An Interview with Natalie Eilbert, Editor-in-Chief of The Atlas Review

The Washington Square Review sat down virtually with Natalie Eilbert, the editor-in-chief of The Atlas Review to learn about how she puts together an issue. This interview was conducted over email in the week of 1/19/2014.

ONSQ: When you set out to work on an issue, what are your goals as an editor? Do you think of your publication as having a mission? How does each issue enact that mission similarly or differently?

NE: My original goal as editor of The Atlas Review was pretty simple: I wanted to display the talents and various aesthetics of emerging writers whom I might not have already encountered. I wasn’t bored or miffed by my cohort and peers in this most famous petri dish of culture and art, but I was thirsty to read what the rest of the country was up to as well. I also felt that were I to open up submissions, I’d have to go through some minor hurtles to not let the names of certain authors affect my judgment. Then the solution was simple: We would vet work anonymously, soliciting only a handful of pieces per issue. That became our ethos: the coupling of emerging and established writers would attract perfect strangers to new work. 

Each issue has its own spin on this mission. While we’re pretty draconian about submitters remaining anonymous, we have different ideas of whom we might solicit each issue that steer us in a given direction. What ended up happening—especially in the second and third issues—is that the work accepted early (whether or not it was solicited) subconsciously informed the desired tone for that particular issue. I wasn’t expecting that at all. So then the modes with which we operated were driven—without getting pigeon-holed—by these more pointed nameless desires. Our forthcoming issue (#3), as it turns out, has a several pieces in it about the dissolution of family. That doesn’t define it, and of course, there are many, many exceptions to the rule. But that is certainly there.

Finally I have to emphasize that, while we aren’t interested in names, we have developed a keen interest in identity. There’s this pervading worry sometimes that, once we accept all our contributors, that list will be made up majorly by white men. Yikes. I’m troubled by this notion, but it’s something that I know (or at least hope I know) won’t be an issue if I’m always gearing us away from a uniform voice. As an editor, you’re completely accountable for the kinds of contributors you accept—and an organization like the VIDA count is so important because, well, their main purpose is to tally up the numbers at the end of the year. I want writers of all stripes to know that they’re absolutely welcome, that we don’t subscribe to some secret template of style or character. That’s become so much more important to me than simply vetting blindly.

ONSQ: Point us to some recent work you’ve published that you’re really excited about. What draws you to it?

NE: This is such an unfair question! I’m so excited about all the work we’ve published and feel odd about “shout-outs” so I’ll stick to contributors who were not on my radar at all until the acceptance reveal. Last issue, I was super thrilled to discover the writings of Maria Anderson, who wrote this incredibly penetrating story called “Calfkiller” (run, do not walk to read it); Vanessa Jiminez Gabb is a fantastic poet, so brilliant and frank and hilarious at every turn and she sent in two excellent pieces; Matthew Fee was another fella I hadn’t heard of before, but whose three poems just blew me out of the water with their lyric resonance.

For Issue 3, I’m really, really pumped for John Jodzio, whose piece about a trio of mute soldiers ass-chugging vodka in a post-apocalyptic Philip K. Dick-like world is just outstanding. Wendy Lotterman, a frighteningly intelligent poet, submitted these absolute tour de forces on travel and absence and the internet that I adore all over. Dale Megan Healey broke my goddamn heart with her essay about grieving her deceased mother through the lens of performance artists like Sophie Calle and Tracey Emin who focus on beds/sleep. Soleil Ho sent us this funny, revolutionary essay delivered in the form of instant messaging regarding race conversations on the internet and the classroom. Gah, I could blab about every single piece. I really could. I’m that excited.

ONSQ: What is your favorite part about putting together an issue?

NE: One element that I think is unique to Atlas is that I write personal letters to all accepted contributors. I’m super insecure, and am slightly bothered when my pieces are accepted and the letter is terse and all “Thank you for sending us your work. We love ‘___’ and would like to publish it in our upcoming issue. Best, x.” Why are they taking it? What is their taste? Do they even understand what I’m doing? Probably yes, they do, but TELL ME. Anyway. I really, really, really love writing love letters to the contributors. I tell them what I like about what they’re doing, and why I appreciate this piece in particular. It always swells my heart when they respond, I suppose, because they aren’t used to that sort of approach and it feels good to hear someone “get” you.

I also absolutely love ordering the issue. It feels like a puzzle that I’m working out. I sit with the pieces for so long, envisioning their layout, envisioning their abilities beaming off the page, so it’s nice to braid that together and get the pieces “talking” with one another. Likewise, I love that I can send these visions of order to Jason Demetillo, our ridiculously talented graphic designer, and he lays it all out with indefatigable commitment to its look. That makes everyone happy in the end.

ONSQ: What other periodicals are you excited about right now?

NE: So many! I love Armchair/Shotgun, Fence, jubilat, [PANK], Gulf Coast, apt, A Public Space, Black Warrior Review, The New Inquiry, and so many more. I like to sit down with issues and read them cover to cover. I’m excited to dive into new magazines either out now or forthcoming like Adult and No Tokens. I’m also just exploding with love for online magazines like Paperbag Journal, STOKED, Sixth Finch, Dusie, Octopus—too many. I try to read as much as I can, and if a periodical is publishing work I grok with an impressive design, I’m freaking sold.

Natalie Eilbert began The Atlas Review after a craving for other voices was met with an anonymous system that enabled writers of all backgrounds to submit biannually. Her background is chiefly in poetry, having received an MFA from Columbia University some years ago. She has learned the ins and outs of magazine work from both being widely published and from her professional career as a proofreader/production assistant of eBooks at a large publishing house. It was also extremely important to have Jason Demetillo, graphic designer extraordinaire, by her side to help create and nurtureAtlas’s identity.