Interview with our new Public Diversity Editor

We're thrilled to announce that our new Public Diversity Editor is (drum roll!): Vannessa Willoughby. Vanessa will be checking in with us twice a year or so, and reporting back on what we've done well, and where we can improve, in terms of diversity. If her name sounds familiar to you, perhaps it's because you've read her work at The Toast, Bitch Media, Vice, or The Establishment (just to name a few). You can find out more at her own website, or follow her on Twitter.

Thanks to Vanessa for bravely tackling this role, and, as far as we can tell, becoming the first Public Diversity Editor of any publication in the history of publishing.

First off, thank you for taking this role on. Can you tell our readers something about yourself?

I’ve been an avid reader and writer has far back as I can remember. People always ask, “Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?” It’s always been something that I’ve aspired to, but I don’t think I really took it seriously until high school. I attended Emerson College for my undergraduate degree, which certainly cemented my career goals. Following Emerson, I attended The New School for my MFA. While at The New School, I was able to expand upon my craft and really devote myself to improving as a writer. In addition to freelance writing, I’m the Creative Director at Winter Tangerine and the Promotions Manager at Apogee Journal.

What interested you in the role of Public Diversity Editor?

I think that accountability is important. The conversation concerning diversity in literature and literary institutions can be frustrating, due to the fact that for all the talk, progress can feel slow. Lack of diversity in both what’s being published and the gatekeepers making these decisions isn’t on account of silence. In the past few years, the need for diversity has been vocalized and discussed in increasingly public spaces. But how do we implement these changes if no one is actually acting on them? I think it’s admirable that the Seattle Review of Books not only recognizes the need for diversity, but the fact that the team is making tangible steps to achieve it. Although my identity is not solely limited to my race and ethnic heritage, it’s an important, undeniable part of me. As a writer and as someone who has been given the power attached to an editorial role, I want to be able to open doors and break down barriers.

What are some of the signals you'll be looking for in our work that tell you where we've succeeded, and where we need to improve?

I’ll be looking for the variety in content and the creators of the content. The success of implementing diversity shouldn’t be limited to the books that are covered, but the voices of the contributing staff. When we speak of diversity, it also doesn’t necessarily mean just race. It also calls into mind diversity in gender and sexual orientation. Asking for underrepresented voices isn’t always enough. Is a publication making visible efforts to reach out to these people? Whether it be by holding special open-calls, lowering submission fees, partnering with underrepresented groups or institutions? Being aware of a lack of diversity is a baby step, not endgame.

Are there any organizations that you think are doing especially well with diversity, that other organizations should be looking to for examples?

An obvious choice would be VIDA. I also think that Nat. Brut does a good job, Muzzle Magazine, and As/Us. Also, even though I’m on staff for these two, I do think that Winter Tangerine and Apogee consistently make conscious efforts to uphold diversity in their submissions and staff. I also like the mission of The James Franco Review, which only accepts blind submissions in order to combat literary nepotism or favoritism.