Tam Eastley chats to Becky Crook, co-founder of Berlin literary journal, SAND…
California native Becky Crook moved to Berlin from Seattle in October 2008. With a background in Linguistics, European Studies, and Theology, and a first-time novelist herself, she was disappointed to discover upon arriving in Berlin that the city’s previous literary magazine, Bordercrossings, had shut down.
In response, she teamed up with co-founder Jason Andrews to create SAND, Berlin’s English Literary Journal, which released its first issue in May 2010. Now, with a small and dedicated team of “literary and art-minded folks,” SAND’s fourth issue will be hitting the shelves at the end of November.
On the heels of such an exciting and busy time, I spoke with Becky about the history of SAND, the Berlin literary scene, and the future of SAND…
After arriving in Berlin and realizing that Bordercrossing was no longer around, how did you come about starting a literary magazine here in Berlin?
I spoke with several writers and poets and got the sense that, though there were clearly hundreds of authors writing in English in the city, there was at the time no other specifically English literary journal from and for Berlin. Jason and I met with and interviewed the Bordercrossings editors, as well as the founders of other literary journals to get an idea of what we could learn from their experiences and then we decided to start modestly, with a rather small amount of copies, available at an affordable price to the average Berliner. That has been our strategy, and it has worked quite well in Berlin.
What is SAND and what can one expect to find after purchasing a copy?
SAND is about 100 pages of literature and art, more or less, which means about 25-30 contributors. This is actually a lot for a literary magazine and I think that’s exciting. When you buy an issue of SAND, you are getting a large selection of material, a diverse collection that can take you awhile to get through and to enjoy. Our upcoming issue will present 30 contributors consisting of prose, poetry as well as art and photography.
Why does Berlin need a literary journal and how has it contributed to the literary scene here?
I think claiming that Berlin “needs” a literary journal would be akin to saying Augustsrasse could use another gallery. There are many literary magazines and journals in Berlin. Perhaps we could say that SAND is directed uniquely to the English literary scene, but even in that realm, since SAND was founded in May 2010, we’ve seen the start of other Berlin-based English literature collections that produce terrific work—Broken Dimanche Press, for instance, or Berlin-London magazine Teller, or Tale of Three Cities, based in Berlin-Paris-London—not to mention the online English-German literary translation publication, No Man’s Land. And who knows how many other projects that we haven’t heard of yet?
Yet what I think makes SAND different from these is that we are dedicated to creating beautiful, and beautifully written collections that are also affordable. Many high-quality magazines are very expensive, because of the production costs. To be able to offer something lovely at low cost means that we have to be creative in how we produce SAND. So we collaborate with many groups and collectives.
For example, we co-host events–such as the Sofa Sessions Wohnzimmer Festival, or at the international literature festival or at Cafe Gaudy–or we take advantage of Etsy Labs creative studio space for literature festivals, writing workshops and meetings; we ask groups of artists and printers to scheme up special inserts into issues of the journal; we interview and review groups that we think are doing exciting things in Berlin; we seek a new designer for each issue to keep things fresh and to give up- and-coming designers a chance to layout a magazine; and we work with a local, environmentally friendly printer who we have built a good relationship with.
The openness to collaboration and the flexibility that we have for trying out new ideas is one way that we are trying to become involved with the English literary scene in Berlin. We still have lots of ideas of other collaborations and people we’d love to work with, and if anyone is interested in doing something with us, they are welcome to contact me or anyone on the team.
What sort of people contribute to SAND? Does the journal consist of mostly well known writers, or are new and unknown writers also included?
We’ve had a few established writers — Tishani Doshi, Wladimir Kaminer, Jan Wagner, Sofi Oksanen, for example — and we love having them in SAND, but what we are mainly looking for are up and coming writers. We want to publish writers who we think are worth looking out for in the future.
In looking at past issues of SAND, it seems as though the journal’s contributors are from all over the world and write about many different places, not necessarily Berlin. What makes the journal uniquely Berlin?
We look for writers and artists who have a connection to Berlin; perhaps they come here for the literature festival each year, or have received a fellowship to write in Berlin for a year, or who we feel represent in a sense the literature and art that is coming from Berlin. Until our third issue, we didn’t need to think too much about this because we were mostly just working with contributors with whom we were networked in Berlin.
However, with Issue 3, there was a large shift in the location of our contributors. We noticed that we started to receive submissions from authors overseas, many from America, who have never been to Berlin before. Perhaps we got onto a database list of magazines — we don’t really know how someone in Iowa learned about a small literary magazine in Berlin. So now, our team is currently in the process of defining more specifically what and who we would like to publish in our future issues, since we definitely wish for SAND to remain Berlin’s English literary journal. Check back with us in a month or two.
I ask myself whether it’s even possible to confine Berlin literature to a single definition. But, in a very general sense, and borrowing the metaphor from Susan Sontag, who claims that a writer is either like a lover or like a husband, I would say Berlin’s literature has all the trappings of a lover.
Have you hit any road blocks along the way?
Sure. Finding funding has always been difficult. We are so-far completely self-sufficient, which is to say, we all work pro-bono and we pay for the printed issue out of pocket. But we are currently applying for some cultural grants now and hope to be able to focus our energies in the future on producing SAND rather than on raising the funds for financing it.
Among other benefits, this would also mean that we could pay our contributors, which I believe would help us in commissioning many writers who, up until this point, have (understandably) been unwilling to submit their work. Another difficult turning point was when co-founder Jason Andrews quit SAND and moved back to London. This wasn’t an especially pleasant chapter in SAND history, but our team is now very strong and we have a common vision for our work together, which is important on a project like this. And, last but not least, we have as-yet never found a good way to transport all of the copies of SAND from the print shop to our apartments by bicycle. Should anyone have one of those bicycle-cart thingies they could let us borrow, please let me know.
Is SAND planning anything exciting over the next few months?
Yes! Our new events coordinator just joined the team and is planning the launch for Issue 4 at the end of November! With Cate on board, we hope to also start having regular monthly events, either co- hosting them with other groups, or hosting them ourselves. The best way to keep abreast on SAND events is to “like” us on Facebook and/or to sign up to receive our monthly email newsletter via our website.