34 // Make Relationships Right with Jessica Johns of Room Magazine

Room is Canada’s oldest feminist literary journal, and has published fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, art, interviews, and book reviews for forty years. Published quarterly by the West Coast Feminist Literary Magazine Society, also known as the Growing Room Collective, Room showcases writing and art by women (cisgender and transgender), transgender men, Two-Spirit and nonbinary people. We believe in publishing emerging writers alongside established authors, and because of this, approximately 90% of the work we publish comes from unsolicited submissions or contest entries.

Listen to this episode to hear our conversation about working in close relationship with writers, and thinking through all your relationships

Read Full Episode Transcript

[00:00:14.970] – Rachel
In this episode of the Lit Mag Love podcast, I interview Jessica Johns, the new managing editor at Room magazine, and we love having Roomies on the podcast. I love having them on the podcast as a Room collective member myself, but also because it’s a great opportunity for us to show the different people who are working behind the scenes at Room.

[00:01:01.950]
We are a varied collective and so I often tell people who are submitting their work to Room to submit again if they get no response to it, because the chances of the same person reading their work twice is very slim. And we have people from all different communities and all different aesthetic tastes who are part of the collective. In this episode. I also speak with Jessica about a couple of events that are presented by Room magazine just like this podcast is. The events are Indigenous Brilliance in the Growing Room Festival, and both of these take place on traditional Coast Salish land in Vancouver, British Columbia.

[00:01:40.440]
Jessica Johns is a nehiyaw aunty and member of Sucker Creek First Nation in Treaty 8 territory in northern Alberta. And she’s currently living, working and learning on the traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Peoples.

[00:01:55.860]
She is the new managing editor at Room and the former poetry editor for Prism International and is co organizer of the Indigenous Brilliance Reading Series in Vancouver. [music playing]

[00:02:15.220]
Welcome to the Lit Mag Love podcast, Jessica Johns.

[00:02:18.380] – Jessica Johns
Hi, hello, thank you for having me.

[00:02:20.080] – Rachel Thompson
My pleasure. So I’m going to launch right into something you said in an interview that sharing stories, even ones you’ve heard a million times before, is an act of love. It builds community no matter where you are, if it’s across pages in a bookstore or someone’s kitchen. I’m wondering, can you tell us about the stories you heard in the kitchen, the books you read growing up and how they led you to writing community?

[00:02:43.690] – Jessica Johns
Well, I think the important part for that or the thing that I was getting to when I said that, is that the idea of repeating stories to someone for me, that is how I understood storytelling when I grew up or as I was growing up, because whenever I get together with my family to this day, but whenever we got together as a family, when I was younger, my aunties and my uncles and my Papa and my parents, we’re all sitting around and chatting together and eating together, whatever we’re doing.

[00:03:20.470]
They’re always telling stories and they’re always telling stories, as we do, about them growing up, their past and all that kind of stuff. And I was always hearing the same stories, but I was always hearing it just slightly different every time. So depending on the first time I heard it from my auntie and then the most recent time I heard I heard it from my mom, there’s always something different and changed. And that for me I think is this idea that storytelling and stories are living and they’re always changing. I didn’t realize until probably very recently at 30 years old that that something that is really stayed subconsciously kind of important to me, because when I started doing my MFA and when I started writing seriously, is it for an audience or to be published or whatever?

[00:04:18.880]
I kept trying to force myself into thinking that these stories had to be static, that I had to complete a poem or complete a piece of writing, and then it was done. And as soon as I published it, that was the way it had to be forever. And I only recently just been like, I just don’t believe that to be true. And that has also come through people like Louise Bernice Halfe who is this wonderful Cree poet who wrote a book of poetry and a bunch of poetry like earlier on in her life and through her Cree language learning journey.

