On 25 May, the literary magazine SAND is launching its new Issue 17 at the Lettrétage. Before the launch party and reading, we had five questions for Jake Schneider, the editor in chief.
When and why did you start your project?
SAND was founded in 2009 by Becky Crook, a writer and translator of Norwegian and German literature into English, who moved back to the US before I even arrived here. She left SAND in good hands. I can’t speak for Becky’s motivations, but as I understand it, there was a close-knit English writing community in Mitte back then – as she describes it, “writers sitting around in cafés writing about sitting around in cafés writing” – and she founded SAND to showcase their work. We’ve still never met in person, though I did serve a recipe of hers (Norwegian rhubarb compôte with cream) at our most recent team meeting.
We’re still dishing up the same publication some sixteen issues later. After focusing on Berlin-based authors in the early years, we’ve lately been publishing more and more writing, translations, and art from around the world, while simultaneously trying to play a larger role in our local literary scene. We see SAND as a reflection of the community here, which is immensely international but always rooted in local, personal connections.
What kinds of literature are you interested in? How do you define your task as literary mediators?
I think each editor would answer the first question differently. Greg Nissan’s poetry section has an experimental streak alongside a fondness for absurd juxtapositions and deceptively plain-spoken prose poems. Florian Duijsens and Ashley Moore have an omnivorous taste in fiction, but a particular appreciation for work that moves beyond psychological realism – and even the laws of physics – to express a deeper truth about the characters and their world. I’m also excited to see where our new Nonfiction Editor Susanna Forrest takes her section.
Beyond our literary taste, we are all deeply committed to publishing neglected and underrepresented voices in general. We aim for gender parity in each issue, and there are almost always contributions from the African continent or diaspora, Anglophone Asia, and the LGBTQ+ community – we’re eager to print perspectives that we get fewer chances to read about.
Fundamentally, our role as magazine publishers and event organizers is to help writers, readers, and other publishers find out about each other. Low-threshold magazines play an underappreciated role in the ecosystem. And since we publish unsolicited submissions almost exclusively (we received over 1,600 for this new issue), we are able to expose amazing writers and artists who may not yet have made a name for themselves. We were thrilled to learn that the 24-year-old Momtaza Mehri, a Somali-British poet featured in last year’s Issue 15, was recently named the Young People’s Laureate for London. We were proud that we already knew about her.
How do you finance your project?
Good question. The most direct answer is that we’re self-funded – we’re a registered nonprofit and cover our costs entirely through event admissions and journal sales – but we’re also self-funded in the sense that each of us donates many hours of our time and passion into this project. We’re all volunteers, including me. Another answer would be to say that we’re funded by everyone’s day jobs.
We’d love to be able to shift to a sponsored or publicly funded model – at the moment, no such ongoing funding program exists here for literary magazines in any language – but even so, we fear that we’d disappear when the money dried up. Sustainability matters.
So we just spread the work among many people, which makes it more manageable. We accept that each of us is temporary but the project lives on. And of course there is lots of wine, food, and catching up at our meetings. We make this thing because we enjoy it.
You are a big team. Are you all based in Berlin?
Yes, everyone who makes the journal lives and works in Berlin (except for Ashley, who’s in Bayreuth) and we all meet in person at least once a month (Ashley takes the bus). But as part of this city’s very international English-speaking community, we come from many places and there’s always someone traveling. In our current configuration, we have fifteen members from eight countries.
So our international focus is only natural: we each come to the work from different backgrounds and, after moving here, have adjusted to a new set of experiences. The forthcoming Issue 17 features work by writers, artists, and translators born or living in Australia, Finland, Germany, Ghana, Liberia, Macedonia, Nigeria, Palestine, the Philippines, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, the UK, and the US.
How important is your involvement in public events such as the launch parties?
Extremely important. Events are where we get to know people and where the community actually comes together. Our twice-annual issue launch parties, such as the upcoming one at Lettrétage on 25 May, are a chance to proudly present readings by our Berliner contributors – and sometimes visiting writers, this time from Hong Kong, Singapore, and the US – to a local audience. The €5 admission price also covers a large part of our printing costs. Just as importantly, it’s our own chance to celebrate the issue on the dance floor after six months of reading, debating, selecting, sequencing, proofreading, and formatting. It’s our party for ourselves and our contributors, and we invite everyone we know to join in.
Each year, we collaborate in a bunch of other events and host a few of our own. In the next two months, we will be involved in the Miss Read book fair, the Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften, and the Internationaler Literaturpreis. These are all great opportunities to help build community and to bond over writing and art that excites us.
Jake Schneider is the Editor in Chief of SAND and a translator from German to English. His translation of Ron Winkler’s poetry collection Fragmented Waters appeared with Shearsman Books. He lives in Berlin.