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Hyphen: An Interview with Dorothy Santos

According to Duotrope, there are more than 6100 magazines within which you can publish fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Beyond traditional literary magazines, many publications explore culture and politics alongside the literary and visual arts. It seems, despite many titles shifting from print to digital, literary magazines and other spaces for creative voices persist, and new publications are born each year. As Proximity‘s editorial team takes time to reflect upon its founding mission, and how best to move into our fourth year with intention, we have been reaching out to editors of publications we believe are doing things right (in one way or another).

As a result, we’ve decided to share one of those conversations with you here. In this interview, Proximity Editor Carrie Kilman talks with Hyphen Managing Editor Dorothy R. Santos about intersectionality within publishing, marginalized voices, contributor pitches, and Hyphen‘s grassroots efforts to publish.

CK: Can you start by telling our readers a little about Hyphen?

DS: Hyphen was founded in 2002 after A. Magazine, a publication founded and based in the east coast, folded. A group of west coast poets, artists, writers, and activists banded together to create what they felt would be missing when A. Magazine dissolved. For many years, Hyphen was a print publication that offered a blog as a supplement to print. As of 2016, the organization made the tough decision to fold print to save money and go the way many organizations have gone – digital. Suffice it to say, we are still in that transition phase of taking our print and, former blog editorial teams, and combining forces. The team speaks to the very existence of publication and the organization. Hyphen is completely volunteer-run and it has become a labor of love for the entire staff. We do what we do because we love Hyphen, believe in the mission of providing a platform for emerging voices as well as highlighting what we don’t see in mainstream media – the Asian American experience. Our tagline is “Asian America Unabridged” because we don’t filter the content to fit or cater to anyone and, if we do, it’s to the Asian American community. I’d like to think we offer up content emblematic of the times and through underrepresented voices.

CK: So, to pull way back, for readers who may push back against our team’s Editorial Roundtable, can you explain why representation of diverse voices in the media is important? (Obviously whole books are written about this — it’s a little unfair of me to ask you to boil this down to a few sentences, but…)

DS: I recently gave a talk at a festival in Berlin and someone raised the issue of how marginalized voices can reach the mainstream. It’s an important question and one that deserves to be asked, quite frankly. While many books, essays, talks, and even trainings have been done on the topic diversity, it’s actually far more important to find publications and organizations that allow for narratives, stories, essays, and writing that forefront obscured or underrepresented voices and artistic practices. It’s one thing to talk about diversity, but it’s another thing to actually do the work entailed to ensure that you’re inclusive. That’s the thing: inclusivity is different from diversity. Hyphen has served as a platform that doesn’t need to discuss, present, or belabor the point of diversity. We are the inclusive. We are Asian American. We are the stories we tell. We’re not reporting or writing about a specific type of subject or subjecthood because our entire staff, our contributors, and our community live and breathe these experiences. We understand and we work with our contributors and staff to ensure that we are helping writers and artists convey their messages as opposed to tailoring their narratives and writing so that it’s easy to understand. It is not the responsibility of our communities to make people self-aware. Come with an open mind and learn something different and be in conversation. That’s really what it’s all about.

CK: What does intersectionality mean to you, as a publication? How does it affect your decision-making process, your submissions process, how you reach your audiences?

I remember when I first read legal scholar and theorist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw’s work in grad school. Subsequently, I couldn’t get the idea of intersectionality out of my mind; it seeped into everything I did. In hindsight, I see how Hyphen has served as a nexus for thinking about this concept and how the publication can serve multiple communities interested in learning how cultures and subcultures mix and mesh together. At Hyphen, we wholeheartedly believe and advocate for the rights of queer, trans, immigrant, indigenous, disabled, black, brown, and latinx people. Much of the writing, as you can imagine, as of late, has served to address cultural and political issues from the Dakota Access Pipeline to Trump’s presidency.

We receive a high volume of pitches (high volume for our small, volunteer-run staff) related to books, literature, pop culture, and politics. Our editors work tirelessly to be thorough in our reading and providing potential contributors with feedback on why something works or doesn’t work for the platform. Generally, we usually ask contributors to provide specific instances and references that ground their argument. We want our readers to be able to track back to a specific story, visual, or even an auditory experience where the writing not only informs, but brings up more questions that provoke action towards the greater good.