[00:04:56.860]
She republished those poems, but with more Cree words that she knows. So they’re the same poems. But they’re different again. And I just think that’s a really wonderful thing to do. And I think it’s a more tender way of treating my work if I write and publish something. And then later on, I want to change it a little bit or something else has come up, even if it is already out in the world.

[00:05:26.440]
Like, I feel more engaged, I feel continuously engaged with it. I guess that’s how that has informed story and storytelling in terms of books that I read growing up, I read everything, but in particular I just I loved like magical stories and fantasy and things like that. I loved Harry Potter and I really loved this series when I was growing up called The Sword of Truth series. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it.

[00:06:02.980]
I think maybe they might be really bad now that I think back on them. But at the time, I was just obsessed with these magical worlds and the sword that was magical. That’s really stayed with me, I think.

[00:06:20.380] – Rachel Thompson
I haven’t heard of it, but I can see myself at that age being totally down with reading The Sword of Truth. I love what you say about that. Stories are living and that they’re always changing. And it just it does bring to mind poets who read from their books and readings but are changing the words as they’re reading along as well, too. I’ve always kind of loved that there’s something kind of impermanent about the writing, even when it’s in the book.

[00:06:49.540]
So I know you’ve worked a few lit mags and you’re talking about your experience at Prism before and now you’re managing editor with Room, and I wonder what love you find there in that community and what you love most about these spaces for writers?

[00:07:06.850] – Jessica Johns
The thing that I enjoy most about the actual work has been at its very core. Just working one on one with writers, especially writers, that are very, very emerging, so if it was perhaps their first publication ever or one of their first, I really love that because it’s really exciting to me working with somebody who is really excited about getting their work out there. And it has been a really big also learning curve for me, because I’ve worked with editors before and I’ve worked with folks before who as an editor might try and change or there were certain changes or suggestions they were trying to make to my work that didn’t feel genuine to what the work was.

[00:08:02.830]
And I think when you are an early-stage writer, you default to perhaps listening to those voices because like, you automatically assume that they know better and that they’re in quotations “more experienced.” And I think there is a balance between, of course, like listening to people who have been writing for a very long time or been in an industry a very long time and have that expertise, like I don’t want to take away from that at all. But I also think it’s a really big benefit to also listen to yourself and to whatever the work was, what it is.

[00:08:42.310]
And so for me as an editor, I felt that a really big, pull or responsibility to really deeply engage with whatever work I was working on with a writer. So trying very hard if I felt something should be changed, like really asking myself, do I think this should be changed because it benefits the work and what it’s doing? Or am I trying to push it based on my preference for what I read or any other biases I might have or whatever.

[00:09:19.450]
So I love that experience of learning through that. And for that, that was really generous and really wonderful for writers to allow me to learn that through working with them, like I feel like it was that kind of relationship is quite reciprocal. If I don’t like to think about it as a top-down sort of relationship, although a lot of the time I think it seems that way. But I learned just as much, if not more.

[00:09:48.970]
So I really love that aspect of it is just working with other writers and doing that kind of one on one stuff that for me has been, I think, the most rewarding part, because there’s a lot of parts about working for literary magazines and working for non-profits that are a lot harder.

[00:10:09.580] – Rachel Thompson
And living with the joy you take in helping really bring their vision to life and even help them tell their stories for the first time, too.

[00:10:17.560] – Jessica Johns
Yeah, because editing in itself is a very…before I got into editing for sure.

[00:10:26.080]
I definitely thought that if you are a writer and it’s just synonymous with being an editor and that’s just not true. Like they’re two very different art forms. I think editing is an art form. And I’ve met and I’ve worked with some amazing editors like people that just have an eye that I just deeply, deeply admire. Shaun Robinson is one of them. He was my editor for Rahila’s Ghost Press for my chapbook. And just the way he could see poems was just like, this is phenomenal.

