A journal that serves “to provide a home for creative work inspired by journeys to places where there are no roads”
A chat with Rick Kempa, editor of Deep Wild.
Deep Wild: Writing from the Backcountry, is a not-for-profit journal, published annually, whose mission is to provide a home for creative work inspired by journeys to places where there are no roads. The second issue, forthcoming this summer, will include work by 41 writers and 2 artists, representing five countries.
Interview by Teresa McCarthy
Where did the idea for Deep Wild come from, and how did the journal get started?
The idea for a backcountry-centered journal had been bouncing around in my head for years, mostly when I was out hiking. It was something I wished I had in my backpack, but it didn’t exist. Finally, on a walk around Navajo Mountain in October 2018, I declared to my hiking partner as well as to myself that it was time to make it happen, and once I said so, I had to follow through. It helped that I had recently retired from teaching.
I asked two friends, Heidi and John, hikers and writers to the bone, if they would be coeditors, and immediately they were all in. I asked another friend, Brad, a practical-minded fellow, if he would help, and thankfully he said yes. Poets need business managers to really make things happen! With the addition of graphic designer Dave to the team, we were good to go. It has been a collaborative effort every step of the way; we began with a weeks-long conversation about what to name it.
How did you go about soliciting writers to submit their works to the journal?
We put out the word in every direction we could think of, mainly on social media, and were astonished at the response. It was like throwing a big rock in still water—the word rippled out not just across the country but the world. In the course of our first two reading periods, we have received work from every continent but Antarctica.
Was it difficult to find subscribers for a brand-new journal, especially as saturated as the literary market is? Is there something about the “backcountry” focus of Deep Wild that you feel sets the journal apart from other outdoor-focused journals?
Surprisingly, and wonderfully, nearly every copy of our first issue has found its way into readers’ hands. Bookstores around the West carried our first issue, and orders have come in, several per week, from all points on the compass. The backcountry focus has everything to do with it: our mission—to provide a home for creative work inspired by journeys to places where there are no roads—is definitely striking a common chord.
One of the most fascinating parts of Deep Wild for me was the variety of genres in the journal, and how genre and the backcountry landscape interact with one another. What kind of relationship did you notice between genre/landscape, if any, in the making of the first two editions?
Of the several hundred submissions we’ve received, about 60% are poetry, 30% nonfiction, and 10% fiction. We’ve speculated whether this reflects the kind of writing people are moved to do in and about the backcountry, and I guess it does to some extent. That being said, we’ve been blessed with some really good fiction for these first two issues. And the artwork too, both on the cover and in the interior, has been exceptional.
What were some successes and challenges moving from the first edition to the second edition?
There is always the challenge, as every editor knows, of staying afloat, and the waters this year are as wild as can be. We subsist on subscriptions and donations, and we don’t charge writers to submit. But I am confident we will be OK: the writing and the artwork in Deep Wild will continue to find its audience. The ongoing—and permanent—challenge is getting the word out; I feel like, for all our efforts, we are only scratching the surface of our potential readership. In fact, I hope to get someone else on the team to help us with this.
What are some goals you have for Deep Wild moving forward?
We want to build and sustain a community of people who love wild places and good words, with the journal as the main meeting place, as well as our blog (where we feature excerpts from our writers each week) Before long, we will have Deep Wild readings in various communities. And we want to be continually open to new ideas and directions. In the 2020 issue, for instance, we will feature the winner of our Undergraduate Student Essay Contest. In 2021, who knows? Finally, my fellow editors and I have joked that our main goal is to encounter someone in the backcountry who says, “Hey, I’ve got something cool to show you,” and pulls a Deep Wild out of the pack. That will happen.
Teresa McCarthy is a senior at Gonzaga University, studying English Writing and Secondary Education. “New Journal Takes Readers Back to Nature,” the review of Deep Wild that accompanies this interview, is her first published piece. She enjoys writing and reading poetry, and hopes to share that love with her students one day. She is from Gilroy, CA.