Monday, November 11, 2013

Interview with Juan Morales, editor and publisher of the literary journal, Pilgrimage

DANIEL OLIVAS: Does Pilgrimage have an “aesthetic” or do you allow the submissions to guide the tone and personality of the journal?

JUAN MORALES: Pilgrimage Magazine carries the tagline of Story, Spirit, Witness, and Place in and around the Greater Southwest, and every issue is unified by a theme. For the first two issues I edited, I went about it backwards, combing through submissions, ordering acceptances, and then laying out the stories, essays, and poems on my living room floor to find the ways these pieces spoke to each other before deciding on a theme. This allowed me to get a sense of what type of work Pilgrimage received and helped me learn a lot about the existing community surrounding the magazine. I am still impressed by the strong sense of community this magazine has and how inclusive it is in welcoming so many diverse voices. For the upcoming issues we have been getting settled and have migrated back to setting up a theme and then sending out the call for submissions. We remain open to quality poetry and prose from new and upcoming writers as well as established writers. We do not want writers and readers to see our themes as limitations; rather, we use these themes to guide the writers into conversations with each other that can be viewed with so many different lenses where the quality of the work rises beyond any specific sense of aesthetic.

DO: You’ve taken the reins as editor and publisher with Pilgrimage now being housed out of Colorado State University-Pueblo.  Do you see the journal changing in anyway?  What are your goals?

JM: When I first started teaching at Colorado State University-Pueblo six years ago, we already had a strong literary magazine for our students, called Tempered Steel, and it was always my dream to bring a national literary journal here. I knew it would be supported and welcomed by our campus. We are fortunate that it was Pilgrimage, a magazine with a rich history, a unique voice, and a journal that has always let the writers distinguish it further. The past editors, Maria Melendez, Peter Anderson, David Barstow, and others, all made lasting contributions to the magazine, and I am still learning what mine should be. We are building on the traditions and adding subtle changes as we move forward. These could be as small as adding a little more color to the cover art, to developing a stronger digital presence, and to accepting submissions via Submittable and mail. Another change is we now accept fiction without any special invitation. Historically, Pilgrimage Magazine first published only nonfiction and then added another emphasis to poetry. We want to open the doors to fiction now too, and we want to keep exploring the ways the art we feature accompanies the words.

Our new home at CSU-Pueblo, which is a Hispanic Serving Institution, offers us an exciting partnership and new forms of support that will help keep Pilgrimage alive and well and in print: a physical space to work, an editorial assistant, access to grants and fellowships, and the opportunity to connect with existing programs at the university, such as our new partnership with the SoCo Reading Series. It's also important to reach out to the partnerships beyond the university. For example, we will be sharing a table at the upcoming AWP Conference with Letras Letinas, which shows our commitment to supporting Latina/o writers and other diverse voices. As the new editor and publisher, I want to honor the legacy while ushering Pilgrimage into the challenging waters of publishing that has to balance the print and digital world. I also want to maintain a community that surprises and innovates, housed in the words written by our writers and in pages turned by our readers. In order to do that, we have to keep in touch with the established community and invite more people to join it.

DO: The subtitle of Pilgrimage is: STORY • SPIRIT • WITNESS • PLACE.  Could you talk a little about this subtitle and its purpose?

JM: Pueblo, Colorado sits on the edge of the southwest, so I am lucky to witness the mystery and beauty of this region every day. I was naïve to think people who submit and subscribe would only be from the American southwest, or even the west.  It has been wonderful to see how explorations of our themes and the strong devotion to place entices readers and writers from across the United States and even international destinations to subscribe and submit. Pilgrimage has always grounded its readers with strong writing connected to place and the sacred themes, but what sets it apart is the way it challenges its writers and readers to go beyond conventional thinking of these four words in our subtitle. These four words are very accessible to everyone and delves into our core needs and wants as people. The writers we publish engage these words by finding the miraculous, the political, and personal catharses that emerge in the every day. It asks tough questions and invites voices to show how they overlap contrasting things, such as the search for beauty within the tough themes of eco-poetics and social justice. Everyone has a story to tell and they want to show how it fulfills them spiritually.

Juan Morales

DO: What is the hardest part of producing a literary journal?

JM: Producing a literary journal has been a humbling experience. There are so many aspects of it that need to be done all at once. You're promoting the current issue, reading submissions for the next one, corresponding with subscribers, taking your fourth trip to the post office in a week, and then making sure the layout you're uploading has the latest edits. Then, there are the inevitable mistakes that keep you grounded and leave you saying to yourself, "I didn't see that coming." Of course, this is all framed by the time and budgetary issues.You need every step to keep the magazine alive, and you seek out ways to let it overlap with your work as professor, administrator, curator, and writer. Before I entered this side of the publishing world, I always heard people say it is a labor of love, and I definitely buy into that. I can be a stubborn guy, so delegating to the people who are willing and able to help has been one of the hardest parts. It's getting easier, especially when you are surrounded by a talented people, who believe in Pilgrimage as much as you do.

DO: What advice to you have for writers who wish to submit to Pilgrimage?

JM: Like other editors, we want to publish what we read and want to read again. Send us your best work, even if you do not think it fully matches up with our themes and then come back to the subtitles to see how you might be speaking to it in a different way. Another challenge to consider would be to write to the themes and taglines without saying those words. Imply them. Trust your instincts with what you write and don't send us what you think we want. For example, we receive a lot of submissions that speak on an individual or a family's battle with a tragic illness and the spiritual journey it creates, and we also receive a lot of work about witnessing something lasting in nature. We are open to publishing strong instances of these examples, but we are not limited to these either. Regardless of the subject matter, I recommend that the writers take us beyond summarizing the situation and let us access the emotional intensity. Use the words to show us the urgency of preserving this moment, emotion, or place.

[To find out more about Pilgrimage, including subscription information and submission guidelines, visit its website.]

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