Plenitude: Your Queer Literary Magazine: An Interview with Andrea Routley and Matthew Walsh

Clarise Foster: What was the original vision for the magazine? The first issue of Plenitude, I believe, was launched in 2012? It publishes biannually and so it would now be into its third year. How is it going? Have your initial expectations for Plenitude changed in that time? If so, how?

Andrea Routley: I really didn’t know what to expect when I began. In the beginning, I did not want to offer the magazine for free because I worried that this would contribute to the devaluing of artists’ work (look what happened to music!). Most people prefer to read a print publication over an electronic one, so we did the two 2014 issues in print as well. What I have found, and this will not be a surprise to you, is that running a literary magazine—even a small biannual magazine—requires a lot of volunteer work. Trying to grow circulation and manage subscriptions was becoming unmanageable for me. While I was in school, I had a little more time, but once I began working full time in marketing and promotions for Caitlin Press, I only had my weekends. So devoting a day to Plenitude, I had only one day left to do my own writing, get groceries, go to the doctor, practise piano and all that, and I was also dealing with a health problem. I really needed help. And something wonderful has happened—I found some amazing, committed people who now form the editorial team—Rachna Contractor in Toronto, Kathleen Fraser in Montreal, Matthew Walsh in Vancouver and Anna Nobile in Sechelt, British Columbia. Brett Josef Grubisic also started a series called The Query Project, where established queer Canadian writers each tell us about a book that had a big impact on them and why. There are many other volunteers who have lent a hand over the past few years as well, postering, contributing interviews and other things.

We decided that the best thing for Plenitude would be to change our delivery to being completely online, accessible to everyone.

CF: It seems to me that there are queer literary magazines in other countries, often more than one—but it appears that Plenitude is Canada’s only queer literary magazine. Do you think this is because the Canadian literary mainstream is more supportive of openly queer writers and poets? I can think of a number of well-known, well-published and well-respected queer Canadian poets—such as John Barton, Erin Mouré, Rachel Zolf, and Arleen Paré, to name a few. Or are there other reasons for the lack of queer writing magazines?

AR: There are a handful of queer literary magazines in the United States, but they also have ten times the population. I don’t think Canada has fewer queer magazines than them, relatively speaking. The reason for Plenitude isn’t necessarily because other Canadian literary magazines are not supportive — meaning, interested in publishing content with queer themes, experiences, sex. John Barton, for example, is the editor of The Malahat Review and I know he does not shy away from this kind of content at all. But Plenitude creates a literary space for queer writers to engage with one another’s work, and a queer context in which to present it, which I believe opens up the possibilities and complexity of how we write queer.

CF: In Plenitude’s publishing mandate it states, “We define queer literature and film as that which is created by LGBTTQI people, rather than that which features queer content alone.” I would venture that there are still many readers and writers within and outside of the queer writing community who would say that queer writing is about who writes it and what it talks about, not just about who writes it—so this statement suggests there has been an important shift in the understanding/reading of what queer writing is. What considerations brought you to this definition—and how is it related to the magazine’s identification as a literary magazine—to the poetry it publishes?

AR: I think the difference is that we are not thinking of queer literature as a genre. For example, I am Canadian, so what I write could be fairly called “Canadian Literature.” Is it no longer “Canadian” if I set my story in Mexico? If, as editors, we were to require “Canadian content” in the stories we publish, we would likely stifle writers into regurgitating ideas of Canadianess, rather than writing authentically and letting ourselves discover what Canadian may mean. But I know what you mean. Some of my sto- ries do not have queer characters (explicitly anyway) and do not explore specifically queer themes, so someone looking for “queer fiction” would probably be pretty disap- pointed if they read “Habitat,” for example, a story about a divorced (assumedly) heterosexual father hoping his teenaged daughter will move in with him and the guinea pig. But the question is who decides what is queer content? How do you assess this? I have a particular experience of being a lesbian, coming out in 1996, pretending that never happened after high school, coming out again in 2004, stuff like that. But there are people who identify as queer and have a vastly different experience from mine and I didn’t want any editor to be in the position of judging whether or not a piece is queer enough. By eliminating this from the criteria, I believe it allows for a more nuanced exploration of queer themes and experiences. Often, this is not a question that comes up because most people who submit to the magazine are submitting work that is undeniably queer.

This interview is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.

Andrea Routley is the editor of Walk Myself Home: An Anthology to End Violence Against Women (Caitlin Press), managing editor and founder of Plenitude magazine, and the author of Jane and the Whales (Caitlin Press) a finalist for the 2014 Lambda Literary Award. Her writing has appeared in The Malahat Review and Room, and in 2008, she was shortlisted for the Rona Murray Prize for Literature for her poem “For Helen M. Winslow and her Love of Finer Things.”

Matthew Walsh is a writer from Nova Scotia. His work has been published widely and will next appear in Qwerty and 11th Dimension Press’s Rock Is Not Dead anthology.