Evan Kindley: I’ll start us off. Jason, how long have you been planning Spook? When was it born?
Jason Parham: The idea was born in December. I officially started reaching out to possible contributors in January. There seemed to be a gap, so I thought, foolishly enough, I could fill it. Toni Morrison is famous for saying, “Write the book you want to read.” Spook is born out of that thinking.
Evan: What gap exactly were you perceiving?
Jason: There are a ton of great and important literary journals, The Paris Review, Slake, Harper’s, and so on. But so often writers of color don’t appear within the pages. There are always one or two. I wanted, in some way, to change that. Don’t get me wrong, Spook is not a terribly original idea. There have been African-American lit journals in the past, The Crisis, Fire!!, Bronx Biannual, and Greg Tate’s Coon Bidness, which came out in 2011. Spook extends this tradition while imagining its own future.
Malcolm Harris: As an organizing principle for the magazine, and maybe this is still evolving, is there a distinction between African-American and People of Color?
Jason: There is a difference, of course. The journal isn’t solely intended for African Americans. Most of Issue 1 contributors just happen to be black. Going forward I hope to involve others. Even so, the content within the magazine appeals to all folks. At least I hope so.
Evan: You mention print magazines here. Is Spook going to be print only?
Jason: For now, Spook will be print only. I’m very much a traditionalist in that sense. I love how The New Inquiry, LA Review of Books, Slake and other lit publications are re-imagining how we consume fiction and art and criticism online. I have yet to figure out how to translate Spook to the web in a creative way. Although, a digital version of the magazine will be available for purchase.
Malcolm: How do you see Spook‘s relationship to academia and professional scholarship? The content I’ve seen so far seems to take thought seriously but not itself too seriously. And there are some top-level scholars on that contributors list. What should we expect?
Jason: Well, I wanted contributors to have fun. I wanted Spook to sort of be a free space for them to discuss big ideas. We take what we’re doing very seriously. Some pieces are lighter than others. Some are dense. But therein lies the beauty of Spook (I think). I wanted the magazine to be a tapestry of ideas. I imagine Issue 2 will look much different than Issue 1. Spook is constantly evolving.
Evan: Who else is on the editorial staff besides yourself?
Jason: The brilliant Victor LaValle was kind enough to come on as Fiction Editor and lend his genius. He worked with Justin Torres on his fiction piece and really helped to mold the message of the story. He has an exceptional eye for storytelling. Aside from Victor, it was just me editing pieces. Not that many of them needed it.
Malcolm: Besides LARB and TNI (literally, right now) are there some other publications you see Spook in dialog with?
Jason: I love Slake and what they’re doing. It’s such a great and necessary product. From the beginning I’ve always told folks I see Spook as a mix between The Paris Review and Wax Poetics. So I very much see us in dialog with the new and emerging publications, as well as the more established journals. But it was also important that we create and dictate our own conversation.
Tavia Nyong’o: When/where is the release party?
Jason: The release party will be on June 28th. I can’t yet divulge the location. Hope to announce it by Monday.
Evan: How often do you plan to bring out new issues?
Jason: Spook will be biannual. I hope to have the next issue out the first week of December. As a one-man operation, that’s all I can manage for now. I’m excited though. Writers and scholars I admire have already reached out in regards to Issue 2. So things are moving. I do want to stress that Spook isn’t just a literary magazine, though. Going forward we’ll be collaborating on projects with arts organizations, other publications, etc. Maybe even a gallery or two. (But you didn’t hear that from me.)
Evan: Do you anticipate bringing on more editors, or will it be primarily a one-man operation for the time being?
Jason: For now it’s just me. I’d love to bring more folks on in an editorial capacity. My emphasis, however, is on providing compelling and thought-provoking content. I know so many great minds. My goal is to expose their genius. That said, I can manage the editing for now, with the occasional help from Victor.
Malcolm: How can people interested in collaborating get involved with Spook?
Jason: Any one interested in contributing can reach me at [email protected]. For the debut issue I reached out to friends and writers I thought best captured Spook’s essence. Going forward, I’m open to submissions.
Evan: Maybe you could end by teasing us with some highlights from Issue 1?
Jason: Here’s a partial list. I don’t want to give too much away!
We also have poetry from Warsan Shire and Kyla Marshell, and fiction from Justin Torres and Angelica Cheri. The magazine will be available June 26th through the website.
Evan: Any other distribution? Stores, etc.?
Jason: We hope to have it in a few independent NYC bookstores. Most of the distribution, though, will be online. And of course, folks can purchase a copy at the release party. For online buyers, a digital copy is included with the purchase, which should hold people over until the print copy arrives.