[00:11:02.530]
Molly Cross-Blanchard, who is now the poetry editor for PRISM. She helped me a lot when she was the circulation editor when I was the poetry editor. And she helped me so much and could really engage with work in a way that I thought was really special. Alicia Elliott has, I’ve seen her work through stuff. And then I’m just like, this is really amazing, it’s definitely separate from writing and takes a different kind of eye.

[00:11:38.380]
And yeah,[Laughter]. I don’t know if this is the same for everybody. I don’t know if everybody just knows this from the beginning that they’re different. But for me, it was a realization. Oh, these are different talents. So for me, it’s been learning something completely new, I didn’t know how to do it. I have a lot more learning to do.

[00:12:05.020]
But I think I definitely have a lot more appreciation and respect for the people who do it all the time. And are really good at it.

[00:12:16.290] – Rachel Thompson
Yeah, I love what you say about and I think it’s important what you say about how sometimes new writers will look at editors like, oh, they know they know best maybe. And so maybe make changes that don’t necessarily feel true to them. But it’s easy to kind of outsource that truth to someone that feels like an expert.

[00:12:35.470]
I love hearing this from you and I’ve heard it from a lot of editors who come on the show. And these are the people I think that emerging writers really want to work with are the ones who are going to really honour your vision as a writer and help you bring out the best of what’s true to you and true to your writing and not impose some kind of aesthetic on you.

[00:12:54.580] – Jessica Johns
Yeah, and I think I learned a lot through … now I’ve been published in a couple of magazines, but at the time when I started at PRISM, I hadn’t so I didn’t really necessarily know that through or realized that through actual work. But it was through other institutional experiences with writing, with being in an MFA where we were in, I was in workshops with established and wonderful writers who I would get feedback and think this must be true.

[00:13:34.660]
I must have to do this because they are whoever they are. And I’m nobody. And I think the realization formed after that process of being eventually being like, that might not necessarily be true.

[00:13:52.420]
That’s one opinion. And again, it’s holding both the idea that they’re established and talented and they know what they’re talking about. But also, you know, could they also be making these suggestions based on not knowing where I’m coming from? And because it’s really wonderful to be able to take on suggestions and to think deeply about, OK, would this be better or not? But there was a point where I think I was listening to what everybody was saying and it made my stuff really boring.

[00:14:29.170]
So sanitizing your work for the suggestions everyone is giving to you, I think takes your voice away.

[00:14:35.590] – Rachel Thompson
And I’ve heard that before from editors to say they can kind of tell pieces that have gone through the MFA program because they kind of almost uniformity.

[00:14:44.910] – Jessica Johns
I bet.

[00:14:46.870] – Rachel Thompson
I listened to your interview with Mica Lemiski on Fainting Couch Feminists. I was so moved by how deeply reciprocity is the focus of all you do. And I’ve seen that already in your approach to the managing editor role at Room. And it’s not just in literature, but in raising the living ingredients of Kombucha the mother of Scoby. Oh, that was amazing to listen to. And I recommend checking out that episode of Fainting Couch Feminists, another podcast from Room.

[00:15:14.170]
And I know for myself as a prairie raised person, it reminded me of things like sourdough starter that family passed on down to one another on the prairies. And I am not going to ask you to describe the fermentation process because people can listen to Fainting Couch Feminists for that. But I also like how you liken it to the way the First Nation treaties should work. And what I want to ask the question in all of this is about finding that balance. You have a lot of clarity about the work we do, which bodes so well for how you’re going to lead Room into this next stage.

[00:15:48.190]
And it’s tough to find the right balance of give and take and something that I learned myself when I was more involved in the day to day of the organization of Room. So when resources are so tight in organizations and those for those laboring in lit, how can we keep it reciprocal?

[00:16:04.390] – Jessica Johns
That’s a really good question as well, Rachel, because we’ve talked before about the labour of doing what we do, working for a literary magazine and a lot of the emotional labour involved in that, a lot of the physical labour or unpaid labour or all that kind of stuff. And so, it is something I think deeply about all the time. I’ve talked about it, the episode there with Mica. I also recently wrote a piece in an upcoming magazine called Critical Booch, which is talking exactly about that, about kombucha making and likening it to how treaties were always intended to work and how the Canadian state has effectively fucked that up.

