Moveable Type: FIYAH Magazine
November 29, 2018
An interview with Troy Wiggins, Executive Editor, Brent Lambert, Acquiring Editor, and L.D. Lewis, Art Director.
How would you describe the aesthetic guiding principle or vision of FIYAH?
Troy Wiggins: FIYAH Magazine rises from the ashes of the Niggerati Manor's FIRE!! Magazine, and their dedication to showing the complexity of black life and black writing. We are, first and foremost, a way for black speculative fiction writers, who have by and large been shut out of science fiction and fantasy's short fiction renaissance, to showcase their unique voices and perspectives on the universe.
We also do not discriminate when not comes to which voices are elevated. Much like the original FIRE!!, FIYAH seeks to move beyond the tired, traditional narratives that surround black people’s stories. Black people have a complicated global history. FIYAH showcases those complicated histories, politics, and lives through the fiction and prose that we publish, which includes stories from and about black people in different regions of the world, at various class levels, with different gender identities, sexualities, and ideologies.
We are driven by the need to do dope shit and do it well, which is why quality of content and presentation is so important to us. We are also determined to remain accessible to black writers of all levels and with all kinds of experiences.
Brent Lambert: For myself, I believe the guiding principle of FIYAH is visibility and mentorship. We formed this magazine because of the lack of places publishing Black SFF writers. And none of us were foolish enough to believe that it was simply because the numbers or quality didn’t exist. Hell, at the time we formed the magazine we were in a Slack group for that very demographic. So we knew the excuses being provided by mags in the SFF field were really a steaming pile of anti-blackness. That’s where visibility comes in. We know we exist, we know we’re writing our asses off and we wanted to create a space where Black writers could be loved on and allowed to just create. If you’re not black, I don’t think you can truly understand the burden of not being able to just create and tell your story. We come with this massive baggage of having to prove ourselves over and over and over again. We aren’t allowed to experiment, to stylize, to try new things unless it’s brilliant right out of the gate. And personally, I think SFF still needs to have a discussion around how they require genius level IQs and first draft masterpieces from black writers to be publishable while a white guy can walk into a seven-figure advanced with a story written on Kleenex.
Mentorship is something I think FIYAH has taken on as well with how we try to nurture our aspiring writers. We make sure we give everyone feedback, we encourage people to try and sub again always, we tell our writers about other venues they can get published through. As much as we want FIYAH to be a success, we want these hungry black writers to be even more successful. We want to be the soil that helps black writers grow and be so damn good that publishing can’t ignore them. I think that would be FIYAH’s ultimate form when we can point to dozens of black writers having gotten their start with us.
Give us a look behind the editorial curtain. What’s FIYAH’s process like for putting together its themed issues?
Wiggins: Each year begins the year before, with an editorial team meeting where we discuss various business, themes being one piece of the business. We try to choose themes that we hope will push writers to produce interesting work. Once themes are selected, L.D. Lewis, our Art Director, connects with cover artists who then work on covers for each issue.
From there, we open our submissions and writers from everywhere submit work to us. After the editors review all the submissions (we get anywhere from 80-200 submissions per submission period, depending on theme) we select the 5-10 pieces of work that speak to us, and narrow them down from there. Then, once we've chosen the final content for the issue, we get contracts signed, have the authors collaborate on our issue playlist, interview our indie spotlight author and our cover artist, and our art director prepares all of this content to go out in the newsletters, on the website, and, eventually, in the issues themselves.
Lambert: Troy’s given you all the technical bits above. But please know, that FIYAH’s process of putting together an issue is also full of lots of love, throwing a teensy bit of shade when necessary and just really having everyone dedicated to putting out a good product. I truly think of this team as more of a family than just a staff. (Also none of us would survive without all the hours and time L.D. Lewis puts into this mag. But I know she gets tired of me gushing on her!)
L.D. Lewis: Brent is a flatterer.
Who are some writers or pieces that you been particularly proud to publish or feature in FIYAH recently?
Wiggins: We are excited to have been able to showcase so many talented black writers, artists, poets, and publishers in our magazine. It's really important to us that we demolish the idea that there are little to no black people out there at work on speculative fiction projects. So, we're proud of everyone that we've been able to present to our readership.
Since you're forcing us to choose, though, we are especially excited when our contributors are recognized for their awesomeness. Our year one cover artist Geneva Benton won a Hugo award for best fan artist in 2018! That is huge! Her artwork for our Sundown Towns issue was also nominated for a British Science Fiction Award, which is amazing.
Aside from that, we’ve had several authors appear on reading lists or awards shortlists, and many more have gone on to publish their work in several other anthologies, in other magazines, or in novels. We are so happy for them.
Our editorial team is also composed of working writers, and we are especially proud when they make big moves in their careers. Work to read from our editors includes L.D. Lewis’ A Ruin of Shadows, P. Djeli Clark's The Black God's Drums, DaVaun Sanders’ World Breach series, Danny Lore's work on The Wilds, and, of course, Justina Ireland's novels Dread Nation and Lando's Luck.
Lewis: As Art Director, I’m just going to gush about the artists I’ve been able to feature. Geneva Benton did our artwork for all of 2017, ended up nominated for a British Fantasy Award and then WON A HUGO for Best Fan Artist. We can’t take 100% of the credit since she did do illustrations for places like Strange Horizons and Escape Artists in the same year. But the work she did for us was phenomenal and I like to think we helped a bit.
