Blithe House Quarterly:
publishing queer fiction online
filed 21 May 2004 | Chicago
by Aldo Alvarez, interviewed by Kurt Heintz
The following is an interview with Aldo Alvarez, founder and publisher of
Blithe House Quarterly (BHQ), an online, queer fiction journal. BHQ published selections by Chicago authors for its June 2004 edition, and so drew some attention to Chicago's literary domain. While we at e-poets.net take a broader view of poetry in new media, we nevertheless have a strong interest in Chicago literature. It would only be fair to pass some attetention to BHQ.
BHQ is a fiction journal, and does not accept poetry for publication. However, it does face a lot of the same issues that many online literary enterprises do, such as e-poets.net... finding an audience and building a relationship with them, cultivating recognition of editorial quality, and developing the critical and creative environment that surrounds the publication. I asked Alvarez about the basics of BHQ and his aspirations for it. -KEH
Blithe House Quarterly is, as you say, "where queer fiction lives." How do you define "queer fiction"?
Defining queer fiction isn't something we're interested in as an editorial mandate because that leads to the kind of genre- and market-based distinctions BHQ was created to displace.
We publish queer fiction not as a genre or a ghetto but as a literature that can stand by any other in its quality and innovation. Naturally, "quality" is subjective, and so is "innovation", but I think our readers trust we are able to deliver both.
And so, how does BHQ make a good home for queer fiction?
I think we make a good home for it by providing a place for people to read it without having to deal with the usual difficulties involved in accessing LGBT lit'. Blithe House is accessible from any computer with an internet connection, and everyone's welcome to drop by. Our look sells the sophistication of the work and tries to attract and maintain a wide range of readers, queer and non-queer. We're as eager to publish new as well as established authors, but quality's our first concern.
We have very broad literary tastes and love both classically-written and experimentally-assembled fictions, but that doesn't mean we don't have high, articulate standards for either. We don't really care to sell an author's "personality" or "star power" because we care most about the writing. We have a personal investment in queer culture as we live in it and we want to raise the quality of life for everyone; it's not something we shelve in a small section well-hidden from the rest of the store.
How do you see BHQ's relationship to other publishers, in and beyond Chicago? ... in the queer literary domain? ... in the general fiction domain?
We don't as of yet have much of a connection with Chicago publishers, but I've only been here two years. We're members of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, a fact we're very proud of as we were invited to join. This, to me, suggests we're seen as part of the continuum of literary magazines regardless of location, subject or medium. I do think a lot of the local publications have similar aspirations, and I would love to publish my own fiction in them.
All the queer publications that are similar to BHQ emerged a while after we started publishing, so it's safe to say we have been influential. (Every single editor of our peer publications was in BHQ's mailing list before their mags started, and some even published with us, so I'm not making this up.) I have to say that some of our peers tend to be in some ways rather conservative and dependent on hierarchical modes for presenting literature by hyping "the canon" and the "star system" of literary culture which average readers don't care for. Others who try for our feel hype their indie alt-coolness but, unfortunately, by and large present porn with literary aspirations the actual work doesn't validate, but I think these folks will live up to their aspirations in time.
Our relationship to mainstream and queer book publishing is probably our strongest. In the past eight years, we've become an "author farm" for anthology editors and literary agents. Every issue has one or two stories anthologized elsewhere and one or two authors who get picked up by agents who read our magazine. Editors at book publishers have said, to our authors, that they've read their work in BHQ and remember it fondly, or that they spotted a section of the manuscript they are reading in BHQ.
Has BHQ uncovered some new, great writers? Who are you most proud of having featured?
Well, we "discovered" such folks as T. Cooper, C. Bard Cole, Trebor Healey, Christopher Shinn, Chris Echaurre, Jim Provenzano, J.G. Hayes, Matt Bernstein Sycamore, and Manuel Muñoz, all who went on to publish collections and novels. Actually, every issue has one or two stories that are solicited for reprint, and one or two stories that catch the attention of an agent or editor. And I get to play the messenger of good news. [smiles] J. G. Hayes was actually discovered through BHQ; his book editor contacted me and asked me to put them in touch.
Among the more established writers, we've been very lucky to get stories from Felice Picano, Frankie Hucklenbroich, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Andrew Holleran, James Friel, Brian Bouldrey, Ruthann Robson, Reginald Harris, Leslea Newman, John Gilgun, Bernard Cooper, Eileen Myles, D. Travers Scott, Mary Sharratt, Rigoberto González, Richard Grayson, Ann Wadsworth, Alex Jeffers, Kevin Killian, Gregg Shapiro, Paul Lisicky, Gerry Gomez Pearlberg, Joey Manley, Paula Martinac, Jameson Currier, Mike Albo, Sarah Van Arsdale, Gabrielle Glancy, Jerod Santek, Jim Tushinski, Donna Allegra, Jenifer Levin, Stephen Beachy, Mary Beth Caschetta, Angel Lozada, Robert Glück, Wayne Koestenbaum. and Patrick Roscoe. I am pretty sure I left someone out...
Don't worry about it. Sounds like a very comprehensive roster of writers as it is. What new kinds of fiction do you seek for BHQ?
Something that satisfies my hunger for for quality and innovation, for new experiences. Something I haven't read before. Something that makes what it represents vivid and and articulate, and makes me want to think and feel and sense and be in the world and engage with it. And stuff.
I strongly dislike the shallow competency of mediocrities who reproduce themes and formal concerns in a generic manner without really considering what they are doing or without doing something new with it / to it. Finely crafted prose narrative that does nothing new, says nothing that hasn't been said, etc., is, to me, as predictable as a Harlequin novel. The same goes for callow experimental-in-predictable-ways writing that is currently fashionable; it's making generic shtick out of what once challenged genre as a starting point.
Not that your gig is over, but how do you hope people will
remember BHQ in years to come?
I hope we're remembered as something of distinctive quality, like SPY Magazine or BETWEEN C & D. Both were magazines that offered something no one could find anywhere else, and offered it in a package that in itself was remarkable and memorable. Both magazines' alumni graduated into remarkable careers in mainstream media without losing what makes them special.
Have you noticed anything particularly unifying about the
queer voice in fiction? Or is the work just too diverse to see that?
I don't think there is a distinctive "queer voice". I do think there is a particularly queer way of thinking that is more related to "queer theory" than "queer personhood" (as there are perfectly conformist homosexuals even in alt-indy-queer-radical circles). It's more about how an individual fiction writer positions him- or herself in relation to the boundaries he or she has inherited as a human being; anyone who doesn't present these as "something everyone knows is true" is queer, as far as I am concerned.
Finally, why go for it online? Why not in print, like so many
Because the web allows me to produce a magazine I want to read. I don't really know if I could get away with BHQ at the scale of a paper publication.