[00:17:02.140]
But it’s something I think about all the time. And it’s not something I think even though I think about it all the time, it’s not necessarily something I always do right.

[00:17:10.000]
So the basis of what I get to and what I come back to all the time is that treaty is relationship. And Chelsea Vowel talks about this in her book Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada. This is a paraphrased quote. She says treaties or relationships aren’t something you sign and then you just walk away from and never look back on relationships you continuously return to. You change it depending on what changes in circumstance, changes in anything. You have to be nourishing it and you have to be shifting because relationships are constantly shifting with kombucha.

[00:17:56.620]
It’s that things like the change in weather or the changing where you’re putting it depends on how it will brew. And you always have to be being careful of that. And so for me, when I’m thinking about my position now as a managing editor or whatever position I’ve been in before, I’m thinking about how this relationship is in so many different ways. So how is this my relationship to the staff and volunteers that ensure that Room magazine continues to exist because they are the backbone.

[00:18:37.830]
So, how am I supporting them and giving to them so they can give back meaning, have the capacity and have the support to be doing the amazing work that they do? My relationship to the community, like who we are creating this magazine for and putting on a festival for, how am I being responsible to them? How am I being responsible as a managing editor of a magazine that operates on unceded stolen lands, how am I being responsible to the host nations where we’re operating and holding events and we do it everywhere and our contributors are everywhere and our volunteers are everywhere.

[00:19:21.690]
But this is where the majority of us are and this is where I am. So I’m thinking a lot about my relationship to these lands and host nations here. And again, it’s something that is always to be returned to. So I might think or I might be doing something in a particular way and then that might have to be shifted or changed. And that also depends on my own labour capacity and abilities. I love doing what I do and I love being in the position that I’m in and thinking about these relationships and these responsibilities. And I love doing this work.

[00:20:04.830]
This industry is really hard to be in, at the end of the day, as much love and care that you can give and receive, it’s still living in a world of CanLit where it’s very much still built on white supremacy and heteropatriarchy and capitalism and colonialism. And these structures are still very much at play everywhere. So it’s still difficult. And, at the end of the day, I do want to care for myself in a meaningful way.

[00:20:41.100]
So I have to balance and this is a long time learning, this is three years of again, like I’ve said, I haven’t always done this well. It’s all been a learning experience.

[00:20:53.610]
So I’ve had to learn through very hard ways that, I need to maybe cut back on volunteering or maybe I need to spend some time taking care of myself rather than other people. And I think for a while it was feeling as though if I did that, that I wasn’t engaging in reciprocity. But if I wasn’t giving, that meant that I wasn’t doing enough. And I think I had to relearn that reciprocity sometimes means taking care of myself and allowing myself to be taken care of by my kin and my community members and just thinking about it in a way that thinking about myself empathetically as well and treating myself with compassion is also an aspect of reciprocity that perhaps at least for me anyways, was I was overlooking for a while.

[00:21:59.010] – Rachel Thompson
One thing you said to me when we first spoke, you’re talking about how you’re very careful about the relationships you get into. And it sounds to me that, I mean, some of that experience probably informs that. There’s something I admire and something stuck with me. I’m like, OK, be very careful with the relationships that you get into because it’s true, this sort of points where you can feel like you’re overstretched and the reciprocity isn’t there. But if you can get a friend and some of the decision making, hopefully.

[00:22:28.360] – Jessica Johns
Yeah, definitely. And I mean, there’s all different kinds of relationships. I guess it’s not just like careful about getting into the relationship, but about just being careful about or being mindful or being intentional about when you enter in those relationships, how clear you are about what kind of relationship that is.

