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Art and Literature Journal Gives Platform for Women's Voices

By Dana Varinsky | March 27, 2014 3:54pm
 The cover of the first issue of "No Tokens" features art by Jessee Egan, and was designed by Brian Okarski.
The cover of the first issue of "No Tokens" features art by Jessee Egan, and was designed by Brian Okarski.
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Courtesy of T. Kira Madden

WILLIAMSBURG — A new cross-genre literature and art journal, which aims to promote women’s voices and keep the tradition of printed magazines alive, will distribute its first copies to the public in Williamsburg Thursday night.

"No Tokens," a bi-annual journal run entirely by women, features works from all genres, including painting, poetry, drama, fiction and non-fiction. The first issue will be available for purchase at the journal’s launch party at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg.

The journal’s Greenpoint-based editor-in-chief, T. Kira Madden, said the founders and staff wanted to include an equal number of male and female contributors, in order to reverse what they see as an overrepresentation of male voices in literary journals.

“I’ve seen panels and read articles saying that women don’t submit as much, or they don’t have the same confidence, or they’re not as out there trying to get published, and I don’t really buy that or believe that at all,” Madden said. “We’re here and we’re trying to be heard.”

Madden, who holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence, said the idea for the journal came from a conversation she had two years ago about the dwindling number of art and literature publications that get printed rather than published digitally.

“We were just thinking about nostalgia and ephemera and things that we kind of missed, and print journals were part of that conversation. We missed holding them and collecting them,” she said.

Subway tokens were also mentioned in the same conversation, giving rise to the journal’s title, “No Tokens,” which refers to the advisory on New York City subway entrances. Madden said those printed words remind riders of the past in the same way she hopes her print journal will harken back to older traditions, despite the increasingly digital nature of the publishing industry.

The first issue of “No Tokens” includes a postcard, which readers can detach and mail. Madden said she plans for upcoming issues to continue taking advantage of the interactive element of a print journal.

“I hope that in the future we’ll always have pieces of the journal that will come out of the journal, things that are physical objects that can be taken out and used for something else or kept,” she said.

Unlike traditional literary and art publications, "No Tokens" accepts work from any genre. In addition to the postcard, the first issue includes a musical, comic illustrations, paintings, a pencil drawing, poetry, fiction and excerpts from novels.

In order to promote the journal, volunteer staff members passed out flyers at last year’s Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference. They received 700 submissions for their first issue, far exceeding their expectations. However, this meant the journal took longer to publish—the first issue was in development for over a year.

“We’re just reading all of them ourselves,” said Madden. “We read every single one.”

Advance copies of the first issue, which includes 21 submissions, were sold at last month's A.W.P. conference, though Thursday will be the first day they are available to the general public.

Contributors include well-known authors such as George Saunders and Rick Moody, in addition to emerging writers and artists.

Mary Paige Snell, one of the newer authors featured, said she is excited yet nervous for the chance to read her writing in front of a crowd at Thursday’s launch party.

“It’s heartening that this group of women is bravely putting out a print literary magazine,” she said.  “I was a complete cold send submission. I’m not a famous or even a published author who's gotten awards like many of the other authors.”

Although the second issue will not be released for another six months, plans for it are already underway. Madden said it will include a novella, as well as some pieces that could not fit into the first issue. However, “No Tokens” will also take new submissions of any length or style from April 1 through 15.

But first, Madden said the editors, artists and authors intend to celebrate at Pete’s Candy Shop, where there will be an open bar from 6:30 to 7:30, followed by a live reading by several of the issue’s contributors. Madden added that the event is open to the public, and will offer plenty of dessert.

“We spent all day baking tons of cookies yesterday in the shape of our cover girl,” she said.

“No Tokens” can be purchased for $15 at the party, or on the journal’s website, which also features a preview of the first issue. The revenue will reimburse T. Kira Madden for the journal’s expenses, which she said she paid out of pocket.

“Our little tag line on our fliers last year was ‘we’re here,’ meaning women,” Madden said. “And now it feels like we’re actually here, and we’ve arrived.”