One of the reasons, I suspect, why American Chordata has maintained its high standard across all seven issues is the rigour of the people behind the publication.
This may seem obvious, but being consistently thorough in your approach and committed to a vision, while simultaneously making sure the magazine does not rest on its laurels, takes some doing. I had the aforementioned suspicion before opening the latest issue of American Chordata, a US literary and arts magazine, but then I stumbled upon a the introductory note by Sarah Bedingfield, its new fiction editor.
It intrigues from the get-go: “From my window I can see the notorious Gowanus Canal … It smells like sludge when it rains. The canal is embedded between walls of now-iconic graffiti. A huge pink dog with eight udders – waving or flying, definitely smiling.” she writes. A few paragraphs later, her focus moves onto the issue: “Beauty and art are – or should be, anyway – about perspective; not convention or definitions or standards. Only you can decide what is beautiful. What is or isn’t art. That’s why I wanted to start working with the American Chordata team this year. I’m brand new; this issue is my first. I was drawn to AC because it celebrates ideas and perspectives that challenge, that provoke, that say something meaningful. It’s not pretentiously ‘literary’. The ideas published in this magazine feel beautiful because they are different and smart and real.”
In most publications, a new member of the editorial team publishing a passage to this effect would backfire –nobody wants to hear someone preaching about their own work. But in American Chordata – a title that describes itself as seeking “to publish work that is brave, illuminating, and emotionally detailed” and “empower beautiful voices and interesting points of view with empathy and respect” – it seems quite fitting. American Chordata is the result of raw, uncompromising and sincere passion. Bedingfield is just one case in point.
As always, the list of contributors to the magazine is lengthy; seven entire pages of photographers, artists, bloggers, writers, “lifelong learners”, film critics, poets and filmmakers. The content of the magazine is therefore, unsurprisingly, diverse and loosely falls into the categories of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, art and photography. It prides itself on being “founded on the belief that a good literary magazine can celebrate sophisticated design and earnest expression on the same page.” This is indeed a huge draw – too often you find a magazine that excels when it comes to artwork at the cost of rushed nonsensical journalism. And vice versa. With American Chordata there is no hierarchy: the two work in perfect harmony.
Another interesting element is that, although published as a biannual magazine, each issue of American Chordata is available, in full, online and completely free of charge. “While we hope you’ll support the magazine and our contributors by purchasing a print edition or subscription,” American Chordata reasons on its website, “the online editions are, and will always be, free to read and share.” As a journalist, to me this approach is brave and highly commendable. Brave, because at the best of times independent publishing can be economically challenging – magazine sales are often a lifeline. And highly commendable because the world is undoubtably a better place when things are inclusive and accessible to all who possess a curiosity.
Editor: Alison Lewis
Art director: Bobby Doherty