Online Mag Pursues Marginalized Voices, Resists "Bubbles of Oblivion"
The Offing is an unusual place in the usual world of literary magazines. Its mission since its initial publication has been to serve as the antidote for, according to editor-in-chief Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, the “destructive forces” of “Anti-Black racism. Transphobia. The gender binary. Orientalism. Anti-Indigenous paternalism and theft. Ableism.” Seeing acknowledgment of the harm of these forces in print is refreshing, but seeing Prescod-Weinstein’s acknowledgement of the change in leadership because the editors felt that they weren’t actively engaging in the combat against these forces is what was truly unusual. The editors took a hiatus in the summer of 2016 to work on the problem: “When we return at full speed in September , we will do what we came to do: publish writing that is beyond the boundaries of tradition, the kind of writing that alters the literary landscape.”
The honesty of things not well behind the scenes is more than some literary journals would be brave enough to openly share. But, this honesty is what makes art art. In that, The Offing itself, as a frame for essays, poetry, fiction, artwork, and everything in between, is a piece of art.
Since its founding in March 2016 in affiliation with the Los Angeles Review of Books, the online-only magazine has successfully published the voices of emerging and established writers engaged in taking risks. Submitters should also know that the magazine prioritizes paying its contributors and “actively seeks out and supports work by and about those often marginalized in literary spaces.” The Offing publishes on a monthly schedule: fiction on the first Monday of the month; poetry twice a month on the first and third Wednesday; essays on the second Thursday; art on the second and fourth Friday. There are other categories of submissions, “Here/You Are: Writing tuned to form and place;” “Back of the Envelope: literary pieces which relate to or draw on science and the natural world;” and “Enumerate: lists of creative and cultural artifacts,” to name a few. These distinct categories ask for something specific, creating more opportunities for publication of the perfect home for a piece that might otherwise not find a place in the literary magazine world.
Its newer pieces, since September 2016, that essential divide of before and after in this magazine’s short 18-month history, are evidence that this magazine is working to accomplish its mission of publishing risky pieces from marginalized writers. In both the fiction and essay categories, the narrators provide images for the reader to tie together into a larger narrative about what it's like to exist: whether that’s as a woman or as a child or as just a human. Each piece’s individual pieces come together to form a mosaic of the narrator’s conflict, whether it’s a battle with the self as in Nina Yun’s essay “Walk of a Hungry Ghost” or a struggle between the privileged and the poor as in Randa Jarrar’s short story “Asmahan.” Indeed, conflict is highlighted in every piece, making it clear that the editors of The Offiing are interesting in writing that explores conflict and contrast, both elements of—reflections of—our time. Even that—time itself—is a conflict in “Three Authors Who Understand Time,” Sophie Kalkreuth’s piece published in the “Enumerate” section of the journal. Another particularly risky piece about our times today that provides substantial emotional and intellectual payoff is Adam Khalil and Zack Khalil’s video/gif-and-prose blended essay, also published in the “Enumerate” section.
One of the most important pieces in this journal about our time and conflict and contrast is “Outta The Way, Muslim,” a short personal essay by Hala Iqbal in the “Insight” section. Iqbal’s narrator details an interaction “in the frozen food aisle, in Trump’s America” resulting from “Brown skin, long clothes, hijab wound twice around my hair.” The “Insight” here comes not from this writer’s voice as representative of this conflict—not in the sudden “shiver thinking about what would happen if I didn’t get out of the way”—but in the narrator’s realization of this encounter’s smallness and bigness at the same time. It is “too small for legitimate fear” and it yet “rattles [her] every time.” The narrator’s resistance to this conflict is to wonder if telling stories like this one to her “friends, neighbors, co-workers, people who move through this world in bubbles of oblivion” is the way to fight back.
And that’s what The Offing does for the contemporary world of literary magazines: it fights back against the “bubbles of oblivion.” With the combined voices of minority writers and the candid platform of the editors at The Offing, resistance against the majority narrative will only grow.