In this new world where tweets can change the landscape of entire nations, CRY is exploring the role of “opinion” and “perspective” as it relates to creative content and free expression. We interviewed editors from five different publications to discuss their roles in navigating the current creative climate and to get their thoughts on how they balance empowering and editing their creators.
Speaking with Terese Mason Pierre, poetry editor of Augur Magazine, I immediately felt her drive and commitment to ensure that marginalized voices have a space to be heard and celebrated. Writing and editing since she was a teen, Terese has been a supporter and advocate for the artist community from a young age. A regular fixture in the Toronto art and literary scene, she uses her platform to champion and support artists. Here she spoke about censoring yourself as a public figure, why some people may have a disdain for artists, the effect that cuts to art programs have on society and the role of the writer today. Check it out!
CRY: What has been your journey so far in becoming an editor?
I started off as a writer. I’m still a writer. I’ve been writing since I was eight. My first editorial position was part of the Toronto Public Library’s Young Voices magazine. When I got published in YV, I learned of the opportunity to be on the editorial/curatorial committee, and joined. I was there for about five years. We didn’t edit much, unless there was something that was incoherent. When I got to university, I discovered The Spectatorial in my fourth year, because I’m really interested in and excited about speculative fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, things like that. It was the only magazine on campus that published that kind of work, so I joined as poetry editor. Then after I graduated, I learned that the people who founded The Spectatorial started a new magazine, called Augur. I applied to be the poetry editor — after delaying my application because I thought obviously they would want someone else. But I was accepted. I’m still the poetry editor of Augur, and I intend to continue as long as I can. I’m invested.
CRY: Why was it important to be a part of creating messages that drive conversations as an editor?
I think the reason why I began editing is because I, as a person, like to have a hand in shaping my environments and interactions with people. Being an editor is sort of an extension of that. You have a role in a magazine, it’s your job to mold the work that the magazine will put out. You affect that change, that state. There are certain things I like to be responsible for. I like being able to take care of things and affect positive change. The more things you’re responsible for, or the more power you have, the more positive change you can make. So if I am passionate about having more marginalized voices in science fiction, especially in Canada, and that’s how I want to influence my environment, the way for me to impact that positive change is to become an editor for a magazine whose mandate is to have more marginalized voices in science fiction in Canada.
CRY: “It is easy to forget, and very important to remember that the world at large is becoming increasingly hostile to fiction, or, for that matter, to all forms of art.” Madhuri Vijay. Would you agree with this quote?
I would agree but I would also expand that to the humanities as an entire field, not just art and creative writing. There’s a general disdain for those disciplines, I think, especially, there’s a sort of skepticism about humanities. There are people whose job it is to study sociology or history or the trajectory of art, or whatever, which includes poets, fiction writers — whose jobs it is to study and learn and produce and educate. They sort of look at the way people are, or have been, and then write about it, try to predict things, maybe, talk about how we can do the right thing to make the future better. And other people who aren’t in those fields might get all agitated about that, like, “How dare you try to tell me about how I really am, how humans really are? How dare you try to tell me what life was really like?” They don’t trust it. They don’t trust that it’s as real and as valuable as empirical science, as STEM. But there are humanities experts, too. They just might have different ways of knowing.
In terms of art, I think that people who are not artists (or who are not in the humanities) tend to think it’s simple, that it’s a pointless waste of time. They might not think that art has as great of an impact as it actually does. People buy designer clothing and go to museums and listen to music and spend so much money and time on books. Those are made by artists. It’s a strange dissonance — consuming art while be hostile towards it. It could be, of course, about the precariousness of arts professions and jobs. But they’re precarious because they’re undervalued. They’re not seen as real jobs, as real things people can and should dedicate their lives to. Art can do a lot for people. Artists are at the forefront of social change. They’re such a driving force in society, but that’s not always given its proper credit.
CRY: As an editor, how do you establish what is free expression in a time when people get cancelled or face backlash for their opinions?
Augur’s mission is to publish speculative literature from those whose voices have traditionally been disregarded or underrepresented. That’s the work we seek. So obviously that heavily influences the work that we accept and publish. Everyone on the team understands this and is committed to it. I’m Poetry Editor, but I don’t have veto power, I don’t get to just pick the poems that I want. It’s a collective decision that we talk about at pitch meetings.
