Like the defiant younger sibling after whom Little Brother is named, the just-launched literary quarterly’s debut issue has seized our attention with its miniature-sized cuteness and endearing resolute. Featuring the work of a handful of Canadian writers, and with salon-style events planned around the launch of every installment, Little Brother marks a spirited step toward smart literary writing with an open-door policy. We talked to editor Emily M. Keeler (who baked her own cookies for the issue’s well-attended Toronto launch) about how the magazine got started and what the future holds for Little Brother.
How did Little Brother come to be, and why did you decide to launch a new print magazine?
The impetus for the magazine started because I would spend a lot of time talking to my friend Steve Thomas about the relationship Canadian writers have with American culture. It’s something we’d been thinking about for a long time, and I think a lot of people working in the arts in Canada are constantly thinking about it. With the way that funding works and the size of Canada’s population, it feels kind of crappy to see our neighbours to the south able to have these huge successes and know that it’s just not a reasonable thing that we can do.
There’s this really great Stephen Henighan quote about how, when he was growing up, his father read The Guardian and he was reading these American novels. It seemed kind of unfair that the experience of being Canadian doesn’t actually fit the same language as these two giants of literature. The 19th and 20th centuries were huge for these other English-speaking nations. I think that’s a really interesting way of looking at it — just remembering that our experiences are different. I started thinking that if this is the case with literature, that we’re destined to smallness, why aren’t we celebrating that? Why can’t we have fun with that? I think that’s actually a perfectly reasonable way to be, to embrace who you are and make art out of that.
And then I started soliciting contributions from various writers. All of them are so talented and their voices are so new. It doesn’t feel like this idea that we have about what CanLit is. A couple of days ago in the Globe, Russell Smith had this thing about how in order to make a successful Canadian literary novel, you have to set it in the prairies or set it in the past. I feel like that actually hasn’t been true since the ’80s. We have this idea of what we’re supposed to complain about in terms of our literature that isn’t actually reflected in our actual literature. It’s not as if we have nothing that’s good, or nothing that’s contemporary. I wanted to have a space for that new stuff.
So will future issues revolve around work that is new and Canadian?
Not exclusively, but probably majorly, especially if it ever comes to a point where I find myself wanting to apply for a grant. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s necessary to have exclusively Canadian content. There is a wealth of talent to sustain something like Little Brother here. I don’t have an official mandate on this as a nationalist project. I do think that there are enough strong writers here to do what I want them to do in this magazine. Future issues aren’t necessarily going to be about the Canadian-American relationship. That just happened to be the theme of the first issue. The next issue will be a jokes issue, and we have a few other themes coming down the line. For every launch we’re going to have a salon that will invite our readers to come and select pieces to read on the theme as well, to make the discussion more democratic.
Tell me a bit about the design. I’m really curious about the Risograph printing.
Every colour of ink that’s on the page represents another pass through the machine, so it’s kind of like silk-screening. The benefit of using a Risograph over a digital printer, in addition to the funky photo look, is that it’s easier to read because the ink doesn’t have to be cooked into the paper. I knew that I wasn’t going to have a print run big enough to do offset [printing] on my first issue. That just seemed like a really dangerous idea. I was looking into alternatives because I, personally, can tell when something’s been printed offset or when something’s been printed digitally.
If you’re going to invest in print, it has to be beautiful. There’s no point in making an ugly print thing now, when you could just make a beautiful Tumblr. I was really, really focused on making sure that whatever happened at the end was something that was pleasurable to hold.
Where do you see Little Brother fitting into a broader literary culture?
It’s basically an experiment at this point, especially the salons. It’s awesome to let other people be a part of it, instead of having there be an access issue where it’s closed off. I think a lot of other magazines in Canada kind of seem that way.
I’ve been really lucky to be surrounded by people who are knowledgeable and invested in the success of the magazine. But at the same time, all of the editorial, marketing and administrative stuff right now is on me. Most of my experience actually comes from working with web media, so it’s been interesting learning the differences. We’re able to handle most of the distribution on our own. That’s one thing that has definitely enabled this project. I don’t have to sign on with a distributor and I don’t have to worry too much about how to get to the right channels. I can just get the magazine directly to the people who want the magazine.
I feel very honoured to have worked with the people that I worked with, and all of the contributors. It’s Chris Randle’s first piece of fiction and it’s really an exciting thing that I get to be a part of that part of his history as a writer. It’s Cian Cruise’s first published piece, too, and it feels awesome to be able to have space for new voices like that. That’s a key part of what Little Brother is going to be.