Editors' Roundtable

Faulkner, Hanson-Finger, Keeler, and Willis form an editorial roundtable.

Puritan editor Tyler Willis was recently interviewed over at Open Book Toronto by Writer in Residence and former Puritan contributor, Andrew Faulkner (whose  poetry collection Need Machine was published by Coach House this past Spring) in a four-way round-table conversation about editors and editing. The interview, which included Little Brother’s Emily Keeler and Dragnet’s Jeremy Hanson-Finger, touched on a number of topics including magazine culture and communities, the rigours of the editing process, and a shared appreciation of Joyland.

A recurring topic of conversation was collaboration. Emily talked about LB’s recent Rob Ford-themed collection Everything is Fine, which featured Puritan co- and associate- editors Spencer Gordon and Andrew Sullivan while Jeremy talked about the upcoming Dragnet anthology:

Our first special project is Dragnet Anthology 1. Although we had been talking about the possibility of an anthology before, I think seeing The Puritan’s anthology and how well people responded to it really pushed us to do ours.

The interview truly shines when Faulkner pushes each participant to espouse their respective magazines’ editorial mandate. Emily and Jeremy discuss the challenges of rewarding the reader, while Tyler discusses the involved relationship between editor and author:

[E]diting to me is a shared collaborative experience. An artistic partnership exists between author and editor … and when each trusts the other, amazing work emerges, shaped and sculpted by collaborative construction. If the author inspires the editor, and the editor tempers the author, the writing will hopefully benefit.

On the topic of each publication’s medium as an  influence on the form of published material—especially the experimental—the answers were remarkably different. Emily, who publishes Little Brother in print twice per year,

wanted to make enough space for long pieces, for experiments, for prose that isn’t forced to hurriedly unfurl itself in the rush of the web… to present the work in a medium that doesn’t seem quite so ready to continually interrupt itself.

For Jeremy, who publishes Dragnet online three times per year, the Internet offers its own set of challenges:

[W]e are competing for eyeballs with every organization that delivers content … As a result, we wanted to make the experience as smooth as possible so people didn’t lose focus and switch to something more immediately rewarding.

[O]ur medium also demands that we focus on work that pushes boundaries in terms of content but still fundamentally tells a story, and tells it with good pacing. Although we personally enjoy experimental writing, the Internet reading experience does not lend itself to the sustained level of thought required by some of the more formally challenging works we receive for consideration, so for the purposes of Dragnet we tend to favour more traditional narrative structures.

For Tyler and The Puritan, the advantages of producing an online quarterly

allows us to embrace longer, more experimental forms. The polished 4,000 word short story, or the amiable four-stanza lyric are a staple in Canadian literary magazine culture, but The Puritan is trying to feature bigger, more innovative work … Precise edits and careful correspondence with authors … is a conscious choice and one that is vital to reinvigorating the literary sensibilities in this country. Magazine writing in Canada is growing stale because the big, university-funded journals like The Malahat Review and The Fiddlehead are still producing the same kind of writing that they have been for half a century.

[T]his monopoly of small, safe writing [can be broken] if we embrace the delimiting avenues the Internet offers … [featuring] the longer, the stranger, the more experimental works that Canadian magazines should be promoting.

The interview provides an intriguing exploration of the role of the contemporary magazine editor. Tinker, tailor, sponsor, spokesperson, publisher, and peddler, today’s multi-faceted, multi-tasking editor steps up and steps in to whatever role needs filling. For all its ubiquity, though, the editor’s work is subtle, surgical—more finesse than flair. It’s especially refreshing, then, when someone steps forward to sing the praises of this largely unsung profession.

Read this remarkable and revealing interview in its entirety here.

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