[00:22:50.620]
So, you know, there are some relationships that I’m in that don’t require as much constant care or there are relationships where I perhaps get more, just like it depends on and this isn’t just relationships with people. These are all kinds of relationships.

[00:23:10.090]
For me, if I agree to do something or if I take on a responsibility or I don’t know if I accept to do something, it’s like I have a responsibility and a relationship to that now because also this was another thing was like when I first started writing was like I was accepting anything and everything that was thrown at me.

[00:23:33.460]
So if someone was like, can you hold this and can you moderate this and can you do this? I feel like for a while I was doing it all because I was like, I have to say yes, because otherwise, no one’s going to ask me anymore. And then I’ll fade into oblivion and no one will ever know who I am anymore.

[00:23:50.950]
And also, I was deeply honoured and felt , oh, these people are asking me. So I have to not have to, but I feel I should or something. And so it was also being careful about that in the end. And now I’m careful because, first of all, is it within my capacity to take on and also am I entering into it in the right way? Can I give this a good amount of attention and can I give this a good amount of care, this piece of writing or this event, or am I going into it as an empty shell because I have nothing left to give?

[00:24:34.340]
Like, that’s not good for them and it’s not good for me. So it’s also, being careful about entering into those things, just being mindful of yourself, I guess.

[00:24:45.760] – Rachel Thompson
I think within the CanLit work field, I think that there’s a lot of people that it would be helpful for them to think of it that way. And I know it does feel like a lot of pressure when you’re starting off as a writer to do all the things and be in all the places. And there’s so many opportunities that require a lot of you, but maybe aren’t as reciprocal.

[00:25:08.080] – Jessica Johns
Yeah. Or just also thinking about for me, it’s not even that they’re not necessarily reciprocal, like they might be very, extremely supportive or helpful in every possible way. And I just might be like, it took me a while to learn this through, just like kind of gritting my teeth and enduring a lot of discomfort, not discomfort, enduring a lot of, I guess discomfort is the word I’m going to use right now because I would be invited to read or host things, because I’m an introvert, but I get along with people well and easily.

[00:25:54.010]
I’m a social person. So I think it might be surprising to people sometimes when I’m like, oh, no, doing these things back to back, for example, like I had a serving job for a decade. So as soon as I turned 18 to I stopped working in the bar last year. And if I had like when I was working full time through undergrad, I was working four or five shifts a week.

[00:26:27.460]
And so that was a very, very it required me to be interacting with people constantly. And it would just take me days and days to recover from that. I would just be absolutely drained and exhausted. And it was a really unhealthy field for me to be in, not just because of that, but because of various other ways that and reasons like people just treating people in hospitality and in the service industry like they’re sub people or not people at all.

[00:26:59.320]
But then coming into an industry where I host events and I do things where I seem very comfortable. And so I think people got the idea that it was something that I really love to do which I do, but when I was accepting to do or doing a bunch a week or a bunch of month, and then the other days were like four days leading up to it, and then the five days after it, I’m like a shell of a human and can’t do anything.

[00:27:28.550]
It became clear to me after a while of enduring that I was like these people, this event, this whatever can give me this relationship can give me the most amount of support. They can be so lovely and so wonderful, but it won’t matter in the end because of the person I am. I know that I need to be mindful of how often I’m doing this just because of me. So being aware of your own boundaries and capacities before you enter in something is also.

[00:28:00.770]
Yeah, I think it was Lindsay Nixon tweeted one time that kinship is boundaries as well. And so, like putting up those boundaries of, this is a different context. But knowing your own boundaries.

[00:28:17.240] – Rachel Thompson
Just knowing yourself too. Like this is draining for me.

[00:28:22.790] – Jessica Johns
And then people respecting that and being like, that’s cool, whatever. I would love to go to every event that happens in Vancouver. Because I came from Edmonton where things don’t happen all the time. When I first got here, I was going to absolutely everything. And I did. And I was exhausted and I couldn’t do the things I needed to do, like work or write or whatever.

