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Bibliobitch: CALYX Journal is Still Going Strong

cover of CALYX featuring a woman's feet next to a watermelon

CALYX Journal begins its 36th year of publishing fine art and literature by women with its winter 2012 issue (vol. 27, no. 3). This self-described feminist literary journal allows women's voices to be front and center, which is why its four female founders created it in 1976.  Referencing a recent survey conducted by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts the introduction in the summer 2011 issue of CALYX points out that women's voices are still highly marginalized in the literary journals and magazines, making their mission as relevant as ever.

The summer 2011 issue of CALYX was a transitional one, with longtime founding editor and director Margarita Donnelly and senior editor Beverly McFarland retiring, and two young women filling their shoes: Kelsey Connell as Director, and Rebecca Olson as Senior Editor. After meeting these two women, both in their mid-twenties, at a literary festival ("So, do you both intern at CALYX?" I asked them naively when I approached the CALYX booth) and seeing that this journal was undergoing a huge and exciting transition, I was intrigued by what this meant for the next generation of feminist literary publishing.  CALYX helped launch the careers of many successful writers, like Barbara Kingsolver, Natalie Goldberg, and Julia Alvarez (CALYX was also the first to publish the artwork of Frida Kahlo in color in the U.S). I asked Rebecca and Kelsey a few questions on the changes at CALYX (which is a nonprofit organization that also publishes books) and ways that literature- and art-loving feminists of all ages could support and contribute to its future.

How did you both become involved with Calyx? What brought on the transition and was it a smooth one?

Rebecca: I started at CALYX as an intern in Fall of 2008. In some ways this was a scary time to start working for a small press—the economy had just taken a turn for the worse, funding for nonprofit art and literature projects like ours wasn't looking good, and the publishing industry was taking some major hits. But in other ways it was the perfect time. Our founder and director for 35 years Margarita Donnelly was recovering from breast cancer and CALYX really needed some new energy.

Kelsey: I came in as Assistant Director in 2010. I was thrilled to be a part of CALYX because of its commitment to sharing the diverse voices of women. As Rebecca said, there are so many uncertainties in the industry. For me, it is crucial that passion for and commitment to your mission drives you through any challenges. For CALYX, the staffing transition was about renewal of a mission-focused commitment to continually build the community of writers and artists that has characterized CALYX for so long.

Rebecca: The staffing transition went about as well as anyone could have hoped—when you're dealing with organizations that have been operating under the same leadership for so long, there's always the risk of things falling apart or people feeling alienated. That thankfully didn't happen for us. Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts as part of the stimulus package to create new jobs, CALYX was able to hire Kelsey and me to train for a year under the direction of Margarita (director for 35 years) and Beverly (senior editor for 23 years).

Do you think the aesthetic/ vision/ delivery of Calyx will change? For example, are you moving to digital formats? Is there going to be a "modernizing" of Calyx for the next generation?

Rebecca: The mission of CALYX—to publish great feminist art and writing—isn't going to change, but the delivery certainly will. We're in the process now of modernizing our aesthetic—our logo and website specifically (if there are any hot designers out there looking to volunteer, please send us an email!).

This fall we released our first title that's available as an e-book, Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition. From here on out, all of our books will be available electronically. As for the journal, we're working to offer our readers more multimedia content online. We're stoked about our new audio archive where you can hear our authors reading their work (our mission is all about "women's voices"... so we decided to take ourselves literally).

Kelsey: We're ready for our online presence to show off our legacy while illustrating our commitment to modern artists and authors. Digital formatting offers a platform for the sharing of ideas and connecting of diverse communities that is truly unique and can allow us to grow our audience in ways that they may never have dreamed possible in the 1970s.

The journal will be print-only during 2012, but don't count us out for online expansion. I'd love to see  CALYX Journal on online bookshelves sometime soon.

There is a diversity of style in the current issue (winter 2012, vol. 27 no. 1) but the emphasis seems to be first on poetry, and then the short personal essay, and then there was that awesome speculative fiction piece at the very end! Are you open to more experimental writing, or is there something in particular you look for to 'represent' CALYX?

Rebecca: The issues are all completely unique so it's generalize about our style (but it's funny you say this issue is heavy on the poems—I'm a poetry nerd and I was wondering if that bias was going to start spilling over into my work...). Our issues are pretty representative of the work that we receive—[the editorial collective] loves great experimental writing, we love speculative fiction, we adore weird hybrid pieces, but last year we seemed to get a lot of narrative poetry and personal essays (which is a fair amount of what you'll find in this issue). I hope that next year we'll see even more variety in the styles of submissions we get—we want to represent the very best of women's electric imaginations!

Is CALYX continuing to publish books?

Kelsey: Yes! One of the staff's commitments to CALYX's future is to expand our book production. We have two titles in the fire right now. One will be published in 2012—a novel entitled The Jewel in The Lotus by Laurette Folk, which is about a young woman exploring the meaning of artistry in her life as she comes to terms with depression and anxiety.

Rebecca: We'll also be publishing a short story collection about love in small places by Helen Klonaris, a queer Greek-Bahamian writer. There's even more coming around the bend for 2013!

What is one of the most exciting things about CALYX in 2012?

Rebecca: One of the things that I think is most exciting about CALYX is our perfect position to act as a bridge between feminists of different ages. We receive many submissions from women who have known about our magazine since the late 70's—they grew up as wild women alongside CALYX back when feminists were rolling up in cars wearing witch hats and slapping "this offends women" stickers onto sexist print media at newsstands (true story from one of our current volunteers...). These second-wavers are still writing and still sending work out today, and we publish plenty of their work in our magazine. But what's so great is now we're starting to see more submissions from young women who are just starting out and have something to say about what it means to be a feminist today. And so we become a multi-generational space for feminist art (and that's rad).

CALYX Journal is currently seeking submissions for our full-color art center section. Visit our art guidelines if you want to send work to be considered for the summer 2012 issue!

You can purchase a copy of the current issue here.

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