give the writer two bylines (yay!). Sometimes, more is more. However, I tend to reserve LL for people who have magic-focused pieces (whereas YP might deal more with occult themes rather than topics on their own). Largely it just hinges on the editorial calendars of both.

MPO: Do you do anything to ensure a genuinely diverse pool of authors? Both publications have such specific calls for marginalized writers.

JV: I ask myself why I’m publishing this person, what they’re saying, etc. I really try to hold myself accountable in two ways: Are the recent people I’ve published all in the same demographic? If so, I need to do work to change that. The second part is, I don’t want to fetishize someone either, you know?

I do think there’s a fine line between reading, soliciting, and accepting work by diverse people of various backgrounds, and specifically publishing people because you want to look diverse. I try to publish work that is thought-provoking, challenging, and insightful. When you have that rubric in mind, and when you specifically want to publish people who aren’t necessarily part of the status quo, I think it also happens naturally, especially in the case that both magazines are rather niche.

I also think the more work you do, genuinely and authentically, the right people find you.

MPO: How does editing the journal affect how you approach some of your own work (and vice versa)? How do your poet/creator and editing “selves” converge?

JV: Thinking about how something will be presented, who the audience is, and how I can capture the balance of that is fascinating to me. That being said, I try not to self-edit first drafts, which is hard to do especially when you type on a computer (I don’t hand-write often). So I try to turn my editor brain off. It helps a lot; it’s definitely why I’m more productive and write often, versus agonizing over every word choice. Which is also a valid way to write, but I personally find it debilitating. I also just don’t have the time to do that, as someone with a full-time job outside of all of this.

MPO: Is there any advice you have for new writers looking to be published?

JV: Be yourself. Don’t rush. Let yourself breathe and live. We also don’t need to make ourselves into workaholics. We need to relax too, not just constantly create. Creating can be therapeutic and joyful, but so is a long walk, a coffee date, watching your favorite show after a day at work.

 

Joanna Valente is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015)  Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), Sexting Ghosts (Unknown Press, 2018), No(body) (Madhouse Press, 2019), and #Survivor (The Operating System, 2020). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing By Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017), and received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine, and a professional tarot reader. Joanna also teaches courses at Brooklyn Poets. Joanna has been featured in Brooklyn Magazine, Them, Prelude, BUST, Columbia Journal, Electric Literature, Joyland, Tarpaulin Sky, The Feminist Wire, Spork Press, Ravishly, The Rumpus, VICE, The Brooklyn Rail, VIDA, The Huffington Post, among others. In addition, Joanna has also spoken or given lectures for/at SUNY Purchase College, Sarah Lawrence College, the National Eating Disorder Association, AWP, Brooklyn Book Festival, &Now Festival, Shout Your Abortion, Ravishly, Luna Luna Magazine, Monstering Magazine, Winter Tangerine, and more. Despite being a ghost, Joanna was born in Manhattan, New York, attended SUNY Purchase College for their bachelor’s degrees in literature and creative writing, and dreams of having a flower and vegetable garden one day.

Mirna Palacio Ornelas is a queer WOC, hija de imigrantes Mexicanos, studying to get her MFA in poetry. She grew up in Ciudad Juarez, the borderlands, y se perdió somewhere in the Midwest. She dreams of the day when academia is actively anti-racist and contributes through scholarship, cultural critique, and creative projects.

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