[00:28:51.600]
I would love to go to all absolutely all the things and eventually having to be like, you know, I love you, I want to support you. But also I need to be thinking about two weeks I have coming up when I’m planning what I’m doing on a weekend. And, you know, just to be like, OK, I have a really big day on Monday. So I need to like, can I be out in public for four hours is a big question for me?

[00:29:19.960] – Rachel Thompson
Yeah. Yeah. I asked myself the same questions all the time. I mean, I’m sure a lot of writers can relate to that actually. So I wanted to talk specifically about something you did found that you’ve put you’ve dedicated your energy to and created this relationship with Indigenous Brilliance. It’s a reading series that you and your co-founders say is an incredibly important time to be centring Indigenous stories and to be shining the spotlight on the brilliance that exists in our communities. Wondering if you can tell our listeners who might not be familiar with the series a little bit more about it.

[00:29:55.730] – Jessica Johns
Yeah, absolutely. So it was actually founded by Patricia Massey and Jónína Kirton, and it started with the conversation between them. And they wanted to they weren’t sure what it would look like, but they wanted something that specifically Indigenous women and two-spirit queer Indigenous artists out there creating and making in the world. And they brought that to Room. And I was just part of the collective at the time. And I heard about it. And I was immediately just like, whatever however I can be involved in this, I would really love to be.

[00:30:36.470]
And at that point, I had the capacity to take on more responsibility. And basically the three of us kind of sat down and thought about how this might look. And yeah, I started reading series out of it. And that was two years ago now, just a little over. And since then Jónína, actually, did a great job in modelling this exactly. We were talking about boundaries and capacity and boundary setting and she was like for her health and for her own comfort.

[00:31:13.790]
She’s been doing volunteer and advocacy work for years and years and years. And so she had to take a step back eventually. And we had had Jaye Simpson as a feature at one of the events previously. And so I texted them and they were really excited about being on board as well. So then we started hosting, along with Patricia Massey and organising everything. And then most recently for over last year or this past year’s Growing Room Festival, we knew.

[00:31:53.360]
So again, this has all been a learning process. So it was all we basically were just like, OK, we know this is going to be a lot of work because it was like a day-long event and vendors, we had a really huge we were planning a really big thing for the festival and so we were like, OK, let’s do this. Anticipating capacity and anticipating workloads thing that we’ve been talking about, and so then we invited Emily Dundas Oke, to come on and be an assistant to help us.

[00:32:30.590]
And since then, she’s taken and continued on with us and taken a greater role in all of our like if you look at our Instagram, like how beautiful it is, that’s all Emily.

[00:32:44.060]
And organizing she’s the lead in all the backend organizing stuff, especially since I’ve transitioned to taking on the managing editor role and the responsibilities associated with that. And then very recently, because we’re planning use, we call it a retreat. So it’s kind of just like a youth retreat weekend where we have workshops offered and a bunch of cool stuff in early September. And we’re also in the process of creating our first chapbook from our contributors for the first couple of years.

[00:33:23.750]
And because we have those two projects, as well as planning for next year’s festival, again, we very recently brought on another person as kind of our new Emily. Her name is Karmella and she’s absolutely brilliant and wonderful. And so just in two and a half very short years, we’re doing a lot of cool stuff and it is really taking shape. And it’s been such a source of, if anything, it’s been such a source of like love and like a lot of healing for me because it’s been an opportunity for me to connect with so many Indigenous women and two-spirit and queer people in the community and build relationships from that and collaborations and partnerships.

[00:34:14.690]
And Jaye and I and Patricia have been thinking very deeply from the start, basically just about how this series is going to be continued for the future. So we have very intentionally set it up in a way that allows for and we’ve set the precedent with bringing on Emily and then bringing on Karmella, like we very intentionally tried to establish a way for this series to continue and to be supportive and as much of a loving and healing space for us as it is for future generations of hosts and organizers to take it on.

