On San Antonio Review.
This is the draft version of the Spotlight published at https://help.pubpub.org/pub/csx046f1
What is your community? Who is involved? Why did you start it?
San Antonio Review is a nonprofit international literary, arts and ideas journal. Our active editorial collective membership has recently shrunk — it’s currently only myself and Ash Lange, who joined as prose editor just after the pandemic’s onset. I’ve addressed the impetus for starting SAR previously in more detail,1 but suffice to say I was dissatisfied with the existing media landscape2 and thought it might be possible to create a new venue for thoughtful alternate voices. Core contributors have included — beyond the two of us maintaining — Gianna Sannipoli (second prose editor), Misty Cripps, Paul Peterson (brief digital editor), Peter Berard (book review editor — I stumbled across his reviews on his blog via Goodreads and asked if he’d accept that title in return for allowing me to republish his reviews; he’s also written exclusive pieces for us and contributed an excellent interview with author John Whitbourn; his annual birthday lectures are always fun reads), Chris Manno (editorial cartoonist), Brianna Keeper (see our recent Q&A with her), Harold Whit Williams and Alex Z. Salinas (inaugural poetry editor and guy who solicited poetry submissions from friends and colleagues).
What would you say was the main focus or goal of the community?
Pretending there was/is any overriding goal would ascribe far too much forethought, consistency and coherence to the various machinations of SAR. If we’ve accomplished anything resembling a goal, it’s merely proving once again that journal and book publishing doesn’t require the institutions usually associated with producing such items as products.
Why is your work important? What are you trying to do? What's meaningful about your work right now?
Charles Bernstein, among others, says, “Poetry is not important. That’s why it matters.” At the same time, there’s plenty of research proclaiming the value of the arts — and reading, specifically — for the development of empathy.3 I think both likely apply here. In the scheme of things, SAR isn’t important. But we hope something we share might one day matter to someone — beyond ourselves and the creator(s). And given the current media landscape, if we can provide folks a few images or stories or songs or videos that present the world we share in all its complexity and garishness and vulnerability in a way that moves them to empathize and positively engage — I’ll take that.
(How) has the community changed over time?
Influences change as the membership of the editorial collective changes. In our earlier days, we published a lot of poetry by virtue of there being so many poets out there seeking venues. When we fall between poetry editors or add a cartoonist to the collective, our content shifts. As individuals, how our interests change and who happens to be the most active editorial collective members at the time exert tremendous influence on what's being published, undoubtedly.
On a personal level, the change has been more fundamental. I started just by wanting to put together a digital journal with a print issue here and there. But it started to grow for me when I started contemplating a bit more what the point of it was if I were only attempting to replicate the same publishing processes we currently have. Who am I to say it’s just our judgment that’s better than other editors’/gatekeepers’? If it isn’t just a matter of our having poor authorities, what is it I can do to ensure what we do stays fresh and worthwhile? This led me to believe organizational form may have something to do with it. That’s why we’re a collective.
Because I did think at one point that maybe the world doesn’t need another journal run by a cis white guy from the so-called Global North: Well, I could just donate the amount spent monthly on San Antonio Review to antiracist organizations and let them decide how to best do the work. But it’s all of our work to do. And I discovered that once you start a thing like this, people make it hard for you to stop.
So, I guess, in a way, SAR is a form of praxis for me that’s increasingly informed by what I see others doing, my outside reading and research, and life in general and the few flashes of insight I get while drifting off into a nap. It’s my own version of autotheory, if you will.
(How) has publishing openly changed your organization/model?
I never had any intention of charging for access to our work. I’ve also never expected SAR to provide a livelihood, as desirable as that might be. We’ve even tried to be transparent with our finances since our early days. Even our print editions — only the second issue of which we distributed for free — present tensions in that independent booksellers desire high-priced titles with deep discounts (55 percent, in general). The book-length works we’ve released via our imprint have run into this obstacle. By trying to keep our work affordable for readers, we actually lose venues that could introduce our work to new readers. So far, various membership models haven’t really worked for us since we’re committed to releasing everything free in some form or another. We also don’t really hold rights to much of anything.
Why did you choose PubPub? What other platforms did you try?
We started on WordPress. I cobbled together various plugins and extensions and connected them to services like JotForm to enable a submission workflow of sorts. It required a lot of backend maintenance just to keep everything operational. I happened upon PubPub while reading one day (I remember clicking on the animated CSS “Published with PubPub” at the bottom of an article) during the period I was searching for open-source alternatives to WordPress. Open Journal Systems just required too much technical expertise for my admittedly limited abilities. I’m extremely happy to not have the backend headaches to worry myself with now that Gabe and the rest of the PubPub team are handling our infrastructure. It allows us to focus on the work submitted rather than technical matters.
What elements have you experimented with? How have you made your community your own? (layout/design/custom stuff)
I like to think we’ve experimented fairly thoroughly with the customization options provided by PubPub. We’ve never had a designer or developer as an official editorial collective member, so most of the customizations (our fonts and colors and stuff) and designs are things I’ve thrown together rather ad hoc and repurposed when found I needed art to fill in missing spots. I also try to incorporate editorial collective members’ creations and our contributors’ works in our overall design to add a little more promotion to their works.
I actually take that back — we haven’t used all the affordances, but we know they exist. We just haven’t needed them yet or lack the technical skills to adequately implement.
What kind of features would you like to see?
Ultimately, I’d like to be able to select the pieces I want in an issue of SAR, throw them in a collection, complete the metadata and issue and page-layout customizations, hit export and have a print-ready PDF waiting to be uploaded to our printer’s site. That would complete the submission-review-publication-print production cycle that PubPub has largely grown to cover over the last couple of years — especially with the launch of the submissions workflows. The consolidation of that process in a single platform is one of the reasons we moved to PubPub. For an all-volunteer organization, reducing the number of platforms an unpaid reviewer or editor has to register for and consult to successfully move a piece toward publication is high on my list of necessities. Any stumbling blocks are easy dissuaders to potential contributors.
What communities/work inspires yours?
PubPub’s various communities are all doing interesting work.
I’m inspired by pirate philosophies, theindierockplaylist.com, my family, Gary Hall’s work, common infrastructures, b-ok.cc, Monoskop, Margaret Randall, HAU, genealogies, the Refusing to Forget Project, any space that has successfully had a community form within/around/because of it — be that a coffee shop, a journal, an online messageboard, what-have-you. I’m inspired when my usual ways of looking at the world are unsettled or destabilized.