Lola, a Berlin cultural magazine in English, describes itself as follows: “We love culture. We love music, art, film, sex life and human interest stories. We also love Berlin. We combine these loves to produce a magazine, website and podcast dedicated to them.” In the summer of 2020, they interviewed our Editor in Chief about SAND for their Media Matters series. Here’s an extract:
Issue 21 marked ten years of SAND. Do you think the purpose of the journal is the same today as it was when it first started?
I think our main functions as a journal have held steady: to bring readers, editors, artists, writers, translators, into a single conversation on the page. And to amplify interesting and exciting work that our readers are unlikely to have seen elsewhere, with a growing emphasis on featuring artists and writers from groups and places that have been systematically sidelined by the publishing industry. Our tastes and preoccupations keep evolving with the team, but that’s an advantage of the journal format. We live and publish in the moment. We’ve grown a bit more professional – recently, after a decade of volunteering and scraping by, we finally received public funding from the Berlin Senate – but through it all, we’ve sustained radically independent ideals. Our tastes are still uncompromising. We care about craft and voice and edge, not favoritism or name recognition.
For the most recent issue, you also acknowledge the role of the pandemic, stating, “we’ve gotten to know the pieces even more intimately, seeing them in a surreal light we could not have imagined when we began this issue.” How has the pandemic affected SAND this year, especially in terms of not being able to host a launch party for issue #21?
As a publication that thrives on community, the necessary suspension of face-to-face gatherings in Berlin has been devastating. That launch party especially. On two nights a year, that’s how we celebrate all the creativity and hard work that was distilled into the physical object of the new issue. As our fiction editor, Ashley Moore, mournfully observed, there is no substitute for seeing people paging through the freshly printed copies we’ve been working so hard on for months. Hearing how contributors read our favorite lines out loud. And then dancing it out. Our anniversary would have also commemorated those parties themselves, where many Berliners first got to know us (and each other).
Then again, the Internet allowed us to connect with contributors and fans from six continents who never could have made it to the party venue. Our quick-thinking event coordinators, Courtney Gosset and Nadja Poljo, transformed our usual night of readings, artist talks, and dancing into a weekend-long festival we streamed on our YouTube channel, complete with readings, studio visits, animations, interviews between editors and contributors, and a reunion with some of our editorial alumni. We learned a lot from the experience. But we’re still so eager to mingle organically with our creative neighbors again when this is all over.
How important is Berlin as SAND’s location of publishing?
In some ways, publishing is a logical next step for any maturing literary scene. But in a linguistic enclave, it can also be a radical act. Generations of publishers in exile have defied censorship and repression in their countries of origin, from Parisian presses printing 20th century queer writing in English when homosexuality was severely criminalized in both Britain and most places it had colonized, to the publishers in exile of Czech and Hungarian writing during the Cold War. Similarly, an émigré writer such as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o can find space for self-expression abroad that is unavailable to him in Kenya, allowing him to write masterpieces in Gĩkũyũ that speak intimately to the Kenyan – and human – experience from across the ocean. Thanks to his publishers and the miracle of translation, we can read them.
We look to these role models with great respect, but our own case is different. Simply by publishing in our native English, we find ourselves heir to a dark legacy of British and US cultural imperialism. Resisting that legacy, we try to use our platform – and our language’s huge audience – to amplify voices that publishers and curators have often erased or marginalized. We don’t see ourselves as either exiles or emissaries. Berlin, this gathering place, is our chosen home. Currently our team consists of fourteen people with at least eight different passports, and almost all of us moved across borders to live in this singular city. Berlin deeply informs how we read literature and look at art, even if most of the authors and artists we feature live elsewhere.