Last fall at the Southern Festival of Books, we were excited to discover a new and especially lovely literary journal being produced right in our backyard, Julep, which had recently released its second issue. Julep: A Journal of the Young South is a pretty little thing, petite in trim size but expansive in vision, and the editorial team—founding editors Kevin Foster, Greg Frank, and Joseph Storey; and editors Brittney McKenna and Theron Spiegl—has some pretty innovative ideas about how to breathe new life into the lit-mag concept, as you'll see below. Issue 3 is now a reality, and it'll have its big debut this weekend (tomorrow!) at a release party at Deavor, a coworking space in Germantown. The $10 door fee will get you a copy of the new issue, plus everything that comes with good old-fashioned revelry, and yes, a julep or two. With the party right around the corner, we checked in with Kevin Foster to find out a bit more about the vision behind and plans for Julep. —Susannah Felts
The Porch: Tell us a little bit about your backgrounds as editors/designers. What has shaped your particular vision(s)?
Foster: Joseph and I have some experience editing academic and literary publications in the university setting. Greg is a professional designer (and an artist, in my opinion, although he might kill me for saying that). Brittney has been involved in the nebulae of the music industry media for a long time. Theron has long been the go-to editor for creative friends and friends-of-friends, and he recently edited a former professor’s philosophical tome. He’s probably the most well-respected as a true editor, in the word’s most basic sense.
We have a strong mishmash of experience with different forms of artistic and intellectual expression. Our vision has come, in part, from a sense that these forms have been unnecessarily segregated and ultimately disassociated. This inhibits the evolution of the forms, corrupts the ideas themselves, and degrades the communities that create and are served by the work. Not to say that all expression is necessary political, or that its value comes from its utility—mainly that the isolationist tendencies of artistic, academic, and intellectual communities is bad.
Early conversations about the necessity of a publication like Julep stemmed from frustration with media that addressed the same broadly human themes but from utterly separate and limited perspectives. Why should the reader have to cobble together all forms of media there are to consume (my least favorite word) about, for instance, gentrification? Or even a less politically charged topic: loneliness? Or Nashville, the South, America? Are there not common intellectual themes between the philosopher and the journalist, the poet and the sculptor? Are there purer expressions of ideas that live between these forms? We think so.
The Porch: When we've spoken before, you've told me about how Julep really takes the idea of collaboration and runs with it in a fresh way. Can you tell us more about that?
Foster: Yeah, we try to live out these ideas through a much more collaborative editorial process than any other journal we know of. This plays out in a few ways.
First, we accept content that might not make it in publications that adhere to a stricter sense of form. While we’ve taken some straightforward academic essays, suites of poems, and self-contained fictional pieces, we’ve also published radical twists on forms. I immediately think Josh Gillis’ scraps of found poetry from Craigslist’s Missed Connections, from Issue 2. It distills loneliness in a way that neither Craigslist nor poetry could do on its own. In Issue 1, Heather Hayden played with the qualities of pace and narrative fracture inherent in the graphic novel to deliver a mostly textual story about gender identity. And more importantly, these disparate forms are living together, expressing a collective whole greater than its parts.
Oh, and we don’t choose a theme until we have our pieces selected. The theme of each issue emerges in the space among the pieces as they grow. We were skeptical about this method at first, but it’s worked for us really well so far, which I personally view as a kind of confirmation of the ideas that spawned Julep in the first place.
We also think that the isolation of one seemingly distinct idea from another, or even an idea from another iteration of a related idea, is also a sort of easy fallacy. We have accepted finished pieces, but we’ve also accepted compelling ideas or theses. We don’t see a huge difference between the two as far as being interesting or worthy of consideration. In the case of a thesis, we will collaborate with the author as the piece is fleshed out. This is probably the main way we’re different than other publications—we workshop with writers in service of their visions, which is on some level more important than the expression of that vision that ultimately gets published. It’s just an expression; it’ll grow as you give it space and time.
The flip-side of that coin is that the ideas don’t live in isolation. Humans owe a great debt to one another and to the world at large when we express ourselves. Say, for instance, a painter sees a dog walking down the street. She recently read Chekhov’s “The Lady With The Dog”—this is perhaps why she noticed the dog in the first place. This sparks a thought of a reality T.V. show she begrudgingly watched with a friend. She then paints an oil-based landscape that includes the dog, perhaps being interviewed by an aggressive, faceless executive with an executive haircut. The painting is hers, but she was not alone in preparing to paint it. We have a lot of ideas about how to show the interaction between creation and reception, the evolution of a thing as it combines with other things to become something related but distinct. It’s a way of pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz as isolated creator while marveling at the forces that put him back there in the first place. This is probably the least realized aspect of our vision, but we’re excited about how we can do it in the future.
The Porch: You teach middle school, right? Does your work with students inform your creation of Julep, or vice versa; are there any surprising overlaps or intersections?
Foster: Yes, I’m a middle school teacher. You can imagine how miserable I make my students sometimes! I take the same values into the classroom. My students know that a good writer is never done. They understand that the things they create will be better—purer, even—if they work it out with others. They’re constantly talking and sharing ideas, pushing one another. Honestly, they’re a kind of inspiration for the journal: they’ve not yet been indoctrinated to the cult of the creator as silo. They still think of themselves as creators. They still learn from one another because it’s easier to see that there’s a lot to learn when you’re ten.
The Porch: Are there plans underway for the 4th issue? Any call for submissions yet?
Foster: We’re formally announcing our call for submissions at the release event on Saturday, but we’re pretty much always taking submissions. We have a few pieces that have been gestating for a year now; not sure if or /when they’ll make it into the journal. We have lots of plans, but I’ll stay mum on them for the time being.
The Porch: Julep announces a certain Southernness with its title. I wonder if you could say more about that: How is the journal distinctly Southern, and how is it something new in the world of Southern literary magazines?
Foster: [I’m handing it over to Joseph for this one.] On a prosaic level, the journal is Southern because its constituents are Southern. But the fundamental “Southern-ness” of Julep is in the particularity of this South in this moment of history. As the global praise for Southern creators, entrepreneurs, lifestyles and products become deafening, we who call the South home have to ask: what is really going on, here? In this sense Julep is unique among Southern literary journals in that it as much a journal of the future as of the past or present. Our vision is for Julep to be a medium through which we as Southerners might collectively articulate a vision of what the South ought to be, through the exploration of ideas, stories, and expression. If we can get closer to developing a vision of that “ought to be,” then maybe we can move forward in accordance with that vision, rather than fall to the inexorable cycles of power, capital, and animosity. It’s an old cliché, but we really do believe that writing and the arts can change the world as well as reflect it.
The Porch: Where can we purchase the journal?
Foster: You can purchase the journal online at www.julepjournal.com and also at East Side Story. We’re exploring other options right now. Hopefully it’ll be available at other locations, and in other formats, soon.
The Porch: Why should we all look forward to Saturday night?
Foster: Well, it’s a party. Plus the issue is awesome. Deavor is an incredible space—our featured visual artist in Issue 3 is hanging his work there, so we’ll have that up in addition to the issue. Did I mention it’s a party? What else could you ask for?