Now 35 years old, Room Magazine is Canada’s oldest literary journal by and about women. Based in Vancouver, Room publishes a quarterly print magazine of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry and art. Literary Mama reviews editor Katherine J. Barrett spoke with Room editor Lorrie Miller about women’s writing past and present, editing by collective, and breaking into the literary journal market.
Katherine J. Barrett: How did Room Magazine get started back in the 1970s?
Lorrie Miller: Room was originally titled A Room of One’s Own after Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay that called for both a literal and figurative place for women in the writing world. Room was founded during a time of great energy in the feminist movement, but a time when women writers still had more challenges getting published than their male counterparts and more challenges than women writers have today. Room created a place to showcase and celebrate Canadian women writers and artists. Founding members of the magazine were writers and feminists, many of whom continued with the magazine for more than a decade. We’re now into our 36th volume and still going strong.
KJB: How has the writing published in Room changed during its 35-year run? Have topics shifted or do women wrestle similar issues now as we did in the 1970s?
LM: That’s a good question and a topic Room editors look at periodically. We take pride in publishing a quality literary magazine, one that remains vital and relevant to both our readers and writers.
Originally, we published critical work from a feminist perspective. This was at a time when academic departments of gender studies and women’s studies were in their infancy and writers had few venues for feminist critique. We received submissions on pregnancy, rape, motherhood, abortion — all the big women’s issues — almost to the exclusion of anything else.
Today, with a number of gender studies and women’s studies departments established, and related journals published, Room no longer needs to fill this void. We now get submissions and publish on a range of universal topics. In each issue, we include creative nonfiction, poetry, fiction, art, an interview, and book reviews. The times have changed yet the concerns of women writers, as they reflect on their lives and the lives of others, are as relevant as ever.
KJB: Who can and does submit to Room Magazine?
LM: Though the majority of our contributors are Canadian, any woman writer or artist, emerging or established, from anywhere in the world, can submit to Room. We have published women from every continent (except Antarctica, as far as I know). In every issue we commission work from a well-known Canadian woman — Eveyln Lau, Jane Urquhart, and Sharon Butlala, for instance — but we are known primarily as a market for emerging women writers.
KJB: Submissions to Room are vetted and edited by a volunteer editorial collective. Why and how is Room run this way?
LM: We have functioned this way since the magazine’s beginning. We publish quarterly, and typically have four different lead editors in any given year. Each issue also has an assistant editor and one or two shadow editors. I am a writer, a teacher, and a mother as well as an editor. Like many women on our collective, I am busy. By sharing the work we ensure the quality of each issue remains high, we allow many editorial voices to be heard, and we give new editors the opportunity to become familiar with the entire editorial process so they are prepared to lead their own issue in the future.
KJB: Despite the rise of the Internet, online publishing, and e-publishing — all since Room was created — the magazine continues as a print publication. How have electronic media and social media changed Room Magazine in recent years?
LM: We have embraced all the technology we can. We have maintained a website for several years and have an active Facebook page and a growing number of Twitter followers. We have recently switched to online submissions, and this past year, we adopted Submittable, an online submission software. This has facilitated our productivity and work-flow incredibly. We are exploring the implications of a digital edition, as I think electronic media has a lot to offer. Still, there’s nothing quite like flipping through a new print edition, fresh off the press.
KJB: Why do you think creative writing, and venues to publish creative writing, are so important for women, perhaps particularly for mothers?
LM: I think mothers, especially new mothers, often feel isolated. Writing is an emotional and creative release to help us cope with, and make sense of, the motherhood experience. I have four children, two now adults. I know that it isn’t easy to blend one’s adult needs with those of children. I remember trying to read my toddlers an academic paper that I had to finish for grad school, thinking naively that the kids really just wanted to be cuddled and hear the sound of my voice. This totally didn’t fly.
Many mothers feel the need to put their parenting experiences into words and to connect with other mothers, whether it’s about birth experiences, toddler sleeping patterns, going back to work outside the home — or choosing not to go back. Writing groups, blogs, and mother-friendly publications are important places where, perhaps, there is less judgement about these experiences. These are places to examine our present family lives, to help understand, cope with, and celebrate motherhood.
KJB: What advice would you give to mother-writers who want to break into the literary journal market but are also constrained by time and responsibilities?
LM: Find a regular time each day, even if it is just one hour, and make it your hour. It is not the desk-cleaning, dishwasher-unloading, lunch-making time. It is writing time. Even with that little bit of time, you will find that you can be productive. I also suggest finding a critical friend or mentor you can work with. Fresh eyes will make a world of difference to the quality of your work, as long as you remain open to criticism. Finally, all writers are also readers, so to get published in a literary journal, you should read several different journals and find those that publish work that resonates with you, and resembles the work you produce. Getting published often takes time, so be patient with yourself, and keep writing.