- A Burden of Flame:An Interview with Amanda Johnston
This interview was conducted via e-mail in August, 2007, between Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas.
KYLE G. DARGAN: Would you say Torch grew out of a greater need or a more personal desire to disseminate and spotlight the work of women who are writing?
AMANDA JOHNSTON: As a writer, I continually look for work by authors like myself—contemporary black women authors. Sure enough, we are out there, but spread out. I wanted to read diverse collections by African-American women on a more regular basis. This meaning not an anthology that was published five years ago or a special issue of an established journal. Since I couldn't find that, I created it. That was a very personal decision. I could even say it was selfish. I wanted this space to exist and it didn't. So, I made it happen. However, I soon discovered that I was not the only one. Through submissions and general e-mails, I quickly learned that others were drawn to the possibility and promise of a safe space for black women writers.
DARGAN: What perspective, unique or otherwise, do you think contemporary black woman writers, your contemporaries, provide? Or rather, what do you see being illuminated in the work being published in Torch?
JOHNSTON: Our writing is not the same. We already know this, but reading the work online one after the other and experiencing the rise and fall of the familiar and the unexpected has been refreshing and affirming. Collecting these unique voices under one roof and seeing such a bold broad presence makes me excited for all that is to come.
DARGAN: We have three black female Pulitzer Prize winners (and two male). What would you say to those who might suggest that women writers and women writers of color are getting proper attention?
JOHNSTON: I would ask: Is the Pulitzer Prize the final answer of what's "proper" attention for black women writers? I don't consider one award, no matter how prestigious it is, to be an accurate gauge of the collective success of people of color. There is way too [End Page 1096] much politics involved, and the question seems a little too close to we've filled our quota, what more do you want? I'm more interested in creating safe spaces for people to take risks, hone craft, riff and vibe with peers across generations in real time. I'm not so interested in fitting into an established academy that does not support the cultivation of voices it has marginalized for so long. Meaningful collaborations would be a good place to start, but I feel a certain collective strength comes from people coming together to establish their own space and then working with allies as they see opportunities for mutual growth. This as opposed to individually struggling for a sliver of space at the front line just to bang at the gate in hopes that someone will let you in.
DARGAN: You describe Torch as a space receptive to and encouraging towards risk in the writing. What type of risk exactly do you desire to see engaged?
JOHNSTON: So much has been suppressed for the sake of survival that just attempting the work is an understood risk. Torch is a place for black women to dare to speak an unspoken truth in their work, to play with form and create new ones. Futhermore, risk is subjective. We acknowledge that oppression, repression, and all the isms we struggle with daily make it difficult to fully function, much less come to the page and create. We want those brave writers who, to quote Nikky Finney, "do not come lightly to the page" in spite of these barriers, to know that we commend them and that their work is safe with Torch.
DARGAN: One of the defining features of Torch is the "Flame/Spark" feature where an established writer who is featured in an issue also suggests a younger writer to be highlighted. How important is the generation bridging to your goals for Torch?
JOHNSTON: Creating a space to freely acknowledge...