Regarding reaching an audience, we rely on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Facebook has served as the primary platform for us and we hope to grow a social media team in the near future.

CK: Can you talk about the makeup of your editorial team and how that influences the voices you publish and the audiences you reach?

It’s quite the mix of individuals. While I have been writing and editing for years, full disclosure, I do not have a journalism background. My expertise is within the realm of art criticism, which can be read as a form of journalism, to a certain degree. I bring this up because the entire Hyphen staff is extremely diverse. From poets, artists, and media scholar to healthcare professionals, our editorial team is comprised of many voices and a plethora of experiences that further adds to the unique nature of the organization, as well as a publication. At the end of the day, people like reading and consuming media that is real (especially in the era we are in now with rampant fake news having filled up the feeds of millions of individuals around the world). Hyphen is as real as you can get. We are not corporate-funded, and our beginning is purely grassroots and continues to come from that fiery place of activism and passion for the communities we serve. I’d like to think that the editorial team we have built and are currently building is one that reflects our readers.

CK: We struggle with getting an overwhelming number of submissions from white women. This is something we want to change. What advice would you share?

DS: Well, my gut reaction to the question is where are you posting? Which communities are you asking? Media scholar Wendy Chun gave a fantastic talk recently about homophily, which is the idea that people associate with people a lot like themselves. It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that many people have an issue or problems with diversity. Whether it is a company to an academic institution, humans are social and we like being around people that often times affirm the things we like, love, enjoy, and desire. But there is great value when we can sit with voices that are different and outside of our comfort zones. Hyphen has always been a place that encourages digging into issues that suss out and build off from difference so that we all can learn something. To offer something far more concrete, language is key. Speaking exactly to what you are wanting and looking for encourages the voices you are seeking to be seen and heard and feel that there is a place for them. Then again, publications such as Hyphen were also created because of the lack seen in mainstream media as well as alternative, niche media.

CK: What sets Hyphen apart? What do you think you do differently, that other literary (or hybrid) publishing institutions (including ours!) might learn from?

DS: So, I have to go on record by saying that Hyphen is actually an art, politics, and culture publication. This past year, our literature and poetry editors have worked feverishly to make certain we are producing content consistently on the site. With the shuttering of print, which published an extremely varied amount of topics, we are working on re-defining our verticals to better reflect what print offered our readers. To answer the question, we are different because we help build the next generation of writers, thinkers, scholars, artists, and poets at a grassroots level and serve as an incubator for our communities to work out their ideas. The staff is also dedicated to mentoring aspiring journalists and writers, as well, with as much care, consideration, support, and guidance as we can offer. Now, that doesn’t sound too different from other media outlets, but to remind you and your readers,

we are an all volunteer-run staff that FINDS the time in our busy schedules to put in the work to make Hyphen what it is and I don’t think there is a comparable team out there in media, quite honestly.


DOROTHY R. SANTOS is a Filipina-American writer, editor, curator, and educator whose research interests include new media and digital art, activism, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Born and raised in San Francisco, California, she holds Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco, and received her Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts. Dorothy is managing editor for Hyphen magazine, and her work appears in art21, Art Practical, Daily Serving, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, and Public Art Dialogue. She has lectured at the De Young museum, Stanford University, School of Visual Arts, and more. She is currently a Yerba Buena Center for the Arts fellow researching the concept of citizenship. She also serves as executive staff for the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism and board member for the SOMArts Cultural Center. (@deedottiedot)

This is the fifth installment in a series on race, gender, intersectionality, and literary responsibility. The first four include: “An Editorial Roundtable,” Melissa Chadburn‘s “Economic Violence”, Purvi Shah‘s “To be True in Deed to Anti-Racism Values,” and Jael Richardson‘s “Creating Space for Marginalized Voices.” An additional interviews will be posted later this week. We encourage you to share this series and join the conversation in the comments section of each post. All published posts within the series can be found here.

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