Welcome to Back Matter.
We began this second edition of Back Matter in January. Back then, none of us was imagining our current reality, structured by daily video chats and people actually debating if silk scarves are better or worse than bandanas in stopping a pandemic. We just wanted to make a sassy magazine that pokes holes in the immense, white, privileged landscape of publishing. A magazine that charts how ideas turn into actual words that people pay money to read. That asks, whose labor props this whole architecture up? Who gets all the money? Who gets the glory? Why did the Very White Jeanine Cummins get to publish a bestseller about Mexican immigrants, but memoirs by actual Mexicans and immigrants (not from Ireland) are continuously rejected by publishing houses? What does a French woman living in America think of a magazine by French people about Americans living in America? What the hell is an Instagram memoir?
We were also planning to do a section called “The Social Life of Ideas,” where we took a bestselling book and tracked how it evolved from the first germ of an idea to dominating the cultural conversation. Then the apocalypse arrived and social life as we know it died. Dating outside the apartment, entertainment venues of every kind, political rallies, “nonessential” workplaces…coronavirus even killed dog parks. It was a foregone conclusion that any future events for the book we were profiling would be cancelled or postponed, book parties swallowed up by the same pit that also took house parties, dinner parties, dance parties, and work parties. So we chucked that section and replaced it with a survey about how coronavirus has affected our lives, as students and as publishers.
As for ideas, most of those are now framed in terms of coronavirus, content reorganized to reflect our new shared reality. We didn’t axe the rest of our essays, however. Our writers worked hard on them, and the issues they addressed have not disappeared with our collective ability to shake hands with each other. The apparatus of media is in many ways the same as it was before. White perspective is still privileged in storytelling. The publishing industry is still nearly impenetrable for people without money and connections. Copy must still be written, freelancers need to get paid.
So please, dear reader, enjoy our magazine.
Stay healthy, stay sane.
-Taia Handlin, editor in chief