Blackberry: A Magazine (2015)

I stumbled upon the literary magazine Blackberry: A magazine for an assignment for class, but what I found was a magazine that will stay with me forever. What makes this magazine so special to me is that it gives the black woman a voice in the literary world. Now I know black women have access to every avenue when it comes to submissions but as a black woman I still find it difficult to find literary work specifically by black women. I think this magazine is so important not for college women or older women but for those young ladies falling in love with writing and having a magazine that shows work from writers where they can see themselves in. I know that having a place where you can  see various styles from women of color and can feel comfortable knowing that there is a place that can help them grow and potentially submit to one day. I had the opportunity to ask the editor in chief Alisha Sommer a few questions regarding the magazine:

I know Blackberry: A Magazine is dedicated to sharing the literary voice of the black woman, but are the submissions only from black women or do you find yourself receiving work from other races and genders? And how do you handle those submissions?

AS: We often receive submissions from writers and artists who do not fit the mission of our publication. There have been times when I have chosen work by a woman of color who may not identify as black because the work was beautiful and I ultimately I do want to add to the diversity in publishing. Sometimes it means rejecting wonderful pieces of work, but it’s very important to me that I do not deviate from our goal. There are thousands of literary magazines, but just this one that specifically showcases work by black women. I just hope that other writers and artists understand why this is so necessary.

What would you say is the biggest challenge for Blackberry: A Magazine? And for you as an editor? 

AS: The biggest challenge for BLACKBERRY: a magazine is growth. Our staff is spread across the country and we are all volunteers who have full-time jobs or are pursuing education. It’s difficult to devote the insane amount of time it takes to growing a magazine, which is essentially a business, when you also need to focus on working to support yourself. It’s hard to know that you can’t fulfill your demand simply because of money and logistics. However, it’s encouraging to know that people want to see more from us.

As an editor, one challenge is making sure we continue to curate and showcase quality work. Another, and perhaps the most important, is securing funding. Currently I fund all aspects of the magazine myself but I know that in order to grow I need to find ways to produce more publications and pay our writers – something that is very important to me. It’s a chicken and egg kind of problem that I hope to solve soon.

What made you and the other starters of Blackberry choose to focus majorly on sharing the voice of black women?

AS: Around the time I started BLACKBERRY: a magazine, I was also in the process of submitting a lot of writing. What I noticed while researching publications was that very few of them were publishing work by writers that looked like me. It’s discouraging at times to see the lack of diversity in publishing (though it is getting better with more and more publications committing themselves to diversity). Since I couldn’t find that space for the voice of black women, I decided to create it.

 If you could say anything or give advice to black women writers about being in the literary world and finding their place in it, what would you tell them? 

AS: I would tell them to find their community. There are so many spaces, both online and in person, where black women and other women of color gather to support one another in their creative expression. If I hadn’t found other women to help support me in my vision, this would have faded away a long time ago.

I would also tell them to keep writing and to keep finding ways to be pushed in their work. Never underestimate the power of a great critique group – people who will not tell you what you want to hear, but are committed to everyone excelling in their writing. Find a mentor, take a class, read more books. Just keep pushing yourself to become the best writer you can be.

 I absolutely love that you include spoken word on your website. Was there a specific reason you chose to include spoken word? 

AS: I chose to include spoken word because I believe in the power of voice. Another layer is added to a work when you get to hear the author’s tone and inflection, the rhythm and rhyme. It leaves a stronger impression upon the listener.

Lastly, what do you hope to achieve as an editor? And for the magazine?

AS: My hope, as an editor and for the magazine, is that we’re still around 50 years from now. I suppose it’s legacy, right? I hope that what we created three years ago continues to reach, support, and inspire readers and writers for many years to come.

Take a minute to check out some of the work from these brilliant writers and let me know what you think!

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