Print Matters — Room Magazine with Clélie Rich

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Print Matters is a celebration of the printed form and all the awesome local people who bring it to you: literary journals, publishers, magazines, hand presses, and independent booksellers.
This week we share a drink and conversation with Clélie Rich and talk about Room magazine, collective changes, and the Roomies.

Room magazine is “Canada’s oldest literary journal by and about women”. The first issue came out under the name A Room of One’s Own, a pull quote from Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay by the same name, and the famous quote, “It is necessary to have five hundred [pounds] a year and a room with a lock on the door if you are to write fiction or poetry” is still found on each issue’s cover.

Entering its 35th year in publication, Room  has come a long way from its roots as “A Feminist Journal of Literature and Criticism” to its current, more inclusive, “A Space of Your Own” where their loyal readers find the finest emerging women’s writing 4 times a year.  Clélie Rich knows Room because over the past two decades she’s twice been a member of the Growing Room Collective, the group of volunteers who handle all the editorial, production, and administration of Room.  I spoke with Clélie about the benefits of working in a collective, the editing process, and how Room has changed over the years.

Photos by C. Kwan

Can you tell me something about Room’s history?

We started up in 1975 which was the first international women’s year and it was started up by a group of women out of UBC, I think.  When they started the magazine, they started it as “A Room of One’s Own” because at that point, there wasn’t really a place for women in publishing and in its beginnings, it was very feminist.  The great thing about the magazine is that as women joined and left the collective, the tenure of the magazine changes because it’s a result of what the collective members want.  So Room magazine went through a very political era, but now we are now morphed to what is more like good writing on any topic.  It’s still feminist but it doesn’t have to be so aggressive.  When I joined the first time, it was quite aggressively, politically feminist and it’s not like that anymore.  It’s much more of gentle take on feminism, primarily focusing on what is good women’s writing more than having a political agenda.  Our agenda is to publish the best writing we can get.

How long have you been a volunteer with Room magazine?
This is my second time on the collective, and this time, I think I came back in what would be Volume 30, so that’s 4 years ago, so say 2006.  I joined in the ‘90s, in about ‘95 and left again in 2000.  So all together I’ve got 10 years, divided up.
What drew you to Room?
The first time, the very first time I joined, I had just become a freelance editor, and I was taking courses from the Editor’s Association of Canada, and they said go get some experience. And I was in a proofreading course, I think, and one of the women stood up at the end and said, “We need volunteers for our magazine, and it’s good volunteer experience.” So at that point, I joined. And that was just for work experience.And then when I came back in the 2000s, it was because I missed it. I liked the magazine a good deal and other things would come up like work, and it would intervene and all that kind of thing, and we had gotten the magazine to a good place, so it was fairly good to leave it, so I just left it. And then when I had the opportunity to come back, I thought ok, I’ll just e-mail them and see if they need any volunteers and they did, so I came back.

How many volunteers at a time, or does that change?

It varies.  Right now, we have 18, of whom 5 live outside the Lower Mainland and cannot attend meetings.  We have some quite far flung, one in Toronto, and one is out of the country on sabbatical.  But since all we do is electronic, of course, those particular Roomies can do what they do from far away.

You call them Roomies?
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We do (laughing).  Roomies! Yes, yes.
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Who is your readership?
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Almost exclusively women, but not exclusively women. We do have some male readers. They are all adults and they have some form of university education. A lot of our readers are writers themselves or artists in some way – so mostly creative, adult women with some university education. And I would say that 90% of our readers are in Canada and of that 30% is in BC. It pleases the BC Arts Council.
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What is the mandate of your publication?
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Part of our mandate, other than surviving [as] a magazine, is to encourage professionals in the publishing industry. For us, we have Roomies who want to be issue editors; they want to learn the process. So what we have is a group of three or four of us that act as mentors for those who haven’t done it before. The issue editor will have an assistant that will either have someone that is learning from her, or her mentor. In other words, a new person will always have an accomplished editor working with her.  There always has to be someone experienced helping.

What’s involved in the process of coming up with an issue? Do you work with a theme?

The one that I am doing at the moment is called “Journey” and it is the first from our 35th anniversary issues. All the stuff that I am receiving and looking at is on the theme of “Journey” and I’ve picked an interview that matches that theme very well, and my commissioned writer is actually Vancouver’s new Poet Laureate, Evelyn Lau. She’s done poems on aging, which is an aspect of the journey and travel, so everything contributes together.

My cover art is an image by Landon Mackenzie, one of Canada’s well-known painters. It’s a map of Saskatchewan; she’s a cartographic artist and it makes a phenomenal cover.What is the mandate of your publication?

How much would you say of Room’s content is Vancouver-based?

That varies from magazine to magazine. It’s hard to say, because we don’t have to stats that are Vancouver-wide, except when we apply for a BC Arts Council Grant and they have this statistical section where they want to know who is from your neighbourhood, who is from your city, who is from BC, who is from outside BC.  From a funding point of view, there is a certain amount that the Canadian Council insists on and I believe that is 80% of Canadian content, but I would say we are more than that, about 90%.  We do try to include one or two locally because we like to have readings.

How often do you host readings?

About once per year.  Last year, we did a reading at Joy Kogawa House for International Women’s Day.  Huge success.  Standing room only; the readings were amazing.  We are hoping to do it again for next year.  We have done other readings at PRISM, and other small venues, but somewhere like the Joy Kogawa House is actually ideal for us, because it is about Canadian women so we fit very nicely into their mandate and they fit very nicely into ours.

Photo by C. Kwan

Do you participate in any other events in the local literary community?

We do Word on the Street every year. We’ve also done the Main Street Magazine Tour.  We do readings, and we occasionally do a little panel.  Right now, we are in the middle of a series of events where we go into writing and publishing schools.   We did one recently at Douglas College for their Print Futures program and before that we did one with subTerrain magazine at Betsy Warland’s The Writer’s Studio.  We both just sit down and talk about the importance of literary magazines for writers and what we want for our respective magazines and then they can ask us any questions.

Room is published every quarter in Vancouver, BC. Check it out: www.roommagazine.com