Barrelhouse Presents The Intentional

Barrelhouse Presents is our monthly reading series at Petworth Citizen in Washington, DC. It's our chance to share work from writers appearing in literary magazines and small presses we love. On Wednesday, August 27th at 7 PM, Barrelhouse Presents The Intentional with readings by Andrew Bucket, C.R. Russo, and Kate Jenkins.

Ahead of the reading, poetry editor Dan Brady sat down with The Intentional's EIC Kate Jenkins to talk about the magazine.

I don’t feel the need to ask why you started a print magazine in the 21st Century because you wrote about it passionately in the opening pages of your second issue:

We create for the same reason we fuck and fight, we squat to pee between cars and pose nude for art’s sake and we look people in the eye and, rather than laughing things off, we say the things that make them uncomfortable. Things that are screaming true. We rarely make art because it is practical; we do it because our hearts and our minds ache to engage, to leave a mark.

Sometimes, there is no good answer to the “why” question. The Intentional is a long-form because it is, because I had a magazine baby, and it was born that way. Because that is what was conceived when the world asked me how I wanted to interact with it.

But for those interested in starting magazines, print or online, what advice do you have for them? What’s been harder than you thought it would be? What’s been the greatest reward?

Absolutely everything has been harder than I thought it would. Everything. It's sort of one of those situations where, when I look back on the whole thing, I'm very grateful that I was so completely naive at the beginning of it -- because if I had had any idea what was in front of me, I probably wouldn't have done it. And of course, I'm so glad I did. I think I originally estimated that I could have the first issue out within 4-5 months or something ridiculous like that. It took over a year. 

But the hardest part was, and still is, finding the talent. The best advice I have for people who want to start a lit mag is to really work on your relationships with talented writers. Start internet stalking them now, send them fan mail just because, treat them to coffee. We have a really hands-on approach with our writers, and it pays off. It's so rare that a random submission is going to blow you away; you really have to know what you want and go after it, at least when you're getting started. I don't know… is that your experience too, Dan? I'm really curious to know.

[Ed. Note: Yes, that certainly was the case with us. We've always been devoted to unsolcited submissions and 90% of what we publish comes through subs, but in the beginning good submissions were very hard to come by. To this day we tend to publish a lot of writers from DC, not because we know them personally but because they're familiar with what we're all about.]

But yes, that whole experience of working with young, raw talent, teasing it out, and seeing how satisfied they are with the final product -- that's the best thing about my work. It can be painful, and sometimes the writers will grumble about it during the process, but most of the time everyone is so pleased with the end result.

The Intentional is primarily concerned with and largely made by millenials. How does that drive the content you publish? Do you see this changing over the years?

So, it already has changed. Millennials was sort of our thing when we first got started, and that's how we originally identified our niche. But once we got going, we really felt like that was limiting -- and we also felt like the whole millennial conversation was just so gross and trite and superficial. So at the beginning of this year, we came together and really dug into what we felt our mission was. Everyone on the team found their own way to articulate that what they felt The Intentional was about was lifting up emerging writers and artists, regardless of age. Hence that whole hands-on approach. We felt like what we had to offer was a literary magazine that's more approachable, that's not elitist or tied to an MFA or run by some old white dudes. These are regular folk. It's essentially removed from the echo chamber of the literary world. Barrelhouse is like that, too -- and isn't it wonderful? Proving that you can showcase amazing work by people no one has ever heard of? Some of whom have never been published before? 

So anyway, we made a pivot early this year, and I couldn't be happier with the new mission statement and identity. It just feels right. We're young and learning right alongside the writers, and so it feels like a very symbiotic relationship -- they make a bet on us and we make a bet on them. But even if we grow and find that big name writers are more interested in working with us, we are going to remain committed to emerging creatives because that's our thing. It's tempting not to, because in theory it's a whole lot easier to work with someone who has been sharpening her skills for decades.

In addition to great writing, the magazine includes some pretty amazing, full-color art and photography spreads, which is rare for a start-up print magazine. How does all that come together?

The commitment to full-color art was a very hard decision to make, and let me tell you, it continues to be a hard decision to make every single time we print another issue. It's so expensive, but it's one of the things that sets us apart, and we know how important that is. We knew that if we were going to choose to go with a print publication, there had to be some reward there, some really gratifying reason why it needed to be in print. So far, people have been able to see the value in that and really appreciate our print form -- they love the quality of the paper, the illustrations, and the color spreads. And an added perk is that the beauty of the product gets a lot of people interested in it who wouldn't normally be interested in literary magazines. In that sense, again, it's more approachable for regular folk… we get to be a literary magazine for people who don't read literary magazines, and that's kind of fun.

We also see it as an opportunity to expand our mission by showcasing emerging artists in addition to writers. And we've already seen how for certain artists who have worked with us, the magazine has really helped them get to that next level. I hope that becomes an even greater opportunity for them as the magazine grows its readership.

Our Art Director, LA Johnson, is the one who selects the two featured artists and the illustrator, and she has a great time sort of creating an individual experience with each issue. Of course, we have a style that is ours that we try to loosely stick to, but when we choose to work with one featured illustrator, who comes in and does about half of the pieces for an issue, it becomes this really fun experience in reinventing ourselves each time, in allowing the artist to have a certain influence over the whole package of that issue. It's a blast.

You’re moving to Brooklyn. What does leaving DC change about the Intentional?

Gah! Moving is going to be so hard! I love DC desperately, and it has really been the most perfect arts community and environment for this project -- I'll never forget how supportive everyone was when I moved up here with this big idea. But yeah, personally, I think it's a good thing for me to move on. And for the magazine, too, it'll be good for me to be up there and meeting new writers all the time and getting more of a foothold in the New York market. But "HQ," if you will, will still be DC. The rest of the team is here, and we're really focused on making the magazine a success in DC first and foremost. We'll still have events in DC, we'll still be very active in the DIY scene, and I will be down here so often that you probably won't even notice that I don't officially live here anymore.

What’s coming up in the next issue that you’re particularly excited about that we can be excited about too?

Well, I'm not sure yet. We are trying out this new thing, where we source for material for the next four issues instead of just the next issue, and we do this by announcing four upcoming themes and inviting people to submit for all of them. We're not sure which of those four will be the next issue, because that depends on quality of submissions for the themes. We're doing this as a way to jump off this hamster wheel we're on, which causes us to be looking for content up until a week before our print date. This will hopefully allow us to plan ahead a little more, smooth out the process, etc. But I'm thinking the next one will end up being either Hustle or Displacement.

Here at Barrelhouse we end every interview—from comedians like Maria Bamford to musicians like Emmylou Harris to you right now—with the same question: What’s your favorite Patrick Swayze movie?

Point Break. Duh.