Last year my friend Ericka Blount sent me a link
about a new literary magazine called Spook. Conceived and edited by a young
writer named Jason Parham, the journal was my introduction to the latest generation of short story scribes, painters, poets, photographers and others who
want to make a little noise on the artistic landscape.
While the new millennium has given us such intriguing
print publications such as Bronx Biannual edited by Miles Marshall Lewis, Coon
Bizness edited by Greg Tate and Hycide edited by Akintola Hanif, all magazines
that I’ve contributed to, there is always room for more voices to “join the conversation.”
Like Parham, who works for Complex and writes fiction, I too read The New Yorker and The
Paris Review, though it often bothers me that “writers (painters, poets,
photographers) of color” are barely represented in their pages. et, instead of crying in his coffee, Parham
decided to take giant steps like Coltrane and do his own thing. In June
of last year, he delivered the first issue of Spook, which featured works by
Justin Torres (as edited by fiction editor/novelist Victor LaValle), Hank
Willis Thomas and others.
While the first issue served as the wonderful
introduction to the Spook aesthetic, the latest issue is, in the words of LL
Cool J, “Bigger and deffer.” Indeed, Spook Two features a cool balance of art
(paintings, photographs) and text (essays, plays) that culture watchers are
bound to find exciting.
A few of the outstanding contributions include the
paintings of Kajahl Benes, who also illustrated the cover, brilliant photo
collages by Kameelah Janan Rasheed, dope essays by Kai Perry Parker, D. Scot
Miller and Rembert Browne. Oh, the Geoff Mak short story “Sacre Coeur” and
Lenore Bell’s funny short play “Morning After” and the poem "34 Excuses for Why we Failed at Love" were three of my
In addition, Parham, who I finally had the
pleasure of meeting at the Spook panel/art talk session at MoCADA earlier this
month, also published my latest autobiographical essay “Why Did You Do It?” in this bold new magazine.
1. Let’s begin
with the title. Why Spook?
From the beginning,
my hope was to create a space for young writers and artists who, despite being
prodigious talents, had been left out of established journals, literary and
otherwise. With that in mind, Spook operates as a space for artists who have
been “othered.” I wanted to find a title that captured a similar feeling, and
one that was also culturally significant.
One day I happened
to be skimming through Hokum, the African American humor anthology
edited by Paul Beatty (who is one of my favorite writers), and came across the
word “spook” in one of the stories. I knew then that that would be the name of
the magazine. I vetted the title amongst friends—Storyville and Baldwin were
other possibles—but ultimately I kept coming back to Spook.
I’m very aware of
the historical weight the word carries—I’m a black man in America, after
all—but one of the missions of the magazine is to give new meaning to the word
with the essays, fiction, poetry, and art we publish. We’re still new, but I
think we’ve been able to do that so far.
2. Talk about what
the challenges of publishing a new literary magazine.
I’d say Spook’s
biggest challenge is establishing a name for itself in a world already flooded
with a multitude of voices. I am constantly asking myself: How do we create
something new, relevant, and compelling? And, in print, no less. It’s no
secret, magazines and newspapers are folding left and right, and to create a
print magazine in 2012 is a radical idea. I’m very much a traditionalist,
though. I am a student of the magazine world, studied journalism and literature
in college, interned at Vibe way back when, and have freelanced for a number of
That said, I wanted Spook readers to have an experience, one that
is often lost when reading a story on a computer screen. To me, there is
something special when a person sits down to read a magazine or a newspaper or
a book—the spine cracked open, fingers smudged with ink, each new page a
challenge is getting people to believe in your dream—both contributors and
readers. I had this idea for a magazine, sure, but would others be as
receptive to it? I called in a lot of favors from friends, sent out hundreds of
emails, and, in the end, was fortunate to get four big names on board for the
first issue—authors Victor LaValle, Patrice Evans, and Justin Torres, and
artist Hank Willis Thomas—which helped immensely when establishing Spook as an
important piece of literature.
3. What did you learn
from putting together your debut that helped make issue two that much better?
I wouldn’t say
that Issue Two is “much better,” our design approach was just different going
into it. When I first began work on Spook, I wanted Issue One to be an extension
of the long, rich history of literary journals in America. Though the content we
published altered vastly, I molded the first issue after journals like The
Paris Review, Slake, The New Yorker, Bronx Biannual, Harper’s, etc (to
paraphrase rapper YC: words on words on words).
The thinking for
Issue Two was the total opposite; I wanted Spook to feel more like a magazine,
I wanted there to be a dialogue between the words on the page and the art we
featured, fluidity amongst the pages (something I felt was lacking from the
debut issue). We also had a larger page count, which allowed us to experiment
more with design this time around. But Spook is constantly evolving, and I
imagine Issue Three, which will be our first all-fiction edition, will look and
feel totally different than the previous two.
4. Talk about the
featured artists Kameelah Janan Rasheed and Kajahl Benes; their work is so
provocative. Where did you discover their work?
whose artwork is featured on the cover and in the pages of Issue Two, was
recommended to me by Hank Willis Thomas, an Issue One contributor. There is a
gallery of Kajahl’s work within the magazine and our intention, with the pieces
we decided on, was to create a trans-historical narrative where the boundaries
were less defined and the subjects stand out of time. What I admire most about
his work, aside from the sheer beauty of it, is how he has created his own
mythology with each new painting. I’ll be forever indebted to Hank for
suggesting Kajahl, if for no other reason than exposing me to a brilliant
My introduction to
Kameelah Janan Rasheed was through the wonders of Tumblr. I came across her
work one night while scrolling through the site, and emailed her instantly (the
same happened with artist Stephanie Matthews, who designed Spook’s logo and the
cover of Issue One). I’m huge fan of collage, and when I saw her “No
Instructions for Assembly” series, I knew she had to be a part of Spook.
Artists often tend to romanticize the past, nostalgia is tricky like that, but
Kameelah has this knack for finding the beauty in spite of the ugly details.
She’s an archivist first, and an artist second—which informs the essence of her
5. As a writer, I
enjoyed Spook’s balance of different kinds of texts: essays, poetry, fiction
and even a complete short play. Talk a little bit about that.
I like to think of
Spook as a collage—an amalgamation of provocative storytelling, whether through
a first person narrative or a play, and compelling art. I’ve been lucky with
both issues in that the pieces submitted ranged greatly in genre, and going
forward I hope to experiment even more. Issue Three, which will be entirely
fiction, will be more intimate than the previous two, but, with a bit of work,
we will provide some sort of balance content wise.
I also put a lot
of faith in the writers and artists who contribute to the magazine. It can be a
poem, a photo, or a 4,000 short story, but I trust each contributor to submit a
piece that has a strong, distinct voice. I think the balance has more to do
with my selection of writers and artists than me trying to include a specific
type of essay or short story or poem. Luckily, for both myself and the reader,
it’s worked out each time.
For more info, go to:
Labels: D. Scot Miller, Geoff Mak, Jason Parham, Kai Perry Parker, Kajahl Benes, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Michael A. Gonzales, Rembert Browne, Spook Literary Magazine, Victor LaValle