Contemporary Journals

Contemporary Magazine Project: Paper Darts

Report by Bryn Cavin

Paper Darts: A Magazine of Literature and Art, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was established in 2009 by co-founders Meghan Lionel Murphy, Jamie Millard, and Regan Smith, and is still one of the only women-run independent literary journals in the country.  Paper Darts has always been “implicitly political” due to the majority of their published works being written by women. Even so, the editors state in early interviews about Paper Dart that they did not have one particular goal in mind when they began the magazine (AWP). Rather than beginning with a mission and working outward from it, Murphy, Millard, and Smith “opted to put [their] underemployment and literary knowledge to good use” with the intention “to shake up the formula and bring color, illustration, and lightheartedness back into the lit mag sphere in a big way” (Hunt).

How exactly the editors intended to shake up the formula of the little magazine community was rather vague for the first several years of the magazine’s life. In an interview with The Review Review in 2010, the three co-founders said, “We are not interested in maintaining a unified aesthetic. We let our submissions shape us as they come. We publish whatever turns us on, surprises us, or challenges us” (Hunt). Similarly, in a 2012 interview with Coldfront, Meghan Murphy stated, “We are still finding our voice.” Courtney Algeo, the editorial director at the time, added that they were really just looking to publish “awesome stuff,” but could not really specify what sort of criteria made works fit into that category (Woodworth).  Over its ten years of existence, Paper Darts has honed its editorial direction, finding its voice in feminist literature and from there, shifting the mission of the magazine “to be explicitly intersectionally feminist” (AWP).

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “intersectionality” as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage” (OED). The purpose of intersectional feminism is to recognize these multiple layers within individual identities and to include the voices of people that have been marginalized in the discussions about what equality needs to look like. Intersectional feminism imagines and pursues discourse between truly equal individuals, as opposed to catering only to the promotion of equality for white, middle class, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied white women. From the journal’s early days, the editors have been committed to accessibility and showcasing the work of “individuals with an ‘underdog’ mentality” (Red Sofa). These inclinations  grew to form the backbone of Paper Darts as a feminist magazine, and are featured on the front page of the magazine’s website in a three-part mission statement. Directly under the links to the most recently published pieces is a list stating “1. We believe in guilty pleasures.  2. We dig accessibility. 3. We’re committed to inclusivity” (PaperDarts.org).  Each of these statements is followed by a small explanation, advising readers to “check your idea of reading as a status symbol at the door and enjoy yourself,” and giving readers insight into what the editors see as their own responsibilities.  In regard to accessibility, the editors state, “Our online magazine isn’t our print mag’s subordinate–it’s a living, breathing publication that’s accessible to anyone (with internet access) at any time at no cost,” The editors add that the art paired with each piece of writing on the website is meant to make reading “more approachable” to a greater number of people (PaperDarts.org). In reference to their commitment to inclusivity, the website states, “The world’s full of misfits channeling their creativity in ways that give gatekeepers nightmares,” adding that it is “uncool” to be complacent when there is the opportunity to publish typically underrepresented voices (PaperDarts.org). These statements go hand-in-hand with the idea of intersectional feminism and show that the magazine’s mission goes beyond just being mindful of the types of voices that they publish, but also recognizes the diversity of its readership. Making all of their pieces available online at no cost removes a barrier to potential readers without the means to buy a copy of the physical journal and challenges the notion of the reading literary magazines, and literature in general, as an indication of status. The fact that the editors took care to add “(with internet access)” to the statement shows that they are examining the privileges implicit in running a literary magazine from every angle and are striving to break down those separations as much as possible.

The oldest works on the website, posted in 2012, include stories centered on feminist issues, such as “Pontus, Missouri” by Holly Harrison, which is a tongue-in-cheek story about a town without any women (apparently due to the arrival of Cotton Eye Joe in the town), “Another Tuesday Night” by Devlin Byrne, and “Canning” by Elizabeth Sowden, which all have to do with female sexuality. “Proposal for Paper Darts” by John Gordon, also from 2012, is written as a letter to the editors regarding a proposal for an absurd film, which assumes that all of the editors are men, and which is full of misogynistic phrases and sexist implications, mocking the sexism that so often goes unchecked in the entertainment industry.  The newer works, however, both on the website and in the print journal, move beyond simply finding and pointing out the absurdities of explicitly sexist things which are accepted as normal in a patriarchal society, and include works about issues that are not as directly related to inequalities in the treatment of men and women but have to do with systemic oppression, marginalization of minority groups, and the messy bits of being human that often go undiscussed out of some notion of propriety. These more recent pieces include pieces about the experiences of transgender men and women such as “Shark Bites” by K. J. Cerankowski, pieces that push back against the concept of gender as a strict binary, like “Gender Reveal Party” by Benjamin Niespodziany, pieces about the oppression of and violence against women of color, such as “Why Are Black Women Attractive” by S. Erin Batiste and “Sins of Omission” by Christine Ma-Kellams, and pieces about struggle with mental health, such as “Blue Days” by Tatiana Ryckman and “Sweaty Duvet” by Yvonne Popplewell, to name a few of the subjects that have been included in publications since 2016.

