The Endurance of the Raven

This year Raven Chronicles, the literary journal based in Seattle that publishes work reflective of the cultural diversity of the Pacific Northwest and beyond, turns twenty-three. To mark this milestone, there will be a panel at the 2014 AWP Conference February 26-March 1 held this year in Seattle at the Washington State Convention Center. The panel will consist of Raven contributors Anna Balint, Matt Briggs, Carletta Carrington Wilson, and me. Kathleen Alcalá, who along with Phoebe Bosché helped found the journal, will moderate. In addition to moderating the panel on Thursday, February 27, Kathleen will be honored that evening by Con Tinta, a Chicano/Latino Writers’ Collective.

Kathleen answered a few questions about the history and mission of Raven Chronicles.

1. What was the inspiration for starting the magazine and how did you go about it?

In 1990 or so, Phoebe Bosché, Phil Red Eagle and I were each asked to guest edit different issues of the Seattle Arts Commission newsletter. I remember that Phil and I collaborated. We said, “Why do multicultural issues of a newsletter have to be something occasional and ‘special’? After all, we are multi-culti all the time. Let’s find a barn and put on a show!” So Phil introduced me to Phoebe, who had worked on Skyviews, a poetry publication.

2. Have there been any major changes in the mission or philosophy of the magazine over the years?

The initial description was “The Raven Chronicles—a magazine of multicultural art, literature, and the spoken word.” At some point, mc was dropped as being too obvious. But it took a long time for us to establish that it was for people to speak from and about their own backgrounds, as opposed to people returning from their visits overseas and writing stories from the POV of other ethnicities and cultures. We sought out people with interesting stories and interviewed them, if we had to, like Vi Hilbert, Alfredo Arreguín, and Isaac Maimon. There are stories all around us, and people just waiting to share them.

But the word “Chronicles” was important, too, as media was just starting to move online, and we thought the shape and format might adapt to that as well. As a result, Raven has had an online presence as well as its print form for many years. The next issue will incorporate sound as part of the chronicle.

3. What have you been most proud of about the magazine?

We have been the first to publish a number of writers who went on to fame and fortune, or at least the publication of full-length books. We also pay a bit, and many contributors write back to say that it is the first time they have been paid for their work. It is important to working class people to be able to show others that writing is real work, and should be compensated. Mostly, I’m proud of the range and quality of the work we have published, and the very accessible format. Many of these voices would never have been heard outside of Raven.

4. Publishing a magazine is hard work. What has kept it and you going for 23 years?

I give 99 percent of the credit to Phoebe, who has been managing editor for many years. Phil left to pursue other projects at least ten years ago. He is now involved in the Canoe Journey, an ongoing reclamation of heritage by NW Native American groups. I consider that a part of the Raven Chronicles, too, in its own way. We have a group of writers who serve as the board, and a higher profile advisory board. In a way, it functions as a collective, but Phoebe writes the grants and is diligent about proofing and copy editing.

We decided early on that we would not continue to publish if the magazine could not be a top-notch endeavor—no cheap paper or shoddy work. We have been fortunate to use art by the best of the best artists in the NW and beyond. The text and art have always been complementary, and Phoebe’s partner, Scott Martin, has contributed much skill over the years as a graphic artist and designer.

5. What changes do you see for the future for Raven Chronicles?

I think Phoebe and Scott are finally getting tired. It is an amazing amount of work. It might be time for Raven to take another form. Maybe a cupcake shop, or an advice column for lonely hearts. Seriously, we hope the next generation is ready to step in and produce the next series of chronicles. It has been a privilege to work with so many writers and artists over the years.