interview | 6.21.17
'A safe harbor from stereotype is the nuance and weird beauty/beautiful weirdness of human voices'
Chris Campanioni talks PANK, literary citizenship, and the mission to give voice to creative risk-takers and the underrepresented.
I love PANK's aesthetic. It's what drew me to the journal in the first place. Their print issue covers have this otherworldly vibe to them, taking the recognizable and familiar and making it strange. When you actually crack the magazine, the breadth and mixture of the work impresses you. Each piece takes a risk, and each in its own way. Later, if you take a look at their website you'll find more compelling content in their online issues and blog.
At the 2017 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference, I was lucky enough to stumble into a PANK reading in a loft of a restaurant (things like that happen at AWP). When I saw their contributors owning their work in front of a crowd, I had to reach out. Chris Campanioni, one of PANK’s three editors, was kind enough to oblige.
-Madison Bernath, managing editor
Why’d the former founding editors decide to shutter PANK, and why’d you decide to save it?
Chris Campanioni: Running a magazine—as you know!—is a lot of work; it takes a lot of time. I don’t know the specifics but my understanding is that Roxane [Gay] had gotten to a point in her career where she probably couldn’t devote as much time as she would have liked to her baby. PANK represents so many different things to so many different people, but all of us shared a common love and gratitude for the kind of work and the writers PANK had celebrated since opening its doors in 2006. I would hope that anyone in the position to save it would do just that. It’s certainly an honor and a privilege to continue the tradition set by Roxane and M. Bartley but also a tremendous responsibility, and if John Gosslee hadn’t stepped in and worked with the founders on the resurrection, I hope someone else would have. One of the things I’ve learned, especially recently within our lit community, is how much support and encouragement there is to go around; in our current #resist moment of making art in the face of so much injustice and so much institutionalized terror, I really feel and believe that everyone has everyone’s back here, and it’s beautiful, and it’s heartwarming, and it’s affirming.
With a whole new masthead, have PANK’s goals changed or evolved? (and what are those goals, exactly? We can read the About page, but we’d love to hear it in your own words.)
CC: I’m glad you asked! I was just speaking to what’s ahead for PANK during a panel on literary publishing and I think first and foremost is trying our best to foster our community and keep it growing through our blog, which is always open for submissions and which we try to update with something substantial—an interview, a contributor spotlight, a review, a cinepoem, et cetera—every week. Our role—and responsibility—as editors go hand-in-hand with our role as literary citizens, and we’ve been able to revamp our blog to become a vibrant space for celebrating independent art and artists, but also a space for writers to respond to current events through a creative piece and to retain that urgency, in ways that might be diminished if we waited to publish it in one of our bi-annual online issues or our annual winter edition. The blog was a big part of our goal to create a conversation and open that dialogue to everyone.
We also have put a big effort into launching our new publishing arm, PANK Books, which will debut this fall with two very different, small and beautiful books, Maya Sonenberg’s speculative, multimodal memoir After the Death of Shostakovich Pere and Stacy Austin Egan’s short story collection, You Could Stop It Here.
You publish fiction and poetry in online and print format. What can you do digitally that you can't do in print and vise versa?
CC: Well, one of the best things about publishing work online is everybody can read it. Since our goal is to publish voices and work that would otherwise not have a home, that kind of open access really helps. When we accept pieces for online issues or the blog, we give our contributors the option to send us an audio recording or video presentation of the work, which is awesome. A few contributors have gotten really creative in the past year and it’s been so rewarding as an editor but especially as a reader to see—and hear—how writers have re-imagined and adapted their works for different mediums.
Our goal is to publish voices and work that would otherwise not have a home.
Elevator pitch: why should people read PANK?
CC: People should read PANK because they want to be upended; they want to learn something new about themselves in the stories and voices of another. We look for stories and voices that would otherwise not have a home elsewhere in more traditional or less risk-taking publications, and our readers contribute to that voice.
Bigger, vaguer question: why should people read at all? What, in other words, does the reading experience offer that, say, watching a movie or listening to a podcast or song doesn’t?
CC: I’ve always thought of reading—and literature in general—as being necessarily more intimate because of how active and participatory it is, as opposed to watching a movie or listening to a podcast, which is an act of spectatorship or attentive observation. But the point—or one point—of reading is to lose yourself in a stranger’s life, in their hopes and fears and experience. You come away changed, not having only learned something, but lived something.
Consensus is unproductive in art and literature. We want to remain as fluid and inclusive as possible.
Thanks to organizations like VIDA, the conversation in recent years among literary types has grown a little bit to include a much greater range and diversity of voices, even as the larger bookselling industry has gotten more conservative as it’s begun to shrink. What, if anything, does PANK do to try and facilitate diversity in its editor and writerly ranks? And a question about the larger trend: what can little magazines do – limited as they are, in terms of resources – to actively, and continually, diversify their ranks?
CC: I think it starts with who’s on staff—who are the people making the editorial decisions, who do you have reading your submissions—and also the kind of work you actively solicit. A lot of press in the last three, four, five years has called attention to controversy over the lack of representation on a lot of year-end literary lists. In the end all the talk about “lists” obscures the issue, I think, which is real representation, not “diversity” as tokenism or flaccid keyword, a series of names and books reduced to numbers. I suppose I’m saying we should care less about lists in general and more about literacy and language. A safe harbor from stereotype is the nuance and weird beauty/beautiful weirdness of human voices and the best way to do that is to get the word out for submissions to writers who are underrepresented. And true diversity exists not just on the racial, ethnic, gender levels, but also on the professional one. We don’t want a magazine wholly composed of poets who are in academia or who are writing instructors, for instance. Any vision that is unilateral or monochromatic is a bad one.
And I think we are really fortunate to have three main editors with such cultural and geographic diversity; we each have very different, sometimes intersecting interests and I think that’s actually a real strength. Consensus is unproductive in art and literature; what I want is to open a journal or scroll through a magazine online and be continually stunned by the range of voices and works encompassed in a single issue. We want to remain as fluid and inclusive as possible.