Publisher vs Editor-in-Chief

I am the publisher of Reckoning, not the editor-in-chief. A couple things happened recently to make me want to emphasize that distinction and talk about why it’s important.

I used to be the editor! I’m really proud of those first two issues where I got to do that work. I found it incredibly rewarding. It’s such a different, richer, more creative and collaborative experience than merely reading submissions, which I’d done for a couple of other magazines beforehand. For writers who’ve established themselves a little, if you’re at all interested, I recommend it. It crystallized what I wanted out of my own writing. It showed me how to talk about writing with writers in ways no amount of workshopping had.

But it takes up a lot of writing time. And you burn out, or at least I did.

So I pulled back from that role, both to give myself a break and to give others the chance. Reckoning has been about community-building from the start, and working closely, creatively, with others is the best and most rewarding way I’ve found to do that. I’ve learned so much, individually, from editors Danika Dinsmore, Arkady Martine, Leah Bobet, Cécile Cristofari, Aïcha Martine Thiam, Gabriele Santiago, Priya Chand, Octavia Cade, and Tim Fab-Eme, as well as long-time staff and (I hope) future editors Giselle Leeb, Johannes Punkt, Catherine Rockwood and Andrew Kozma, and all our staff. They are each, individually, brilliant. I’ve gotten to know them as people, I’ve gotten to know their work, how they work, what they love in a piece of writing, what they love in the world. Through them, I’ve expanded my understanding of what environmental justice and climate writing can be, what activism looks like, how humans can be interconnected with the rest of the natural world, who gets to be responsible for bringing about all of the above, and why. (The essay I’ve got out in Solarpunk Magazine right now has a bit more about this.)

This was part of the original idea: learning, getting shown where I’ve been wrong. And there was one other thing: I wanted Reckoning taken out of my hands.

I didn’t even know what environmental justice was not so long before I started. Quickly, though, it became obvious: the voices we need to hear aren’t mine. Everybody’s heard plenty from people who look like me, from Thoreau and John Muir down to David Attenborough. The trouble is, practically every single person directly responsible for the world’s environmental injustice looks like me, too. It kind of undermines one’s credibility.

Back in 2015 I consulted a couple of indie publishers I trusted, asking for advice. They were all white men. One said to me, if you’re going to invite a bunch of strangers to take editorial control of something you created, you have to accept the possibility that they’ll take it away from you completely, make it into something you couldn’t have foreseen, didn’t intend, something you might not even like. And I thought, not without a little trepidation: that sounds amazing. That is exactly what I want. I’ve been trying to figure out how something like that would be possible ever since.

So why didn’t I seek marginalized folks to take on Reckoning right away, instead of waiting two whole issues? I did, actually, though not terribly exhaustively. She said no. She was way ahead of me, too busy completely altering her career path to teach environmental justice thought and writing at a university level. But when she turned me down, it made me realize I wasn’t ready to go asking other folks for help. I wasn’t exactly a nobody, I’d guest-edited one environmental issue of LCRW—but out from under the auspices of Small Beer, I didn’t have a track record. There was no reason for anyone to trust that I wasn’t out to exploit them, use their identity and their work as a mask for my lazy entitlement. And I didn’t have nearly enough money to offer anyone to make that worth their while.

This is why I ended up seeking editorial staff from the pool of people I’d published. They already had my money, they’d seen the product, they knew I was serious.

Reckoning’s first editorial staff came together, and they gelled. It was amazing to see: they were joking together, caring about each other, stepping up to support each other, and arguing fiercely about what the work should be.

Once it became obvious that it had worked, that these wonderful people—wiser, more talented, different from me, with things to say that the world needed to hear—had invested in the idea of Reckoning, in evolving and improving it and learning together, I saw how I could begin to pivot away from making creative decisions towards supporting them, helping to find more people like them. We’re still in that process. It’ll be awhile, yet. I’m still the voice of the editorial “we” on twitter, for example, though I’d love that to change. I’m still doing everything I can behind the scenes, up to and including a little editing as needed, and I’ll keep doing it as long as that’s needed. “I am where the buck stops,” I keep telling everybody who wants to join us, until it begins to feel like it’s losing it’s meaning.

It’s not that I’ve got nothing to say! All my own writing has been about this for years now: trying to figure out what I can add to the conversation, to the cause, without stepping in front of the people my kind have been stepping in front of since Columbus, to the massive detriment of every life on this planet except a tiny subset of our own. But I would in no way be able to undertake that effort in good faith if I didn’t have the Reckoning community, its editors, staff, contributors and readers, to teach me. And I want to give them credit. And all the room they need to do that.

Giving Julie C. Day’s series of charity anthologies its own imprint, Essential Dreams Press, of which Julie can be both publisher and editor-in-chief, is a step in this process. The Dreams series has been entirely Julie’s idea and her work from the start—it just happened to fit in with Reckoning’s mission well enough we saw a way we could support her in it, and she was kind and appreciative enough to want to give us credit for that support. But the credit really ought to be hers.

So I’m the publisher of Reckoning Press, not the editor-in-chief. Reckoning’s budget is still mostly my money. Maybe that’ll change? I hope so. I hope I’ll keep fading further into the background. Maybe, hopefully, others will take over the twitter, the layouts, the contracts, the budget. But I’m not trying to push those things off on anyone, because I think of them as the boring part, the work that isn’t fun or creative or transformative. I don’t mind doing those things as long as it’s needed, as long as we, Reckoning, can keep putting out beautiful, diverse, surprising, aggressively heterogeneous, mind-expanding, consensus-building creative writing and art on environmental justice.

The part I do want to keep doing—and I hope I can without getting in the way of the rest of it—is being part of the community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *