- "Bx Worldwide":An Interview with Miles Marshall Lewis
This interview was conducted via e-mail during July, 2007, between College Station, Texas and Paris, France.
KYLE G. DARGAN: Though black culture, and other cultures of the African Diaspora, has always been complex—even if it has been a historically subcutaneous complexity—it seems like the collective post-modern black experience has provided the space for that complexity to flourish publicly. So much so that it is hard to believe that one publication could satisfy all "black people" or even all black creative intellectuals. When people come to me to criticize Callaloo for what it isn't doing, I suggest I'll think about it but, more importantly, tell them that they might want to consider creating their own venue. Though most don't, you are actually someone who has created their own venue. Thus, I'd like you to talk a little bit about how Bronx Biannual was conceived and if the existence of Callaloo played into that and your personal development as a writer.
MILES MARSHALL LEWIS: I worked different editorial positions in the late 1990s at Vibe, BET and XXL, and sat in on many situations where the magazines were deliberately dumbed down, supposedly to satisfy the interest levels or attention spans of their audiences. Vibe, for example, used to publish great monthly columns by Greg Tate and Bönz Malone that were jettisoned in favor of expanding DJ Bobbito Garcia's "name that tune"-like feature, where he would play songs blind for different celebrities. I interned on the very first couple issues of Vibe back in 1993. So I belonged to that initial readership excited about the possibility of Vibe becoming a New Yorker for the hip hop set, and disappointed when the magazine simplified and changed direction. The beginning of XXL was similar. The GQ ambitions that XXL had in the beginning totally morphed into a less intelligent, more populist thing. Every time a new hip hop-centric magazine appeared, it would scale down its ambitions to accommodate the marketplace, the bottom line of newsstand sales and publishers' notions of what black people were interested in.
That said, Bronx Biannual was conceived as a literary magazine for the more sophisticated segment of the hip hop readership. By far the sexiest lit journal out right now has got to be Dave Eggers' McSweeney's, and I wanted to be first to jump on the idea of creating something similar for the diaspora. I must admit that Callaloo didn't play into the creation of Bronx Biannual at all, honestly. I only heard of Callaloo in the early nineties when a friend published a story in the journal; I can't say it played any part in my personal development as a writer or editor. I wanted Bronx Biannual to be accessible in the anthology sections of [End Page 1090] bookstores rather than regulated to the area reserved for Zoetrope: All-Story, Callaloo, etc. It's hard to interest a mainstream readership, even a literary-minded mainstream readership, into buying lit journals. So from the beginning, I've tried to brainstorm ways around that, to make the concept a little sexier. Bronx Biannual has only scratched the surface of where we're headed conceptually and design-wise.
DARGAN: Well, I asked about Callaloo because on the Bronx Biannual MySpace page you somewhat set your publication up as a hip hop alternative to Callaloo—which you suggest may come off as "antiquated" to the hip hop literati—but the passage ends with a shoutout to lovers of figures such as Alice Walker, Ralph Ellison, Amiri Baraka, Langston Hughes, Octavia Butler, Patrick Chamoiseau, Aimé Césaire, Chinua Achebe, Samuel R. Delaney, Ishmael Reed, Sonia Sanchez, and Kalamu ya Salaam, who have all appeared in, and some continue to appear in, the pages of Callaloo. It seems like there was some acknowledgement of the past that Callaloo represents, but also a sense that the journal wasn't doing enough for the audience of the present. How would you characterize that tension?
LEWIS: What you're referring to from MySpace is actually an...