[00:34:57.440]
So we kind of built it in a way to be passed on to future people, because it’s always really important, I think, to create spaces that just open up for more space for other people and not just ourselves. And that’s something that we think of very deeply.

[00:35:14.530] – Rachel Thompson
I love that. I want to ask you a question about just the kind of the state of literary writing and just wondering about what transitional space do you think that we’re in right now with literary writing?

[00:35:27.980]
And what changes to the literary landscape do you find most exciting?

[00:35:32.750] – Jessica Johns
I mean, I don’t know. Over the past, three years, there’s been a lot more focus and attention given to this brilliance of Indigenous writers, a lot of publications, a lot of awards. And that seemed to me because there’s always been because we’ve had brilliant Indigenous storytellers in the literary world for a long time, they’ve always existed. That’s been happening and they’ve been here. The shift, I think, has been in maybe people in this, hmm, how do I word this? I think this shift has been not necessarily that they’re suddenly there all of a sudden, but like the shift has been to the spotlight being on them now.

[00:36:24.650]
And that has been really wonderful to see that excellence and that brilliance really being more prominently featured in the Canadian literary world, I guess, and also those voices being featured in the way they want to be featured, because I think that Canadian literature and the people in the gatekeeping positions were interested in featuring only one kind of story for a long time, and that was one of trauma and one of grief and sadness.

[00:37:00.200]
And that’s not to say that that’s not valuable in those voices who are writing. That those things aren’t valuable. But I think that there was definitely a lot of the time white people really wanted to just make sure that was the only story that was being told, and the shifts that I’ve seen have just been like it’s a cacophony of voices now. Its stories of all different kinds of stories of grief and trauma. Yes. And also joy and also love and also humour.

[00:37:39.680]
Also some funny and also beauty and also academic. And so the shift I’ve seen is like more towards a varied story. And I hope that that continues. I don’t know. I am very wary of, how the literary world works and whoever is at the helm, helms and the decisions they’re making, like why they’re doing them. It just I don’t know like I don’t know if I’m saying this right.

[00:38:17.450] – Rachel Thompson
I hear you, oh, pat ourselves on the back and everything is fixed. And we’ve got this wonderful cacophony of voices. And it seems to me that maybe some of the change is coming from people, more people working behind the scenes.

[00:38:28.910] – Jessica Johns
Yes. Yes. I was just going to say that as well. I think that there are a lot more Indigenous folks and more people of colour and trans folks, queer folks like working as editors and in publishing houses and in positions where they’re like we’ve been. See, here’s the story we’ve been seeing forever and know are brilliant. And so that’s why we’re seeing that. But that’s, again, like I was saying before, the majority is still very much white.

[00:39:08.780]
It’s still very cis-gendered.

[00:39:11.360]
It’s still based in capital and where they think they’re going to be the story that they think they’re going to get them the most money or whatever, however they decide things so that still exists. So that’s where my wariness comes in. But I do think that it will be kept up. And by having more people in positions, having more people BIPOC people and queer and trans folks in the positions to be making decisions that will reflect how we know society is, which isn’t just white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, highly privileged people.

[00:39:56.180]
And our stories aren’t for them.

[00:40:00.080]
And those are generally the best and most brilliant ones, ones that aren’t centred on those optics. So I hope we keep seeing stuff like that.

[00:40:12.530] – Rachel Thompson
Absolutely. Thank you so much, Jessica, for sharing your lit mag love with us today. I’m very conscious and grateful, too, for the cautious optimism. It’s like things are good. They’re getting better. But we also have to continue to do the work to make them better and establish them more permanently versus a certain blip in the timeline kind of thing.

