For the five-year anniversary of ArabLit Quarterly, we’ve published a brand new redesign of ALQ‘s first ever issue, BEGINNINGS, titled BEGIN AGAIN. On this occasion, ALQ‘s founding editor M Lynx Qualey looks back to the start and towards a changing future, and answers five quick-fire questions.
Speaking of beginnings: How did ALQ begin? Where did the impetus to start a literary magazine come from?
M Lynx Qualey: The magazine began with a Twitter poll—I asked if people wanted us (at arablit.org) to produce a magazine. The idea was to create a sandbox where we could experiment with literature, literary form, and forms of translation and where we could pay contributors: poets, short-story writers, translators, essayists, artists.
There have been 15 issues with themes ranging from abstract concepts such as “The Strange” or “Folk” to arguably very concrete notions, for example “The Eye” and “The Kitchen”. How did you come up with the themes for the issues? Was there any guiding principle?
MLQ: Hm! I think the guiding principle is that the concept is broad enough to engage literature of many centuries and that, instead of creating a space where we fill-in-the-blank, the theme creates a space of unexpected poetic connections.
What is the most fun part of working on an issue?
MLQ: The most fun part is when there’s a guest editor with a strong vision. Also, working with authors and artists who have a strong vision. Seeing a commissioned piece come in and be so much more amazing than you expected.
Is there anything you found particularly frustrating during the process? And/or something you’d do differently in hindsight?
MLQ: To be honest (if I can be honest?), I find the monetary and administrative parts difficult and frustrating. There are so many moving parts with a small magazine, and they all have to be rolling simultaneously, from soliciting new submissions to selling to editing to collecting invoices and paying authors to reading widely to asking people to advertise, and so on. Our most regular advertiser fills out an invoice for me because they know I’m so bad at it.
Apart from literary merit, are there any other criteria for the pieces you accept or commission for ALQ?
MLQ: That they be in some way different from what’s already been written or translated elsewhere. I expect this is a magazine for people who read widely, and they want something different and new.
What takes the most time when preparing a new issue?
MLQ: I’m not sure! It’s better if I don’t think very much about how much time goes into this.
What does the future hold for ALQ?
MLQ: Not sure about this either! But I think five years is a good moment for us to take stock and re-invent.
Five Quick-Fire Questions
1. Which was your favorite issue to edit?
2. Biggest surprise over 5 years of ALQ?
How much I loved the FOOTBALL issue, which was Hassan’s idea.
3. Best cover?
KITCHEN, because of the time Meriam Soltan tweeted a photo of that bowl at the museum with the caption, “Meriam look, it’s the ArabLit Quarterly bowl!”
4. A theme you wanted that was vetoed by the team?
5. One person who you think should really read this magazine?
Whichever Nobel Prize committee member is the pushiest.
6. Your best advice for anyone who wants to start a lit mag, in one sentence?
Do it in seasons, like a TV show. Imagine that you’re a show runner, and—just like you wouldn’t produce the same TV show forever—you don’t need to expect yourself to do the same magazine forever. Plan out three or four or five seasons, and then allow yourself to stop if you want to and pitch yourself a different magazine. Or you can keep going, like the Simpsons. But give yourself options.
I am thoroughly grateful for the magazine. It always inspires me. I want ArabLit Quarterly to be widely read and discussed!
Happy Anniversary! Relevant topics, entertaining articles, original artworks, and beautiful products for the ages! Kudos to the brilliant teams Marcia keeps assembling for these remarkable cultural issues.
Will ArabLit Quarterly come back in some reincarnation? A devoted wish it will.
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