Sunday, March 1, 2009

Green fringe

Fringe Magazine is a revolutionary literature magazine that was founded "to fight against the homogenization of culture and the loss of revolutionary literature at the high-literary and popular levels." On March 2009 it is clebrating its third anniversary with a theme issue dedicated to the environment.

I liked Fringe the minute I saw it. Firstly it's published only online online to avoid wasting resources, it is "a Magazine with a Sense of Humor and no Respect for the Respectable", and did we mention they have a theme issue on the environment?

In this issue you can find an interview with Kelly McMasters (whose book "Welcome to Shirley" was reviewed on our blog last year), non-fiction, poetry, a short story, artwork (see photos below), a critical essay entitled "Revaluing Nature Writing: Toward Love and Flower Power" and more.

I decided it's time to learn more about Fringe and interviewed its editor in chief, Lizzie Stark (see
photo below. Credit: Yian Huang)

Hello Lizzie. Please tell us what we can find in the upcoming issue of Fringe magazine?
We've got a pleasant and eco-friendly mixture of poetry, prose, criticism and art.

How did you come up with the environment theme?
Every year we try to do an issue with a political theme -- in the past we've done Feminism and Ethnos themed issues. For the last two years our poetry editor has talked about how much she liked writing about place. So we started thinking about place in a political kind of way and eventually we came around to environment.

photograph from Fringe's current issue (credit: Diane Parisella-Katris)

Fringe Magazine's manifesto says "We founded Fringe to fight against the homogenization of culture and the loss of revolutionary literature at the high-literary and popular levels". How you connect these goals with the environment theme of the upcoming issue? do you find this connection a natural one?
There's no doubt that everything "green" is hot these days, and I think that we're seeing the corporate world co-opt this trend in order to sell us everything from "natural" surface cleaner to eco-jewlery and carbon credits. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- in fact, there's a lot about it that's good, but it does feed into our consumer mentality, perhaps at the expense of other ways of preserving the environment. All of us have to start thinking more carefully about how we use resources. Fringe wants to be a part of that paradigm shift.

In terms of what's out there in the world of writing, I think that the literary community is a peculiar animal. A lot of writers want to write work that transcends a particular time and place by tapping into universal emotions. Many literary writers think of "political writing" in a narrow sense, as writing which is necessarily tied to the here and now and therefore at odds with the goal of writing something timelessly human.

While we do publish the timely (see Issue 6 long poem
on the Alaskan Bridge to Nowhere), Fringe also rejects the notion that writing with a political bent can't tap into universal human emotion. Surely the current generation of artists and writers has a moral responsibility to help shape the discussion on one of the biggest issues facing humanity. We want writing that wakes up the reader to environmental realities in a non-preachy way and still has time for emotional gut-punches. We think that's revolutionary, and it's what we aspire to publish in every issue.

Was it difficult to collect materials on the environment in comparison with other themes you had so far?
No. We always get fewer submissions for our theme issues, but in general we find themed submissions have a higher overall quality, possibly because writers who have pieces that they really like take more time to search out suitable publications and so we receive submissions for our theme issues that fit our aesthetic more clearly.

photograph from Fringe's current issue (credit: Diane Parisella-Katris)

Any piece on the issue you like and want to recommend in particular?
It's tremendously hard to pick a single piece from our best issue ever (although admittedly I feel this way about every issue). I'm in love with Molly Gaudry's piece "Revaluing Nature Writing: Toward Love and Flower Power," an essay that discusses the roots of eco-criticism, why it's necessary and the directions it might take in the future.

From a literature standpoint, Rick Andrew's set of poems, each titled "Field" moved me because they describe the emotional meanings that the natural world contains. We often look at the environment from a practical standpoint -- if we don't preserve it, we die -- but Andrews captures the less tangible benefits of natural beauty.

Is your online format part of your own environmental agenda?
Yes. And it's also cheaper for the editors, who publish the magazine with their pocket money. We don't publish dead-tree editions and we don't accept dead-tree submissions. The yearly copies of our submission guidelines and work from the site that we hand out at the AWP writer's conference are the only paper that we produce...well, that and our yearly tax returns. To be honest, I suppose it's possible that all the electricity we use to juice our site outweighs our lack of paper -- I've never looked into it.

How do you see the role of artists and writers in the fight for a better and greener world?
It's the job of artists and writers to remind us of the beauty of the natural world, why it's worth preserving and what is happening to it. In terms of more journalisty nonfiction writing, it's often the job of writers to raise questions about environmental degradation and drive people to action. Kelly McMasters' book, Welcome to Shirley, which chronicles her childhood growing up in a town close to a leaky nuclear reactor, is an example of this. I did an audio interview with her about this for our issue.

Do you see this issue as a one time effort, or you intend to keep focusing this way or another on the environment in the future?
None of our theme issues are one-time efforts. We always run them because an editor wants to see more of a certain type of writing. We're always open to feminist and race-conscious submissions, and we certainly want to publish more environmental writing in the future. The theme issues help us refine and define our mission as a magazine by showing us what political literature can be.

What do you hope that your readers will take with them after reading this issue?
I hope everyone who reads will think more carefully about their relationship with their environment, and the emotional reasons as well as the practical reasons to preserve it. For our readers who are also writers, I hope they think more about how artists and writers can help shape the public's perception of the environment, and get out there and write some lit.

The Environment issue of Fringe is available online at

Raz @ Eco-Libris