The magazine’s visual art has become increasingly explicit in its intersectional feminism as well. The cover of Paper Darts Volume 7, for example, features the work of Irish illustrator Laura Callaghan. Callaghan’s cover design includes four racially diverse women cradling the decapitated heads of men, except for one woman who holds a book. All of the women make unabashed eye contact with the viewer, unsmiling. In the full spread of the illustration featured on the magazine’s website, the drawing is accompanied by the caption “Watch out. Watch out.  Watch out,” adding the sense that these women would be happy to sever more heads, should the need arise (PaperDarts.org).  Much of the art also includes nude female figures drawn in an unidealized way, proudly displaying unshaven body hair, uncovered breasts, curves, and wrinkles. Volume 7 includes photos from Liron Ashkenazi-Eldar’s Boob and Friends series, as well as Meghan Murphy’s illustration of a breastfeeding mother which accompanies Rebecca Saltzman’s “What to Expect When You’re Becoming a Chimera.” Volume 8 includes photos from Hein Koh’s Splendor in the Grass series, which is not explicitly feminist upon first glance (the pieces include anthropomorphized hamburgers and ice cream cones), but Koh stated in interviews about the series that it reflects the changes in which she finds inspiration since she has become a mother, with this new sense of self coexisting with her previous self rather than obliterating it or somehow dampening her creativity (Brito).

Besides adding a visual appeal to the magazine and featuring a greater number of amazing creators, the art that Paper Darts publishes is also an effort to make the literature that they publish more approachable to people of all different backgrounds and levels of experience in the literary field. The visual art creates a common ground for readers of all education levels and gives the magazine a sense of playfulness, showing that though the topics discussed in the magazine are of crucial importance and often quite heavy, it is okay to have fun with those discussions as well. The editors explain this on the website by saying, “We make art and literature come together in big, bold ways to fight the big, bad world. We don’t make money, but we make meaning. We make space” (PaperDarts.org).

This sort of space is precisely what is necessary to bring marginalized voices to the forefront of discussions of equality, where they should be. In the introductory note to Paper Darts Volume 6, the editors describe the various “lives” that it is possible to fall into between the covers of the journal, adding, “All of these lives exist at intersections of what it means to be a complex person in a scary world, where powerful humans try to make themselves supreme by squishing all of those unlike them. We hope that by investing in micro moments of humanity like these, we might just be saved.” (Volume 6).

By publishing these micro moments and amplifying individual voices, magazines like Paper Darts have the opportunity to help those writers and artists resist any attempts that those in power might make to squish them, and perhaps contribute to the movement toward a new power structure which includes more of these diverse voices in positions of power themselves.

Works Cited

Brito, Maria. "Hein Koh Discusses Feminism, Pregnancy, and Motherhood." Cultured Magazine. 11 May 2018. https://www.culturedmag.com/hein-koh/. Accessed 23 April 2019.

Gordon, John. "Proposal for Paper Darts." Paper Darts. 22 July 2019. https://www.paperdarts.org/literary-magazine/fiction-proposal-for-paper-darts.html. Accessed 24 April 2019.

Hunt, Katherine. "'We Publish Whatever Turns Us On': Interview with Meghan Murphy, Jamie Millard, Courtney Algeo, and Holly Harrison – Editors of Paper Darts." The Review Review. 2010. http://www.thereviewreview.net/interviews/we-publish-whatever-turns-us. Accessed 20 April 2019.

Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press, 2019. http://www.oed.com. Accessed 16 April 2019.

PaperDarts.org, 2019. http://www.paperdarts.org. Accessed 15 April 2019.

Paper Darts, Volume 6. 2016.

Paper Darts, Volume 7. 2017.

Paper Darts, Volume 8. 2019.

"The Red Sofa Chats: Paper Darts Literary Arts magazine." Red Sofa Literary. 28 March 2011. https://redsofaliterary.com/2011/03/28/paperdarts/. Accessed 22 April 2019.

"Ten Years of Feminist Lit: Moving Beyond Representation." Association of Writers and Writing Programs. 2019. https://www.awpwriter.org/awp_conference/event_detail/15455. Accessed 18 April 2019.

Woodworth, Sam. "Spotlight: Paper Darts." Coldfront. 28 August 2012. http://coldfrontmag.com/spotlight-paper-darts/. Accessed 20 April 2019.

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