Founding and launching a journal like Whether is often filthy business.
In the following special post, editor André Forget discusses the genesis of Whether, a brand new online literary magazine based out of Winnipeg, Toronto, and New York.
I have no idea when exactly I decided it would be fun to start a magazine, but I think it was some time back in October. Terminally unemployed and recently spat lukewarm from the maw of graduate school, I was spending large amounts of time napping on an old blue couch and ploughing through The Possessed because, really, when else am I going to be as depressed and unemployed?
I was disillusioned with academia and not sure what to do with my life, but fortunately an old friend of mine, Annalee Giesbrecht, was in her last year of design school at the time and feeling about the same way, so we would bitch about it together. In long conversations over the phone we started kicking around the idea of starting some kind of publication—we figured that if no one else was going to give us a job doing what we wanted to do, we’d just do it ourselves. This was, I suppose, the genesis of Whether.
Annalee and I had become friends while studying English Lit. at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, and our fondness of drinking away Saturday nights and getting up in time for church on Sunday mornings was metonymic of how we approached art and life. Conversation around the kitchen table in the West End house we rented with an assortment of musicology students, carpenters, and peace activists seemed to be equal parts Derrida and dick jokes, and we liked the idea that those things were complimentary rather than oppositional. In our conversations about what we could possibly add to a world already filled with many excellent publications (The New Inquiry, Jacobin, The Believer, Brick, and, of course, The Puritan, to name a pertinent few) it was those sensibilities—the Saturday night as well as the Sunday morning—that we wanted to inhabit.
We quickly found that talking about starting a magazine is rather different from actually doing so. To accomplish the task, we brought two like-minded friends—Maria Bowler and Adam Klassen—on board to give the project some shape and thrust. One of the driving forces behind the magazine is a sense of curiosity, a desire to explore different ideas or themes from a number of angles without any particular ideological motive. So for our Saints issue in July, we asked some interesting people (who we thought might have something interesting to say) to reflect on the idea of the saint or of sanctity.
What we got was a pleasantly bizarre set of pieces ranging in content from Tibetan Buddhism to Iranian political martyrs to icon-painting on the prairies—which was exactly the sort of thing we had been hoping for.
Get on your shiny new Internet Device and give Whether a call.
Running a magazine on these principles, of course, comes with a number of challenges; from what I understand of publishing (which, admittedly, isn’t much), it is best to find a niche and stick with it. I don’t know what our niche is yet, and I’m trying not to worry about it. Presumably that will get sorted out in time. For now, we’re trying to find smart writing about things we think are interesting. We publish new content at the beginning of each month, and each issue is organized around a certain theme. Our last issue, for example, was on Saints, and the current issue is on Nostalgia. The next issue will be on Labour, and in October we’ll be talking about Moving. We include regular features as well (a review, a travelogue) which are less directly tied to the main theme, but our hope is that each issue will function as a kind of brief (and necessarily incomplete) commentary on each idea.
Our roots, though, are in literature, and we hope that bringing literature and non-fiction into conversation with each other on particular themes can facilitate a richer dialogue, one in which fiction and poetry are seen to function as valid and necessary kinds of intellectual enquiry into questions of cultural, political, personal, gastronomical, philosophical, aesthetic, technological, and even theological import.
Ideally Whether exists to publish eclectic and interesting work, work that represents a variety of opinions in a plurality of media, work that is curious and restless and sincere; ideally, we seek to provide a space where people don’t have to agree but they can have a conversation.
Whether or not we have been able to do that so far is a different question. But maybe you can help us with that.
André Forget did his MA in English Literature at Dalhousie University and now teaches English to international students in Toronto. His writing has appeared in The Dalhousie Review and The Winnipeg Review. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org & @ayforget