My 2018 artists — Trevor Fraley, Jessica McCottrell, Mariama Alizor, and EDGE — have all been amazing to work with. Each of their covers tells a unique story in themselves. I’m grateful they lent us their talent. I’m proud of all of them and I’m proud to be in a position to increase their exposure. And maybe I’m hoping for another Hugo nom.
Lambert: I remember when Geneva won that Hugo. L.D. and I were talking (as we’re prone to do) and got to screaming once she won. That felt like such a validation of her work and L.D.’s decision to make her our first year cover artist. Our Art Director just doesn't get enough credit. It cannot be understated how much our covers helped to put us on people’s radar in our first year. I was so happy to see Geneva win and I want nothing but an amazing career for her going forward.
As far as writers I’ve been proud to publish in the mag, there are a good few and I know I will end up forgetting someone. Charge it to my 8-hour work day and not my heart. Tade Thompson, Eden Royce, Danny Lore, Eboni Dunbar, C.L. Clark, Nelson Rolon, and Sarah Macklin are some of the writers I adored having in our magazine. But of course, each and every issue is full of bangers and again, I know I’m missing folks.
What are a few things you’re excited about in the world of contemporary literature?
Wiggins: On a large scale, we are just very excited that more and more people are becoming aware of the multitude of black creators at work on speculative fiction properties, be they novels or screenplays or comics or video games. We hope that people looking for more black speculative fiction head our way and check out an issue or two.
In literature specifically, it seems that the work of many black writers is getting published, and this necessarily challenges and complicates so many of the narratives that exist around black people and our lives. As time moves on we hope that more and more work from marginalized--and for our purposes, specifically black--creators is uplifted, published, and celebrated.
Lambert: I’m excited to see black SFF really breaking a lot of ground in the Young Adult world and I’m looking forward to seeing the same sort of numbers in the Adult one. We’re certainly getting there with the likes of N.K. Jemisin, P. Djeli Clark, Tade Thompson, David Anthony Durham and others in the field. Three Hugo Wins in a row for a series AND a black woman is just a moment that is still seared into my mind. Pure greatness. And I just hope these authors find higher levels of commercial success and audience reach like their white counterparts. That’s really the next barrier I’m looking forward to seeing broken in literature. I want a black SFF writer to get some of that Gaiman, Martin and Rowling level of hype. The talent is out there.
Finally, what’s next for FIYAH? Realistic or unrealistic plans, initiatives and intentions are welcome!
Wiggins: We don't want to give too much away. But we have announced already that we are adding reviews and graphic novel content to our issues and our site. We are also exploring more partnerships with progressive science fiction magazines, and we are hoping to potentially partner on some special issues or maybe even some audio fiction soon.
We have plans to release a collection of our first and second years of issues at some point, for folks who missed those.
And the big dream is to one day host a FIYAH*Con for our writers and readers, which would include writing workshops and readings.
Above all, though, our focus is to get black writers and readers free. Long term, that's the goal. Even if no other programs or initiatives come to pass, as long as we are working toward that goal, we are a success.
Lewis: *unfurls weighty scroll* Troy’s mentioned annual collections of our stories in print. I also want an annual “Best Of” print anthology of Black speculative fiction. I would also love to expand our coverage to Black + Indigenous writers one day whether that’s in the form of special issues or bringing Indigenous guest editors onboard in a long term capacity and inviting their writers to our regular issues. In the States especially, Black and Indigenous peoples have overlaps in our histories, in our trauma, and in our solidarity. Indigenous writers fare worse than we do in terms of SFF representation, and I’d like for FIYAH to be a welcome space for them as well.
I’d also like to see FIYAH expand its presence in the physical world. I get so excited when I see someone rock our t-shirts or hoodies out in the real world because it’s like hey, people who don’t have Twitter now have some exposure to what we’re doing. Existing in print will help that, but I’d also like us to be able to speak on panels, table conventions, run an accessible workshop, and really interact with our readers and writers outside of social media.
Through things like our POB Scoring project, the Black SFF Writer Survey and biannual report, and our #BlackSpecFic collaborations with Fireside Magazine, I’d like FIYAH to grow as a resource for developing market standards, championing the publishing of Black writers throughout the entire field and not solely through us. There’s something like 65 SFF-specific markets out there and maybe 10% of them regularly publish Black writers. It’s a ridiculous number. But as we continue to grow our presence, I’d like the resources we develop to be transferable to other underrepresented PoC groups. This work may begin with us, but it doesn’t have to end with us.
Lambert: To expound on some of the above, I’d love for FIYAH to reach out to multiple marginalized populations. L mentioned Indigenous folks and I’d love to see some sort of South Asian outreach among others. It’s always been my contention that minority-focused magazines can and should be as capable of reaching out to other communities as white magazines can. Solidarity doesn’t have to end at a hashtag. And FIYAH is a great space to do this kind of creative community building.
Also, I have a review section for the magazine I’m very slowly building towards and hopefully will really be able to kick off in 2019. Black thoughts about what we’re reading are as important as us actually creating. We need to be able to let our fellow writers know that we see them, see the themes they’re working with and the issues they are trying to address even if white readers don’t. So that’s probably one of my bigger projects for next year.
Oh and there’s [redacted top secret info] L, DaVaun and myself are working on. Yes, it should be as fun as those three names together looks.