Editor Interview: SAND: Berlin's English Literary Journal

Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.

A: An open map.

Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?

A: We are frequently agog about other literary journals (in a team meeting, we recently spoke of Alaska Quarterly Review, Banshee, BOMB, Pank, Gorse, and Korean Literature Now). I am impressed with journals which reach out for works from writers and artists globally, and publish material from myriad perspectives that before may have been under-represented or missed completely. I once took a class centered around the history of the literary magazine and how one goes about producing one (shout out to Sprung Formal), and was shocked at the sheer magnitude of literary journals out there. And so, of course it is horribly difficult to narrow down which publications one admires most of all, but a few I've personally enjoyed recently are; Black Sun Lit (Vestiges), The Gravity of the Thing, Radioactive Moat, and BOAAT. For a look at broader influences, some non-literary magazines that SAND members admired at that meeting are Nansen, Kajet, Siberian Times, Riposte, Flaneur, and Dummy.

Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?

A: It’s always hard to whittle down a whole sector of culture and society to just a few names, but off the top of my head I’d say that some key contemporary influencers on my artistic practice have been Tracy Emin, Rashid Johnson, Sophie Calle, Albert Oehlen, Yoko Ono, Mariechen Danz and Joseph Beuys (particularly his blackboard drawings). If I had to name one artist who will always hold a place in my heart, it’s Francisco Goya – his black and white drawings (especially the one of Don Quixote) are forever etched in my memory, some of the most beautiful artwork I’ve ever discovered.
When looking for intriguing artwork I’m drawn to the background of the artist, more so than the aesthetic and materiality of the piece itself. If an artist is able to beautifully combine a conceptual structure with history and personality and choose their medium well, then I believe the piece will be a success.
Sometimes I find that artwork is overcomplicated and over-thought – there is a wonderful simplicity in executing a good idea through honesty. Show me something real and different – something I don’t know.
My current focus is to elevate voices of artists from the LGBTQ+ community and artists of colour. I believe there is a lot to be said by people from these communities and it is important they are given a platform to share and show their stories. All formats and mediums of art are accepted and I strongly encourage sculptors and performance artists to send in stills of their work!

Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?

A: As an English-language publication based in Berlin, we see the language and subject matter of the work we print from an unusual vantage point – our international enclave of English (and many other languages) in the German capital. So we don’t take anything for granted. Everyone who shows up either in SAND or in Berlin brings along a unique set of experiences.

Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?

A: Read SAND and see what we've published recently. It'll give you an idea of the level of writing we're choosing but also show you where you can knock our socks off with something different and unusual. Nonfiction has a broad remit from microbiographies to critical essays, science epics, history, memoir and travel, and all of those forms can meld into hybrids with one another – and that's without even beginning to consider innovative structures. The subject doesn't matter if the writer has that double talent of observation (seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary) and of vividly conveying those observations.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: I could say that the ideal submission is one which follows the SAND guidelines to the letter or which is stringently & elegantly formatted, &c. But despite their very real importance (no Comic Sans, please) these tend to be secondary considerations to content. I'm quite a strong believer in the revolutionary potential of poetic language. Memorable phrasing/imagery/&c. should function as more than simple adornment. I want to read voices who push the boundaries of what it means to write poetry in the technological age. I want language that mimics life in all its strangeness & variety. The ideal submission, really, is one that unexpectedly transposes me into the voice & being of its author/their world, & which fails to rely on any hitherto steadied tradition. ...& which follows the guidelines.
By steadied, I mean any poetic tradition that’s plateaued to the point of cliché. Unsteady being, like a newborn’s footing, a feature of the proverbial first steps of something/someone unique. Also I like poetry that's not so definite—neither in content nor in any particular poetic feature, poetry that takes big risks that pay off.

Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?

A: We have several readers, so I cannot speak for the rest of the team, but I’ve basically imposed blind submissions on myself. If the story is good, the story is good. I don’t need to know where the writer has published before, whether they have an MFA, or whether they’re also a poet. Good writing will stand out and stick with me. That being said, when it comes to making final decisions, diversity is very important to us. When two stories are equally compelling, the writers’ biographies might come into play. We’re also quite active in working to receive more submissions from people of color, people in the LGBTQ community, women, and people from around the globe.

Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?

A: Again, I can only speak for myself because of the number of readers we have during the submissions process, but I read as long as the story actively engages me. If I am so deeply immersed in the story world that 5,000 words feel like 500, that story will get my go ahead for the next round.

Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?

A: One of the things I love most about SAND is how democratic we are. For example, the fiction editors read all of the submissions and give a tiered short list to the team. Then everyone has a chance to chime in before we make the final decisions. It’s beautiful to see how certain stories resonate with so many people who have such different tastes. It’s also beautiful to see the passion that comes out of the team when fighting for pieces to be published. Because we believe in building up the writing community, we always let those shortlisted writers know, even when we do not publish them. And it’s something that other writers should know when submitting: even if you’re getting rejections on good work, there’s an honest chance that someone is fighting for you behind the scenes at some stage of the editing process.

Q: How much do you edit an accepted piece prior to publication?

A: We are very careful readers and editors who engage closely with the details of what we publish. In practice, the prose goes through a more in-depth editorial process than the poetry or visual art, and we treat translations somewhat differently, but in all cases our primary interest is always to print the best version of the work we accept, not necessarily in the precise form it was submitted in. The authors always have the final say, of course, and they are very appreciative at the attention we give their work in the editorial process.

Q: Do you nominate work you've published for any national or international awards?

A: We do! We were recently shortlisted for the 2018 Stack Awards in Best Original Fiction for the story "Glittering Dark" by Jeremy Packert Burke. We loyally nominate pieces for the Pushcart Prize and are very honored to be able to say that flash fictions originally published in SAND have been included in the Best Small Fictions anthologies (and also among that competition’s runners-up) for three years straight.