[00:40:35.750] – Jessica Johns
Yeah, I guess I’m just wary of, doing exactly what you said, which is just this like look at all these Indigenous voices that we’ve featured, CanLit. Let’s pat ourselves on the back and continue being shitty as we’ve always been, because we’ve done this now like we’re done, let’s move on. Like, I am just wary of that effect and rather than something sustainable, which means having people in positions to make those sustainable decisions.

[00:41:11.910]
Yeah, it’s optimism, but yes, it’s terrible.

[00:41:15.740] – Rachel Thompson
Thanks again for sharing all your lit mag love with us today, Jessica. And did you want to talk a bit about what’s coming up for Room or anything you want people to know about that’s on the horizon?

[00:41:27.170] – Jessica Johns
Yeah, absolutely. We have a wonderful “Hair” issue coming out, our hair themed issue, which was edited by none other than the wonderful and amazing Chelene Knight. So that’s going to be out in March. We have the Sports issue, as well as our unthemed issue, which is going to be a double issue, which is coming out in December. Also in March, we have set the date for our next Growing Room Festival, the 2020 Literary and Arts Festival, which is March 11th to 15th.

[00:42:08.450]
I’m currently accepting pitches for workshops, panels and artists for the festival until September 15th and yeah, and the festival, it’s my first time as festival director, so I’m going to be probably an anxious mess from now until then. And that’s exciting, too.

[00:42:34.690] – Rachel Thompson
[laughter] I can’t wait to see what comes of Growing Room and just working with you and seeing all the amazing initiatives that are happening at Room too.

[00:42:44.770] – Jessica Johns
We also have our last Indigenous Brilliance event of the year will be November 23rd and then our one after that will be during the Growing Room Festival and that will probably be similar to last year and that it’s going to be like a big, bad, amazing event. So check us out, come to those events, support us and the amazing people, you know, showing their brilliance.

[00:43:14.610]
Thank you so much for having me also.

[00:43:18.490] – Rachel Thompson
Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.

[00:43:20.620]
I loved talking with Jessica Johns about community and about relationships. I find that she always has such a great take on getting in the right relationship, on checking in with yourself and with the agreements that you’re binding yourself to by saying that you’re going to do something or work with someone. And I like how she turned it to really be about you and your own boundaries. And I think a lot of writers listening, especially those who are introverts with limited energy for doing things out and about with people.

[00:43:53.560]
It’s a really good check-in for all of us to think about how we use our energy, especially when a lot of that energy then takes away from our ability to write if we’re draining ourselves saying yes to so many different things and getting in the wrong relationships, because we haven’t really thought through our involvement and how and how we want to relate with people, then this is a great thing to do for writers. And another thing that Jessica reminded me of that is so crucial is about the core relationship between the editor and the writer and how sometimes editors get that wrong and they think that they’re going to impose some aesthetic on a writer’s submission or they don’t quite know how to again relate.

[00:44:41.080]
It goes back to relationships with the writer. And so you can hear working with an editor like Jessica and she is upcoming editing an issue with Room as I am as well. And so there are a few of us who we rotate editorial. So you’ll see all the upcoming issues at Room magazine dot com. But if you have the honour and the privilege of being able to work with Jessica, you will have in her someone who champions your writing and your vision for your writing and works closely with you in a really respectful way in building that good relationship.

[00:45:16.490]
So I hope that you’ll send in your work to Room to our upcoming issues.

[00:45:20.860]
Lit Mag Love is co-presented by Room Magazine, literature, art and feminism since 1975 and the Lit Mag Love Course, an online course to get smart, fearless and published with lots of help from me. Sound editing for the episode is done by Mica Lemiski, and I’m your host, Rachel Thompson.

[00:42:34.690]
[background music playing] If you want to give us some love in the form of a review wherever you get your podcast, we would love that. And it really helps other writers discover the podcast. You can find us online at Lit Mag Love podcast dot com or on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at Lit Mag Love. Thanks for writing and reading literature and thanks for listening to Lit Mag Love.[background music playing]

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