In terms of editing work, I usually don’t alter the poems in major ways. But if it’s very clear that there is a sort of dialogue that the writer was having with some larger issue, and it’s a conclusion that doesn’t go in line with what our mission is, then we wouldn’t necessarily have accepted that poem anyway. For example, if the poem was racist or transphobic, then that’s not the thing would we accept and therefore that’s not the thing we would always need to worry about editing out. Also the people who are submitting to us know what our mandate is and they are very mindful of that. Of course, there are those who send blanket submissions to different magazines, regardless of submission guidelines, so we’ve gotten submissions that don’t necessarily reflect the mission that we are trying to accomplish.
For the most part, we are getting really great work. When it comes to holding on to the author’s voice or the author’s message, I think we tend to do that quite well. I don’t believe we are in the business of changing people’s work to fit our ideas of what their work should be. Their work is still their work. We let our creators know that if they’re not comfortable with something, they don’t have to accept our edits. We’ve gotten really positive feedback from our writers about their editorial experience with us, which we take pride in. You never know if it’s a person’s first time working with an editor, so you want to be respectful, professional and kind.
To somewhat answer the question, I don’t think that, as an editor, I need to establish what free expression is. There are submission guidelines on the website, for anyone to read. If you submit to us and explicitly don’t follow the guidelines, it’s unlikely your work will be accepted. Many literary journals and publishers are like this. That’s not in conflict with any freedoms, I don’t think.
CRY: How much do you filter your own public opinions?
Oh, I heavily filter my public opinions. I sometimes joke about this, and I’m like, I never really have like a medium to just, like, complain or vent. My Facebook is very public, with all sorts of people from my past and present. My Instagram is also somewhat public. I already have an image that I cultivated on my Instagram, the person who just goes to literary events, and I like that the way it is. My Twitter is connected to Augur.
So there is nowhere I can really, truly vent and show some emotions that are maybe not-so-nice, except for real life! That’s not to say that I would have anything sinister to vent about. But sometimes, I just want to cry online about how sad or burned out I feel sometimes, or express how angry or jealous of someone I am — but I don’t want to seem weird or ungrateful, so I don’t. I have to keep in mind that, you know, other people are seeing this. Social media isn’t just about you. Actions have consequences. There’s a time and a place for everything. But I filter my thoughts and opinions anyway depending on who I am talking to and what mood I’m in because I want to be respectful and I want to be mindful of other people’s situations.
For the most part, however, my online persona is pretty much how I am in real life. I’m just maybe 30 percent more anxious in real life than online, and 10 percent more of a control-freak. But, you know, I try to be careful about what I post. I’m mindful of what I’m supposed to, or what I feel I need to, represent as a person and as a writer and as an editor. Ultimately, I don’t find it a burden to sort of curate or edit myself in this way.
CRY: Switching gears a bit, what do you feel is the role of a writer today?
I think what writers mainly do is observe. They look around at their environment, or they look inside themselves, or they look at what other people have said and done, and they translate that somehow into some sort of piece. And that piece is consumed actively or passively by whoever that writer’s audience is. Writers can observe so many different things, they have so many different lives, and so their work can affect so many different people. And you’ll find these kinds of writers everywhere. Today, I think, that role is still sort of the same. Their role is to observe.
CRY: Former Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman said this: “The new guard who will be stepping into the shoes of those that are leaving will undoubtedly have different skills, but I would suggest that the most successful will still need a passion for the core magazine that feeds the spin-offs. You can’t leverage brand extensions off a withered core.” What does this quote mean to you as an editor?
I think the last line is quite powerful, “You can’t leverage brand extensions off a withered core.” I think that the new artists and the emerging writers that are coming up today have to maintain something of the drive and commitment that the past generations had. They are, of course, going to have different skills and they are going to have different values, and that’s because the world is different. For example, the economy is different — not everyone can afford to write for a living, or take time off to write, or go away for a residency. Also, now we’re more aware of the social dynamics that interact with the ability to write. If you have to take care of children or work long hours, you might not always have the time. You might have a disability that prevents you from writing or traveling to promote your work. You might only have access to a writing community or space that doesn’t accept you or your work, and that can be discouraging and sometimes harmful. All these things are things this generation thinks about, and how to help each other and increase access so that as many different stories as possible can be told.
So, this quote means more to me as a writer than as an editor. People who submit work to magazines are still passionate, they’re still taking a risk. They still love their work and want it out into the world. I don’t have to judge how much drive or commitment they have to their writing or art, because it’s already there. It makes me proud to be an editor and work with a team of people, people of my generation, who are dedicated to guiding that writerly passion.