Founder of The New Inquiry
As an industry, the world of cultural and literary magazines might not seem at first to be one that’s prime for innovation. After all, it’s not just that the recipe for a cult/lit mag is pretty simple (uh, paper plus words, right?), it’s also that the field has long seemed saturated with an abundant, albeit varied, mix of upstart journals and veritable institutions, all of which follow pretty much the same formula of, as we said, paper plus words. So why even venture into a minimally profitable field with no guarantee of longevity or acclaim when there are opportunities to work within the industry’s existing structure? Well, according to Rachel Rosenfelt, co-founder of the all-digital cultural magazine The New Inquiry, you do this type of thing because you can and because there’s nobody out there who will tell you otherwise, not that you’d listen to them if they did.
Rosenfelt, who founded TNI with Mary Borkowski and Jennifer Bernstein, compares the genesis of the magazine to being like “The Bad News Bears and other formulaic kid-sports movies,” and her role was that of the Walter Matthau character. “Or,” she says, “if I may, what RZA is to the Wu-Tang Clan. A bunch of misfits finding each other and making something happen. There was no sense of what failure or success would look like. It was simply the thrill of having a reason to connect to people we didn’t already know who were otherwise unrecognized or just emerging as writers, artists and thinkers, and throwing the ball and seeing if they’d catch.”
And while having an online-only platform might seem revolutionary, for Rosenfelt it was a natural development: “I also am a deep web 1.0 internet girl and I think my obsession with tinkering around with coding and technology gave me the tools to imagine a different way of organizing.” But it’s an innovation that has allowed for an enviable flexibility, since TNI doesn’t have to worry about the production schedules (or costs) of a print publication, and is also therefore less tempted to ever rely on—or even use—advertisers.
Rosenfelt has recently left the role of Editor-In-Chief (she is now at Verso Books) in the incredibly capable hands and brilliant mind of Ayesha Siddiqi, the ethos with which TNI was founded is still strongly felt, and is evidenced in the work and writers it publishes. Rosenfelt explains that she views TNI’s unique platform “as an opportunity to take risks on young writers, bold work, and radical thought. We have no agenda and no string-pulling funders, so we do what we want. I speak for only myself when I say I like to think The New Inquiry’s role in discourse is to advance the radical imagination.”
As for any advice that she has to offer other wannabe risk-takers? “Don’t wait for permission. If you’re doing creative work for the right reasons, you don’t need the validation of others to put yourself out there. That’s what the internet makes possible. And love other women. The world wants you to find extraordinary women threatening. Undo that training. When you feel threatened, it’s a great sign that you have just found an ally who will bring you new energy and insight and together you will rise. Brace yourself for things to be exactly as bad as they say it is, and go out in the world anyway. If your work is good, you will always land on your feet.”
For the full interview with Rachel, visit bkmag.com