Agnese, Benji Knewman
This morning we’re at work with Agnese Kleina, Editor-in-chief of the Latvian magazine Benji Knewman. Even though it’s now onto its third issue, it’s still difficult to tell whether Benji Knewman – the magazine’s namesake and enigmatic ‘editor-at-large’ – is a fictional character or an actual contributor. We catch up with Agnese as she returns from last week’s Stack Awards and begins work on a new project called ‘Benji Box’.
Where are you today?
At my desk back home in Riga after flying to London for the Stack Awards and also early Christmas gift shopping (I got my whole list!). Now in my mind I’m rewinding the night at the Book Club where I had the chance and pleasure to meet all these fellow magazine makers (before now, they all seemed fictional because I only know them from Instagram!)
Also, Benji Knewman volume one got commended for Launch of the Year and we celebrated the whole thing with a couple of local London Latvians. Already looking forward for Stack Awards 2016!
What can you see from the window?
Next to the window I can see the illustration by Santa Bindemane from Benji Knewman Vol.3.
Are you a morning or evening person?
I’m a night person. I tend to do more in the late evening because nobody is calling or emailing, all the meetings have been done and I can finally sit down and concentrate on editing and writing.
Which magazine do you first remember?
Just as the editor of Puss Puss magazine Maria Joudina-Robinson said in her At Work With interview, I too cherish the memories of Burda Moden. My story is a bit different though. Back in the day and back in the U.S.S.R., my mum used to sew clothes for money and worked as a seamstress at home, so we often had the magazine lying around. I remember all these half naked ladies only in their underwear trying on their new dress or blouse. My mum always worked till late at night or early morning – that’s where I got that tick for nightshifts.
What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
The latest issue of Apartamento I bought at Kioskafé back in London. I always get it when travelling because there is no store in Riga that stocks it (I had a secret dream once of opening a magazine corner – rather than a full sized store – and selling titles like Apartamento).
Being the sensei of independent publishing, Apartamento has encouraged many indie publishers, including myself, to act and deliver. For that I will always be grateful to Omar and Nacho.
A new discovery for me is Zeit Magazine’s International Edition. I met the editor Christoph Amend via Benji Knewman Vol.3 and when he mentioned that our bookazine makes him want to go to Riga, I insisted he should and that I will arrange and host the event myself. We concluded that May 2016 would be the best month to do it. I’m very eager to bring the world to Riga and vice versa.
Who’s your favourite fictional character this morning?
In the era of Instagram there are thousands of fictional characters around us, or rather, on our phones. I mean, all those curated pics – we know they are, well, fictional. Those are what I call the ‘bad fictions’ because they increase stress in people who don’t live such beautifully curated lives.
Meanwhile there are also other characters – just being themselves, capturing their life as it is, as something that’s sometimes weird, sometimes whimsical, but they do it with flare and irony. I don’t know those people because they don’t reveal much online, and thus they feel sort of fictional to me. These are my favourite fictional characters - they are my favourite for being real.
The backstory for Benji Knewman is very complex and thought-out. How did the character of Benji first emerge?
Benji and I, we first met in Hong Kong, at a hotel pool in April 2013 while I was in the city on a study trip. I learned about his story: he has a Latvian granddad and, because he wished to learn more about his Latvian roots, a month later we decided to launch a bilingual bookazine named after Benji. As I already have experience as editor-in-chief and my friend Madara Krievina is a great editorial designer (we worked together on an interior design magazine in Latvia), Benji agreed to contribute as editor-at-large because he is always on the road somewhere.
Have you gotten a better idea of who Benji is now that you’re onto issue three?
There are all kinds of people in this world and Benji is one of those who doesn’t reveal much and yet still very interesting. I must say, I was a bit surprised when he agreed to do the voice-over for our audiovisual teaser for volume three. He managed to do it while in some café who knows where in the world. And I love his idea to start Latvian lessons – free of charge and with pictures – on Instagram/Facebook!
Your interviews are very personal. Why did you decide to take such an up-close approach?
When I was 18 I went to Japan as an exchange student and lived there for a whole year. I was told that exchange programs like these were created after the WWII – as an instrument to help people from different cultures understand each other, as cultural understanding brings peace. Together with my great team we prefer the up-close approach for that same reason – cultural understanding and the understanding of lives lived elsewhere brings peace. Both inner and external. Also, I’m just a curious person and I’m interested in other people!
What are you most looking forward to this week?
Putting the final touches on and hopefully launching a new project under the brand of Benji Knewman bookazine – we call it Benji Box. It’s a curated box that we’ll launch as soon as it’s ready, and we’ve given ourselves no pressure to deliver a new one every month.
The first box will contain fragments of a real life story. It’s sort of a 75-year-old time capsule with contents that once belonged to astationery shopkeeper here in Riga and now will be available for anyone in the world. A great Christmas present, I’d say!
What are you least looking forward to this week?
Dealing with clients who need the work asap/yesterday but then tend to forget about paying the invoice afterwards. The usual suspects in the life of a freelancer.
What will you be doing after this chat?
Heading to the gym. The ever-fluctuating schedule of a self-employed person needs a certain order and workouts with a personal trainer three times a week will do just that. And no, I’m not aiming for that unbelievable six-pack from Instagram, I’m just cooling my mind off with lots of stretching.