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The Writing Life: Into Quarterly

2016 December 6

The Writing Lifevirginia-and-laura-1-copyIn last week’s staff round-up, I wrote (re: gushed) about Into: Minneapolis. Into Quarterly is a “city-inspired arts journal” that visits cities around the U.S. and publishes a portrait of that city through its artists and writers. Through my day job at The Loft Literary Center, I’ve gotten to know the two founders of Into Quarterly, Virginia Sasser (left) and Laura Benys (right) in conjunction with the publication’s launch event at the Loft this Friday, Dec 9 at 7 pm. Let me just say: I am crushing hard core on these two creatives and their publication. To top it off, after getting a sneak preview of the issue, I fell head over heels for the city I live in again, seeing it through the eyes of 40 local writers and artists. These writers & artists pose hard and thoughtful questions to themselves and our city with beauty, honesty, and heart. In turn, I asked Virginia and Laura a few questions about Into: Minneapolis recently, and they answered in much the same way: with beauty, honesty, and heart. It’s a match made in, well, art.

Hazel & Wren: Can you tell us about how Into Quarterly began?

Into Quarterly: We were neighbors in Austin! We’re both freelancers, and our unconventional schedules made for lots of afternoon coffees and happy hours and talking about writing and design…. Then Virginia moved to Brooklyn, and we started sharing our personal projects with each other as a way of staying in touch. We became intrigued by the way being in two different cities started affecting the style and content of our art. We also loved considering our own work as a reaction to the other’s; those unexpected combinations of the written and visual is magical to us. That’s what led us to start a larger conversation with other writers and artists who might deepen this perspective.

A big inspiration has been the fact that beautiful print journals like Kinfolk and Cereal and Gather have made a resurgence. We wanted to try that on our own scale, but with a theme that was purely creative rather than editorial or guidebook-like. We thought about what brings together a bunch of artistic perspectives, and ties them together without forcing them into a mold or narrative. Of course, place is one of those things. We got really excited about seeing how a city at once unifies and sets apart the artists living in it.

Obviously, our ulterior motive was to get to know cities and artists we admire. Sneaky, right? We love how different cities have different personalities and vibes. We wanted the artists themselves to show us what that was.

H&W: Since you are not necessarily from or familiar with some of these cities, how do you find the artists and writers for each city? How do you make sure that these are the writers to showcase that specific city? 

IQ: We ask for a lot of help, through friends and friends of friends, and also of complete strangers. We approach cultural icons like the Loft Literary Center and plead for advice. We always look into the city’s spoken word scene. We check out recent grant or award recipients, but we also look at the runners-up. We get referrals from the artists themselves. In the cities we’ve done so far (Austin, Richmond, Minneapolis), the creative communities have been very supportive of each other, and eager to talk each other up. We value pulling writers from both under-the-radar niches and more obvious places, and strive for a mix of established and emerging artists; that’s really important to us.

H&W: Can you talk about the work represented in the Into: Minneapolis edition, and some of the artists and writers that especially stand out for you?

IQ: The book continues work by 40 incredible writers and visual artists. It is at times funny, somber, sardonic, hopeful, dreamy, tough, gritty. Think Heid Erdrich’s writing paired with art by Bobby Rogers, or Dyani White Hawk’s art against a new poem by Ed Bok Lee, or Bao Phi with Kate Worum. We were giddy about seeing what themes and textures these combinations brought out.

Most of the written pieces are short or very short, but we always do one featured short story for each volume, and Into: Minneapolis features Sarah Stonich (AKA Ava Finch). Her new story is gorgeous, vivid, and heart wrenching without a hint of sentimentalism. We are over the moon that she is giving us this chance to introduce it to the world.

We are also proud to feature a photo essay by Shelly Mosman, who presents a Minnesota portrait series. Her work is stunning, and speaks volumes about the toughness, nuance, and beauty of the North. We could stare at these photos all day.

For other artists that especially stand out—there are too many examples to list! Eliesa Johnson, Danez Smith, R. Vincent Moniz, Jr., Michael Cina, Kao Kalia Yang, Matt Rasmussen… We really must refer folks to the contributors list.

H&W: What do you think Into: Minneapolis says/explores/shows about our city? 

IQ: That the people here are strong. And that, for all its beauty and rugged coolness, this city thinks that honesty is more important than airbrushed perfection. When we began this volume, we asked artists to share works inspired by their relationship to Minneapolis. They didn’t dwell only on the (albeit many) obvious boasts of this city. Instead, they used art to challenge assumptions and start important conversations. They grappled with questions of identity, kindness, and equality, and how to understand themselves within the place they call home. It’s a credit to them, and to this community. As a city known for its art and activism, Minneapolis creates the space for these conversations, and for the many perspectives that are a part of them. It may not always be comfortable, but this city aspires to nobler goals than comfort. We think that comes through in the book.

H&W: How do art and writing affect a city’s identity, in your opinion (and experience with Into Quarterly)?

IQ: We didn’t want our expectations to be overly optimistic on this front at first—but are excited about how this is playing out. It seems like writing and arts in each city not only provide a glimpse into the stylistic nuances, motifs, and aesthetic anomalies of a place, but what is important to the people there. They set a tone. In Minneapolis, we found that artists often used their work to explore questions of identity, from Bao Phi’s poem “Refugees from the Prom Center, the Eighties” to Jovan Speller’s “And I shall call you home,” a photographic meditation on being a black woman in Minnesota. We also found a strong current of activism running through the work that artists shared with us, from Eliesa Johnson’s portraits of the Philando Castile and Jamar Clark marches to R. Vincent Moniz’s poetry in solidarity with the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Especially this year, when there’s so much sociopolitical stuff going on, voices from the various arts communities are that much more important. They bring beauty to a strong stance, and define a larger community attitude, while also playing on the special things about that city that no one wants to lose sight of. It’s really cool to see, and we feel lucky to be observing it through this collection right now.

Psst: For those who will be in/near Minneapolis this Friday, don’t forget: the publication’s launch event is at the Loft this Friday, Dec 9 at 7 pm.

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