From the start, American Chordata has been a submissions-based magazine; a high-wire act that sees the editors and designers surrendering the relative safety of commissioning writers and photographers. Instead, they begin each issue by sifting through hundreds of short stories, poems and images, making their selections and shaping the results into a collection of otherwise unrelated works that still somehow fit together as a coherent whole. There’s no theme or explicit rationale for the selection, and instead the choices are guided by a set of values that have remained remarkably consistent over the years. Looking back to our slightly battered copy of the launch issue, then editor Ben Yarling explained: “The editors of this magazine value earnest voices, bravery, and clarity of expression. If you value that stuff, too, you’ll probably find a lot to like in here.”
Ten issues on that same rationale can still be seen on the page, for example in the opening short story. In Six Months Black, Nigerian student Ajibola Tolase recounts his experiences of learning how to be a black man in America, his voice earnest and frank but also bemused as he considers police shootings and Midwestern racism alongside the trial and error of figuring out where to have his hair cut. I also loved Erica Peplin’s extended vignette Trouble Reading Books, which will feel familiar to anyone who has squeezed into a small bookshop to hear an author speak. Quiet but sharp, it contains some beautifully observed moments of anxiety and vulnerability that feel absolutely clear and true.
The magazine is based in Brooklyn and its name can give the impression that this is a distinctly American slice of contemporary art and writing, but while many contributors come from the US, it’s important to note that this is a genuinely international effort. One highlight is a series of oddly nostalgic portraits by Rob Frogoso, which features strong Filippino influences in the offbeat images, and as you flip through the pages you’ll find work pulled from India, Russia, the UK and Europe, showing just how wide ranging this small independent has become.
Natasha Rao and Hannah Hirsh.
What is American Chordata?
Founded on the belief that sophisticated design and excellent writing go hand in hand, American Chordata seeks to publish work that is illuminating, innovative, and emotionally detailed.
What makes it different to the rest?
American Chordata is a sort of hybrid, toeing the line between a traditional literary journal and an art magazine. We aim to take the best of both worlds, combining them into a publication that’s packed with first-class writing and beautiful to look at.
Who makes American Chordata?
American Chordata is run by an all-volunteer staff of editors and readers who are committed to publishing a diversity of voices.
Who reads it?
American Chordata is read by lovers of art and literature alike. We have subscribers around the world, and are distributed by Small Changes in the Pacific Northwest, Antenne in Europe, and our editors everywhere else.
Why do you work in magazines?
We love the literary community and feel the best way to serve it is by publishing American Chordata, which has broader appeal than most literary journals.
Aside from the print magazine, what else are you involved in?
The print magazine is currently our only project.
What would you change about American Chordata if you could?
In the coming years we hope to expand our online presence, revamp our website, and improve our distribution across Europe.
Where do you see American Chordata in five years?
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