by Katelyn Keating
“What is your vision for the journal?” my first Antioch University MFA staff advisor for Lunch Ticket asked me during the 2016 winter residency. During the weeks of training to take my place as the next editor in chief, I had learned to administer Submittable and WordPress, negotiate with volunteers in building the Issue 11 masthead, commit the production schedule to memory, and understand how teams on which I’d never served functioned (or didn’t). I hadn’t considered that I would be permitted a vision and that I had earned this position for anything more than good timing and my significant experience wrangling data and cats. Unprepared, I blurted out: “I want to reinvest in our mission.”
Building on the hard work of earlier teams, we’ve achieved continued growth: our staff size hovers around forty; we welcome over 14,000 visitors per month to our site; our biannual issues feature eighty pieces across genres; we produce dynamic, fresh content twice each week, and promote our work on four social media platforms.Building on the hard work of earlier teams, we’ve achieved continued growth: our staff size hovers around forty; we welcome over 14,000 visitors per month to our site; our biannual issues feature eighty pieces across genres; we produce dynamic, fresh content twice each week, and promote our work on four social media platforms. I’d have found it easy—comforting—to envelop myself in the quotidian. But the vision demanded attention. When I began as EIC in December 2016, our mission stated that Lunch Ticket “strives to balance cutting-edge literary and visual art with conversations about social justice and community activism,” while also providing volunteer MFA student and alumni staff a place “to engage with the greater literary community and gain professional experience,” and paying homage to Antioch’s “historic focus on issues that affect the working class and underserved or underrepresented communities.” These were clear values to meet and exceed. I do not write here to say that editors and teams who came before had not considered how best to fulfill our mission; I write to say I felt proud and humbled to initiate new ways for us to live it.
A note from my predecessor and friend, Arielle Silver, reminded me to read Venessa Hughes’s four-star review of our Issue 7 in The Review Review. Hughes writes, “the journal explores matters of social justice and what it means to be human in an ever-changing world,” adding, “[Lunch Ticket] doesn’t shy away from publishing real-life topics that make people uncomfortable, like racism, classism, poverty, and environmental degradation.” The review glows until these two lines near the end: “[Issue 7] has a good ratio of women and men writers… but it would be nice to see more diversity outside of gender in the magazine. Non-white voices are not non-existent, but there could be more.” I looked at the issues we’d published before and since Hughes’s review, and reluctantly agreed: “there could be more.” I worried about how to nurture the growth that the other EICs had inspired in our journal. It was time to interrogate the mission.
From winter into summer of 2017, I worked first with the managing editors and MFA staff, then with our Issue 11 production and genre team leaders, and finally with our whole team to develop a diversity initiative. Consulting with Antioch’s Diversity Committee, we established that we would seek to improve in three ways: staff development, editorial policy, and outreach. The MFA program is diverse, and our staff reflects this. In considering staff development, we work to ensure that our leadership positions will also reflect this without, in Xandria Phillips’s words about the politics of diversity, “demanding emotional labor” from the people of color on our staff.
From winter into summer of 2017, I worked first with the managing editors and MFA staff, then with our Issue 11 production and genre team leaders, and finally with our whole team to develop a diversity initiative.Though we could not change submission guidelines in the midst of our reading period, we could invigorate our editorial policy. Lunch Ticket’s assistant editors have always read submissions blind, without access to writers’ cover letters and bios, to fulfill our mission to provide our staff realistic professional experience on a literary journal. There is debate among the literary community as to the effect of blind reading on increasing diversity; our staff overwhelmingly agrees that blind reading cultivates bias toward certain types of language, especially in the MFA environment. And yet blind reading remains a reality in the industry we train to join, an industry in which representation is urgent, with such inequity existing now. To actively discourage bias, we asked our genre leaders, who read submissions semi-blind (they disregard cover letters and bios during the first reading), to initiate conversations with their teams about how pieces engage with our mission. This step helped increase diverse voices by more than ten percent in Issue 11, which we published in June 2017.
It is in outreach that we want to make the most impact. Since we publish the best of what we receive, we must receive diverse submissions. The current staff for Issue 12 includes a robust team of ten working in community outreach, with half devoted to placing our calls into new communities of underrepresented artists and writers. Between issues, in consultation with the MFA, we introduced a new editorial statement explaining our reading process, and updated our mission to reflect Antioch’s recent update. Our mission now closes: “We publish writers and artists who have been marginalized and underrepresented, or historically misrepresented, and welcome work that engages with issues of social, economic, and environmental justice. We are here to foster community and build a future with equity in publishing.”
As I consider how serving on Lunch Ticket has impacted me, I see the work is deeply entwined with my time as an MFA student at Antioch, and that the enmeshed experience has forever filtered the lens through which I view the world.In our goal to be among those dismantling literary hierarchy, we agree with our fellow Antiochian, Daniel José Older: “Diversity is not enough… it is only step one of a long journey.” We have taken the first step. As I consider how serving on Lunch Ticket has impacted me, I see the work is deeply entwined with my time as an MFA student at Antioch, and that the enmeshed experience has forever filtered the lens through which I view the world. I spontaneously declared I wanted to “reinvest in our mission” while leading the journal. Looking back now, I know that there was nothing else I could have blurted. We are all here to live the mission.