Dear James

Reimagining The James Franco Review

Dearly Beloveds,

We are gathered here to reimagine a journal.

Sometimes the name and the body stop serving one another. It has been ineffective to always have to explain what this journal wasn’t (about JF, for instance) before we could say what we were. It is far too easy to distract oneself with the symptom instead of the problems rooted in the system at play.

After the special issue running November 1- December 15 we will lay this dead name down to rest, with new visionaries, Monica Lewis and Nicole McCarthy guiding the project. Monica will step in as publisher and Nicole will maintain her support role as Managing Editor. After a brief hiatus, together they will create a new name and reimagine the project’s future.

The James Franco Review launched on Nov 4, 2014. There was a lot of talk calling for more “diverse books” that felt sentimental. If a system is set up to disvalue or ignore whole groups of writers and narratives just “calling for more” won’t do much. There had to be a publishing structure that could truly create more space and attention for the work that was most valuable to me as a writer and radical queer.

I wanted to know if a new way of running a literary journal was possible. I wanted something that excited and empowered those who felt ignored by the literary world. I wondered if there was a way to catch those who weren’t paying attention, who weren’t affected and make it undeniably clear how biased and flawed literary publishing is. Could a literary journal run if it did something different? How would that change who got published?

And yes, I had a feeling that something would happen when you used a famous white name to bring attention to that essential bias. The project went viral even before we called for submissions, and in that game of telephone the reporting on the journal’s mission and innovation diluted. All while our mission and action continued to gain clarity and potency.

Our technique removed slush pile readers. The only reader is the genre editor, and the editors change with each issue. We used blind submissions, a tool that’s only as good as its user.

Over two years we put out 8 general issues, an additional two on special topics, hosted 24 editors, and published 115 emerging and midcareer writers.

The project quickly transitioned into a collaborative one, as transitory editors helped refine and shape the mission, as contributors became editors, and staff.

I admire things that are flow and in flux and though I felt like this project had that aspect, I also had heavy critiques. Mostly of me and James: I knew that my vision could only take the project so far. That regardless of my other identities, a white female socialized person guiding this project for the long term would not benefit the movement or the project. I was highly concerned about the skepticism we received for having James Franco’s name on the project, let alone the hundreds of emails we received from people hoping to get in touch with him. (Want them James? Let me know and I’ll fwd).

The JFR proved what a white guy’s name can do.

Then it proved what non traditional publishing structures can do.

In a recent interview with Vox, Junot Díaz clarified that narratives that only show a middle class white world are still political. They’re just conservative.

This journal exists during a time where we are getting to see the wrong that an excess of conservative narratives distract from: the continued terror toward Black communities and Communities of Color through police brutality and environmental collapse, the threats against trans lives, and the lack of health care including mental health support. When the focus of human rights becomes assimilation: marriage and the military—we don’t need clever angles to draw attention to the wrong.

In a forward movement that defines what this journal is first, rather than leading with what it is not:

This is a journal that knows you can experiment in publishing that you can create flow. That writers can create urgently and dangerously. That literature can reveal, destroy and recreate the world.

I am grateful to have been part of the project for this long, and that Monica and Nicole have stepped up and stepped in to reimagine its future.

Reimagining and constant reinvention is necessary—any innovation is at risk of becoming static if it isn’t responsive. We need literary spaces that can shift with the world that we live in, that recognize all work is political and to focus on the voices that most need to be heard. A major problem with literary journals is that the vision doesn’t turn over enough. Literature is living and breathing and a journal has the potential to be more than a time capsule letting captured poems and stories get dusty, or more than a store house for our friends. It can be a pulse. It can show us all the way we are alive each day. Journals reveal what they care about by what they publish. The journals I value most are working to decolonize literature down to how work is considered and to have fun while doing it.

Creating a space for typically underrepresented writers wasn’t unique, but being playful and experimental was. Thus far, the project attempted to make the process vulnerable for everyone by skewing the editor’s role. The work that we’ve received under this name and published has been odd, brilliant, and covert. And though our intentions were clear the shifting editors ensured that our aesthetics weren’t. Each issue felt like a new network of misfits threading together. The JFR is that punk house with really solid systems for keeping the kitchen clean and taking care of one another even as people come and go.

Except that James, you have the biggest room and it’s time for you to move out. It’s time to turn that room into our collective writing studio, our radical organizing space, our monthly queer dance party.

So my friends, I lay this name down to rest with a blessing:

That we strive toward the kind of future Kamden Hilliard created in issue 8, where editors and contributors function as a collective to move things forward rather than granter and grantee; that we are all doing our work to move towards freedom together; that readers can find more spaces that speak to the work they are doing and that more editors  writers create those spaces; that we nurture and reveal each other despite an industry still full of cowardice and a reluctance to admit that they can shape and shift what people are capable of seeing; that we do this through art; through desire.

That the name that knocks down the door is your own.


Corinne Manning

p.s. Monica Lewis will be in touch with you in the coming months to announce the new name and the submission schedule. In the mean time, enjoy the special issue coming November 1st on Reimagining.

Featured Image altered from ©Bree 95 as per Creative Commons License.